weather icon Clear

Man arrested in Reno murder may be serial killer

RENO — A man arrested in connection to a 1979 Reno killing could be linked to two other decades-old unsolved murders in the area, court documents show.

Charles Gary Sullivan, 73, was arrested in August in Arizona after police used DNA evidence to tie him to the death 21-year-old woman who disappeared after moving from the Bay Area in 1979 and whose body was later found in barren hills north of Reno. Sullivan was extradited to Reno Friday.

Sullivan has only been charged in connection to Woodward’s death. But court documents filed in the case show that law enforcement believe he also killed two other women in the Reno area in the late 1970s, one of whom’s remains were found barely mile from Woodward’s body in the same year.

“All evidence points to [Sullivan] being a serial killer,” lawyers for the attorney general’s office wrote in a motion filed on Nov. 7.

Woodward killing

Late in the afternoon of March 25, 1979, a man on a dirt bike was riding around in desert trails in Hungry Valley some 15 miles north of Reno when he stumbled upon what he thought to be an abandoned mannequin. But he quickly realized that the motionless figure was no mannequin.

What he had found was the body of Julia Woodward, a 21-year-old from San Rafael, California who had moved to Nevada looking for work in Reno or South Lake Tahoe who had been “known to hitchhike,” according to court filings.

She had Band-Aids over her eyes — a makeshift blindfold. One shoe was missing and a zip tie was secured around one of her ankles. Nearby rocks were covered with blood and hair, which police believe were used to kill her. An autopsy showed that Woodward’s underwear and ID were missing, according to the court documents.

The last time any of her friends or family had seen Woodward alive was when a friend had dropped her off at the airport in San Francisco in early February 1979. She had promised her friends she would call soon after she settled into her new home, according to interview summaries in court filings.

But that call never came.

Woodward’s case soon went cold as few leads would emerge. But that changed after the case was reopened by the Washoe County Sheriff’s office in 2015. Police used DNA evidence from semen found on Woodward’s jeans to link the crime back to Sullivan. He was arrested in Yavapai County, Arizona on Aug. 28 in connection with the killing.

Links to other cases

Woodward’s case has long-been linked to another unsolved murder of a young woman in Reno due to how close the two bodies were found as well as many of the circumstances surrounding their deaths.

Eight months after Woodward’s body was discovered in Hungry Valley, the skeletal remains of 17-year-old Jeannie Smith were found barely a mile away in a shallow grave, according to court records. The zipper of Smith’s jeans had been “forcibly opened,” her underwear and ID were missing, and she was killed by blunt force trauma to the head, court records said.

And like the Band-Aids were used on Woodward, police believe the medical tape found in Smith’s hair was used as to blindfold her.

Like Woodward’s case, few leads emerged in Smith’s case. But one of those leads included a composite sketch of a man named “Chuck” who was last seen with Smith at her workplace, the Circus Circus hotel and casino.

“The sketch looks remarkably similar to a photograph of defendant taken near the time of Jeannie’s disappearance,” court documents said.

It was around the time that Sullivan was initially identified as a person of interest in Smith’s case that he left the state. But law enforcement officials believe it was when police started questioning him about the disappearance of a third missing Reno women that he fled.

On March 9, 1979, 23-year-old Reno resident Linda Taylor was reported missing by her roommate.

A tip led investigators to Sullivan, who eventually admitted that he had gone on a date with Taylor but denied having any knowledge of how she disappeared.

Soon after that interview, Sullivan fled the state. Taylor’s body was never found.

2007 conviction

In September 2007, nearly three decades after the three women had been killed or gone missing, a woman identified in court filings only by her initials as “A.E.” was returning from a family funeral in Utah, hitchhiking her way back, something she “had done many times previously,” court records said.

She was standing near the Nevada County border, roughly 45 minutes west of Reno, holding a sign that said “Yuba City,” when a white van heading in the opposite direction made a U-turn and offered her a ride. The man, later identified as Sullivan, said he was going her way but was originally heading the opposite direction to grab coffee.

Sullivan offered to show A.E. where he “mined turquoise,” which she accepted and the two turned off on the road towards Bowman Lake.

After going well into the more remote area of the High Sierra, Sullivan stopped the van and the two started to hike to the supposed mine. But when A.E. bent down to tie her boot laces, Sullivan put a hand on her shoulder.

When A.E. looked up, she said she saw Sullivan holding a handgun and he told her to lay on her stomach. Sullivan used zip ties to bind her wrists and ankles. She asked what he was going to do, and Sullivan replied “the only thing that’s going to be involved is sex, and we’re just going to be out here for a few days having fun.”

Sullivan walked back to his van after he tied A.E.’s hands and feet. But while he was away, she pulled out a small knife she kept in her pocket, cut the zip ties and ran barefoot through the woods looking for safety, leaving her boots behind.

She ran into two men an ATV and told them what happened and they drove her to a cabin where they could call police. On the way to the cabin, they ran into a worker who helped track down Sullivan’s van.

Law enforcement arrested Sullivan, who had changed his clothes, got rid of the gun and tried to discard the personal items A.E. had left in the van.

Registered sex offender

Investigators searched Sullivan’s computer as part of the case, and found that he searched for “naked children,” “child sex,” and “lost hikers in California.”

Sullivan was convicted of false imprisonment and criminal threats in that case, and was required to register as a sex offender in California. But according the the court filing, Sullivan violated his parole three times from 2009 to 2012, and failed to register as a sex offender three other times.

The DNA evidence police pulled from Sullivan during the investigation of the 2007 case is what was later used to tie him to the semen found on Woodward’s jeans back in 1979.

Police have not charged Sullivan in connection to Smith’s death or Taylor’s disappearance.

Sullivan is scheduled to appear in court in Reno Tuesday morning.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Crime Videos
Pedestrian struck, killed in east Las Vegas - VIDEO
A pedestrian is dead after being struck by a vehicle that ran a red light Sunday afternoon in the east valley, Las Vegas police said. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police assisted by cowboys
Video shows cowboys helping Las Vegas police corral a suspected carjacker at Horseman's Park in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. (Cayden Cox)
Cowboys help Las Vegas police
Cowboys at Horseman's Park help Metro apprehend a suspected carjacker on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. (Colton Payne/Facebook)
Police briefing on officer-involved shooting in Henderson - VIDEO
Henderson police were called to a disturbance at the Bourbon Street Sports Bar at Major Avenue and Boulder Highway early Tuesday morning, Dec. 10, 2019, where officers shot a suspect armed a knife. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson police release body camera footage of officer-involved shooting - VIDEO
On Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, the Henderson Police Department released 911 audio and body camera footage from a fatal officer-involved shooting on Nov. 20. (Henderson Police Department)
Press Conference with NHP for I-15 Southbound Crash
Two people are dead following a “catastrophic” crash involving a wrong-way driver Thursday night on Interstate 15 south of Las Vegas. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Homicide Pecos and Washington
Metro Homicide Lt. Ray Spencer talks about an investigation into a man's death at an east Las Vegas apartment complex on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Homicide investigation Pecos and Washington
Las Vegas police investigate an incident at a single-story apartment complex on the 3500 block Folage Drive on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
One person was struck multiple times Tuesday morning in a shooting
One person was struck multiple times Tuesday morning in a shooting at a western Las Vegas condominium complex, and police were still searching for the shooter as of Tuesday afternoon. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Family, friends remember woman killed in Thanksgiving crash - VIDEO
A vigil was held Sunday evening to honor the 32-year-old California woman killed in a crash on Thanksgiving morning in Las Vegas. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Victim in suspected DUI crash in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving IDd - VIDEO
Family members have identified the victim of a suspected DUI crash that happened on Thanksgiving in southwest Las Vegas. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Judge orders Las Vegas attorney handcuffed in court - VIDEO
Clark County District Judge Susan Johnson ordered civil lawyer Jeff Brauer handcuffed in her courtroom this week, threatening to have him jailed through the Thanksgiving holiday, after finding that he violated a longstanding order to pay court costs and attorney fees. (
Police investigate armed robbery at Rancho Drive and Carey Avenue - VIDEO
Las Vegas police are looking for three people who robbed a Terrible Herbst convenience store on North Rancho Drive at Carey Avenue early Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police investigating a homicide in northeast valley
Las Vegas police are investigating a homicide on East Lake Mead Boulevard and Lamont Street in the northeast valley. They said a woman was found shot to death in a car that had crashed in the intersection. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Police briefing on homicide investigation in northeast Las Vegas - VIDEO
Las Vegas police are investigating a homicide on East Lake Mead Boulevard and Lamont Street in the northeast valley. They said a woman was found shot to death in a car that had crashed in the intersection. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police investigate homicide in northeast Las Vegas - VIDEO
Las Vegas police investigate a shooting death and car crash on East Lake Mead Boulevard and Lamont Street, Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A new way of looking at DNA to solve cold cases
Kim Murga, director of Metro's forensics lab, speaks about familial DNA, which is a new way of looking at DNA to solve cold cases, during an interview with the Review-Journal, on Tuesday, Non. 11, 2019, in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Man who fatally shot Las Vegas casino executive sentenced - VIDEO
Rachel Lee asked the judge to give Anthony Wrobel, 44, the maximum punishment allowed by law for killing her mother, but added she could not harbor anger and resentment. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police tend to man shot and wounded on McCarran tarmac - VIDEO
A man is in surgery after being shot by a Metro police officer on the tarmac at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas early Thursday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police officer-involved shooting at McCarran airport - Video
One man was shot and wounded by Las Vegas police on the tarmac at McCarran International Airport on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. (Glenn Puit/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson police shoot man suspected of shooting another at restaurant - VIDEO
A man shot an employee Wednesday at a restaurant near Warms Springs Road and Marks Street, then was shot by officers, according to the Henderson Police Department. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man charged in model's death to be released under house arrest - Video
Christopher Prestipino, who has been charged in the death of Esmeralda Gonzalez, has posted $500,000 bail. District Judge Douglas Herndon confirmed on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, that Prestipino should be released on house arrest while he awaits trial. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DUI suspect in fatal crash makes court appearance - VIDEO
A man facing multiple charges in connection with a suspected drunk driving crash Saturday admitted to investigators that he’d been drinking prior to the fatal crash. Aaron Kruse was made a court appearance on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Casandra Garrett appears in court over model's death - Video
Casandra Garrett was in court on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Las Vegas after she was extradited from Wisconsin. She is facing charges in connection with the slaying of Esmeralda Gonzalez, a 24-year-old model whose body was found encased in concrete in October. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas attorney has been disbarred from practicing law in Nevada - VIDEO
Las Vegas attorney Alexis Plunkett has been disbarred from practicing law in Nevada. The 38-year-old pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of possession of a telecommunication device by a prisoner, and was ordered to serve three-years probation. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police cite disabled Strip artist
Bodycam footage shows Las Vegas police confronting Larime Taylor, a disabled man who “live draws” art on the Las Vegas Strip using his mouth. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Bodycam footage of Henderson Police Officers in Fatal Shooting of Mother - Video
Bodycam footage from an officer-involved shooting where the officers a 7-year-old male juvenile with apparent stab wounds and an agitated adult female.
3 more arrested, accused of abuse at east Las Vegas group home - Video
Three more people were arrested in connection with an unlicensed group home in the east valley that authorities first raided in September, police said Thursday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Accused murder mastermind Frank LaPena is granted a pardon - VIDEO
A onetime Las Vegas casino bell captain who spent 25 years in prison as the accused mastermind in a notorious 1974 contract murder won his last legal battle for freedom Wednesday when the state Pardons Board granted him a conditional pardon restoring all his civil rights. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Frank LaPena Pardoned after 45 years
Frank LaPena received a conditional pardon from the Nevada Pardons Board Wednesday, restoring his civil rights 45 years after he was accused of a notorious 1974 contract killing in Las Vegas. (Bill Dentzer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Christopher Prestipino pleads not guilty to all charges - VIDEO
Christopher Prestipino of Las Vegas pleaded not guilty Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, to charges in the slaying of Esmeralda Gonzalez, a 24-year-old model, whose body authorities said was found encased in concrete. (Angus Kelly/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Latest charges against Giovanni Ruiz, accused in the killing of UNLV student Paula Davis - VIDEO
Prosecutors added sexual assault charges Thursday against Giovanni Ruiz who stands accused of killing UNLV student Paula Davis. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside Las Vegas police K-9 unit - VIDEO
Jason Dukes has spent 15 years in Metro’s K-9 unit, a demanding job that requires officers to serve the needs of different departments and handle their dogs in hostile situations. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
RJ reporter takes bite from Las Vegas police dog - VIDEO
While reporting on the Metropolitan Police Department’s K-9 section, Review-Journal writer Rio Lacanlale agreed to let a 100-pound Dutch shepherd attack her. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Violent robbery at Las Vegas convenience store
Surveillance video shows two men robbing another man at a convenience store in the 500 block of East Sahara Ave. on October 4th. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Las Vegas police investigate a fatal stabbing - VIDEO
Las Vegas police are investigating a fatal stabbing that happened at Indian Hills apartments on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (Bizu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Bail hearing for Christopher Prestipino and Lisa Mort - Video
A bail hearing and court appearance for Christopher Prestipino and Lisa Mort who are charged in connection with the death of Esmeralda Gonzalez, Oct. 22, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Samuel Little Confession: Las Vegas, Nevada - VIDEO
Samuel Little, 79, has confessed to 93 murders. He is currently in prison in Texas. Law enforcement has confirmed more than half of his confessions, but some remain unmatched. In a recent interview, Little recalled details of a victim in Las Vegas.
Chance Underwood Preliminary Hearing Called Off - Video
Chance Underwood appears in court with his preliminary hearing called off but will have his hearing in October.