In this installment of the Serial Killer Profile series, we will dive on one of Sacramento’s “forgotten serial killers,” The Sacramento Slayer — Morris Solomon Jr. In any other city, Solomon’s killings would have captured national attention. However, the regional media was busy covering another serial killer, Dorothea Puente, who had been burying seven victims in the back yard of her downtown Sacramento boarding house. Two serial killers were carrying out their crimes at the same time in Sacramento.
On June 18, 1986, Sacramento Police responded to a report of a body found in South Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood on 4th Avenue. Yolanda Johnson, age 22, was discovered nude and stuffed in a closet in a home under renovation. Ligature marks were found on the victim’s neck. The handyman working at the site reported finding the dead woman. That handyman was Morris Solomon, Jr.
One month later, the body of Angela Palidore, age 25, was found buried under debris at another rundown Oak Park home. She was wrapped in bedding, a sock stuffed in her mouth and appeared to have been strangled. Morris Solomon, Jr. worked as a handyman on that home as well. Police immediately considered him a suspect in both murders, but didn’t have enough evidence to hold him. Officials reported almost daily contact with Solomon and that he was “cooperative,” giving blood samples and fingerprints. They seemingly overlooked five outstanding misdemeanor warrants (including solicitation of prostitution) when they made the decision not to take Solomon into custody. Perhaps, they hoped he would lead them to other victims.
On March 19, 1987, police discovered the badly decomposed remains of Marie Apodaca, a known teenaged prostitute, buried in a shallow grave behind an Oak Park home. Solomon resided at the home until December of 1986. The Medical Examiner would later find the case of death was asphyxia.
A team of twenty Sacramento detectives fanned out over the Oak Park community, with particular attention to locations where Solomon worked and lived. They interviewed Solomon a second time and he gave statements inconsistent with their first encounter. He gave officers permission to search his non-working car he was living in at the time. During the search, officers noted a depression in the soil and uncovered the body of Cherie Washington, age 26. Washington was believed to have been strangled, but the advanced state of decomposition made determining the exact time and manner of death difficult.
Two days later, detectives found the decomposing remains of Linda Vitela, age 24, and Sheila Jacox, age 17, buried in shallow graves behind another home associated with Morris Solomon. The Medical examiner reported that both women were killed approximately a year before they were found and asphyxia was not ruled out. He was taken into custody and the search for additional victims continued with the aid of a military helicopter equipped with infrared cameras.
One additional victim was discovered, Sharon Massey, age 29, buried in the same yard as Marie Apodaca. Massey was believed to have been slain six months earlier and the Medical Examiner did not rule out asphyxia as a cause of death.
During his trial for seven counts of murder, an interesting picture of the killer began to unravel. Raised by an abusive grandmother in Georgia, Solomon recieved frequent beatings, often with an electric cord for his misbehavior. He reunited with his parents as a teenager in Sacramento before serving in Viet Nam in 1967. He came back a different man, according to those who knew him.
He was committed to a California State Hospital in 1971 as a Mentally Disordered Sex Offender following a series of convictions for assault with intent to commit rape. He was later released from the hospital and deemed that he no longer posed a threat.
After his release, while working as a forklift driver at San Quentin Start Prison, near San Francisco, California, Solomon choked a co-worker unconscious and attempted to rape her.
He was also charged and acquitted of rape and murder of a San Jose area masseuse when a witness failed to appear at trial.
Solomon continually denied committing any of the crimes. The prosecution case was largely circumstantial, because there was no evidence directly connecting Solomon with the crimes. Witness testimony connected him as an acquaintance of some of the victims. With the exception of one, all the victims were found at locations where Solomon had either lived or had worked as a handyman. Although police had a blood sample, DNA testing was in its infancy and no connection was made by means of that technology. However, a semen sample had been collected from Johnson’s body and it was determined to be consistent with the blood sample Solomon provided.
Solomon was convicted of six of the murders; the charges were dropped with respect to the Polidore killing. Solomon sits on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison at this time.