Who is the Seminole Heights serial killer?

The Seminole Heights serial killer is an alleged serial killer who is believed to have murdered four people in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa, Florida in October and November 2017. All four victims seem to have been shot randomly.

Authorities increased patrols in the area and advised people to not walk alone at night. The Tampa police had very few clues except  a grainy surveillance video of a man wearing a hoodie.

On November 28, police arrested Howell Emanuel Donaldson III as being the main suspect.

The first murder

On the late evening of October 9, 2017, around 9 p.m., 22 years old Benjamin Mitchell was waiting at a bus stop in Seminole Heights neighborhood. He was on his way to see his girlfriend when a stranger opened fire and shot him. The gun wound was deadly.

Three more victims

Just a few days after Benjamin Mitchell was shot dead, on the morning of October 13, 2017, a city employee discovered the body of a young woman in a vacant parking lot . She was 32 year old Monica Caridad Hoffa.

She was walking to a friend’s place when she was deadly shot. Investigators estimate that the murder happened late October 11 or early October 12th. With a second victim discovered just half a mile away from where Benjamin Mitchell was shot, police treat the case independently with no connections so far between the two murders.

On October 19, 2017 the killer found his next victim victim. He  was 20 year old Anthony Naiboa. Anthony was diagnosed with autism and ADHD and he mistakenly too the wrong bus home when finishing work. While walking toward a Route 9 stop, someone shot him in the head and left him dead on the sidewalk.

Anthony Naiboa memorial

A makeshift memorial for shooting victim Anthony Naiboa sits on a sidewalk in the Seminole Heights section of Tampa, Fla. Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. Three similar murders have occured in the neighborhood in the span of two weeks leading to the talk of a possible serial killer. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Last Victim

On November 14, 2017 at around 5 a.m. 60 year old Ronald Felton was crossing N. Nebraska Avenue, heading to meet up with a pastor to distribute food for those in need, when someone came up behind him and fatally shot him.

Tampa serial killer victims

Tampa serial killer victims

The Investigation

Officials have said the killings are connected in the way they are executed and this lead to fears that a serial killer is on the loose. But there were no suspects. Investigators released a video footage taken near where Benjamin Mitchell was killed.

But the footage was grainy and it was only visible that a man wearing a hoodie, however it seemed that at three of the murder locations possible the same man wearing a hoodie was recorded passing by and police were looking at him as a possible witness and not a suspect.

But it seemed that in all the murders video footage shows what appeared to be the same man being close to where the victims were shot.

A witness provided a description of the suspect. According to the witness on the morning Ronald Felton was killed, a black male, around 6 feet tall and with a thin build was seen armed with a large black pistol. He was wearing a black baseball cap and black clothing.

Tampa serial killer sketch

Tampa serial killer sketch

A serial killer is suspected

Armed with video footage and witness descriptions, investigators suspect one man being behind all the murders.

Tampa serial killer murder map

Tampa serial killer murder map

The suspect is believed to live in the same area where the four victims were killed. On Halloween day, tens of police officers were stationed in the Seminole Heights area to patrol the neighborhood. People were scared, many not leaving the house during night. There were no doubts that a serial killer is randomly targeting people.

Police Chief Brian Dugan was asking people to stay safe and call the police if they have any information. “If you own a gun and it’s in your home, I want you to go to your gun and find out if it’s still there….Verify it’s where it’s supposed to be, and if it’s not, we need you to call us.”

The Suspect

On November 28, 2017 police received a tip around 2:40 p.m. from a McDonalds manager about someone having a gun in a bag at the restaurant. The McDonalds in questions was just a couple of miles away from the murder locations. When police arrived, the manager gave them the gun and told them the name of the coworker who gave him the bag with the gun.

His name was 24 year old Howell Donaldson III.

tampa serial killer

Howell Donaldson III

The Arrest

Howell Donaldson III was taken into custody that same afternoon. The suspect went to work earlier that day and handed a bag containing a gun to the manager for “safe keeping”. He also expressed his intention to leave the state.

Donaldson admitted that he owned the gun but did not admit to the killings. He was cooperative with the police and said he purchased the weapon, a Glock firearm, on October 3, 2017 and after the mandatory waiting period, he picked it up on October 7. Besides the gun, Donaldson also purchased Sig Sauer .40 caliber Smith & Wesson ammunition.

Police Interview

During the interview with the police, Donaldson admitted that no one else besides him had access to the weapon. When questioned about Seminole Heights area, he denied being familiar with it.

At three of the crime scenes, the cartridges found were mathing with the .40 caliber Smith & Wesson ammunition Donaldson admitted purchasing. Upon analyzing Donaldson’s Glock firearm, the conclusion was that the casings have been fired from his weapon.

As Donaldson denied being in the area, police checked his phone locations which pin pointed him near the location of at least three of the killings on the night the murders happened. The suspect consented to a search of his vehicle and investigators found clothing items similar to the ones in the video footage. The also discovered what appeared to be blood stains on the clothing.

Donaldson is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and has pleaded not guilty. No motives are provided.

Who is Howell Donaldson III?

He was born in North Carolina, graduating the city’s Alonso Highschool in 2011. He the continued studying sports management at St. John’s University in Queens, New York and made it to the men’s basketball team, but never played in a game. In January 2017 he graduated from the University.

He appeared to be a very calm young man, with good manners, dressed very well, and was a sneakerhead, according to former colleagues.  He didn’t show any signs of violence and none of the people knowing him could explain what could have possibly pushed him to commit the murders.

The Trial

On November 30, 2017 Donaldson made his first court appearance with one of his public defenders. Judge Margaret Taylor ruled that Howell Donaldson III, would be held without bond until a hearing scheduled for December 5, 2017.

Donaldson is denied bond

Donaldson is denied bond

The judge also scheduled the appearance of Donaldson’s parents to Feb. 9, to explain why the refuse to answer questions from the State Attorney’s Office about their son.

State Attorney Andrew Warren announced that prosecutors will seek the death penalty for the crimes Howell Donaldson III committed.

Howell Donaldson III is scheduled to appear in court on June 12, 2018.

UPDATES will follow.


ABC News