'Skid Row Stabber' serial killer suspect indicted in 3 deaths
A man accused of being the notorious "Skid Row Stabber" linked to a series of killings in Los Angeles during the 1970s has been indicted on murder charges involving the slayings of three men, according to court records unsealed Tuesday.
Bobby Joe Maxwell, who has spent more than 30 years behind bars, was convicted of two of the murders in 1984. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions in 2010, finding that the jailhouse informant who was a key prosecution witness was a habitual liar with “a long and public history of dishonesty.”
But Los Angeles County prosecutors said they are prepared to retry the case, and a grand jury indicted Maxwell in connection with three other killings last week. Maxwell had previously been tried for murder in those three deaths but a jury deadlocked on the charges. The same jury also deadlocked on an additional two murder charges, acquitted Maxwell of three other murders and convicted him of two.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Grace said Tuesday that the case involves no new evidence but that grand jurors believed there was enough to indict Maxwell even without the testimony of the jailhouse informant, who is dead.
“This was a very significant case,” Grace said. “We wanted to make sure that … he is brought to justice.”
Maxwell’s attorney, Pierpont M. Laidley, who also represented Maxwell during his 1984 trial, said that he was perturbed that prosecutors sought an indictment from the grand jury and that his client would fight the charges.
“Unless there’s something new, I believe he’s innocent,” Laidley said. “It’s been a long arduous fight and they’re not going to give him his freedom, we’re going to have to win.”
The grand jury indicted Maxwell, 63, on charges of murdering Frank Reed and Jose Cortez, who were homeless, and Bruce Drake, who lived in a downtown Los Angeles apartment. The indictment also accuses Maxwell of robbing Drake and Reed.
At Maxwell’s original trial, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Sidney Storch, one of a notorious cadre of informants used by Los Angeles authorities in dozens of murder cases in the 1970s and '80s. Storch told jurors that the defendant had confessed to the killings when they shared a cell in Los Angeles County Jail.
Storch, a career criminal, testified for the prosecution in at least half a dozen trials and received reduced sentences and other considerations for helping secure convictions. He was said by other jailhouse informants to have taught them the art of "booking" fellow inmates in exchange for lighter sentences and other favors.
The 9th Circuit panel found that Storch perjured himself and that the district attorney’s office failed to disclose his long history of lying in exchange for reduced sentences and other considerations.
Photo: Bobby Joe Maxwell reacts as a jury convicts him in 1984. Credit: Marsha Traeger / Los Angeles Times; L.A. Times coverage of case.