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Sex offender charged in murder of 14-year-old Alianna DeFreeze amid fears of possible serial killer

by Ellen Killoran

Christopher Whitaker is a registered sex offender

A man has been charged in the murder of 14-year-old Alianna DeFreeze, who disappeared last Thursday on her way to school, prompting a frantic search. DeFreeze’s body was found on Sunday in an abandoned building on Cleveland’s East Side, though it was three days before it was positively identified.

And now, a registered sex offender is in custody for her killing: Christopher Whitaker, 44, is charged with aggravated murder in connection to DeFreeze’s death. Police have no yet revealed the cause of death, but Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams reportedly said in a press conference that the manner of death was “heinous.”

Whitaker, who DeFreeze’s family says was a stranger, was arrested on Thursday night. The medical examiner was able to identify him through DNA left at the scene where Alianna’s body was found.

DeFreeze’s family told WKYC News that they hope to soon understand how DeFreeze encountered her alleged killer, and said they will not rest until someone is convicted for taking the developmentally delayed girl’s life.

“We want to make sure that we get it right,” Alianna’s aunt Ariel Ball told the news station. “That they arrest the right person and not only that the person is arrested… but that they’re convicted. We’re satisfied with an arrest but we’re not going to be completely happy or excited or feel a full sense of closure until justice is fully served and someone is convicted of the crime.”

When Alianna went missing, her family was particularly concerned for the child they described as very trusting, and mentally closer to the age of 8 or 9 than 14. They were convinced the girl would not have run away from home.

Whitaker has an alarming criminal record that includes violent sexual crime. According to Cleveland.com, Whitaker was sentenced to four years in prison for stabbing, sexually assaulting, and choking unconscious an ex-girlfriend in 2005.  In 2013, he pled guilty to robbing an ex-girlfriend, and reportedly threatened her during the investigation until as recently as late 2015. Whitaker was sentenced to probation for the theft conviction, but violated the terms and spent six month in custody.

Cleveland law enforcement has not said explicitly that Whitaker is being looked at a possible suspect in a string of unsolved murders in the area. Alianna’s body was found in very close proximity to where four other women were found dead in abandoned buildings near 93rd Street on Cleveland’s east side in 2012.

Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed told WKYC News he believes the deaths are the work of a serial killer.

“Vacant lots, vacant homes, women, 93rd,” Cleveland Councilman Zack Reed said. “Almost like he’s teasing them [police],” Councilman Reed added, referring to a nearby police station. “’Hey I’m doing this and I’m doing this right underneath your nose. And you come catch me and you come find me. And until you do, I’m going to continue this.’”

 

Photo: Cleveland Police Department

Ellen is a seasoned journalist and former media & entertainment reporter with a taste for true crime. Formerly a senior editor at IBTimes, her work has appeared in Forbes, Rolling Stone, Maxim, NYMag, Indiewire, and more. She co-produced the HBO documentary "Youth Knows No Pain" and appeared in a documentary series that aired alongside the Lifetime movie "Manson's Lost Girls."