A serial killer convicted for the murder of three women in New Jersey, and a near-fatal attack on a fourth, was charged Thursday in the murder of a 15-year-old girl who went missing from her Newark home in 2016, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office said.
Mawa Doumbia’s father and sister last saw the teenager leaving her family’s home in Newark on Oct. 7, 2016, according to a press release from the prosecutor. Doumbia had been communicating online with Khalil Wheeler-Weaver, who had murdered his first known victim just seven days earlier, the prosecutor's office said.
Wheeler-Weaver solicited Doumbia online, asking to pay her for sex. He drove to Doumbia’s neighborhood, picked her up, and took her to an abandoned carriage house in Orange, where he murdered the teen and concealed her body, the prosecutor’s office said.
Doumbua was reported missing. But the case did not move forward until May 19, 2019, two and a half years later, when a badly decomposed body was found lying face-down inside the carriage house.
Identifying the body took another two and a half years. It wasn’t until Nov. 5, 2021, that the remains were positively identified as Doumbia, the prosecutor’s office said. There was no information available Thursday from the prosecutor’s office about why it took so long to discover and identify the body. Police in Orange did not respond to requests for comment.
“As far as we know the remains were there, and the home was vacant,” said Katherine Carter, a spokesperson for the prosecutor.
Tracing a serial killer
The new allegations are eerily similar to the patterns Wheeler-Weaver established during his murder spree, when he kidnapped, raped and terrorized at least five women across six New Jersey communities in the summer and fall of 2016. His first attack began at around 11 a.m. on Aug. 31, 2016, when Wheeler-Weaver approached Robin West and her friend Breneisha Patterson on Nye Avenue, on Newark’s south side.
It was West’s first night on the street as a sex worker. Wheeler-Weaver drove her to an abandoned house in Orange, two miles from his home. He killed her. He set fire to the house, then left at 1:27 a.m. From there he traced a circuitous route, driving a few miles west, then circling back, passing by his own house before returning to watch firefighters attack the blaze. Throughout the morning, he performed repeated searches online for news stories about residential fires in Orange.
Wheeler-Weaver’s travels and internet searches all were captured by his cell phone, which he used to plot and commit each of his attacks. His phone records created a digital trail that helped the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office try Wheeler-Weaver on 11 counts, including murder and desecration of human remains.
Digital records play a similar role in the latest allegations. Wheeler-Weaver first met and solicited Doumbia online, the prosecutor’s office said. New charges were filed “(f)ollowing an investigation involving extensive digital evidence,” the office said in a press release.
As with West and Joann Brown, whom he murdered on Oct. 22, 2016, Wheeler-Weaver allegedly killed Doumbia in an abandoned structure located close to his home.
It also appears he followed a pattern in the attacks themselves.
In a daylong interview with NorthJersey.com, Tiffany Taylor described how Wheeler-Weaver knocked her unconscious. When she woke up, she discovered her mouth and nose covered in duct tape. Wheeler-Weaver was simultaneously raping and strangling her. Taylor narrowly escaped.
Joann Brown and Sarah Butler, the final known victim in Wheeler-Weaver’s spree, both were discovered with pieces of clothing wrapped around their neck. A ligature, or a device wrapped around the neck, also was discovered on Doumbia’s remains.
“An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be homicide by ligature strangulation,” in Doumbia’s case, the prosecutor’s press release said.
Doumbia differs from Wheeler-Weaver’s four confirmed victims in one respect: she was the only minor. Wheeler-Weaver targeted women across a broad range of ages and backgrounds. Robin West was making plans for her 20th birthday when she met Wheeler-Weaver. Tiffany Taylor was 33. Three of his victims were sex workers, but Butler was a college student at New Jersey City University.
If Wheeler-Weaver is found guilty of the new charges, it will mean he attacked five women in just 88 days, killing four. During the spree, Wheeler-Weaver was interviewed by police officers from two different New Jersey cities. He even participated in two separate police ride-a-longs, during which he lied about his interactions with the women, whose bodies had not yet been discovered.
Police identified Wheeler-Weaver as a suspect only after they discovered the body of Sarah Butler, his final confirmed victim, who was found in a parking lot in Eagle Rock Reservation in South Orange. Detectives already were familiar with Wheeler-Weaver thanks to Butler’s sister and friends, who lured Wheeler-Weaver into a trap using an online catfishing scheme. Using a fake profile on Tagged, a social media app, the women identified Wheeler-Weaver as the man last seen with Butler.
The women were standing inside Montclair police headquarters when the serial killer contacted them. After a phone conversation, they agreed to meet him at a nearby Panera Bread, but Montclair police went instead. Their interaction, combined with mountains of digital records recovered from the serial killer’s phone, helped jurors decide in just two hours to convict Wheeler-Weaver of all 11 charges he faced at trial in 2019.
After court delays caused by the COVID pandemic, he was sentenced in October 2021 to 160 years in prison. Wheeler-Weaver is incarcerated in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. His arraignment for the alleged murder of Mawa Doumbia has not yet been scheduled, Carter said.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ serial killer also murdered 15-year-old girl; prosecutor