'A serial killer off the streets': Florida man charged in woman's death linked to slayings of three others

N'dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY

A man linked to the deaths of at least four women dating back more than a decade has been arrested in Florida, authorities announced Monday.

Robert Hayes, 37, was arrested Sunday on first-degree murder charges for the 2016 death of Rachel Bey, Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said at a news conference. DNA and forensic evidence has since linked him to the deaths of three other women in Daytona Beach, although he has not been charged, police said. 

"We have been able to take what we believe was a serial killer off the streets, and had we not done this we're pretty sure that he would have killed again," Bradshaw said.

Bey, 32, was found strangled along a highway in March 2016, and court records show her jaw and several teeth had been broken by her killer. Police obtained the suspect's DNA from a sexual battery examination kit performed on her body and created a profile. That DNA profile was entered into CODIS, the FBI's national DNA database, where it matched with three cases in Daytona beach.

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This Sept. 16, 2019 photo made available by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office shows Robert Hayes under arrest. Hayes has been charged in the death of a woman, but authorities say he is a suspect in the deaths of three other women in the state. (Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office via AP) ORG XMIT: MH101

Using a relative's DNA found on a popular online database, police were able to identify Hayes, a Bethune Cookman college student at the time of the murder, as a potential suspect. Police followed him and collected a sample of his DNA from a discarded cigarette butt, which matched the DNA found in Bey's case and two of the murders in Daytona Beach, according to an affidavit obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.

“Killers like Robert Tyrone Hayes are the reason genetic genealogy is so important to public safety,” Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman Troy Walker said at a news conference on Monday. “Without genetic genealogy, predators like Mr. Hayes will continue to live in our neighborhoods, visit our parks, our libraries, restaurants, and go to our nightlife and entertainment districts to continue to hunt for victims.”

Hayes has since been linked to the 2005 death of Laquetta Gunther and the 2006 murders of Julie Green and Iwana Patton, according to the Daytona Beach Police Department. Detectives believe the victims were shot in the head with a .40-caliber gun, and all three were found naked and face down with their clothes under them or nearby.

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He is being looked at as a suspect in the murder of Stacey Gage in 2008, although there is no physical evidence linking him to that crime.

Police have not charged him for the Daytona Beach murders, but Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, who was police chief for Daytona Beach at the time of the murders, said family members of one of the victims are "absolutely ecstatic."

"They didn't think they'd be alive to see this day come," Chitwood said.

Hayes appeared in court Monday and was denied bail.

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida man charged in woman's death linked to other slayings