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Timothy Spencer
Birth name: Timothy Wilson Spencer
Also known as: Southside Strangler
Born: 1962
Died: April 27, 1994 (age 31-32)
Cause of death: Execution
Number of victims: 5
Span of killings: 1984–1987
Country: United States
State(s): Virginia
Date apprehended: January, 1988

Timothy Wilson Spencer (1962-April 27, 1994), also known as the "Southside Strangler," was an American serial killer who committed four rape/murders in Richmond, Virginia in the fall of 1987.[1] In addition he committed another murder in 1984, which a different man, David Vasquez, was wrongfully convicted of and served five years in prison for, until he was reprieved in 1989.[1] Spencer became the first murderer to be convicted on the basis of DNA evidence in Virginia.



Spencer's first reported victim was 35-year-old Debbie Dudley Davis. Spencer raped and strangled her in her apartment, where her naked body was discovered lying on the bed, in September 1987.[1]

Two weeks later, Dr. Susan Hellems was found dead and partially stripped in her bedroom wardrobe. Like Davis, she too had been raped and strangled as well as having been gagged.[1]

On November 22, Diane Cho, a teenage student, was found in her apartment outside Richmond. She too was raped and strangled.[1]

Spencer's final victim, Susan Tucker, 44, was reported missing in December. After a week, her body was found in her apartment. Her injuries left detectives certain that her death was caused by the murderer now dubbed by the press as the "Southside Strangler".[1]


On January 16, 1988, Rena Chapouris and Michael St. Hilaire were found dead within a few blocks of each other. Though initially thought to be the work of the Southside Strangler, Chapouris's death was determined to be the work of a copycat, as she had not been raped as previous victims, and St. Hilaire's death was ruled a suicide.[1]

Later that month, Spencer was arrested by Arlington police and charged with the murder of Susan Tucker, his most recent victim. DNA evidence later connected him to the murders of Davis and Hellams.[1] He was also convicted in the Cho murder though DNA evidence wasn't used at trial. DNA evidence also tied him to the 1984 murder of Carol Hamm, a crime which David Vasquez had been convicted of. Vasquez was eventually acquitted after having served five years of a 35-year prison sentence and was the first American to be exonerated based on DNA evidence.[1]


Spencer's first trial was in Arlington, Virginia, in July 1988. He was represented by Carl Womack and Thomas Kelley. Charged with the murder of Susan Tucker, he was convicted with DNA evidence, the first case in Virginia in which DNA was used to prove identity,[1] and sentenced to death.

At a series of trials in 1988 and 1989, Spencer was found guilty of raping and murdering Debbie Davis, Diane Cho, and Susan Hellams, and sentenced to death.[1]

He was executed on April 27, 1994, by Virginia's electric chair, Old Sparky.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lane, Brian; Wilfred Gregg. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Berkley Books. pp. 324. ISBN 0-425-15213-8.  

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