Suspect charged in three slayings in California serial killer case; more charges expected

Aaron Leathley
The Record

STOCKTON, Calif. – The man authorities say was behind six serial killings in central California over a year span was officially charged in three murders, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Wesley Brownlee, 43, was charged with three counts of murder, intentional discharge of a firearm, use of a firearm in commission of a felony and special circumstance of multiple murders. He was also charged with one count of a felon or addict in possession of a firearm and one count of possession of ammunition by a felon. Brownlee, a truck driver, has a prior drug conviction.

He was arrested early Saturday morning after police said they followed him in his vehicle and suspected him of being "out hunting" for another victim. They said his behavior that morning was similar to a "pattern" between some of the linked killings and one shooting that left a woman injured. The shootings happened between April 2021 and September 2022. 

Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden speaks during a news conference at the Stockton Police Department headquarters about the arrest of a suspect in a series of killings in Stockton, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

The charges brought Tuesday are connected with the deaths of Jonathan Rodriguez Hernandez, 21, who died Aug. 30; Juan Carlos Carranza-Cruz, 52, who died Sept. 21; and Lawrence Lopez Sr., 54, who died Sept. 27.

San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said during a news conference she expects to file additional charges in two other murders in Stockton, as well as an attempted murder. 

"In no way does our charging decision today end or conclude our investigation. We have more work to do," Verber Salazar said.

Prosecutors charge Brownlee shot and killed five men in Stockton and one man in Oakland starting last year, and shooting a woman who survived in Stockton.

Brownlee's arraignment in San Joaquin County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon was the first time he has faced charges publicly after being arrested in Stockton and being held without bail.

“There are some people who are just simply too dangerous to share the streets with you and I,” Verber Salazar said.

The series of killings began in Oakland in April 2021, when Juan Vazquez Serrano was shot and killed in the city's Seminary neighborhood.

Six days later, Natasha LaTour, 46, was shot multiple times in downtown Stockton and lived. Then, beginning July 8, 2022, five men — Paul Yaw, 35; Salvador Debudey Jr., 43; Hernandez Rodriguez; Cruz; and Lopez — were fatally shot in an area of north Stockton . 

Stockton police have said ballistics testing showed the seven shootings were carried out using the same weapon.

At about 2 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, law enforcement officers arrested Brownlee while he was driving, Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said. Investigators had surveilled Brownlee's address before he departed.

Scant evidence in the investigation of the killings has been made public beyond blurred security footage of a person of interest in the case whom police believe is Brownlee, according to police spokesman officer Joseph Silva.

Detectives are still seeking tips from the public out of concern the suspect might be linked to additional crimes, McFadden said.

“We’re going to stay tenacious, we don’t know how many cases there are,” McFadden said.

Contributing: The Associated Press