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Nevada prosecutors: Potential serial killer arrested in Arizona tied to more crimes

Posted at 4:44 PM, Nov 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-20 00:39:09-05

RENO, NV — A suspected serial killer arrested in Arizona has been linked to the deaths of at least two women, and a third whose body was never found.

Nevada prosecutors say that Charles Gary Sullivan was taken into custody on August 28 in Yavapai County by detectives with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit, with help from the FBI Phoenix Field Office. The 73-year-old was arrested on charges related to the 1979 murder of Julia Woodward.

On November 15, Sullivan was extradited to Nevada on a grand jury indictment for Woodward's murder. According to court documents, prosecutors are asking that bail be denied due to "overwhelming evidence" indicating that Sullivan is connected to the cold case murders of other young women.

The evidence was gathered by detectives with the WCSO's Cold Case Unit, who requested further analysis of items taken from the Woodward scene. Biological evidence examined by the unit helped to identify Charles Sullivan as a possible suspect in Woodward's murder.


Woodward's body was found on March 25, 1979, in a remote area of Hungry Valley, 15 miles north of Reno. Woodward was last seen in California on February 1 after leaving for Nevada from her hometown of San Rafael, California.

Investigators determined that a homicide had taken place and noted that Woodward's eyes were sealed shut with band-aids acting as a blindfold, her legs were zip-tied, and a cloth had been used as a gag. Rocks nearby were also covered in hair and blood. Authorities at the time noted that Woodward was only wearing one shoe, and her ID and items of clothing had been taken.

Investigators said Sullivan's DNA from a 2007 crime was linked to DNA found on Woodward's jeans at the time of her murder.

2007 CRIME

In September 2007, the 25-year-old victim only identified as A.E in court paperwork, and her family traveled from California to Utah to attend a funeral. After the funeral, A.E wanted to return to her home in California before the rest of her family and decided to hitchhike.

Records indicated she hitchhiked from Utah to Nevada County, California, before resting for the night. Early the next morning, A.E found a piece of cardboard and wrote "Yuba City" on it. A van that had been heading in the opposite direction made a U-turn and offered the victim a ride. The driver, later identified as Sullivan, explained to the victim that he was heading in the same direction but was only temporarily going in the opposite direction because he first wanted to stop and get coffee. The victim accepted Sullivan's offer for a ride.

During the ride, the victim said that she and Sullivan, at one point, started discussing geology, to which Sullivan mentioned he had a spot where he mined turquoise. Sullivan then started to take A.E to his spot, which he assured was not far off from the main road.

Eventually, Sullivan and the victim ended up in a remote, heavily wooded area. While the two were hiking to Sullivan's alleged turquoise spot, the victim crouched down to tie the lace to one of her boots. The victim said she felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see Sullivan brandishing a handgun. Court documents state Sullivan ordered A.E to lay on her stomach while he used zip ties and handcuffs to bind her wrists together. He also removed her boots and used zip ties to bind her ankles together.

When A.E asked Sullivan what his intentions were, he replied, "the only thing that's going to be involved is sex, and we're just going to be out here for a few days having some fun," according to court documents.

After Sullivan was done binding the victim, he returned to his van. The victim was able to pull out a pocket knife while Sullivan was distracted and cut the zip ties around her ankles and ran off barefoot through the rough terrain. The victim, still barefoot and handcuffed, encountered two men riding an ATV and pleaded for their help. The two men took her to a nearby cabin with a phone and called the police.

Sullivan was found and arrested and was identified by the victim. Investigators documented that before Sullivan was arrested, he had changed his clothes, moved his van, discarded his gun, and attempted to get rid of A.E's personal belongings that she had left in the van.

While Sullivan was being taken to the Nevada County Jail, detectives said Sullivan's demeanor was not what one would expect from someone arrested on charges, including kidnapping. Records state that Sullivan even fell asleep ten minutes into the ride.

During the investigation, Sullivan's computer was searched, and his browser history showed his search history to include: "naked children," "child sex," and "lost hikers in California."

Nevada County authorities obtained a search warrant to collect Sullivan's DNA.

A jury later convicted Sullivan of false imprisonment and criminal threats but acquitted him on the kidnapping charge. Sullivan was then required to register as a sex offender in California, but records indicate that from September 2009 to July 2012, Sullivan violated his parole on three occasions and failed to register as a sex offender on three additional occasions.


In December 2007, the Nevada County Sheriff's Office received a tip from a caller reporting that Sullivan had been involved in a homicide in Reno in 1978 or 1979. The caller stated the victim was 18 years old and worked at Circus Circus as a waitress. He also indicated that he had dated the victim for a short time. The caller went on to state he believed Sullivan was involved in numerous similar events in Nevada and Idaho. The woman that the caller was referring to, prosecutors believe, is Jeannie Smith.

Prosecutors say that Jeannie Smith was last seen alive at Circus Circus Casino in Reno at 9 p.m. on October 27, 1978. Smith, who was there on her night off, reportedly told her friend that she was going to "score" some cocaine and that she would be back in an hour. Smith, who told her friend she was leaving with a man named "Chuck" was not seen or heard from again.

Eventually, her skeletal remains were discovered in a shallow grave in Hungry Valley about a mile away from where Julia Woodward's body was found.

Court documents indicate that Smith's zipper to her jeans had been forcibly opened. Investigators also found tape, cloth, and rope at the scene. The tape was observed to be torn into pieces the approximate length of band-aids and was found tangled in Smith's hair. As was the case with Woodward, Smith was found with only one shoe and was missing her ID and items of clothing. Detectives determined that Smith was killed by extreme blunt force trauma to the head.

During their initial investigation into Smith's disappearance, Reno police had created a composite sketch of the man named "Chuck," who was last seen with Smith at Circus Circus. According to prosecutors, the sketch looks remarkably similar to a photograph of Sullivan taken near the time of Smith's disappearance.

While Sullivan was a person of interest in Smith's disappearance early in the investigation, lawyers say he fled Nevada soon after -- not because of that case, but allegedly because of another Reno woman's disappearance at the same time.


On March 9, 1979, 23-year-old Linda Taylor was reported missing by her roommate. Soon after her disappearance, local newspapers published articles with officials asking for information about a man last seen with Taylor at the bank just two days before she was reported missing.

A tip at the time led police to Sullivan. When questioned by detectives, Sullivan initially lied and said he had not met Taylor, but later admitted having gone on a date with her. On March 18, 1979, Taylor's car was found abandoned in the parking lot of a grocery store in Reno, approximately 10 miles away from where the bodies of Woodward and Smith were discovered.

Soon after Taylor's car was found, Reno police learned of two girlfriends Sullivans had and tried to interview the women separately, but both reportedly told him that they would not answer any questions. In early April 1979, each of Sullivan's girlfriends told neighbors they were leaving town. One reportedly claimed her father was dying in California, and the other said her mother was dying in Arizona. Sullivan and his girlfriends then fled the state of Nevada, according to prosecutors.

To this day, Taylor's body has never been found.


Forty years later, multiple agencies stormed Sullivan's home on the Mogollon Rim with guns drawn in an August raid, but Sullivan wasn't home at the time. Sullivan was eventually taken into custody at another location.

On November 15, Sullivan was extradited to Washoe County on a grand jury indictment for Woodward's murder. Nevada's attorney general on Monday filed a motion to maintain a no-bail custody status against Sullivan pending his trial.

Sullivan is scheduled to be arraigned in Washoe County District Court at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.