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LAST 30 YEARS SHOW 5 CASES WITH MULTIPLE VICTIMS SLAIN

Nothing could prepare the two young Genesee Station officers for what they would see when they answered the first call of their overnight shift July 17, 1978.

It came out as a routine call, to aid firefighters on a Montana Avenue rescue. Emergency workers treated a woman found on the porch, with blood all over her.

But they found no wounds.

The officers, Larry Baehre and Michael Mulqueen, proceeded upstairs carefully, not knowing whether they and others would be greeted by a knife-wielding assailant. Instead, they found a kitchen floor awash with blood, with buckets of blood on the floor. On the kitchen table, they found some knives, an anatomy book and some body parts.

The officers had stumbled upon one of the most heinous crimes in Western New York history, Gail Trait's butchering of her four young children.

"Stephen King couldn't have written this; that's how gruesome it was," the now-retired Lt. Baehre said Monday.

The killings of three or more people at one site are rare in local crime annals.

According to newspaper archives and the memories of some local law enforcement officials, there had been five such killings in Erie County in the last 30 years. In each of those incidents, three or four people were killed.

While detectives continue to probe the motive in Saturday night's quadruple slaying, the vast majority of those killed in the five previous incidents were either relatives of the killers, people targeted because of their testimony in other cases or completely innocent victims.

These multiple slayings seem to fall into two basic categories: Either the killers strike out in a rage fueled by drugs or mental problems -- such as in the Trait case -- or they're targeting someone and killing the others to silence them.

"When you kill a lot of people at one time, it's almost always to avoid any witnesses," Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark said. "They may have a target in mind, but I don't think they set out to kill four or five people."

The perfect example of that might have been the Aug. 22, 1976, slaying of four people in an East Ferry Street apartment.

Four men, including Alexander "Bootsie" Clark, were convicted of murder in the shooting and hacking to death of four people in their teens, 20s and 30s.

The motive?

One of the four victims had testified against Bootsie Clark in a drug case, homicide detectives said at the time. The other three victims just happened to be in the wrong place; they were killed to prevent them from testifying about the first killing.

Two other cases involved drug-related motives, according to previous newspaper articles:

Three roommates, ages 59 to 71, were stabbed to death in their South Buffalo home April 20, 1994. Court testimony showed that the two young men later convicted of murder had intended to rob the men, including the great-uncle of the lead attacker, so they could buy drugs.

The bodies of two men and a woman were found in a Bailey Avenue apartment Feb. 25, 2001, victims of an execution-style triple slaying.

No arrests have been made in that case. Detectives have said, though, they believe that one of the victims was a major drug dealer and they have suspected that other Jamaican drug dealers might have been trying to eliminate their competition.

The other two multiple killings were the Trait slayings in 1978 and the killings of three members of John D. Justice's family in Kenmore on Sept. 16, 1985; a neighbor was killed in Justice's apparent suicide attempt that night.

The most sobering point of these five multiple killings: At least 15 of the 18 people killed had done nothing criminal that resulted in their deaths.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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