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Motivation of Peril

How a serial killer got caught.

Thomas Geider/Pixabay
Source: Thomas Geider/Pixabay

Motivation. What motivates people to do the things they do? Much study has been done to that end with names such as Maslow, Freud, McGregor, Hull, and so many others, all well known for their studies and theories of human motivation.

Perhaps even more interesting is a discussion of the motivation of an individual to be so severely driven to one certain outcome, (s)he knowingly falls prey to another detrimental situation on another end.

During 1990, six women were brutally murdered in San Diego, California's, west-central Clairemont Area. It was readily apparent to both law enforcement and the community that there was an active serial killer afoot. His modus operandi and the signature were the same or similar in every murder. The Clairemont Killer would typically follow his victims from their gym workouts, give them time to get in their residence and get in the shower, then enter through their unlocked door and commit the murders with knives from their own kitchens. The Clairemont Killer didn't just kill these women; he exhibited signatures of blatant overkill by stabbing his victims repeatedly in a ritualistic fashion, often stabbing so forcefully and violently that the knife blades went entirely through the victim and into the floor. The crime scenes were gruesome.

Public pressure was steadily mounting for The Clairemont Killer to be apprehended. These murders were ultimately responsible for the largest manhunt ever by the San Diego Police Department and the murders were included a feature on the popular television show, America's Most Wanted.

Eventually, a suspect was developed, brought in for questioning, but ultimately released. They did, however, obtain DNA before his release and this was sent to the lab. While waiting for the results, the suspect, having been discharged from the Navy, left San Diego and returned to his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

The DNA tests completed, the results were returned to the police department and they matched the DNA found on the crime scenes. They now knew who The Clairemont Killer was and murder warrants were obtained. Unfortunately, their suspect had left town. The detectives, entering the warrants in the NCIC system noted that their suspect had been arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, but had already been released on a small theft of property charge from a local bar. Immediately, two detectives from the San Diego Police Department were dispatched to fly to Birmingham to locate and arrest the killer.

On Saturday, March 2, 1991, two detectives from SDPD entered the front door of East Precinct and informed the desk officer they were there to meet with a homicide detective from the Birmingham Police Department. After the meeting, the three detectives returned to the desk officer and laid out the plan for the killer's arrest. The detectives, along with several marked patrol units, were going to the residence that the killer listed as his mom's home–where he was living–and, when in place, would contact the desk officer to call the telephone number listed by the killer on his arrest report. The officer was to ask for the killer by name and if the killer answered or if the killer's mom said to hold on she would go get him, the desk officer was to notify the detectives and they were going to enter the residence and make the arrest.

Unfortunately, the best-laid plans sometimes fall grossly awry. This was the case.

The desk officer, still considered a rookie, called the telephone number from a non-traceable telephone line and a lady answered–the killer's mom. When he asked for the suspect, Cleophus Prince, Jr., she informed the officer that her son was not home. That was not an option given by the detectives. Realizing that he had only a fraction of a second to come up with an alternative plan to keep the line of communication open, the rookie officer lied. [Police can do that.] Telling the killer's mom that he was an old high school friend and that he heard Cleophus was back in town, he wanted to reconnect and talk. Her reply was that her son would like that, she would give him the message. Thinking that this serial killer would probably not call, but not wanting to be surprised if he did, the rookie officer pulled from his knowledge of temperaments, motivation, and sales techniques.

Approximately an hour later, the non-traceable line lit and rang. Sitting in his chair at the East Precinct desk, he stared momentarily at the flashing line thinking that that was quite possibly a serial killer calls. Answering the telephone, and ready with his prepared plan, “Hello.”

The individual on the other end identified himself as Cleophus Prince, Jr.

Realizing that the story of being an old high school friend was about to fall apart, the officer confessed that, indeed, he was not an old high school friend, but a police officer at East Precinct. Reminding the killer that he had been arrested the night before, the officer explained that there was more paperwork to be completed (six murder warrants, but the officer didn't say that) and that if he would come to the precinct, the paperwork could be completed negating the officer needing to dispatch a marked patrol unit to his house. Allowing the suspect to think he was now in control over having a patrol unit sent to his house or not by agreeing to come to the precinct, the killer admitted that he did not want a police car coming to his home. The officer had to succeed in getting the suspect to agree to what he did not want. Now, how to get the killer to come to the precinct? The question of, “How does one get a serial killer to voluntarily walk into the police department,” weighed heavily but, since the officer could not leave the desk, that was what needed to happen. Telling the suspect that his shift at the police department would be ending at eleven that night, he would need to come to finish the paperwork before then or they would have to send a marked unit after that.

Again, the suspect was quite adamant that he did not want that to happen, but he did not have transportation to get to the police department. Then, taking the offer away, the officer explained that he was only trying to help by offering to allow him to come to the precinct to complete the paperwork, but if he (the killer) didn't get there by the end of the officer's shift, they dispatch of a marked patrol unit was the result. The officer, acting on the killer's motivation to not want a patrol car at his home, the killer responded.

After several telephone calls from the killer giving his status on getting a ride, the suspect made his last call just prior to the officer's end of shift saying that his mother was taking off work to come and get him to bring him to the precinct.

The Clairemont Killer, so enamored by the motivation from thoughts of having a marked patrol car show up at his home, was willing to risk being outed as being the serial killer from San Diego.

“This guy's actually going to walk into this precinct,” the officer later admitted thinking.

Just after midnight on that Sunday, March 3, 1991, The Clairemont Killer walked into East Precinct of the Birmingham Police Department where the rookie officer immediately placed the killer under arrest for the multiple murders in California.


Granberry, Michael (1993, April 13). Prosecutors Open Case Against San Diego Killer,, (Accessed August 9, 2019.)

Lampley, Steven D. (1991, March 3). Birmingham Police Department Arrest Report and Supplement, Case Number 910313853, Cleophus Prince, Jr.

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