Serial killer who lured vulnerable women using social media app sentenced to 160 years in prison

April 02, 2022

On 22 November 2016, Montclair resident Sarah Butler, a lifeguard, and a student at New Jersey City University, borrowed her mother's minivan to meet with someone she had connected with on the Tagged social media dating app. She told her mother that she was meeting with a friend over Thanksgiving, however, in reality Sarah had connected with a user by the name of LilYachtRock residing in New Jersey, who offered her $500 for sex. Little did Sarah know she was about to meet with soon-to-be exposed serial killer Khalil Wheeler-Weaver.

When twenty-year-old Sarah Butler failed to return home that night, her friends, LaMia Brown and Samantha Rivera, and sister, Bassania Daley, logged into various accounts on her laptop including her email and Tagged account. LaMia Brown knew Sarah’s passwords and used them to track her missing friend. There, they discovered correspondence between Sarah and a user named LilYachtRock. One of the last messages she sent to him read: “You’re not a serial killer, right?”

Suspicious of the user, they set up a date with him using a fake profile. Samantha Rivera created an account on Tagged and was quickly messaged by LilYachtRock who pressured her into meeting right away. After receiving the messages, Rivera took the information she had to police. While at the station, Wheeler-Weaver called Rivera's phone, and she quickly hit record.

Wheeler-Weaver responded quickly to Rivera’s proposal to meet up at a Panera Bread cafe in Montclair. Unbeknownst to the killer, the women had the local police in tow and officers were waiting in the parking lot to arrest him.

Butler's body was not discovered until December 1, 2016, on the Eagle Rock Reservation in Orange. She had been strangled with a piece of her own clothing and her body had been covered over with leaves.

The former security guard from Orange, New Jersey was sentenced to 160 years last week for the murder of three women, 19-year-old Robin West of Union Township, 33-year-old Joanne Brown of Newark and 20-year-old Sarah Butler. His fourth victim, Tiffany Taylor, escaped after she was kidnapped and assaulted.

Cell phone records placed Wheeler-Weaver at the location of his victims’ disappearances well as the locations of their bodies.

Days before he murdered Sarah Butler, Wheeler-Weaver kidnapped, sexually assaulted and tortured Tiffany Taylor. Taylor said she recognized Wheeler-Weaver and had met him once before at his home in Orange, NJ. He later kidnapped raped, and tortured her before duct taping her head, including her nose and mouth. Although she was cuffed at the wrists, she managed to free one hand and lock Wheeler-Weaver outside her hotel room.

Tiffany Taylor said at the sentencing: "My whole life is different; I don't wear makeup anymore; I don't have friends. I'm always paranoid. But I’m happy to still be here. I hope you don’t show him any remorse, because he’s not showing any remorse."

On the night of 31 August 2016, witnesses saw 19-year-old Robin West get into Wheeler-Weaver's car. Within hours he had murdered the teenage girl and disposed of her body in an abandoned building near his home in Orange which he later set ablaze. West was identified by dental records around two weeks later. She had left home when she was eighteen and was known to struggle with mental health issues.

Joanne Brown was murdered around a month later and her body was also discarded much in the same way as that of Robin West- dumped in an abandoned house in Orange. It took six weeks for her remains to be discovered. All the women had been strangled to death with an item of their own clothing. The known murders took place between September – December of 2016.

During the investigation of Khalil Wheeler-Weaver, police discovered that he had performed online searches related to sleeping medications, date rape drugs, anaesthesia and instructions pertaining to home-made poisons. They also discovered a kit in his car consisting of zip ties, lighter fluid and chemicals commonly used to clean up blood.

Despite the mounting evidence against him, failed alibi and testimony from a living victim, Wheeler-Weaver denied any involvement in the women’s death and said: “I have clear and convincing evidence that I was set up, I was lied on, and I was framed by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.”

In court, Victor Butler, Sarah Butler's father, said of his daughter’s killer: "I hope you suffer, boy, every night."

Prosecutors said Wheeler-Weaver targeted young black women and teenagers who engaged in sex work and were struggling in other areas of their lives, for example with homelessness or mental illness. Although he admitted to meeting the women, he denied any involvement in their murders.

In 2019, Wheeler-weaver was convicted of three murders as well as the attempted murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of Ms. Taylor. He was also charged with aggravated arson and the desecration of human remains.

The defendant believed these victims were disposable. They were killed and then he went on about his day as if nothing had happened,” said Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Adam Wells.

He was sentenced to 160 years in prison last week, a sentence that ensures he will never walk free. He was remorseless in the court and maintained that he was innocent and had been framed, saying: "I was not the person who committed these crimes."

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