Possible 'next victim' speaks out about the release of serial killer

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A woman who may have been the next target of a southern Arizona serial killer 50 years ago says she wants the killer sent back to prison. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) A woman who may have been the next target of a southern Arizona serial killer 50 years ago says she wants the killer sent back to prison. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
William Huff (Source: CBS 5 and Arizona Dept. of Corrections) William Huff (Source: CBS 5 and Arizona Dept. of Corrections)
Cindy Clelland and Jenelle Haines (Source: CBS 5) Cindy Clelland and Jenelle Haines (Source: CBS 5)

A woman who may have been the next target of a southern Arizona serial killer 50 years ago says she wants the killer sent back to prison. It is the latest development in a story CBS 5 Investigates first reported in April.

“He killed two little girls and had a third on the list. That’s a serial killer to me. He would have struck again,” said Debra Conn, who was 13 years old during the summer of 1967. That was the summer "The Phantom" terrorized the community of Sierra Vista.

[ORIGINAL STORY: CBS 5 Investigates The Phantom Killer]

Cindy Clelland, a blonde 7-year-old, was the first to disappear. Searchers found her naked, mutilated body in the desert, days later. Two months later, Janelle Haines disappeared. She was a 6-year-old who had just moved to the community with her family. Her body was discovered the same day, also naked.

In the time between the two murders, Sierra Vista police received a letter that they did not publicize. It was from the killer.

[SLIDESHOW: The Phantom Killer]

It read, “I am The Phantom. You have found my first victim. My next one lives on Steffen. A nine-year-old girl.”

“There were four, maybe five young girls that lived on Steffan Street,” said Debra. She was one of them. “I was more cautious, yes. But I didn’t necessarily think I was the next victim,” she said. But her parents weren’t taking any chances. They contemplated sending her out of town to live with friends or relatives until police caught the killer.

[WATCH PART I: The Phantom strikes]

Debra’s brother, Ronald, who was 11 at the time, says he remembers walking home from school and seeing an unmarked police car on his street.

“I walked in and asked my grandmother about it. And that’s when she told me there was a threat on a little girl on the street and they thought it might be my sister,” said Ronald.

[WATCH PART II: Confronting a killer]

The Conns say the neighborhood calmed down after police arrested a 17-year-old boy in the murders. William Huff had been in trouble with the law before. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.

For decades, the Conns rarely thought about Huff. But they never forgot about Cindy Clelland and Janelle Haines. Ronald married one of the other girls who lived on Steffan Street. Debra says she experienced occasional bouts of guilt because she lived through that summer.

[WATCH PART III: Changing the law]

But in April, the Conns’ sense of safety was jolted. That is when they saw the CBS 5 Investigation that showed Huff had been released from prison and was on house arrest at a halfway house in Tucson.

“I was worried,” said Debra. “For around a week, I double-checked people around me in the grocery store,” she said. The old feelings of fear came rushing back.

[WATCH PART IV: What's next?]

CBS 5 Investigates filmed Huff riding around his new neighborhood on a bicycle. None of the neighbors were notified he was there.

“He seems like he’s in pretty good health. And if he has a chance, I would not be surprised if it would happen again,” said Ronald.

The Conns spoke out because they want the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency to send Huff back to prison. And they would like to see the law change so that neighbors are alerted if someone like Huff moves in nearby. That is something members of the Arizona Legislature refused to do in May, but promised to consider in the coming months.

“I think the law needs to change so they release information to the neighbors, similar to what they do with a sexual predator,” said Debra.

Ronald says he would like to be able to forgive Huff someday. But he says Huff has to own up to his actions, first. That’s something he doesn’t think Huff has done.

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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award, and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. In October 2016, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School at Purdue University Global. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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