By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Cold-case detectives have positively matched a deceased serial killer's DNA to the decades-old murders of four women in Denver, and they suspect that he may be responsible for as many as 26 unsolved homicides, authorities said on Wednesday.
Vincent Groves, who was convicted of three slayings and died in prison of natural causes in 1996, has now been tied conclusively to the slayings of three other women in 1979 and one more in 1988, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said in an interview.
"I fully expect we will tie him to at least one, and possibly three or four other unsolved cases" through DNA, Morrissey said.
Morrissey said investigators were examining possible connections between Groves and 26 unsolved murders but may not be able to positively link him to the entire batch of homicides for which he is a suspect.
Groves was sentenced to life in prison in 1990 for two murders he committed while on parole for a 1982 second-degree murder conviction.
The women Groves killed or is suspected of killing ranged from prostitutes and drug addicts to women he knew from church or in business, Morrissey said.
The victims were typically strangled and sexually assaulted before their bodies were dumped in alleys, rural areas or in the mountains west of Denver, the prosecutor said.
The latest cases positively tied to Groves were closed with the help of a U.S. Justice Department grant that paid for Denver police to use DNA analysis in examining some 250 unsolved murders between 1970 and 1984.
Once detectives learned Groves had a terminal illness, they went to interview him in person seeking confessions to any additional murders he had been suspected of committing.
"He would toy with the detectives and admit he knew the victims or that he was the last person to be seen with them but never confessed to the killings," Morrissey said.
But advances in DNA-identification techniques definitively linked Groves to the four additional cases announced on Wednesday, and relatives of the four victims were notified of the DNA matches before authorities made the results public, Morrissey said.
"He destroyed so many lives, but the families can at least get some sense of closure," he said.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)