By: Lexi Kakis
Bodies have been discovered along the water for years, but now, a string of deaths has investigators denying a serial offender while online sleuths fear the worst.
Could there be a serial killer cell in Austin, Texas?
If you are keeping up with the reboot of Criminal Minds: Evolution, you know they spent the first season digging into the possibility of a serial killer network created during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Criminal Minds may be fictional, the idea of a network of serial killers isn’t far off.
Recently, online sleuths have been exploring the possibility of a potential serial killer group operating near Lady Bird Lake, located in Austin, Texas. Bodies have been discovered along the water for years, and considering the waterfront is near popular night spots where rumors of “roofie attacks” are running rampant, it only adds to the online fuel.
Downtown Austin, Texas is a popular area for tourists and locals alike, with different bars, lots of outdoor activities, and a view of the skyline. There’s a hike and bike trail along Lady Bird Lake, and is just feet from the end of Rainey Street.
Just on that street corner alone, four bodies have been recovered along the shore this year.
The situation out of Austin has been gaining attention amongst armchair detectives thanks to the Facebook group Lady Bird Lake Serial Killer/ Rainey St Killer which has begun to document the cases. The group, which was created on February 14, 2023, has over 70,000 members and is growing daily.
Smiley Face Killer Gang?
Some members have suggested that these cases are similar to the “Smiley Face Killer” — a killer or killers responsible for the deaths of at least 45 college-aged men in several Midwestern states from the late 1990s to the 2010s. In most of those cases, the case of death is listed as an accidental drowning — just like in the cases in Austin.
“Just from the sheer number [of victims] and the fact that there’s so many in a short period of time, I don’t believe that it’s accidental,” Kevin Gannon, retired NYPD detective who investigated ‘Smiley Face killers’ theory as a private eye told FOX News.
He believes the Austin victims are being taken to the waterfront, and aren’t going on their own volition and accidentally drowning. Gannon notes that it takes effort to get down to the waterfront from the popular night bars.
Stoking more fears in the Smiley Face Killer cell theories, locals have also noticed an uptick of ‘smiley’ graffiti in and around the Lady Bird Lake area. Is it related to a serial killer cell, or other kids playing a prank? Investigators seem to believe nothing is out of the ordinary.
“Although these cases are still under investigation and evidence is being analyzed, at this time, there is no evidence in any of these cases to support allegations of foul play,” Austin police said in a statement. “While each incident has occurred at the lake, the circumstances, exact locations, and demographics surrounding these cases vary.”
The police’s beliefs haven’t stopped online sleuths from drawing possible victimology connections in these cases.
The individuals found deceased are mostly white men with olive complexions, whose ages vary from 20s-40s. They are mostly well educated, and a majority of them hold computer-related occupations.
These cases are being classified as ‘accidental drowning’, and the local medical examiner is only conducting autopsies at the families’ request. In an April 3 statement, Austin Police said “autopsies have not revealed any trauma to the bodies and therefore foul play is not suspected in any of the deaths. Some have speculated that this is because the autopsies are only testing for cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana, among other drugs. However, they are not testing for synthetic drugs.”
Even though many of these cases are classified as accidental drownings, according to the February 2023 Chief’s report, online sleuths are quick to point out that their data does not match the numbers listed in the police incident report database. Specifically, there have been no drownings reported.
After a TikTok went viral, it put more eyes on this ongoing story. Many of the victim’s family members feel that there is more to the story.
Who are the Lady Bird Lake Victims?
Unfortunately, there is limited information about these cases. Some news outlets have reported on the victims’ manner and cause of death, but that information has not been made publicly available for all of the victims.
Listed in chronological order based on the date discovered, below are the current victims whose cases are currently unsolved.
Eron David Wrublik was found deceased on Saturday, October 13, 2014, after witnesses noticed a body floating in Lady Bird Lake. He was 25. Eron was last seen with his friends on Thursday, October 9. According to KVUE, he called an Uber home to Rainy Street at around 2:30 a.m., but was dropped off near the Holiday Inn near Interstate 35. Police believe Eron may have been walking too close to the water and fell in, but do not suspect foul play.
Julios Santos III’s (pictured) body was pulled from Lady Bird Lake on June 10, 2015. He was reported missing two days earlier. Julios was a recent UNT graduate where he double majored in Merchandising and Digital Retailing. According to KVUE, he was last seen at the East Sixth and Red River streets around 2:30 a.m. KVUE also reports that Austin PD said Julios’ death appeared suspicious but then the medical examiner found no signs of suspicious trauma. His death had been ruled a drowning.
Santiago Gonzalez Becerra was found deceased on Sunday, November 29 at 10:30 a.m. by a canoer. He was 33 years old. His sister reported him missing three days before his body was found. According to officials, a cause of death has not been released, but the medical examiner reported to KVUE that there was no suspicious trauma to the body.
Fernando Domingo Ortiz was found in the Colorado River on June 18, 2016. His body was discovered by two people fishing, and a call was made to authorities at 3:02 p.m. He was 35 years old. According to Austin-Statesman, he was identified by his thumbprint from a Department of Public Safety record. Fernando had a large family, he loved to fish and make people laugh.
Daniel Michael was found deceased on May 14, 2017. He was 43 years old. He was wearing a University Medical Center Brackenridge hospital gown. It is believed that earlier that day, he left the facility against medical advice. Daniel was described as sweet-natured with a sense of humor. The police do not believe that Daniel’s death was suspicious.
Tia Shane Brooks was found in Waller Creek on April 15. Her body was found near 4th and I-35. She was 24 years old. Tia would be the first known female victim. The Austin-Stateman reports that Austin Police responded to a call of a person drowning at 3:16 a.m. Sadly, by 4:14 a.m., Tia was pronounced deceased at the scene. Her cause of death was accidental drowning.
Joshua Head was found on Friday, June 17, by a pattle boarder. He was 43 years old. The police do not believe his death is suspicious.
Jesse Perry was found in Waller Creek on May 29. A few days later, he was identified. He was 61 years old. His death has been ruled accidental.
Ray Figueroa was found on June 12. On July 26, he was identified after a non-working cell phone was found, and data was extracted. He was 61 years old. The cause of death has not been released publicly. Austin Police said they are investigating Ray’s death as non-suspicious.
Walter Jack Woynarowski was found deceased along Waller Creek on July 25. He was identified in August. He was 44 years old. While no cause of death has been released, police do not believe foul play is involved.
Luis Alberto Ramirez (pictured)’s body was found floating in Lady Bird Lake on August 15. He was 37 years old. Police do not believe foul play was involved, and the cause of death has not been released.
Martin Gutierrez was found deceased on November 26, 2018, after someone reported an individual in the water near 1300 Riverside Drive. He was reported missing on November 19. He was a graduate of Texas Tech. Martin’s cause of death was accidental, and his manner of death was accidental. However, the autopsy did note a “blunt force trauma to the back of the head”, there was bruising on his scalp and swelling in his brain and chest cavities.
Randy Lexvold was found deceased on December 7 around 8:30 a.m. in Shoal Creek. He was 48 years old, and visiting from out of state. According to his credit card history, he made a purchase at Rooftop Bar around 10:30 p.m. on December 6. He worked for a software development company, AgileCraft. Per his autopsy, the cause of death was drowning, but the manner of death is undetermined. There was blunt force trauma, but officials believe this was the result of his falling from a bridge into the water.
Erik Manzanares-Medrano (pictured) was found deceased on May 24, 2021, when bystanders noticed his body in Lady Bird Lake. He was 26 years old. Authorities stated that his death was not considered suspicious. According to a Reprote Austin Facebook post, he was reported missing by his family on May 22, 2021.
Rocael Rosario Lopez was found deceased on January 6, 2022. There is very little information available about Rocael. However, according to an Austin Police Report, his death was accidental (report number: 2022-60441).
Jason John was found on February 13 near Lady Bird Lake. He was 30 years old. He was last seen on February 5 walking towards Lady Bird Lake Trail and his family had reported him missing. Jason’s death was ruled an accidental drowning. The police do not suspect foul play.
Clifton Axtell (pictured) was found deceased on March 5 near 300-400 West Riverside Drive. No cause or manner of death have been released yet. The police do not suspect foul play.
Jonathan Honey was found deceased on April 1. He was last seen at a taco truck on Rainey Street around 2 a.m. Friday, March 31. He was 33 years old. Austin Police do not suspect foul play.
John Christopher Hays-Clark was found deceased on April 15 near the 2700 block of Canterbury St. He was 30 years old. The investigation is ongoing.
Love this post? Meet the Author.
Lexi Kakis is the Community Engagement Manager at Uncovered. Lexi studied Media Communications at Molloy University, where she focused on television production and content creation. She has since shifted her focus toward advocating for cold cases. Lexi believes that justice has no expiration.
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