Trail of 1983 double-killing suspect leads to Los Angeles, officials say

A man wanted on suspicion of killing his male and female lovers in the Midwest more than 30 years ago may be dressing as a woman and hiding in Los Angeles, a Michigan investigator chasing the cold case said Wednesday.

The trail leading to John Kelly Gentry Jr. went cold after 1983, when he was on the lam and mailed a postcard to his father from Los Angeles, said Monroe County Sheriff’s Det. Jeff Smith.

No one has heard from Gentry since, but information pieced together over the years suggests he had adopted his middle name, “Kelly,” and once frequented the West Hollywood area, Smith said. Because of the alias, Smith said, there’s a chance Gentry has posed as a woman.

But Gentry’s current whereabouts are unknown, Smith said, so the LAPD and Michigan authorities are asking for the public to look at a sketch of what Gentry may look like now and see if they recognize him.

He would be about 63 years old, authorities said. He is described as white, 5 feet 7, about 154 pounds with brown eyes and hair. He has a circular burn scar on his left elbow and “LCI” burned into his upper left arm, authorities said.

Retracing his movements, Michigan investigators say that after the killings Gentry was in Indiana and San Diego before moving on to Los Angeles. Although his fingerprints and DNA are on file, Gentry has not popped up on law enforcement’s radar since 1983, Smith said.

“I’m guessing he’s living a law-abiding life,” the detective said.

Back in the ’80s, Gentry’s life was anything but law-abiding, authorities say. Details of the double slayings were confirmed by Smith and described on an “America’s Most Wanted” fansite.

According to the site, Gentry was a newly released 30-year-old convict when he met his first victim, 25-year-old Barbara Gerber, in 1983. He told her that he had been in jail for defending a woman and getting in a bar fight, when in reality he had nearly killed his then-boyfriend by crushing his Adam’s apple.

Gerber and Gentry dated and eventually were living together in Gerber’s Summerfield Township home in Michigan when Gentry began a second relationship — this time with 52-year-old William Veith, a coin store owner living in nearby Toledo, Ohio.

Gentry allegedly spent time living at both homes, but neither of Gentry’s lovers knew about the other.

Though a motive has not been officially determined, authorities speculate that Gerber and Veith learned of each other. In April 1983, Gerber was sexually assaulted, stabbed and her throat was slit. Police believe Gentry turned on her gas stove and left a burning candle nearby in hopes it would cause an explosion.

But before that could happen, Gerber’s brother arrived at the home and discovered his sister’s body. Her car was also missing. 

Police in Toledo found the car and, seeing that Gentry had listed Veith’s home as an alternate residential address, visited Veith’s rare coin shop to look for Gentry.

Gentry wasn’t there but Veith was. He had been bludgeoned to death with the butt of an ax that was left at the crime scene. Veith’s car, along with some coins and jewels from the shop, was gone.

The car was found in South Bend, Ind., but Gentry was never seen again. Authorities believe he is responsible for both killings.

The postcards Gentry mailed out that May from San Diego and Los Angeles, respectively, were noted in the original case file, but their contents were never documented and they weren’t kept as evidence by the original detective, Smith said. Both of Gentry’s parents are dead and his only surviving relative, a sister, hasn’t heard from him since before the killings, the detective said.

“We’ve tried numerous things. We’ve got nothing substantial to go on,” Smith said.

Anyone with information on Gentry’s whereabouts is asked to call Monroe County detectives at (734) 240-7530.

Joseph.serna@latimes.com

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.

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