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No-nickname handyman killed at least 8 women

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - He's killed more people than the Son of Sam, but there are no made-for-TV movies about Alfred Gaynor.

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - He's killed more people than the Son of Sam, but there are no made-for-TV movies about Alfred Gaynor.

The one-time handyman didn't even pick up a macabre nickname as he attacked and strangled at least eight women in his hometown of Springfield in the 1990s, becoming one of his state's most prolific serial killers.

The scale of his killing spree only recently became clear when Gaynor, imprisoned on four murder convictions, confessed this fall to four other unsolved slayings in which he'd been a longtime suspect. Charges are possible in two more deaths for which he's confessed: a 20-year-old mother and her toddler daughter in 1996.

The deaths terrorized this western Massachusetts city, where Mace permit requests soared as the women's bodies were discovered in alleys, vehicles and their own homes between 1995 and 1998.

His new confessions came as part of a convoluted plea deal for his imprisoned nephew, who'd been convicted in another murder for which Gaynor, 44, now claims responsibility.

The families of the strangled women - including the victims' 16 children, now teens and adults - vacillate between relief to see him held accountable and anguish over learning details of the deaths.

"Some people are just evil through and through," said Janice Ermellini, whose daughter Jill Ann, 34, was killed in 1997 by Gaynor in an abandoned truck shortly after she moved to Springfield from Windsor Locks, Conn.

"When he finally confessed, I felt like a weight was removed from my shoulders. But that day in court when I heard the gruesome details . . . it's different. There's no peace. It goes through my mind constantly," Ermellini said.

Gaynor remains relatively unknown beyond Springfield, where he met several of his victims in their mutual search for crack cocaine. Others were low-income single mothers, often acquaintances, whom he robbed for drug money.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston, said Gaynor may not have garnered as much notoriety as other serial killers because - rightly or wrongly - people might have viewed his murders as less random than, for example, Ted Bundy's rapes and killings of college students and young girls in the 1970s.

"When you have a case of a serial murderer like Bundy, who looks like he could be the guy at the next desk or the next house, that's intriguing and scary at the same time to people," Fox said. "Whereas if you have a serial killer whose behavior is consistent with the stereotype of a criminal or murderer, it's not so fascinating to them."

Gaynor worked occasional odd jobs in the 1990s, but mostly moved from one crack fix to the next, according to court testimony and files. He had also been tried and acquitted of a rape charge in 1997.

In the eight murders, his calling card was brutality: Authorities say several of the women were tightly bound, some had socks or other objects jammed in their throats, and the rapes involved violence that went beyond sexual gratification. In three cases, the women's bodies were found by their children.

Gaynor insisted for years that he was innocent, even after his first four murder convictions in 2000. It was only after the 2006 death of his 67-year-old mother, described as his family's matriarch and one of his strongest supporters, that he admitted he was a rapist and killer.

He told police and prosecutors in a 2008 interview that he kept quiet until after her death because he "just couldn't destroy everything she believed in."

With eight convictions, Gaynor now joins the ranks of several more notorious U.S. serial killers, including New York's "Son of Sam," David Berkowitz (six convictions); executed Florida prostitute and killer Aileen Wuornos (six); and executed Connecticut serial rapist Michael Ross (eight).

And now, his victims' families await a final chapter: whether he will be indicted based on his confession in two more 1996 deaths - 20-year-old Amy Smith and her 22-month-old toddler, Destiny, who was trapped for days without food or water in a sweltering apartment with the strangled woman's body.

Those are the deaths for which Paul Fickling, Gaynor's nephew, originally was convicted.