Police shoot dead Carolina serial killer

The serial killer who terrorised a South Carolina community by shooting dead five people before police killed him was a career criminal paroled just two months ago, authorities said today.

Patrick Burris, 41, was shot by officers investigating a burglary report at a home 30 miles from where the killing spree started on June 27.

Bullets in his gun matched those that killed people in and around Gaffney over six days last week, said State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd.

Investigators did not have an address for Burris. While evidence left no doubt he was the killer, they still had no idea why he did it.

"He was unpredictable. He was scary. He was weird," said SLED deputy director Neil Dolan.

Burris had a long police record filled with charges such as larceny, forgery and breaking and entering from states across the south east. He had been paroled from a North Carolina prison in April after serving nearly eight years.

"Look at this," Mr Lloyd said, waiving a stapled copy of Burris' criminal record. "This is like 25 pages. At some point the criminal justice system is going to need to explain why this suspect was out on the street."

Gaffney farmer Sam Howell, 61, was among dozens of people from Cherokee County who came to the news conference where authorities identified Burris.

"My prayers were answered. He got what he deserved," Mr Howell said. "He scared the hell out of everyone. I guess we can feel better but we've lost some of our innocence."

The mystery ended in Gastonia yesterday after a couple called police to report a suspicious sport utility vehicle in their neighbourhood.

Mike and Terri Valentine were on edge because the Gaffney serial killer was just a short drive away.

They watched two people who sometimes visit the neighbouring home get out of the vehicle, followed by a third man who matched the description of the killer: tall, heavy-set, unshaven and wearing a baseball cap. The man appeared to be very drunk, Mr Valentine said.

When officers went inside, Mrs Valentine said she heard someone yell: "Put it down" and heard a gunshot.

Then "bam, bam, bam, bam. Next thing I know, all of Gaston County was here", she said.

Gaston County police said the other two people were in custody, but did not indicate whether they were facing charges.

The Gaffney killings happened in a 10-mile area over six days. A peach farmer was killed on June 27, an 83-year-old woman and her daughter were found bound and shot four days later, and the next day a father and his teenage daughter were shot in their family's furniture shop.

Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton said investigators would trace the suspect's recent activities and try to find out if he had killed other people in other places.

"Now we have someone we can focus on," he said.

Sheriff Blanton said he hoped the arrest calmed the fears of 54,000 people in the county known for its peach orchards and mills.

"We feel the victims' pain," he said. "This isn't over. We're just changing gears."