When Sarah Butler didn’t return to her home in Montclair, New Jersey, in November 2016 after borrowing her mother’s minivan, her family immediately recognized she might be in trouble.
Using Butler’s computer password to log on to her email and social media accounts, one of her sisters and two friends discovered that she was one of the last men she was talking to online. They then had a meeting with him at a Panera Bread cafe in Montclair, with police waiting in the parking lot.
At the time, police considered the man, Khalil Wheeler-Weaver, then a 20-year-old security guard from Orange, New Jersey, as the only person interested in Butler’s disappearance.
But the trap that Butler’s sister and friends laid on November 26, 2016, helped detectives identify Wheeler-Weaver as a suspect and, ultimately, a serial killer, officials said.
Nearly five years later on Wednesday, Wheeler-Weaver, 25, was sentenced to 160 years in prison for the murder of 20-year-old Butler; Robin West, 19, of Union Township; and Joan Brown, 33, of Newark; and for kidnapping, sexual assault, and attempted murder of Tiffany Taylor. All four were attacked from August to November 2016.
Adam Wells of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the case’s lead prosecutor, credited Butler’s sister and friends with organizing the first in-person meeting between Montclair police and Wheeler-Weaver, giving detectives “a major early break” in the investigation. met.
“They really go above and beyond what people often do,” Wells said in an interview. “It’s a testament to his love for his friend and sister.”
Butler was a student at New Jersey City University when he began talking to Wheeler-Weaver on Tagged, a social networking site where he went by the name Lilyachtrock.
After borrowing his mother’s minivan to visit her on November 22, 2016, Wheeler-Weaver strangled her, officials said. His body was found on December 1, 2016 at Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange.
The police had started a missing person investigation before his body was found. At the same time, Butler’s sister Basania Daly and two friends, Lamia Brown and Samantha Rivera, begin their detective work.
Because Brown knew Butler’s computer passwords, they were able to log into his social media accounts and discover that Butler was talking to tagged Lilliachtrock, Wells said.
Rivera tagged but created her own profile. Wells said that within an hour, Lilyachtrock contacted her and began pressuring her to meet in person.
Wells said Rivera was at the police station in Montclair, hoping to tell detectives that the last person to communicate with Butler had contacted her when he called her on her phone, Wells said. Daly took out his phone and recorded the conversation.
Wells said Rivera arranged to meet him at Panera and waved to him when he pulled into a BMW.
Then the police waiting in the parking lot stopped the wheeler-weaver and inquired about Butler’s disappearance.
Wheeler-Weaver was not immediately arrested because Butler’s body had not yet been found, and was only considered a person of interest, not a suspect, Wells said.
But the way he had gotten to the Riviera so quickly raised the detectives’ concerns about him, and he provided an excuse that was later settled, Wells said.
“Getting this initial contact with Wheeler-Weaver was a big early break,” Wells said. “It gave us more reason to doubt him.”
Wheeler-Weaver was arrested a few days after Butler’s body was found. Daly, Brown and Rivera did not respond to messages left at the numbers listed below their names. His role in solving the case was first reported by NorthJersey.com.
Although he may be outwardly attractive, Wheeler-Weaver tortured and strangled women who were poor, homeless, mentally ill or engaged in sexual work, officials said.
Officials said police found he had searched online for anesthesia and drugs to “put someone to sleep” as well as poison in the home.
Officials said investigators also found a body fluid cleanup kit, zip ties and lighter fluid in the trunk of the car where he assaulted Taylor in November 2016.
Authorities said Wheeler-Weaver set fire to West’s body after he was murdered on September 1, 2016 and set fire to an abandoned home where he had left her.
His remains were so badly burnt that he had to be identified from dental records.
Judge Mark Ali, sentencing Wheeler-Weaver in the Superior Court of Essex County on Wednesday, said, “He thought all the victims would be ignored.” “He thought all the victims would eventually be forgotten.”
Wheeler-Weaver maintained his innocence by reading from a sheet of paper.
“I have clear and solid evidence that I was set up, lied to, and I was implicated by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office,” he said.
During the hearing, Taylor dismissed Wheeler-Weaver’s claims. Taylor, who had been kidnapped and assaulted by Wheeler-Weaver seven days before Butler’s murder, reported that she had previously met Wheeler-Weaver at his home and recognized him when he assaulted her.
During the attack, Wheeler-Weaver had handcuffed her, put duct tape around her head and began covering her nose and mouth, Ali said. But Taylor managed to slip out of handcuffs and then escape when she locked the door to her hotel room, leaving Wheeler-Weaver outside.
Taylor said that since the attack, she doesn’t do her hair or use makeup nor whether she wants friends.
“I don’t trust anyone,” she said. “I’m always mad. But I’m still happy to be here and to be able to tell what happened so that she can be put off for it.”