He told police that he picked up a prostitute in Boston one autumn night in 2000 and brought back her to his room at the YMCA in Lynn, where he killed and beheaded her. Soon, he may also be charged in the slaying and beheading of a Boston man. And investigators are quietly probing whether Eugene McCollom was involved in at least one other killing.
McCollom, 39, is charged in Essex Superior Court with the woman's killing. He made a detailed statement about the case when he was arrested by State Police in late August 2001. He said he picked up a prostitute in Boston's Combat Zone on Nov. 11, 2000, then drove her to Lynn where he argued with her over money and strangled her.
"I just held on, I just held on till she stopped moving. I just stayed there. I don't know how long I held her, it seemed like a while," McCollom said in the statement, which was transcribed by an investigator and signed by McCollom.
McCollom then described beheading and mutilating the body, saying he didn't know why he did it. "I really have no idea. I was just experimenting with the knife," he said in the statement.
Authorities have yet to identify the woman, whose headless remains were found two days later on the grounds of the Soldiers' Home in Chelsea.
McCollom unsuccessfully asked an Essex County judge last year to throw out his statement to police. In the evidentiary hearing, he argued that he had been tricked by police into making the statement -- but he also acknowledged that the statement was an accurate reflection of what he had said. And he said he had been questioned about other killings.
Now McCollom has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the slaying of John "Jackie" Leyden, a Boston man whose beheaded body was found March 19, 2001, in his East Boston apartment by his brother.
Suffolk County prosecutors had originally charged the brother, William Leyden, but last Monday announced plans to drop the charge, citing "newly discovered, exculpatory evidence."
Authorities have not yet charged McCollom in the slaying. So there is no official story about how or why McCollom might have killed Jackie Leyden. William Leyden's defense attorney has argued that McCollom and Jackie Leyden knew each other from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and had been enemies at one point.
But in a February court filing in the Leyden case, prosecutors revealed that a "Defendant X" had offered to plead guilty to second-degree murder in the slayings of both a woman whose "decapitated remains were found on the grounds of the Soldiers' Home in Chelsea" and Jackie Leyden.
The unnamed defendant had offered to provide information on the location of evidence in both killings, prosecutors wrote.
And in a meeting with Essex and Suffolk prosecutors and investigators, Defendant X "discussed at length the manner in which he had killed John Leyden," offering details that only the killer, or someone intimately familiar with the killing, would know, prosecutors wrote.
One detail was the location of John Leyden's head. Defendant X claimed that after removing Leyden's head he took it to Florida and buried it in a park in Fort Lauderdale.
That claim checked out. Fort Lauderdale police reported they had a skull that was found in the park and DNA tests, according to a law enforcement source who requested anonymity, have now identified the skull as Leyden's.
The source also confirmed that McCollom is Defendant X, as did William Leyden's defense attorney, Roger Witkin.
In January, police found another head and a pair of hands, believed to be those of the Lynn victim, buried in a container on Long Beach in Nahant. Essex district attorney's spokesman Steve O'Connell said investigators are awaiting the results of laboratory tests on those remains.
Lawrence McGuire, McCollom's defense attorney, did not returned messages seeking comment.
Winthrop attorney Cathy Marino issued a statement on behalf of McCollom's family members, saying they "are hopeful that his anticipated admissions of guilt will bring the matter to a close for everyone who has been affected by these tragic events."
One case now being reexamined for a possible connection to McCollom, according to two law enforcement sources who requested anonymity, is the slaying of Kelly Ford, whose remains were found Oct. 22, 2001, on Scusset Beach in Sandwich. Ford, 23, and the mother of a 4-year-old girl, was last seen Aug. 15, 2001, leaving a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Lynn to head for an interview for a volunteer job.
"I think he's got to be checked out on these kinds of killings," said Witkin, who raised the question of whether McCollom was a serial killer in court filings during his defense of William Leyden.
As part of that defense, Witkin had asked the prosecution for information on other unsolved cases of slain women, including the case of Darlene Toler, a prostitute killed in Florida in 1995.
Miami-Dade Detective Jim McColman, who has told newspapers in the past that his department is interested in a possible connection between McCollom and Toler, didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.
For the most part, law enforcement officials have been tightlipped about McCollom.
Suffolk district attorney's spokesman David Procopio had no comment on who will be charged in the Leyden slaying. In Middlesex County, where the body of prostitute Latasha Cannon was found in April 2001 in the town of Bedford, district attorney's spokesman Seth Horwitz had no comment on McCollom except to say, "We are aware of him and we know who he is."
Middlesex authorities are investigating if a serial killer was responsible for the deaths of four women whose bodies have been found in that county. But at least two of them disappeared after McCollom had been jailed.
McCollom testified in the hearing last year that he was a high school graduate who has worked "various" jobs. His last job before being arrested was as a day laborer. He also said he had suffered psychological problems after his 27-year-old brother, Patrick, was stabbed to death in a 1996 argument at a Revere bar.
Bruce Macdonald, chief executive of the Greater Lynn YMCA, said McCollom made little impression on him and the staff there.
At last year's evidentiary hearing, McCollom testified that he was "shook up" when police accused him of killing the woman in Lynn. "When I first got to the jail, I just about tried to hurt myself because I was so despondent about being labeled a serial killer," said McCollom.
But in the same hearing, McCollom acknowledged lying to police when he initially claimed he had been simply dumping trash at the Soldiers' Home where a surveillance camera had allegedly recorded him dumping the unidentified woman's body in November 2000.
"You dumped something else up there, didn't you, Mr. McCollom?" asked Essex County prosecutor Kathe Tuttman.
"It turns out I did," said McCollom.