Alleged serial killer’s life a deep well of rage

Alleged serial killer Aeman Presley leaves DeKalb court after pleading not guilty Wednesday afternoon May 27, 2015 to charges stemming from the shooting death of a hairdresser on the downtown Decatur square. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com
Alleged serial killer Aeman Presley leaves DeKalb court after pleading not guilty Wednesday afternoon May 27, 2015 to charges stemming from the shooting death of a hairdresser on the downtown Decatur square. Ben Gray / bgray@ajc.com

Detectives use words like “brutal,” “sinister” and “evil” to describe a series of fatal shootings attributed to Aeman Presley, arrested last week after he was caught trying to board a MARTA train without paying.

It is not the first time such dark labels have been affixed to Presley, 34, charged with killing four metro Atlantans between late September and early December.

Presley told Rockdale Sheriff’s deputies investigating a 2003 domestic violence incident that his mother had called him “the son of Satan.”

His life was “messed up,” he told police, and his parents were to blame.

“I’ve made excuses for him before, but not anymore,” Earsina Presley told police, who were called after she alleged Aeman had threatened to killer her. “You do what you can for your child, and I’ve prayed and prayed for him to straighten up his act, but my prayers aren’t being answered.”

Earsina Presley, now deceased, raised her only child alone in the Morgan Park community on Chicago’s hardscrabble south side. Everyone there knew her as “Bernie,” and wherever she went, little Aeman followed.

“His mom used to take my sister and myself to the library and he was tagging along right with us,”said Tenee Harmon.

She was a strict disciplinarian — “very stern but loving,” said childhood friend William Branch. He never met Presley’s father, and Aeman rarely discussed him.

Presley told those Rockdale deputies his father was a cop and a “worthless [expletives deleted] who never did anything for me or [his mother] but she always stuck up for him.”

Shedding the gang life

Presley was in the fifth grade when he joined the Folk Nation, an alliance of Chicago gangs founded in the late 1970s by prison inmates.

“I wouldn’t go out on the street feeling sorry for myself because I didn’t have a father,” Presley, then a sophomore at Stone Mountain High School, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1995. He was interviewed for an article examining Atlanta’s burgeoning gang problem.

“I’ve never killed nobody, but a few of the guys I hung with might have, ” he said. “We shot at some people.”

Earsina Presley, worried that she was losing her son to the streets, was anxious to get him out of Chicago, Branch said. She accepted a job in Georgia and moved them to Stone Mountain.

Aeman seemed to welcome the fresh start, telling the AJC he was determined to stay out of trouble.

“I knew it was something I wasn’t supposed to be doing,” he said of his street life.

His anger growing

Following high school, Presley joined the Georgia National Guard. He was fired from a job at Carmike Cinemas in Conyers in December 2002 because he was “prone to violence,” according to a incident report from the Rockdale sheriff’s office.

An off-duty deputy had to intervene when Presley threatened to assault a supervisor after he was given the boot. He was eventually arrested, charged and ordered to enroll in an anger management class.

Four months later, deputies responded to a domestic violence call at the Presley’s home in Conyers. His mother, who was nearly crippled by arthritis, said the fight started when she encouraged him to be more thrifty.

Aeman, then 22, began kicking and slapping her and threatened to kill her during the encounter, she reported. She ran to a neighbor’s house where she called police.

Aeman was asleep when Rockdale deputies arrived. Informed of his mother’s allegations, he immediately launched into “a tirade against his parents, the incident report states.

When asked by one of the deputies why he was living with his mother if she was so bad to him, Presley said, “I’m just staying here long enough to make enough money to go to Los Angeles, and nobody’s going to keep me from my dreams.”

An ‘injustice collector’?

Retired FBI criminal profiler Gregg McCrary said that exchange with police indicates Presley viewed himself as a perpetual victim, a common trait among serial killers.

“We call them ‘injustice collectors,’ ” says McCrary. “They have the sense that everyone is against them. Their rage builds until it reaches critical mass.”

On that day in 2003, Presley’s anger boiled over. He followed the deputies who had questioned him to the neighbor’s home where his mother had fled.

“It was at that time Mr. Presley told all who were listening that he was going to, ‘Get my gun and kill all ya’ll,’ ” according to the incident report. “I’m going to shoot holes in everybody.”

As the officers tried to restrain him Presley adopted a boxer’s stance, taking a swing at one of them before fleeing on foot. He was detained on a nearby street but didn’t go easy; deputies had to place him in leg irons after he tried to kick through the window of their patrol vehicle.

His mother told the deputies she feared for her life.

Off to Hollywood 

Earsina Presley died in 2006. Aeman remained in the metro Atlanta area, picking up work as a movie extra. He was credited with roles in two low-budget urban crime dramas and finally managed to save up enough money to move to Hollywood.

“Well im here!!!” he wrote on Facebook in December 2010. “And I just realized this weekend while I was swimming at Venice beach that im here and in life im HAPPY!!! Thats all that matters at the end of the day.”

Branch said Presley gave him the impression his old friend was doing well, enjoying life in L.A. and modeling.

But Presley was 31 at the time — well past the age to begin a modeling career. In reality, he was having trouble finding work, spending a lot of his time home, smoking marijuana, as revealed by selfies he posted on social media.

In January, he signed up for an acting class at the Margie Haber Studio in Beverly Hills. According to a receptionist at the studio, Presley attended an orientation but never returned. Cryptic messages on Facebook indicate he may have been disappointed that he was grouped with beginning actors.

Around this time he posted, "We are all gods capable of good and evil … and can do whatever we want on Earth. Whether it be good or evil because thats the divine right we were given."

“Textbook narcissism,” said the FBI’s McCrary. “They can do whatever they want. That’s how psychopaths think.”

Planning for murder

Presley’s final months in Los Angeles were marked by failure. Police there issued a warrant for his arrest for illegal drug possession. When Branch tried to call him last spring, Presley’s phone was disconnected. His Facebook posts ended, save for an Aug. 27 update of his profile picture in which he’s wearing a black shirt and hoodie — similar to the description given to police by witnesses to the murders of two homeless men during the week of Thanksgiving: Dorian Jenkins, 42, and Tommy Mims, 68.

Investigators say he planned his first murder. Calvin Gholston, 53, was living in an alleyway near a shopping center on Memorial Drive for two months before his bullet-ridden body was found on Sept. 27, DeKalb police say. Presley allegedly cased the shopping center, determining when all the stores closed.

He himself was homeless at the time, and McCrary said it’s possible he targeted his victims out of resentment.

“The killings fuel the fantasy that at least I’m a somebody,” he said. “They’ve gone from being losers to being gods.”

Decatur Police Chief Mike Booker said Presley confessed to the Dec. 6 slaying of Smyrna hairsylist Karen Pearce — the fourth and final murder he’s alleged to have committed.

However, there could be more, investigators say.

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” McCrary said. “With each murder it becomes easier. They like it, they get emboldened. If he hadn’t been caught, I have little doubt he would’ve tried to kill again.”

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