Last December 4 began as a typical day in the short life of Dawnia Hope Dacosta. By 10 a.m. that Friday, the 21-year-old choir singer was at Broward Community College studying to become a pediatric nurse. That afternoon she worked at American Express as a customer service representative. After punching out at 10 p.m., she went to church and prayed until 1 a.m. Learning to heal children, working to help pay bills, and spending her Friday nights with Jesus -- that was Dawnia, say friends, who routinely use words like saintly and angelic to describe her. Saving herself for her dream husband, Dacosta hoped to find him at church. Pinned to her bedroom wall was a magazine photo of a white wedding gown. In her book bag was a catalog clipping featuring engagement rings.

But she never met her dream man. On her way home from the prayer service, her 1985 Crown Victoria ran out of gas on Interstate 95, a couple miles from the house she shared with her mom, grandfather, and sisters. Dacosta walked up the Hillsboro Boulevard exit ramp with her plastic gas container in the post-midnight darkness to a nearby Texaco station, where Johnnie Mae Harris was waiting for service at the night window. She watched Dacosta, whom she didn't know, walk up in a flowery blouse, skirt, and sneakers. Dacosta appeared to be scared, Harris would later tell detectives, and behind her was a church van with the word Hope printed in large letters on its side. Harris and another witness heard the man driving the van ask Dacosta, "How far you got to go?" Harris didn't fear for the woman's safety as she got inside. It was a church van, after all. And the black man behind the wheel was a man of God, she assumed.

Dacosta couldn't have known that sometime after getting into that van, a man would viciously take what she'd saved for her future husband. She couldn't have known that she'd soon lose a fight for her life, that she would be struck dozens of times with a blunt instrument, that her skull would be cracked open. She couldn't have known that her raped, battered, bruised, and bitten body, stripped naked and wrapped in sheets, bags, and a plastic shower curtain, would be found in an alley behind a warehouse early the following Monday morning.

Detectives with the Broward Sheriff's Office began their investigation into Dacosta's murder looking, quite literally, for "Hope." As they searched for the van, news of the terrible death spread. More than 1000 mourners packed the Faith Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church in Fort Lauderdale for Dacosta's funeral. Many in attendance believed the ghastly killing was nothing less than a declaration of war by Satan. They prayed that the hellish man who did it would be caught before he struck again.

On January 30, detectives Glenn Bukata and Kevin Kaminsky got close to answering those prayers when they spotted the "Hope" van in front of a Christian day care center in Lauderhill. After eliminating some false leads, they interviewed the van's owner, Rev. Frank Lloyd, on March 22. Lloyd, who runs Hope Outreach Ministries, said his handyman, Lucious Boyd, had used the van from December 4 to 7. The detectives knew the name, and not just because Boyd was a member of a prominent family that owns a funeral home in Fort Lauderdale. They'd been told at the start of the Dacosta investigation that local police suspected Boyd in the disappearance of another young black woman.

On March 25, a sample of Boyd's DNA came back from the crime lab as a match to the semen found on Dacosta's body. The next day, he was arrested in the back of the James C. Boyd Funeral Home on Sistrunk Boulevard. Detectives got nowhere with their suspect, who mixed denials with claims of memory lapse. Bukata finally called Boyd a "cold-blooded killer without a conscience," according to BSO records, and told him he was going to jail for raping and killing Dacosta. A shaken Boyd leaned forward in his chair and put his head down. Bukata thought he was about to confess, but instead Boyd asked, "What took you so long to catch me?" Then he sat up straight and demanded an attorney.

Boyd has been in jail ever since, awaiting trial. But the question he asked the detective still hangs in the air, unanswered. Dacosta was the last of several women suspected to have either been raped or killed by Boyd, whom some police officers refer to as "Lucifer." On the streets rumors abound: People think Boyd has killed many women and used the funeral home to dispose of their bodies. Police say they wish he'd just talk. He's a suspect in crimes from "Palm Beach on down," says Fort Lauderdale police spokesperson Mike Reed, adding that the extent of Boyd's crimes may never be known if he doesn't confess.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman