Austin police insist they’ve found no evidence of a serial killer after four men were found dead in the city’s downtown Lady Bird Lake in a span of weeks.
But independent investigators, concerned residents, web sleuths and tens of thousands of members of a Facebook group closely following the string of incidents have voiced concerns of a possible murderer on the loose, targeting men on Rainey Street, which is home to a strip of bars a block or so from the water’s edge.
So Fox News Digital went down Friday night to ask people on Rainey Street directly what they thought about the rumors.
Some shrugged off the rumors. Some had concerns.
“Everyone seems shook,” one man told Fox News Digital. “Every person I’ve talked to around here has been really upset about it.”
That included Uber drivers, bartenders and city council members, his friend added.
“All I know is that it’s like a spate of bodies has been found, a high number in a short period of time,” said another woman.
Are their fears well-placed? Police for weeks have sought to reassure the public that they’ve seen no signs of foul play.
“Nothing has come to light that would indicate that there is a serial killer in Austin,” the city’s chief of police, Joseph Chacon, told FOX 7 Austin Thursday. He added that the recent deaths appeared to be the results of accidents or suicides.
The department did not immediately respond to a request for more information on those conclusions.
City officials have met multiple times on the issue and discussed other ways to enhance safety in the area – even if there is no killer.
Proposals have included adding lights, cameras and additional patrols from law enforcement and park rangers. Temporary fencing has also been installed in places to prevent people from falling into the water.
The latest public hearing, on Monday, saw friends of the victims and even Rainey Street bartenders speaking out, FOX 7 Austin reported.
“Since the last time we spoke, once again, another body has been pulled out of Lady Bird Lake,” a man named Josh Gale, who identified himself as a friend of one of the victims, reportedly told officials. “I don’t know how we can speed this up, to put in the requests, to get these to stop.”
Police had a visible presence on Rainey Street over the weekend, and were out in force along the strip.
The Austin Police Department’s mounted unit, which faced a threat of defunding two years ago, helped spearhead the new push for increased safety.
Austin police identified the latest victim last week as John Christopher Hays-Clark, 30. He was pronounced dead at the scene near a dam about two miles down river from where the others were found, closer to Rainey Street.
Police found Jason John, 30, dead in Lady Bird Lake in February, a week after he was last been seen on Rainey Street.
Clifton Axtell, 40, was identified as the man found dead on March 5 on the opposite riverbank.
Jonathan Honey, 33, was found on April 1, a day after he was last seen at a food truck on Rainey Street.
In part, concerns of a serial killer are fueled by rumors of roofie attacks targeting Rainey Street drinkers.
“Rainey Street is Roofie City,” one bar-goer claimed.
Drink-spiking drugs have been used for years to incapacitate victims, so they can be robbed.
More recently, thieves had added a high-tech layer to such crimes.
Police in New York City last month announced multiple indictments and arrests in connection with a series of robberies that involved drugging victims at bars and using facial recognition technology to unlock their phones and drain their accounts.
Several victims died as a result of overdosing on the drugs used to knock them out, according to police. Some were robbed of tens of thousands of dollars.
“People who are coming, I mean, it’s like business trips,” another Rainey Street reveler told Fox News Digital Friday. “People here are coming to spend a lot of money.”
Separately, the Austin deaths share eerie similarities to claims of a potential group of “Smiley Face Killers” who some investigators believe may have been responsible for dozens of drownings of young men in the Midwest beginning in the late 1990s.
“Just from the sheer number and the fact that there’s so many in a short period of time, I don’t believe that it’s accidental,” said Kevin Gannon, a retired NYPD detective who investigated the “Smiley Face Killers” theory as a private eye.
Police have so far disagreed, but they say they are still investigating.
“Although these cases are still under investigation and evidence is being analyzed, at this time, there is no evidence in any of these cases to support allegations of foul play,” Austin police said in a statement. “While each incident has occurred at the lake, the circumstances, exact locations, and demographics surrounding these cases vary.”