How Serial Killer Khalil Wheeler-Weaver Was Brought Down By The Same App He Used To Lure A Victim

Published December 22, 2019
Published December 22, 2019

Had the family of Wheeler-Weaver's third victim not cleverly used the social media app Tagged to lure him into a sting operation, his murder streak may have continued.

Khalil Wheeler Weaver's Mugshot

Public DomainKhalil Wheeler-Weaver went on a three-month killing spree that ended only when his final victim’s family used an app to trap him.

Between August 2016 and November 2016, 20-year-old serial killer Khalil Wheeler-Weaver murdered three African American women and attempted to murder another.

Wheeler-Weaver garnered the dubious moniker “The Tagged Killer” when it became obvious that he had lured one of his victims via the social media app, Tagged.

Fifty-three minutes before taking she became his third victim, 20-year-old Sarah Butler ominously texted Wheeler-Weaver: “Wow. You’re not a serial killer, right?”

Had Butler’s family not successfully used the app to lure him to his capture, who knows how long the Tagged Killer would have continued on his spree?

Khalil Wheeler-Weaver, The Tagged Killer

To look at Khalil Wheeler-Weaver, one would not think he could be a cold-blooded killer. Consistently well-groomed and nicely dressed, he’s a reminder of how deceptive appearances can be.

Information on Wheeler-Weaver’s early life is limited. According to USA Today, Wheeler-Weaver grew up in a comfortable home in a well-to-do neighborhood in Orange, New Jersey.

Several of his family members are employed with law enforcement. In late 2016, the 20-year-old himself was working as a security guard at a hotel and a grocery store.

Wheeler-Weaver was described as “calm and helpful” by detectives.

The First In A Series Of Fatal Dates

Wheeler-Weaver’s first victim was 19-year-old Robin West. According to her mother, West struggled with mental health issues and had been a sex worker at the time of her disappearance on Aug. 31, 2016.

The next day, local police responded to calls about a fire in an abandoned house. Upon entering the home, they discovered West’s charred remains.

Her body was so badly burned that she could not be identified until two weeks later through her dental records. Due to the state of her remains, her cause of death could not be determined.

When he was later questioned about West’s murder, Wheeler-Weaver told detectives that he had gone for a meal with West and dropped her off at an abandoned house about two blocks from where she was found.

Before detectives could make sense of the strange story, another woman disappeared under similar circumstances.

Robin West Joanne Brown

FacebookRobin West, left, and Joanne Brown, right, were both murdered by Wheeler-Weaver less than two months apart.

Joanne Brown, who was 33 in 2016, was struggling with homelessness and also had mental health problems. She was last seen getting into Wheeler-Weaver’s car on Oct. 22, 2016, and reported missing later that month.

On Dec. 5, 2016, Brown’s remains were discovered in a different abandoned house. Tape covered her nose and mouth. She had been strangled to death.

“You’re Not A Serial Killer, Right?”

On Nov. 22, 2016, Wheeler-Weaver murdered his third and final victim, 20-year-old Sarah Butler, a second-year student at New Jersey City University.

Butler was a deviation from Wheeler-Weaver’s other victims as she was not a sex worker and did not struggle with mental health issues. She was also close to her family and in the middle of earning a degree.

Essex County assistant prosecutor Adam Wells later described the Tagged killer’s usual victims as “somehow less than human, less valuable. Maybe they wouldn’t be missed.”

Wheeler-Weaver’s murder of Sarah Butler would turn out to be a grave mistake and would ultimately result in his capture.

Sarah Butler

FacebookSarah Butler was Wheeler-Weaver’s final victim. Her family would eventually be responsible for bring Wheeler-Weaver to justice.

Butler was home for Thanksgiving when she met Wheeler-Weaver on Tagged, a social media app. The two had planned to go out before, but Butler decided against it. But when Wheeler-Weaver offered her $500 for sex, she agreed.

Butler jokingly texted him, “You’re not a serial killer, right?”

Butler told her mother she was going to meet a friend and borrowed her van. Thinking nothing of it, her mother said goodbye. This was the last time anyone would see Sarah Butler alive.

Her body was discovered on Dec. 1, 2016, at the 400-acre Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange.

Bringing Down The Tagged Killer

On Nov. 15, 2016, just before Butler’s demise, another woman identified only as “T.T.” approached authorities regarding an encounter she had with Wheeler-Weaver that almost left her dead.

The woman was 34-years-old, several months pregnant, and had recently become homeless. She relied on sex work to get by. She told authorities she had made a deal with Wheeler-Weaver to pay her for sex.

They met at a motel in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and left in Wheeler-Weaver’s car. But then he put on a ski mask and proceeded to handcuff T.T. duct tape her mouth. He raped her in the back of the car and strangled her to the point that she lost consciousness.

When she awoke, T.T. somehow managed to persuade her captor to drive her back to the motel. Once there, she ran into a room and locked the door. She called 911, but Wheeler-Weaver was gone by the time police arrived.

Sarah Butler’s family and friends were determined for justice and so took matters into their own hands. Butler’s sister knew the passwords to her social media accounts, including Tagged.

Khalil Wheeler Weaver's Mugshot

Essex County Prosecutor’s OfficeKhalil Wheeler-Weaver’s mugshot.

Logging onto Butler’s account, she looked through her communications from the time she disappeared and discovered Wheeler-Weaver.

Butler’s sister created a fake profile on Tagged and approached Montclair police about what to do next. Together they arranged a sting operation.

On Dec.6, 2016, Wheeler-Weaver arrived at the location he had arranged with his “date” and was instead met by undercover police officers. He was subsequently taken into custody.

Where The Case Currently Stands

In February 2017, Wheeler-Weaver was indicted on three counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, aggravated arson, desecration of human remains, aggravated sexual assault, and kidnapping.

He pled of not guilty to the three murders and the charge of attempted murder.

On the day he was taken into custody, authorities searched the Tagged killer’s home and found three cell phones in his bedroom.

These revealed many pieces of incriminating evidence, including searches Wheeler-Weaver had made that proved he’d lied to detectives about his whereabouts at the time the three women disappeared.

His internet searches included: “How to make homemade poisons to kill humans” and “What chemical could you put on a rag and hold to someone’s face to make them go to sleep immediately.”

It appeared that Wheeler-Weaver also thought about applying to become a police officer as he’d also searched: “police entrance exam practice test.”

CBS news coverage on the prosecution of Khalil Wheeler-Weaver.

After tracking Wheeler-Weaver’s cell phone, authorities could place him at the abandoned house containing West’s which was set on fire in September 2016. His phone records also revealed that he had initially driven away but then went back to watch the building burn.

Prosecutors also showed that the last person to call Joanne Brown before she disappeared was none other than Wheeler-Weaver himself. He picked her up, brought her to the abandoned house, and spent about an hour there before he left.

Her body was found in the home around six weeks later.

But the story is still developing. On Dec. 11, 2019, the prosecution rested their case.


For more murder tales, check out the story of Ted Bundy. Then, for another instance in which cell phones betrayed a criminal, read this story about a murder suspect who accidentally texted a confession to the detective.

Natalie DeGroot
Natalie DeGroot is a UK-based freelance writer and true crime enthusiast.