Detective Stevan Ridge can tell you exactly where and when Wasatch County lost its innocence. It was the day the mutilated body of a hitchhiker turned up in the willows off U-40.

Utah County Detective Scott Carter similarly found a nightmare when he took over the case of a slain teenager whose body went unidentified five years until he happened upon a name scrawled in a romance novel.The two investigators know each other well, and both have the same goal: stopping suspected serial killers.

Both sought advice from Jim Bell, a homicide investigator who has studied more than a dozen serial killings in the United States and overseas.

Bell believes the Heber City and Spanish Fork Canyon victims were among nine people murdered in Utah by four different serial killers.

"Over the past 15 years, Utah tends to have a higher than normal rate of murders that are connected together. And on top of that, a lot of the people arrested for other serial murders around the country have spent time in Salt Lake City," Bell said.

The unholy group has included Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas and Joseph Paul Franklin, and a number of others not as well known.

Bell isn't quite sure why they come but says it's probably due to the confluence of two major national freeways - I-80 and I-15 - in Salt Lake City.

Killers also seem to have an affinity for the place.

"It sounds weird, but some of them have even told us they like Salt Lake City for the same reason everybody else likes it. It's clean, it's a nice place, they like the mountains and they like the people," he said.

When Ridge approached him, Bell suggested he submit his case to the FBI's Violent Crime Apprehension Program, which collects and compares information on cases nationwide.

The FBI program easily matched the June 1982 homicide with a mutilation murder in Pennsylvania, and inquiries poured in from Georgia, Wyoming, Kansas and Connecticut. But Ridge has few leads on the killer.

Carter believes he's got his man but lacks firm connections to murders in other states, although a 1985 Arizona slaying shows strong similarities.

Suspects in two other investigations are right where cops want them, but for different reasons.

Idaho triple murderer Paul Ezra Rhoades is under four death sentences for the murders of two women and a man in the Idaho Falls-Blackfoot area in 1987.

Bell suspects Rhoades in the murders of three young women in northern Utah - the so-called ".38 Task Force" murders - plus one killing in Colorado and two in Wyoming.

In the fourth case, the common bond was the four victims - all elderly Salt Lake area women - and possibly others in Nevada and California, Bell said.

Utah State Prison inmate Daniel Troyer will stand trial on a capital homicide charge in February in one of the slayings, the 1988 death of an 88-year-old woman.

Time charts tracking the life histories of Rhoades, Troyer and the Utah County defendant were distributed last month to more than 500 homicide investigators, forensic experts and criminologists at an International Homicide Investigators Association symposium.

Bell, the group's vice president, said Carter also has important new findings in the 1981 murder of 16-year-old Deeana Jane Dean.

Dean's body went unclaimed for five years until Carter got the case in 1986. While looking through a Harlequin Romance book found at the crime scene, he discovered two names and addresses and sent a letter to each.

One was Dean's mother in Garden City, Idaho, who responded. The alleged killer, Charles Nicholas Strain, was the girl's stepfather.

Strain was convicted of second-degree murder in 1986, but the Utah Supreme Court this year remanded the case to a district judge, who declared Strain's alleged confession inadmissible. A second trial is upcoming.

Back in Heber City, it's watch and wait for Ridge.

The victim there, 23-year-old Marty Shook of Sparks, Nev., was shot in the back of the head and his genitals were removed with a knife.

Bullets recovered from his and the Pennsylvania victim's body, a hitchhiker with a resemblance to Shook, were matched by a ballistics examiner there, but "right now we're kind of in limbo," Ridge said.