By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
An erection killed Charles Ray George.
To be more exact, it was the desperation to satisfy an erection that killed the San Onofre nuclear-plant engineer on Jan. 29, 2001. That's the view of Daniel Louis Parra, a 37-year-old community-college student who owned an Orange County escort service, and his top stripper, 29-year-old Elizabeth Nava of Irvine.
You might think escorts hope to leave their customers happy, but an underwear-clad George was left dying in a pool of blood on his San Clemente living-room floor. Nava, a onetime dry-cleaning employee, ran from the scene without calling 911. Parra walked away calmly, still carrying the heavy flashlight he used to crack George's skull. Later, defense lawyers portrayed Parra as a "hero" for preventing the rape of his employee.
Law-enforcement officers see the gruesome killing differently. Deputy DA Michael F. Murray concedes George was looking for female companionship in his final hours but says the craving that ended the 54-year-old man's life had little to do with sex. According to Murray, George died solely because of Parra and Nava's greed.
"They wanted to satisfy their lust for money," the homicide prosecutor said. "They were taking money under the pretense of sex, and somebody got killed."
On Dec. 8, the two defendants sat quietly as a somber jury of seven men and five women found them guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances and a series of other felonies. Although sentencing by Superior Court Judge Frank F. Fasel isn't scheduled until next month, neither Parra nor Nava will ever walk free again. The verdicts carry mandatory punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Did the George murder, the five-week trial and subsequent convictions slow Southern California's escort/dancer/model/massage/stripper industry? Vice cops say no; business is flourishing. There is apparently no time for reflection when telephone pagers constantly ring, unfulfilled sexual desires govern men and so much cash is at stake.
But the case did highlight—if only momentarily—the cat-and-mouse game of a seedy, often-deceitful underworld that advertises on the Internet, in phone books and on the pages of The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times and OC Weekly.
On that January night three years ago, the six-foot-two-inch, 180-pound George sat alone inside his one-bedroom San Clemente apartment on the 3500 block of South El Camino Real. The divorcee logged onto his computer and found the website for OC Exotics. One advertisement piqued his interest:
I'm Gypsy. I'm a gorgeous Latina with all the right curves. I'm sexy and exotic-looking. I specialize in erotic rubs and sensual fun. If you think you can handle this hot body, I'll call you right back. I'm an independent escort.
Police say "Gypsy" is one of the aliases used by Nava, an illegal alien with a criminal record for violence and whose real name is Gracila Cortes Aguinaga. Authorities say the Mexican national had already been deported once but slipped back into California, where she has at least one child. She also used the names "Lisa" and "Sophia" during her stripper work.
When George dialed Nava's pager number, he had no idea he was making the last call of his life. Thoughts of the woman undoubtedly filled his mind. He placed condoms and a bottle of lube on his bedroom nightstand. At about 8 p.m., neighbor Ruschelle Hull--who was outside on a balcony, smoking a cigarette--saw a Latina go to George's apartment. Hull heard George say, "Come on in!" The door closed.
There's nothing illegal about a womanmodeling, dancing or stripping for money. Prostitution is, of course, against the law, but that doesn't stop men from paying money for sex or women from offering their bodies for a fee. To entice potential clients, escort businesses craft advertising to sell sex or, at least, the allure of sex. Their advertisements are worded carefully: "I love to go down on my knees and please." "Complete stress RELEASE." "No strict rules, no boundaries." "Tired of rip-offs? Call me." "I need fast cash & ready 2 give U what U want." "Hidden pleasures await you!" "I promise obscene things! "Hardcore pleasure. Non-stop. ALL NIGHT." "18 yr old sex crazed college student will do anything to stay in school." "Take a load off." "Let me be your Ho! Ho! Ho!"
Laugh if you will, but the messages work. Parra--who regularly employed eight or nine strippers--spent approximately $4,000 per month on advertisements for his LOL and Ambrosia escort services. Though an overwhelming majority of pictures in escort ads are fake and almost none of the girls are truly independent, a seemingly limitless stream of men--everyone from doctors and lawyers to engineers, software developers and unemployed freaks--responds. On the supply side, there is also never a shortage of would-be strippers. Parra's files contained hundreds of applications from an assortment of women.
The business is simple. When potential customers call, they talk first to the escort agency's female "booker," who often pretends to be the model in a specific ad. This woman screens for underage callers, pranksters or police and makes legitimate customers feel comfortable by engaging in friendly small talk.
The booker also pumps potential customers for information. On internal "Show Information" sheets, she records the date of each call, customer name, phone number, address, directions, model sought, fee amount and "special information"-- which could note anything from a client's airline flights or specific desires. If a deal is made, the booker usually sets an upfront fee of $150 ($70 for the girl; $80 for the escort service). That price covers a striptease of less than 30 minutes. Men perceived to be wealthy could be charged $200 or more for the same dance. Cops say strippers hit "the jackpot" for themselves when they lure additional fees from customers.