[UPDATED with $5,000 Reward Paid:] Itzcoatl Ocampo, Troubled Former Marine, Accused Orange County Serial Killer
UPDATE, JAN. 25, 10:58 A.M.: Before the arrest of Itzcoatl Ocampo, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of a serial killer preying on homeless men. Union president Tom Dominguez is scheduled to hand Donny Hopkins a $5,000 check this afternoon. The Yorba Linda 32-year-old is credited with chasing Ocampo and helping police find the suspect after witnessing the fatal stabbing of 64-year-old transient John Berry Jan. 13 in Anaheim.
The unions representing deputies and Anaheim police officers say they are also donating $5,000 to Mercy House, which provides shelter and other services to the homeless.
UPDATE, JAN. 17, 9:05 A.M.: Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas may announce at a news conference this morning that the death penalty will be sought for Itzcoatl Ocampo, the Yorba Linda 23-year-old accused of fatally stabbing four homeless men since Dec. 20. Rackauckas will be joined at 11 a.m. at his Santa Ana offices by representatives from the FBI, the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the police departments of Anaheim, Placentia and Brea, which patrols Yorba Linda, the site of one of the murders blamed on the the troubled former U.S. Marine.
The DA's office is releasing no additional information about the charges and penalties to be sought against Ocampo before this morning's press conference.
Meanwhile, more about the accused has come out since his arrest following the murder of homeless man John Berry Friday night in Anaheim:
Ocampo entered the Marine Corps out of high school in 2006 and was discharged in 2010. The death of a longtime friend overseas apparently charged him. He had recently began drinking heavily and suffered headaches and the shakes. (Clarification: The headline to this post originally described Ocampo as a "combat" Marine. According to authorities, his assignment with the Marines' 1st Medical Battalion in Iraq involved meeting and inspecting wounded servicemen, friendlies and even the enemy that were flown into his hospital from combat zones.)
His father is homeless, and 49-year-old Refugio Ocampo told the Associated Press over the weekend that his son came back from his four-year stint in the Marines, which included deployment to Iraq, disillusioned, growing even darker when the younger man lost his job and home.
The father and a Vietnam veteran neighbor urged the younger Ocampo to get medical and psychological treatment. His father told the AP his son began talking "crazy" and saying things "that did not make sense." The young man said something about the world ending.
The father says his son showed him a photograph of James McGillivray, the first homeless man killed during the recent murder spree. Itzcoatl warned Refugio it's a danger being on the streets. The son is also accused of slaying Lloyd Middaugh and Paulus Cornelius Smit.
Refugio Ocampo says he was educated as a lawyer in Mexico, immigrated to the U.S. with his wife and Itzcoatl in 1988 and became a U.S. citizen. The father was a warehouse manager and Yorba Linda homeowner.
The father later lost his job, savings and, eventually, the home. He now lives in the cab of a truck he's working on in Fullerton. He remains close with his family. Itzcoatl had been residing in a rented home on a Yorba Linda horse ranch with his mother, younger brother and sister and an uncle.
UPDATE, JAN. 14, 4:27 P.M.: At a just-concluded press conference, Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said, "We are extremely confident we have the man responsible for the murder of all four men."
That man would be Itzcoatl Ocampo, 23, of Yorba Linda, who a commenter to a previous Weekly update writes she knows as a troubled U.S. Marine recently returned from Iraq. Welter did not go into that much detail about Ocampo's background, however. His department will request that the Orange County District Attorney's office charge Ocampo with four murder counts, the chief said.
The disclosure comes after Ocampo's home was subjected to a search warrant. The multi-agency task force created the investigate the serial killings is still receiving and seeking tips. "This investigation is far from over," one law enforcement official said at the press conference.
Welter, Brea Police Chief Jack Conklin, Placentia Police Chief Rick Hicks, FBI Assistant Special Agent in charge of Orange County Bill O'Leary, State Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim), whose district includes the murder scenes, and other law enforcement officials thanked the community, homeless advocates and investigators who have worked without breaks since the task force was formed with helping to catch the presumed killer.
Welter and Conklin, in particular, thanked the people who, despite just having witnessed a murder, chased after Ocampo last night and provided detailed descriptions that aided officers with his capture.
Assistant Sheriff Mark Billings of the Orange County Sheriff's Department said Ocampo will be in the custody of the agency's jailers "for a long period of time" as court proceedings against him begin.
UPDATE, JAN. 14, 11:38 A.M.: Go to this post for more details on last night's fatal stabbing of a homeless man known as "John" and the capture of Itzcoatl Ocampo.
UPDATE, JAN. 14, 11:05 A.M.: Authorities have reportedly linked Itzcoatl Ocampo, the 23-year-old Yorba Linda suspect in the fatal stabbing of a homeless man known as "John" at an Anaheim Carl's Jr. last night, with the recent murders of other homeless men in Orange County.
Ocampo fits the description of the killer shown in grainy surveillance video that captured the Dec. 20 slaying of homeless man James McGillivray in nearby Placentia.
The task force probing the fatal stabbings of now four homeless men has a press conference scheduled this afternoon. Stay tuned . . .
UPDATE, JAN. 14, 8:31 A.M.: Gustavo here. Last night, the serial killer who has targeted homeless men struck again, killing a man behind a Carl's Jr. on the corner of Imperial Highway and La Palma Avenue in Anaheim. This time, however, a suspect was caught: Itzcoatl Ocampo. Coker will update with full details as they emerge . . .
UPDATE, JAN. 6, 9:44 P.M.: The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the person responsible for the killings of James McGillivray, Lloyd Middaugh and Paulus Cornelius Smit. The homeless men are believed by authorities--including the FBI--of having been stabbed to death by a single serial killer.
"He's victimizing already vulnerable members of our society," says Tom Dominguez, the union's president, in a written statement.
He continues, "One of the most sacred tenets of law enforcement is protecting those who cannot protect themselves, be it the homeless, the elderly, the disabled or children. He must be caught before he kills again."
The slayings since Dec. 20 in Placentia, Yorba Linda and Anaheim Hills are not within Orange County Sheriff Department patrol areas, but agency investigators are represented on the multi-agency task force probing the murders. The Anaheim Police Department heads up the task force, and anyone with information that can help locate the killer is still asked to call 714.765.1944 or email email@example.com.
The task force sought tips at a roadblock Tuesday near the scene of McGillivray's demise in Placentia, the Guardian Angels have been patrolling areas where the homeless are known to congregate and advocates and law enforcement have been communicating with the region's most vulnerable in hopes of getting them into shelters overnight or, short of that, sleeping in packs.
UPDATE, JAN. 6, 12:15 P.M.: Seasonal emergency shelters for the homeless at National Guard armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana have seen a 40 percent increase in use over the past two days, according to providers. The number of armory users is not all that has grown since the murder spree. So have the number of cards, flowers and other mementos left in front of the Placentia shopping center where the first victim, 53-year-old James McGillivray, was stabbed to death as he slept.
The increase in armory users and size of the makeshift memorial in Placentia may be tied to local law enforcement's stepped up contact with the media, the public and the homeless population about their suspicions a serial killer may be preying on homeless men.
Most of those seeking refuge in the armories are single males, which fits the description of homeless men killed since Dec. 20 in Anaheim, Placentia and Yorba Linda.
UPDATE, JAN. 5, 2:17 P.M.: Among the ways the Orange County Rescue Mission is helping homeless people deal with a serial killer who is apparently targeting them is to collect flashlights, whistles, blankets and hygiene items for them--but also urging them to find shelter a night. The homeless can get information about this by dialing 2-1-1 toll free or visiting realhomeless.com.
But the murder of three homeless men since Dec. 20 has pointed to a dire problem with this strategy: Orange County does not have enough beds or shelters for its homeless population.
"The bottom line is, for every bed that's available, you've got several people that are lined up for it," Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House that runs the county armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana, reportedly tells the Orange County Register.
The county's public and private shelters have about 3,300 beds, but many are taken and more than half are transitional shelters, meaning they are not available for drop-in emergencies. The daily reports a one-night count of homeless people in Orange County in January 2011 revealed more than 6,900 were living on the streets or in shelters.
With so many folks out there, they are easy targets for serial killers, a characteristic shared with similar murder sprees across the country. The National Coalition for the Homeless, which chronicled more than 1,000 acts of violence against homeless people between 1999 and 2009, has found a pattern has emerged among killers of them. Most were young, under-educated men with either a bias against the homeless or attracted to the ease in killing them, the Reg reports.
UPDATE, JAN. 5, 9:29 A.M.: In response to the fears of Orange County law enforcement that a serial killer may be preying on the region's homeless, the Orange County Rescue Mission announced it will be providing additional information and resources to the targeted population.
The outreach begins this afternoon in Santa Ana.
Every week, the Tustin-based mission's mobile clinic drops into the parking lot at Santa Ana Boulevard and Ross Street, near the Civic Center, to provide free health services and meals to the homeless. Beginning with today's scheduled 4-8 p.m. stop, mission workers will dispense the information and resources to raise awareness and safety for the homeless population.
The nonprofit, which operates the Village of Hope in Tustin, employs biblical principles in programs dedicated to parenting, finance and relationships.
UPDATE, JAN. 4, 1:14 P.M.: "We believe there is a serious, dangerous serial killer operating in Orange County," Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said at a press conference this morning about the slayings of three homeless men since Dec. 20.
Welter added a multi-agency task force of investigators searching for the killer is "pretty certain" the same man murdered all three victims.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department and its investigative powers have joined the task force that is also composed of Welter's agency and the Brea and Placentia police departments.
No further evidence linking the crimes was revealed at today's press conference. It was previously stated that besides being homeless the three victims died the same way: stabbed multiple times while sleeping alone. But Anaheim Police now say that may not be correct when it comes to all victims.
Today's revelation of an increased threat to Orange County's vulnerable population shows authorities were wise to visit homeless camps last weekend and pass out flyers warning that someone may be targeting them. Homeless people have been urged to "buddy up" by watching out for one another and sleeping at least in pairs.
Fatal stabbing victims (from left): James McGillivray, Lloyd Middaugh and Paulus Cornelius Smit.
Courtesy of Anaheim Police Department
The body of James McGillivray, 53, was found with multiple stab wounds Dec. 21 at a retail center in the 100 block of North Bradford Avenue, Placentia. A time stamp from surveillance video that captured his slaying shows he was killed Dec. 20.
The body of Lloyd Middaugh, 42, was found with multiple stab wounds Dec. 28 near the 91 freeway overpass along the Santa Ana River Trail between Tustin and Lakeview avenues in Anaheim Hills.
The most-recent victim was 57-year-old Paulus Cornelius Smit, whose body was found Friday evening near a puddle of blood at the base of a stairwell behind Yorba Linda Public Library.
The task force has released these photos from the McGillivray killing scene:
The killer, wearing a dark hoodie in upper left of photo, approaches James McGillivray.
Photos courtesy of Anaheim Police Department
The killer stands next to the homeless man's body.
The white 2002 or 2003 Toyota Corolla the killer drove off in.
It is hoped the image of the killer and/or the car he drove off in will jog someone's memory. He was previously described as 18 to 25, between 5-feet-6 and 5-feet-9 with a thin build and wearing all black clothing.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Anaheim Police Department at 714.765.1944 or email detectives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ORIGINAL POST, JAN. 2, 11:30 A.M.: Here's a sobering way to end 2011/begin 2012: police from three North Orange County cities are investigating whether the slayings of homeless men are related.
The bodies of three transients, two of whom we know were stabbed to death, were found in the past two weeks in Placentia, Anaheim Hills and Yorba Linda.
James McGillivray, 53, was found with multiple stab wounds Dec. 21 at a retail center in the 100 block of North Bradford Avenue, Placentia.
On Wednesday, the body of Lloyd Middaugh, 42, was found stabbed to death on the Santa Ana River Trail between Tustin and Lakeview avenues in Anaheim Hills near the 91 freeway.
The most-recent victim was 57-year-old Paulus Cornelius Smit, whose body was found near a puddle of blood at the base of a Yorba Linda Public Library stairwell Friday evening.
A joint statement from the Brea, Anaheim and Placentia police departments reveals that homicide detectives are trying to determine whether the three slayings are related.
No weapon was
not found at any murder scene, but surveillance video from Placentia produced this description of the killer there: an 18- to 25-year-old man, between 5-feet-6 and 5-feet-9 tall with a thin build and wearing all black clothing.
The joint statement prepared by Anaheim Police spokesman Sgt. Bob Dunn--under a banner with the names of police chiefs Jack Conklin of Brea, John Welter of Anaheim and R.A. Hicks of Placentia--notes, "It is still too early in the investigations to determine any connection in these murders. However, due to the similarities detectives from all three law enforcement agencies are committing resources to ensure these cases are successfully resolved."
The agencies are also spreading the word to their respective homeless communities that someone may be targeting them. This informational flyers is being distributed:
"We are asking members of the public to look out for local transients and report any suspicious activity to your local law enforcement agency immediately," reads the joint statement.
Detectives have created a centralized point of contact for anyone with information regarding these murders: call 714.765.1944 or e-mail email@example.com.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.