Serial Killer’s One More Threat For L.A.’s Skid Row Residents
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Transients aren’t panicked over the city’s latest serial killer, who has preyed on the homeless, because death on Skid Row already was as familiar as the empty green wine bottles littering the streets.
But these street-weary people are angry.
″We wish we could catch him and kill him,″ said James L. Cobbler, 47, who’s been on the streets of Los Angeles for three years. ″There wouldn’t be anything left of him.″
The first of the slayings attributed to the serial killer occurred Sept. 4, the last on Oct. 7. Five of the nine victims were transients shot near Skid Row.
″People die out here every day and night,″ said Dallas Eugene Stuart, 39, a four-year Skid Row resident who panhandled beside Cobbler on a recent afternoon. ″But nobody wants to be sleeping and have their brains blown out.″
Death from violent robbers, disease and exposure are the primary concerns of Skid Row residents, transients and officials said.
″We have more deaths than that (the nine slayings) every week on Skid Row,″ said Clancy Imislund, director of the Midnight Mission. ″I’d say this ranks about 10th as the cause of death on Skid Row.″
In spite of the killings, little has changed on some of the city’s toughest turf, roughly a 50-block area bordered by Third and Seventh streets and Main Street and Central Avenue.
The city has an estimated 35,000 homeless people, said Sgt. Jack Hoar, police coordinator for Skid Row.
Rescue missions were filled to capacity on a recent afternoon. The smell of urine, unwashed bodies and bus exhaust saturated the air and empty liquor bottles were strewn about.
A newspaper article about the killings was posted at the Union Rescue Mission.
″We make occasional announcements that there is a person killing people out there and they need to be careful,″ spokesman Mark Holthaus said in an interview. ″They haven’t been knocking the doors down to sleep inside.″
All the victims were shot early in the morning with a small-caliber gun. Lt. Ed Henderson, who directs 10 detectives working on the Skid Row killings, said most were shot in the head at close range while sleeping.
″We don’t know who the suspect is,″ he said. ″He could be a transient.″
Henderson said progress has been slow, tips have been few and there ″doesn’t seem like there was much interest on the public’s side.″
While no reward has been offered for the transient killer, a $35,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a second repeat murderer loose in Los Angeles.
That second killer is believed responsible for 17 deaths since September 1983. Most of the victims were black prostitutes in south-central Los Angeles.
In both cases, the killers have targeted undesirable segments of society.
″The paranoid, Messianic individual might feel the mission to rid the public of unworthy individuals, worthless perhaps, or undesirables that this individual may see as a drain on society,″ said police psychologist Martin Reiser, who emphasized he was speaking generally.
It’s not the first time murderers have targeted the homeless here.
Bobby Joe Maxwell was convicted in the murders of two transients out of 10 Skid Row Stabber slayings in 1978 and 1979 with which he was charged. Norman Bernard, a drifter, pleaded guilty in 1984 to shooting three derelicts, and Vaughn Orrin Greenwood was convicted for the ritualistic throat slashings of nine men, all but one of which occurred in 1974 and 1975.
Social workers and police on Skid Row have warned street people to sleep in groups as protection against the killer, who targets lone victims.
″We watch ourselves a little better,″ said Willie Orozco, 33. ″A lot of people sleep head to head so they’re watching each other. But you have some who are passed out. He can get them any time.″
But James, 39, who didn’t want his last name published, said he usually sleeps alone and takes no special precautions.
″I hope it doesn’t happen to me,″ he said with a smile. ″Hey man, anything’s possible.″