Police: Arrests In 2008 Calif. Homeless Deaths

Published January 19, 2012 12:27AM (EST)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The mysterious slaying of five homeless people beneath a Los Angeles-area freeway has led to arrests after more than three years of investigation, police said Wednesday.

Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell announced the arrests Wednesday of two alleged gang members in the 2008 murders. David Ponce, 31, and Max Rafael, 25, were each charged with five special circumstance murders.

The mass killing in November 2008 baffled investigators after the bodies of three men and two women were found on a Sunday morning in a seedy neighborhood of warehouses and apartment buildings. A phone tip led them to the bodies, which had been there at least a day.

At the time, officers said there were no eyewitnesses and they hadn't established a motive for the shooting deaths. Some victims were shot multiple times.

News of the arrests comes a day after a suspected serial killer was charged in the stabbing deaths of four homeless men in nearby Orange County over the past month.

The Long Beach killings happened in an area known as a homeless encampment and drug hangout in the shadow of two intersecting freeways. The investigation may have been hampered as the season's first significant rain may have washed away evidence of the crimes.

The victims were identified as Hamid Shraifat, 41; Frederick Neumeier, 53; Katherine Verdun, 24; Lorenzo Perez Villicana, 44; and Vanessa Malaepule, 34.

Police said they received very few phone calls in the days following the killings. It was unclear if the anonymous tipster ever came forward.

By Salon Staff

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