A stolen station wagon spotted near the scene of the most recent Night Stalker attack was found abandoned Wednesday morning on a Los Angeles street. Investigators using state-of-the-art techniques searched the car for fingerprints and other clues.
Los Angeles County Undersheriff Theodore H. Von Minden called the recovery of the orange 1976 Toyota a "significant break" in the hunt for the curly-haired killer believed responsible for 14 slayings and 21 assaults since February.
But Von Minden and other authorities would not say whether any evidence was initially recovered from the car, which was spotted at 7 a.m. by an unidentified person who called police. Authorities also would not reveal where the car was recovered, except to say that it was found in the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart Division, which includes Silver Lake, about half of Koreatown, the Wilshire business district and the Pico-Union area.
The car was later taken on a flatbed truck to an Orange County Sheriff's Department garage in Santa Ana, where investigators began their painstaking probe for clues.
"We will be looking for hairs, fibers and anything of microscopic nature. . . ," said Frank Fitzpatrick, the sheriff's chief criminalist. "We'll try to identify everybody who's been in the car."
In other developments in the case Wednesday:
- The Los Angeles City Council and Gov. George Deukmejian each authorized rewards for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of the Stalker, bringing to $70,000 the amount of money being offered in the case.
Saying the killer presents "a serious danger to the community," the City Council unanimously authorized a $25,000 reward for information leading to his apprehension.
"In the long run it saves the public an enormous amount of money," said Councilman Howard Finn, who suggested the reward. He characterized the sum as a "drop in the bucket" contrasted with the costs of an extended investigation.
Deukmejian offered a $10,000 reward from the state's general fund, saying he hopes that it "will help bring an end to the trail of violence, misery and heartbreak that the Night Stalker has left in California."
Earlier, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors authorized a $10,000 reward that was later supplemented by two anonymous citizen donations, one for $10,000 and another for $10. The city of San Francisco, where a man was killed and his wife wounded, offered a $10,000 reward. And Arcadia, scene of two murders linked to the Stalker, offered its own $5,000 reward.
- Officials in some suburban communities, including Temple City and South Pasadena, reported recent reductions in residential burglaries partly due, they believe, to heightened citizen awareness because of the Stalker.
In Arcadia, where the Stalker has struck at least twice, burglaries have dropped from 70 in July to 23 so far this month.
"It's possibly due to the Night Stalker," said Arcadia Police Detective Ed Winter. "Residents are securing their homes better and buying guns, and maybe a few of the burglars are afraid of getting into a home and being shot."
However, Sheriff's Sgt. John Samuel said no particular drop in crime had been noticed by the substation in nearby Altadena.
"I suppose with all the police on the street, the average burglar would be pretty dumb to do anything," he said. On the other hand, he estimated that 70% to 80% of residential burglaries are performed during the day, and most of the special deployment of officers looking for the Stalker has been at night.
- Authorities encouraged citizens to continue calling police and Sheriff's Department hot lines to report possible Stalker sightings and related information, even though callers are often met by seemingly endless busy signals.
Detectives have reported receiving more than 2,000 tips from citizens on the Sheriff's Department telephone line (213-974-4341) and the Police Department's line (213-485-7024).
"It's been a voluminous number of calls," said Officer Sergio Diaz, a police spokesman. "No matter how many lines we've got, I think you'd have the same problem. All we can ask is that people keep trying to help."
Mission Viejo Shooting
Authorities believe that the Stalker last struck early Sunday in the Orange County community of Mission Viejo, where 29-year-old William Carns was shot three times in the head by an intruder in his home. Carns' girlfriend, also 29, was raped.
A witness in the neighborhood where that attack took place reported seeing an orange Toyota station wagon, but was able to remember only a partial license plate number of 482 T. The orange Toyota recovered Wednesday bears the license plate 482 RTS. It had been stolen Saturday night in Los Angeles' Chinatown.