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Slain Youth's Body Identified : Half of John Doe Puzzle Solved--Hard Part Isn't

July 11, 1986|PATT MORRISON | Times Staff Writer

In the laborious arithmetic of police work, half of the murder equation has been solved.

Police found out Thursday the identity of John Doe 142, the victim who lay in a coroner's crypt for three weeks. Now, they can begin to look for the person who killed him.

The boy found shot to death in front of a South-Central Los Angeles parish school before dawn on June 15 was Joseph Robateau. He died a few days short of his 18th birthday, a few days short of finishing the 11th grade at Crenshaw High School.

He had come to Los Angeles only 10 months ago to join his mother and father, police learned Thursday. He had traveled from his grandmother's home in the subtropical quiet of Belize--a Central American country with a population about the size of Glendale--into the bewildering sprawl of Los Angeles.

"There was probably a little bit of culture shock," said Los Angeles Police Officer Roger Magnuson. "He was 17, right at the age to go exploring our culture, getting used to it--and there was no big brother to take him by the hand."

So young Robateau often struck out on his own, beyond the home he shared with his parents in the mid-Wilshire area, beyond the neighborhood where other people from Belize live. With the restless confidence of a teen-ager, "he had a habit of taking off for days at a time; he was a traveler," visiting friends all over the city, Officer Ray Terrones said.

He apparently had picked up the modish dress of the kids he saw in school--he was wearing fashionable black parachute pants when his body was found--but he was, said Magnuson, still a loner, his origin and accent setting him apart from street-wise, urban-bred kids.

"He was going to be 18. At that age, you get that little bit of a wild spirit," Terrones explained. His parents, who had been here for several years, "said he liked to be out on the street at night. They couldn't tie him down." He even left his ID at home, as though it was an encumbrance.

But he had always called home, his parents told police. Wherever he was, visiting friends, or just "out," eventually, he always called.

This time, he did not. Riding a bicycle toward a friend's party a good 10 miles from his home, "he didn't make it." Somehow, Joseph Robateau ended up, Magnuson said in classic police-speak, "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Late Wednesday, police said, friends who recognized the boy's description or his picture--including a man who knew him as a boy in Belize--passed the word about a Times article concerning an unknown boy in the morgue. Joseph's mother went to the coroner's office and found out that for three weeks, her son had been dead, a victim of the neighborhoods he had explored.

"We are still looking for witnesses," Magnuson said, "as to why he was picked out of everyone else."

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