The roommate of a man found buried in a shallow grave behind a Van Nuys house was arrested Monday on suspicion of murder, Los Angeles police said.
Police said Kevin Lee Simmons, 22, is suspected of killing the man during an argument several weeks ago in the rental house they shared in the 7300 block of Katherine Avenue, then burying him in the backyard. Simmons was being held at the Van Nuys Jail without bail.
Police declined to identify the 51-year-old victim because his relatives have not been located. Police said he had been repeatedly stabbed and struck on the head with a blunt object.
His body had been buried in the backyard--surrounded by a concrete wall--for four to six weeks, police said.
Simmons advertised in local newspapers for a new roommate in early December, but moved out of the house shortly after finding one, said Jack Green, 31, a carpenter and mechanic who answered the ad and moved in Dec. 11.
Found During Cleanup
Green found the body while cleaning up the backyard on Christmas Eve.
"He decided to do some work in the backyard and, during the work, he noticed an indentation in the ground," said Lt. Al Durrer. "He started digging. It turned out to be a shallow grave and he found a human body."
Green said the body was buried under a pile of wooden pallets. Green, who said he had grown suspicious of Simmons, decided to dig in the ground after moving the pallets and finding the indentation.
"I noticed the soft dirt and something clicked," Green said. "I thought to myself, 'Go ahead and check it out . . .' and I found it--a body wrapped in a blanket at about one spade depth."
Green said he had been suspicious of Simmons for several reasons. He said that, a few days after he gave Simmons $400 in rent money and moved in, Simmons moved out. Green said he then learned that Simmons was not authorized by the home's owner to rent out the house and that the house was to be sold. Green said his suspicions were raised even further when he turned a mattress over in the master bedroom and found "a large, large bloodstain."
'Want to Be Alone'
In addition, Green said: "What was real funny was the final day he was moving out, he said, 'I want to be in the house alone for an hour. I have a lot of memories here, and I want to be alone.' "
Green said he worked out an agreement with the landlord in which he could temporarily stay in the house in exchange for doing repair work in preparation for the house's sale. It was while doing some of that work that he moved the pallets and felt his feet sink into the ground, indicating that the earth recently had been turned, he said.
After the body was discovered, a police search for Simmons, who authorities said used several names, began. Police said Simmons was arrested at 2 p.m. Monday at the Lake View Terrace home of an acquaintance. He was then questioned by detectives for several hours and taken, at one point, to the house on Katherine Avenue, according to Green.
"As far as we know, it was a roommate-type argument that led to a killing," Detective Pat Anguiano said. He would not elaborate.
Green's grim discovery and the developments Monday were a shock to neighbors, including City Councilman Ernani Bernardi, who lives next door to the house where Simmons and his roommate lived.
Neighbors had liked the victim, a man who had lived in the house about two years--at least a year longer than Simmons. The man, who neighbors said was a hospital administrator and a member of the Neighborhood Watch group, was often seen tending gardens and doing lawn work at the home.
Shock to Neighbors
"I knew him to say hello to," Bernardi said. "I'd see him outside almost every day taking care of the flowers. Needless to say, this is quite shocking to the neighborhood.
"Ironically, when I was in the construction business, I built that house. That was in the '50s."
The Rev. Don Noonan, a neighbor whose backyard faces the two-story white house with gray shutters behind which the body was found, said he and other neighbors had wondered about the disappearance of Simmons' roommate.
"We were curious where he was because he hadn't been seen," Noonan said.
Noonan said he had questioned Simmons about his roommate's whereabouts and was told the man had lost his job and moved to Florida.