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Detectives Use Computers in Extortion Letters Case

November 07, 1988|ROBERT WELKOS | Times Staff Writer

Detectives worked with computers Sunday in their search for a would-be extortionist who sent death-threat letters to more than 230 Antelope Valley residents.

The mailings--received by doctors, dentists, lawyers and affluent businessmen--demanded payments ranging from $500 to more than $500,000. Some letters were so personal that it appeared the author had intimate knowledge of the victims and their families.

"A lot of people have anxiety because of the personalized nature of the letters," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Bob Welch, who is part of a small task force investigating the case.

"They tell them they're going to kill them," Welch said. "It's a 'Pay up or die, we're not messing around!' type of thing. They threaten their children or other members of their family."

Welch said deputies hoped the computers would find a "common thread" of clues linking the victims to a suspect. He said deputies were interviewing the people who received the letters to see if their families, jobs or other outside activities might have made them extortion targets.

The letters were computer printouts, Welch said, and were mailed Nov. 1 with a Mojave postmark to people in Lancaster, Palmdale and an unincorporated area known as Quartz Hill.

One letter received by former Lancaster Mayor Lou Bozigian reportedly demanded he pay $6,000 or "we will slice up your wife."

Another letter referred to a Lancaster attorney as "Miss Cat," a nickname she had not used in several years when she ran an exercise studio. She was told to get $200,000, divide it into five stacks of $40,000 each, and send the stacks to five people listed in the letter.

"There was stuff in some of the letters that could almost be classified as gossip," said Larry Grooms, city editor of the Antelope Valley Press. "Some goes back four or five years. In one instance, there was nickname a guy had in high school."

The newspaper is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect.

Welch noted that some of the information in the letters was dated.

"A couple of people were already dead," he explained. "Some letters were sent to offices instead of homes and some had moved five to six months ago and were no longer working in the office.

"We have one letter that was sent to a residence where a person never lived. He had sold it a year and a half ago and never did live there or receive any mail there."

He advised those who received the letters to take normal precautions but not to change life styles drastically.

"I can't tell them not to worry," Welch said. "You never know what might happen."

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