A recently paroled robber and auto thief and his half brother have been arrested in the shotgun slayings of two women inside a South-Central Los Angeles church, and police said Tuesday the attack was the result of a domestic dispute rather than gang warfare or random violence.
Anthony Oliver, 27, and Albert Lewis Jr., 33, were booked on suspicion of murder in the shooting deaths Friday evening of Patronella (Pat) Luke, 35, and Mae Lee, 76, at Mt. Olive Church of God in Christ on 21st Street at Naomi Avenue.
A gifted soprano, Luke was shot in the face and killed instantly. She was Lewis' cousin by marriage. Lee, a regional Church of God in Christ official known for her volunteer work among the homeless and infirm, was shot in the back as she ran in fright from the room. She is not related to Luke or the suspects.
Luke's husband, Peter, was wounded in the leg and arm. He remained hospitalized Tuesday.
The shootings had led several churches in the area to take extra security precautions and prompted calls from the clergy for greater involvement in the fight against gang crimes and other violence in the black community.
Police spokesman Cmdr. William Booth confirmed Tuesday that investigators believe that the church attack was the result of a domestic dispute, but he would not elaborate.
Investigators did not indicate which suspect was the alleged triggerman. Both men were held without bail pending arraignment today.
Only hours before the church shooting, Lewis' estranged wife, Cynthia, had obtained a court order prohibiting her husband from harassing her or her family, sources close to the family said. Earlier Friday, Lewis allegedly fired a gun into a car owned by a member of his estranged wife's family and set fire to two other vehicles. He had also threatened to kill his wife, the sources said.
According to a police statement, half brothers Oliver and Lewis were arrested about 7 p.m. Monday at a house in the 100 block of West 117th Street that Lewis had shared with his wife before they separated.
Neighbors said Oliver had terrorized the neighborhood all weekend and, at one point, brandished a shotgun at a teen-age girl.
A convicted robber and auto thief, Oliver was paroled from Folsom state prison on May 13, according to prison records.
Lewis, police said, was wanted for receiving stolen property.
Church members had told reporters Saturday they thought that the domestic dispute and the shotgun attack were connected.
Friends and family said Cynthia Lewis, Pat Luke's first cousin, is a member of the Mt. Olive congregation and would have been at the Friday service with the Lukes had she not gone into hiding to avoid contact with her estranged husband.
The evening service was being held for about 30 children and teen-agers who had graduated from the church's vacation Bible school.
Pat Luke's family have been members of Mt. Olive for four generations, Cynthia Lewis' family for three, church officials said.
According to a church member who knows the families well, the Lewises were married about a year ago in one of the largest weddings ever held at the church.
"The only wedding that was bigger than theirs was Pat and Peter (Lukes')" six years earlier, said the member, who did not want to be identified by name. "There were about five or six hundred people."
The Lewis' marriage quickly soured, she said, because Lewis physically assaulted his wife and otherwise abused her almost from the day they were wed. Although Lewis was a member of the congregation, the church member said, he seldom attended services.
"They were separated and he wanted her back, but he had mistreated her so badly," the church member said. "He was just so angry. He had a very violent temper."
People who were neighbors of the couple when Cynthia Lewis lived with her husband said they often heard what sounded like fighting at the couple's home.
They also said that Anthony Oliver, in the two days after the church attack, became involved in several arguments with people he threatened to kill.
Louise Holt, 35, said her 15-year-old daughter had teased Oliver on Sunday and that he had become enraged.
"He went to his car trunk and took out a sawed-off shotgun. He told her he would kill her," Holt said. "We all ran into the house screaming."
Holt said she was particularly afraid of Oliver because he had bragged that he had recently gotten out of prison, for murder.
"He had killing in his eyes," Holt said. "He was one scary looking man."
Blocked Off Street
On Monday, when police arrived to arrest Oliver and Lewis, she said, officers blocked off both ends of the street and surrounded the house.
Oliver, she said, "was out in the yard and they (officers) put their guns up to his head. I was so glad to see them take him away. He would have killed us for sure."
Holt said Lewis was inside the house when police arrived.
Booth would only say that the arrests were made without incident.