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Body of Upland Boy Found at Base of Cliff; Murder Complaints Issued

August 05, 1989|JENIFER WARREN | Times Staff Writer

The body of a 9-year-old Upland boy believed to have been abducted by teen-agers and murdered was discovered Friday at the bottom of a 200-foot cliff on Glendora Ridge Road in the Mt. Baldy area, authorities said.

Members of Los Angeles County Sheriff's San Dimas Search and Rescue Team found the body of Jason Matthew Lea in a rugged area about two miles west of the San Bernardino County line.

Murder complaints naming two teen-agers, ages 16 and 17, were issued Friday by the San Bernardino County district attorney's office. Authorities were seeking two other youths, including Richard LaLonde, 18, of Upland. The identities of the other three suspects were withheld because of their ages.

Missing Since Saturday

Upland Police Department Capt. Martin Thouvenell told reporters that searchers had discovered "what appears to be our missing juvenile," adding that there is little doubt that the body was that of Jason. Positive identification was to be made by the Los Angeles County coroner.

Jason had been missing since about 7 p.m. last Saturday, when the slight, brown-haired youngster told his grandfather, Jerry Yeager, that he was going to ride his bicycle from their Orchid Court apartment to Upland High School, about a block away.

Thouvenell declined to describe the condition of the body or reveal the cause of death.

His bicycle was found later Saturday night outside a video arcade on Foothill Boulevard in Upland, where he had been seen playing the machines. Witnesses said the boy had been seen with four teen-agers at Upland Bowl, just a few blocks east of the arcade.

Acting on information from two independent witnesses, Upland police arrested the 16- and 17-year-olds on suspicion of abducting and killing Jason, and investigators were seeking LaLonde and another youth.

'Acted in Concert'

"We believe these four were friends and acted in concert in committing this crime," Upland Police Capt. Douglas Millmore said.

But detectives declined to provide any details.

After Jason's disappearance, his grandfather, Yeager, a devout Christian, had spent most of the week reading from the boy's Bible in their apartment. A printed flyer with Jason's picture bore the words "Psalm 91" in one corner.

Yeager said he and his friends often thought of that psalm as they sat together in the apartment.

It reads: ". . . My God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence."

Yeager said police questioned him when they found out about a "vision" he had a few days after Jason disappeared. He said he saw his grandson in a dream with three to five men in a landscape of rolling hills. One of Yeager's close friends mentioned the dream to police.

"Christians understand, but (the police) thought I was a weirdo," he said.

On Tuesday, Yeager went with police into the San Gabriel Mountains, where they were joined by a psychic in an effort to locate Jason. When the officers brought Yeager home, they told him that Jason's 7-year-old sister, Jennifer, had been temporarily placed in a foster home.

Police said the girl had been taken from Yeager because of questions concerning his legal guardianship of the girl and his strange behavior.

But after an investigation, including interviews with the children's mother in Houston, authorities allowed Jennifer to return to Yeager's two-bedroom apartment Friday.

While Yeager waited and hoped for Jason's safe return, investigators found a gray, 1971 Toyota belonging to LaLonde parked on Nisbet Drive in Upland. Police said they were pursuing several leads regarding LaLonde's whereabouts and expected to arrest him over the weekend.

Since February, 1986, LaLonde has been a student at Hillside High School, a continuation school in Upland. School officials declined to discuss his background or say why he was enrolled there instead of at Upland High School.

Neighbors at the LaLonde residence on Ranger Court, a quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac on the east side of town, described the family as somewhat reclusive, but they said LaLonde seemed like a normal teen-ager, with an interest in cars and a flock of friends coming by day and night.

"They've lived here about four years, but they keep to themselves," said Pat Johnson, who lives next door to the LaLondes. "Richard got in trouble and lived somewhere else for awhile a year or so ago, but he's been back recently, and I see him out mowing lawns and whatnot. He always smiles and waves."

Another neighbor, however, complained that the teen-ager "was always speeding through the neighborhood, almost running into parked cars." The resident, who asked not to be identified, also complained of noisy parties at the house late at night.

"They are not your typical family," the neighbor said.

A woman who answered the door Friday at the LaLonde home, a tan stucco house screened by tall juniper bushes and a wooden fence, said the family had no comment on the allegations or the teen's whereabouts.

The oldest of three children, LaLonde was described by friends as sociable. They said he could be seen frequently cruising town in his Toyota.

The friends said LaLonde also spent Friday and Saturday nights playing video games at Upland Bowl on Foothill, which serves as a popular hangout for local teen-agers.

"Richard is mellow, a nice guy. He didn't kill no kid," Troy Monk, 16, said in an interview at Upland Bowl on Friday.

"He's a people person," 15-year-old Kent Jansen said. "He's not mean or a jerk at all."

Others had a different view of LaLonde. Two employees at the Upland Bowl snack bar said he hung out with a group of youths generally viewed as troublemakers and loiterers by management.

Employee Michelle Guyatt said LaLonde spent many weekend nights at the bowling alley.

"He's a hessian (heavy metal music fan). . . . Not my type of person at all."

Times staff writers Ashley Dunn and Mike Ward contributed to this story.

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