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'Clothes Slasher' Link to Suspect in L.A. Spree Hinted

September 08, 1989|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

Police are investigating whether a man arrested last week in Los Angeles on suspicion of slashing designer clothes at several department stores may be the same elusive vandal who ruined more than $50,000 in suits at two Orange County shopping malls this year.

Investigators in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, where a slasher went on a spree at various upscale stores and clothing boutiques in recent months, say they hope to determine if the Los Angeles suspect was responsible for the damaged items in Orange County.

Those attacks took place at South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island.

Authorities said the attacks in Los Angeles and Orange County bear similarities: a vandal hitting a variety of shops and ripping a hole long enough to make the clothing unfit for sale.

"At this point, all I can say is that we are considering him a suspect in this case, and we're going to investigate further," said Officer Bob Oakley, a Newport Beach police spokesman. "I guess there's always a possibility this isn't the same person, but the (modus operandi) in all the crimes is so similar that may be unlikely."

Sgt. Mike Millington, detective supervisor for the Costa Mesa police, said his investigators are also considering the Los Angeles suspect.

"We're going to look into it and see if any there's any way we can tie him into any of these," Millington said. "Right now, we just don't know if that's the case."

Observed by Security Guard

Augusto Guzman, 38, was arrested Saturday afternoon on suspicion of felony vandalism after a security officer at Robinson's department store in Northridge Fashion Center watched him walk through with a razor blade in his hand and cut several items of clothing, Los Angeles Police Detective Cecil Mixon said.

Mixon said 42 items--including suits, dresses, jackets and shirts worth $8,400--were found damaged by razor slashes. The Broadway department store in the same mall also was hit, as a vandal cut 29 men's suits and 18 leather jackets, which were estimated to be worth more than $16,000.

In addition, the detective is investigating whether there was any connection with attacks at the Topanga Plaza shopping center in Canoga Park, where more than $24,000 in clothing at two department stores was lost to vandalism, and a May Co. store in North Hollywood that incurred a $18,000 loss.

Mixon said he still has not talked with Guzman, who posted $5,000 bail four hours after his arrest and remains free. Guzman, a resident of the small community of Sun Valley near North Hollywood, refused to tell police whether he is employed or discuss the case after his arrest.

Like detectives in Orange County, Mixon remains baffled over a motive for the slashing attacks.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Mixon said. "When you put everything together, you're talking in the neighborhood of $65,000 in damaged clothing. If someone was mad at a particular store for some reason, if they're angry because the Broadway has refused a return or something, why do the other stores?"

The detective said he would take evidence in the case to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office today or early next week for the possible filing of charges against Guzman. He also planned to interview the suspect and try to determine if he was responsible for damage at other stores, including those in Orange County.

Psychiatrists familiar with the attacks in Orange County have suggested that the spree could be anything from a prank to a protest against materialism.

While the Los Angeles stores lost a variety of items to the vandal, the attacks in Orange County involved mostly men's clothing, in particular expensive designer suits.

Most of the suits were dark, 100% wool, sizes 38 to 46, and priced over $300. The attacks centered at stores in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and Fashion Island in Newport Beach.

During a six-week period last spring, at least 87 designer suits were slashed. There were at least six separate attacks on local retailers, usually major department stores such as Robinson's, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, but a small tennis accessories store at Fashion Island was also hit.

Similar attacks occurred between November, 1986, and July, 1987, at the two malls, with nearly $50,000 in merchandise ruined by a culprit who was never apprehended.

After a layoff of about 18 months, the spree kicked off in January when a vandal hit a Harris & Frank shop in South Coast Plaza, ruining $2,270 in men's suits. The vandalism has continued pretty much unabated since then, and police have been hard-pressed to keep up with a crime that can be carried out with an unseen flick of the wrist.

In recent months, the vandalism has spread to several smaller men's clothing stores in South Coast Plaza. Millington of the Costa Mesa police said about half a dozen incidents were reported to his department during the summer.

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