Authorities on Wednesday sought two gunmen in the ambush slaying of a 40-year-old auto body shop operator in his new Mercedes-Benz outside his brother's Fairfax District home.
Eli Yacobov, 40, a dashing Israeli immigrant, was killed instantly when the two men fired assault weapons through the windows of the silver Mercedes at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, Los Angeles police said.
"It appeared to be an execution hit," Lt. Willie Pannell said, although detectives had not determined a motive for the slaying.
Yacobov, who acquaintances said had lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade, owned at least two body shops in recent years and was accused in a 1988 lawsuit of selling a stolen Mercedes. He also had owned the Grill Express, an Israeli restaurant on Fairfax Avenue that was managed by his parents, but recently sold the business.
Yacobov may have spotted the two men approaching his car while he was parking outside his brother's walled two-story Spanish-style home in the 100 block of North Crescent Heights Boulevard, police said.
He "apparently tried to move backwards," but "was hit a considerable number of times," Lt. John Zorn said. "Robbery was not the motive. . . . The only thing we know is they intended to kill him."
With Yacobov slumped over the front seat, the car grazed a telephone pole before stopping.
The gunmen fled in a late-model black Mercury Cougar or Ford Thunderbird, police said.
Neighbor Lisa Karako said it sounded like more than one gun was used and the noise "was like a machine gun . . . It was an automatic gun."
Pannell said more than 20 shots were fired in all.
There were five bullet holes in the front windshield of Yacobov's car and the driver's side window was blown out. Spent cartridges littered the street.
Detectives were trying to piece together information on Yacobov's background in search of a motive. Police said relatives told them that the divorced father of two was involved "in the construction industry" but did not give details.
Yacobov's driver's license listed an address on North Ogden Drive, about half a mile from the shooting scene. Neighbors said he no longer lived there, however, and apparently was staying with his brother, whom authorities did not identify.
The scene is in a quiet middle-class neighborhood, which is home to a mix of longtime residents and Jewish immigrants, most from Israel or the Soviet Union.
One neighbor described Yacobov as "a handsome man, a very handsome man. A Mercedes man."
Yacobov reportedly drove a taxi when he first came to this country and later sold used Mercedeses and BMWs from the front lawn of the Ogden Drive house, where he lived with his wife. Converting the garage into an apartment, he moved his parents and other relatives into the home, a neighbor said.
"He was doing anything to get along, to make a living," the neighbor said.
His wife continued to live in the house, which is now for sale, after their divorce in July, 1988, neighbors said. His parents had returned to Israel just in the last week.
A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in March, 1988, accused Yacobov, his E & I Body Shop and another man of fraudulently selling two automobiles.
In the still-pending case, a customer alleges that he paid $20,000 for a Mercedes and $14,000 for an Acura, but that the Mercedes "was almost immediately taken by the LAPD because it was a stolen car" and that "the Acura automobile was never delivered."
In responding to the allegations, Yacobov said that he merely accompanied a friend who was selling the Mercedes. Yacobov's lawyer, Martin H. Rub, described him in court papers as a man who spoke limited English and who "is involved in a lot of travel out of Los Angeles." Rub would not comment Wednesday on Yacobov's business affairs, but said the car dispute was "totally unrelated" to any problems that may have led to the shooting.
Court records indicate that no criminal charges were ever filed in the incident.
Yacobov sold the E & I Body Shop on West Pico Boulevard about a year ago, according to the current owner. He also owned a body shop on South La Brea Avenue, but sold that about two months ago, workers there said.
Chuck Francis, the owner of a Fairfax Avenue garage, said Yacobov came by about noon Tuesday and seemed in good spirits.
"I was joking with him and I said, 'You picked up a little bit of weight.' And he laughed at me and said, 'Oh, it's the good life. I've been enjoying good food,' " Francis recalled.
Neighbors who gathered at the shooting scene Tuesday night said Yacobov was friends with a 47-year-old Beverlywood man, David Elias Isaac, who was fatally shot two weeks ago after his wife opened the door to a man pretending to be a Western Union messenger.
Detective Lee Kingsford said Wednesday that there has been no arrest in that case and "at this point it appears to us that the motive was robbery, although other aspects are being investigated."
Times staff writers Nieson Himmel and Paul Feldman contributed to this story.