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Vets Arrested in Transvestite Prostitute Slaying

May 23, 1991|RAY TESSLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two Marine corporals at Camp Pendleton were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of murder in the death of a transvestite prostitute in December in what Oceanside police believe may have been a sexual encounter gone awry.

Jeffrey Todd Hammons, 24, and Todd Alan Thornton, 25, were held in County Jail in Vista in connection with the shooting death of Carlos Santiago, 25, who was among five transvestites or transsexuals slain in San Diego County last year.

Oceanside police spokesman Bob George said Wednesday that police are investigating the theory that the two Marines were seeking sex from Santiago and "the (murder) motive possibly was dissatisfied customers."

If so, "it's the worst motive I've ever seen for a homicide," George said.

However, Oceanside police don't believe the Marines are linked to the four other killings of transvestites or transsexuals that took place in San Diego last year. None of those cases has been solved, a San Diego police spokesman said Wednesday.

A Camp Pendleton spokesman, Gunnery Sgt. Dave Marriott, said Wednesday that Hammons is a member of a mortar squad and Thornton an infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The suspects were deployed to Operation Desert Storm from Feb. 20 to March 7.

Santiago, also known as Carlos Santana and Tasha, was killed by a handgun late Dec. 10 in the driveway of the Wally Johnson Motel on North Hill Street.

Earlier that day, Santiago had contacted police to report that two men had stolen a jacket or coat from him. Later that night, just before he was shot, he telephoned police from outside the motel to report seeing his assailants driving by.

According to George, a police dispatcher put Santiago on hold to check his case. "He was on hold less than a minute, and, when we came back on, the call was discontinued," George said.

Another caller who heard shots summoned police to the scene, where Santiago lay dead in the driveway. Witnesses led authorities to the car allegedly driven by the two Marines. The next day, police talked to Hammons and Thornton, and confiscated a handgun reportedly found in the suspects' car.

George said it took months to gather enough evidence for authorities to obtain an arrest warrant. Police coordinated with the Naval Investigative Service in arresting the Marines on base and turning them over to civilian authorities.

The suspects are expected to be arraigned today and will be tried in civilian courts.

Police believe Santiago was among 10 or 15 transvestite prostitutes working downtown Oceanside. "There's a whole little community of transvestite prostitutes," George said.

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