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Slain Man Feared for His Life, Sister Says

July 01, 1993|DIANA S. KIM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GLASSELL PARK — The slaying last week of Francisco (Tony) Hernandez in his Glassell Park beauty salon has left his large family and friends in his close-knit neighborhood traumatized and bewildered.

Just four days before he was stabbed and beaten to death, Hernandez had said, " 'I fear for my life,' " his sister, Felisitas Govea, recalled at a San Fernando mortuary earlier this week, where the dead man's elderly mother, 12 siblings, extended family members, beauty shop patrons and neighbors came to pay their respects.

"He said that the neighborhood was getting too rough and he wanted to move to a better place," said Govea, who shares a home in Pacoima with their 83-year-old mother, Hortencia Hernandez.

The 47-year-old barber-beautician was making plans to move to Las Vegas, where he enjoyed the casino shows and had friends, his sister said. He had put his house on Arthur Street in Glassell Park on the market two weeks before he was killed.

"Why? Why him?" Govea asked, tears streaming down her face. "He was so nice, so sweet. He was always calling on Mama, always being nice to his neighbors."

About 9:45 p.m. June 22, passersby saw the open door of Tony's Touch of Class Beauty Salon on Eagle Rock Boulevard and entered to discover Hernandez's body.

Lt. Dave Waterman of the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division called the slaying an "overkill. . . . It's obvious from the scene (of the crime) that there was a serious fight going on."

The detective said Hernandez's head was so badly bludgeoned he could not be immediately identified from his driver's license photo.

A clerk at Verdugo True Value Hardware Store next door said she suspected something was strange when she drove by on her way home around 8:30 p.m. and found the beauty shop door open. Hernandez, who worked alone, usually left the shop by 5:30 p.m., when the hardware store closed, because he didn't like working late alone in the rough neighborhood, she said.

"I just thought he had a late customer," said the clerk, who asked that her name not be used. "But it was strange because he always had the door locked from the inside."

The police, family members and shop patrons all suspect that Hernandez probably knew his killer, because he opened the door only for his customers or to familiar faces.

Because his shop had been burglarized three times in the past couple of years, Hernandez also carried a gun in a pouch when he traveled between his home and the shop each day and kept the weapon nearby when he was at work, Detective Tony Moreno said. The gun was still in the pouch, unfired, and nothing appeared to be stolen from the shop, Moreno said. The victim's 13-diamond ring, gold bracelets and gold watch were left on his body.

But there was evidence that Hernandez "may have tried to defend himself. . . . And he probably did something either before (the slaying) or during to enrage the killer," Moreno said.

Moreno said he has theories on the killer, but he declined to elaborate.

"Somebody in that neighborhood definitely knows," he said. "It's just a matter of finding the right person."

Family members speculate that the killer might be a former lover or someone who was jealous of Hernandez's success. After a breakup of a live-in relationship with a man 20 years ago, Hernandez said "no more" to steady partners, said his niece, Maria Davila, 28, of Sylmar.

Hernandez was loved and respected by his family, particularly his many nieces, nephews and godchildren, because he turned around a life of alcohol and drug abuse 11 years ago, they said.

"He prayed every morning to thank God for a second chance in life," said Davila, who wears a locket containing a photo of her "favorite uncle" around her neck. "He was always telling others to do better in their life. He always had a kind word, a supportive word for people. I adored him. Nobody knows how much I loved him."

Hernandez, who regularly worked seven days a week, had a taste for the finer things in life: a black Corvette, a Datsun 280-ZX, a motorcycle and a two-bedroom home containing expensive porcelain and paintings.

In 1988, Hernandez was awarded a Home Beautification Award by the Glassell Park Improvement Assn. As a longtime member of the association, he donated free haircuts as door prizes for the group's annual dinner. He also gave out discount coupons to senior citizens and had a jar full of candy for children in the neighborhood.

"Believe me, he was a very, very good man, nice with customers, smiling all the time. Very gentle," said Alba Lacasella, 57, a weekly patron for eight years.

Although Hernandez was making plans to move to Nevada, he so liked his job and clients that he was also thinking of renting an apartment in the Los Angeles area to continue his work on a part-time basis, family members said.

Neighbor Sylvia Perez, distraught and in tears over Hernandez's death, said she last saw Hernandez the night before his slaying when he asked if her husband, a mechanic, could fix his Datsun, which sports a license plate frame reading: I LOVE.

"He was always there when you needed him," Perez said. "He was such a nice, wonderful man. My boy used to go and mow his lawn. Somebody said, 'There are people who deserve to die, but Tony was not one of them.' "

The morning after the slaying, there were bouquets outside the beauty shop along with a note that read:

"Tony, we'll miss you . . . see you in heaven."

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