A bizarre series of killings, assaults and threats against officials at Carole Little, the trendy Los Angeles maker of women's wear, has confounded investigators and spread fear through the company and the local apparel industry.
Two Carole Little executives were shot to death in their vehicles within the past five months and one of the company's sewing contractors was killed in 1993 as he drove away from his Glendale plant, police and company sources said.
In addition, another company executive was the target of two murder attempts in 1993--one of them a bomb that exploded at her Long Beach home--and a second executive at the Glendale contracting firm and his wife were shot in 1994. Recently, a Carole Little manager received a threatening telephone call, sources said.
Police in Los Angeles, Glendale and Long Beach, Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide detectives and the FBI are working on the investigation, authorities said.
Police said they have no suspects, and investigators are examining the private lives of the victims in case the killings are unrelated. They said they are also investigating whether the killings are linked to company business.
"It's very unusual that this company's employees would be repeatedly victimized," said LAPD Detective Fred Miller.
Meanwhile, Glendale police, who are investigating one of the slayings--the 1993 killing of the contractor--believe that it may be related to organized crime efforts to control part of the garment industry. A man questioned in that case was convicted of unrelated drug charges. Police say they are still searching for the triggerman.
Carole Little, maker of designer women's casual wear found in major department stores, is operated by California Fashion Industries. Leonard Rabinowitz, co-chairman of the privately held company, said he has "no clue" why the killings occurred.
"We're very disturbed about it," he said. "We feel very good about the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a team of agents working the case--as does Robbery-Homicide Division of LAPD. . . . Basically, we're keeping out of their way and going about our business and letting them do their jobs. This is terribly disturbing."
The LAPD is to announce a $100,000 reward for information leading to any convictions and will discuss the crimes at a news conference today. In interviews, police sources, Carole Little officials and the Los Angeles County coroner's office provided the following details:
* On May 4, Rolando P. Ramirez, 44, of West Covina, comptroller and a 17-year veteran of the company, was hit by multiple gunshots as he sat in his car near 33rd and Main streets in Los Angeles about 6:05 p.m. Ramirez died at the scene.
"There's a big emptiness in my heart. He was a good guy," said Rogin Albania, an employee who was supervised by Ramirez.
* Five months earlier, on Dec. 19, Vice President Kenneth Martin, 51, the company's director of manufacturing who was in charge of lining up contractors, died after he was shot several times as he sat in his truck at a stoplight at Slauson Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard in Ladera Heights.
Sheriff's deputies at the time said two men in a black Datsun pickup with a blue camper shell had chased Martin's Ford Bronco and tried to run it off the road. When Martin stopped for a red light on Slauson, the passenger jumped out of the truck and fired a handgun at Martin. Sheriff's deputies also have been searching for two men who were seen chasing Martin in another vehicle shortly before his death.
* Karin Wong was a Carole Little executive in charge of procuring domestic contractors when she survived two murder attempts in the autumn of 1993. A bullet was fired through the rear window of her vehicle as she traveled a Southland freeway. The shot hit the passenger side, missing Wong. A bomb was also set off at her home on a separate occasion. Wong no longer works for Carole Little and could not be located for comment.
* On Nov. 2, 1993, Hakop (Jack) Antonyan, 39, of Studio City, co-owner of GAHA, a Glendale-based sewing contractor for Carole Little, died after being hit by multiple gunshots in an "execution-style" attack as he left his Garfield Avenue plant at 9:28 p.m.
* Another GAHA executive and his wife were attacked a year later by a gunman who fired shots at the couple's car as they left work. The executive was struck in the cheek and his wife was wounded in the arm. Although the executive carried a gun and returned the gunshots, the assailant escaped. Glendale police are investigating both the Antonyan killing and the attempted slaying of the couple.
* More recently, a Carole Little production manager received a telephoned threat. Further details were unavailable.
Carole Little employees were given some information on the incidents at a company meeting Friday. About 1,000 people are employed at the firm, which is headquartered at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Main Street.