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Man Arrested in Cosby Slaying, Sources Report

Crime: Police are believed to think the killing was a random act that may have involved four Russian robbers. Officers are still searching for possible accomplices.

March 13, 1997|JIM NEWTON and MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Police on Wednesday arrested at least one man in connection with the murder of entertainer Bill Cosby's 27-year-old son, who was gunned down nearly two months ago in what detectives now believe was a random act of violence, sources close to the investigation said.

Police delayed any announcement about the Ennis Cosby murder case Wednesday evening but scheduled a news conference for later in the night. The sources said the department's decision to remain silent was made because officers were searching for other possible accomplices in the slaying. One source said police believe a gang of about four "Russian" robbers may have taken part in the crime.

It was not clear how investigators made a breakthrough in a case that many thought might go unsolved forever. In fact, most details of the arrest were sketchy late Wednesday.

One source, however, said somebody "came forward" and gave information to the police to settle a score with the suspect and his possible accomplices.

The one man arrested so far was described by police sources only as somebody who did not know Cosby. Additional arrests were possible, the sources said.

A spokesman for the Cosby family said the comedian had been in contact with police about "developments in the case," but declined to elaborate.

Ennis Cosby was shot once in the head Jan. 16 while trying to change a tire on his Mercedes-Benz on a darkened side road above Bel-Air.

The death of the young Cosby stunned the nation and prompted a massive investigative effort by the Los Angeles Police Department to find the killer. The victim's famous father hired a private investigator to assist in the hunt, while civic leaders and tabloid magazines offered about $300,000 in reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the gunman.

Also unclear is what role the principal witness in the case has played in helping to collar the suspect. The witness, a 47-year-old self-described writer, apparently was called by Ennis Cosby that night to assist him in changing the flat tire.

The woman told investigators that she was on the scene when a man with a pistol accosted her and Cosby. The woman told authorities she was frightened off and returned to find Cosby's body lying by his car in a pool of blood.

Using a description provided by the woman, police released a composite sketch of the suspect. At the time, the suspect was described as a white male of average height and weight between 25 and 32 years old. He was wearing a light-colored knit cap and was seen approaching Cosby on foot.

Another witness that night reported a suspicious car in the area around the time of the shooting. Police released a drawing of the driver, who they said was a possible witness wanted for questioning. Days after the release of the sketches, police detained a man matching the description of the driver, as well as a friend of his. Although the man had been in the area at the time, police said he knew nothing of the incident.

After that setback, police continued to press forward in the investigation, reviewing cellular phone records, looking for fingerprints and examining the flat tire for signs of sabotage.

Police were baffled over a possible motive for the murder, noting that nothing appeared to be missing from either Cosby or his car. Investigators said they were not sure whether the killer accidentally stumbled upon Cosby as he was fixing his tire, or whether it was a planned attack in which the tire had been sabotaged.

Evidence at the scene, sources said at the time, suggested that the killer did not shoot Cosby at point-blank range, but rather was at least several feet away. Because of that, it was less likely that there would be trace evidence that could connect a suspect to the crime. Sources noted that the area surrounding Cosby's vehicle was relatively undisturbed and that it appeared he died without a struggle.

Few details are known of Cosby's activities on the day his death. A graduate student at Columbia University in New York, Cosby was in Los Angeles for a two-week vacation. Shortly before his death, he had played basketball with friends at a gym. After the game, he was apparently going to meet the woman who became the primary witness in the case.

Cosby's family, as well as much of the nation, was horrified by the seemingly senseless nature of the murder. The situation became all the more traumatic for the Cosby family when a woman was arrested days later for attempting to extort $40 million from Bill Cosby, threatening to go to the tabloids with her claim that she is his illegitimate daughter. The comedian later went on national television to discuss the grief of losing his only son, but was also forced to acknowledge that he had an extramarital affair with the woman's mother.

Many people continued to rally behind the entertainer, sympathizing with his public ordeal.

Thousands of people sent money to an educational fund that was established in honor of the younger Cosby.

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