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Woman and Her Father Shot to Death at Home

Crime: Slayings are first in Upper Ojai community in decades. A man who owns property nearby is arrested.

May 23, 1997|SCOTT HADLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UPPER OJAI, Calif. — At a home on a rural two-lane road, a woman and her elderly father were shot and killed Thursday--the first slayings to mar this quiet mountain enclave in decades, authorities said.

Sheriff's investigators said that Mike Hugo Garcia of Glendale shot and killed Helen Dorothy Giardina, 42, and her 83-year-old father, Albert "Jim" Alexander, just before 4 a.m. Thursday.

Garcia, 43, who owned property nearby, apparently called authorities after the shooting to report what he had done. When deputies arrived at the victims' home, he was standing in the gravel driveway holding a bloody towel to his arm, with Giardina's 3-year-old son beside him unharmed, authorities said. Garcia's shiny new black Porsche 911 was parked out in front of the home with the hood up.

"He admitted to the shooting during interrogation," said Sgt. Rod Mendoza, spokesman for the Sheriff's Department.

The double homicide left investigators stumped for a possible motive.

"We don't know," said Capt. Larry Robertson, who heads the department's major crimes division. "It's just sick, that's all I can say."

With its orchards and small ranch homes, authorities said the Upper Ojai has been a quiet haven for so long they could not recall the last homicide. Carl Hofmeister, 76, a lifelong resident of the community, said he couldn't remember a slaying in the last 50 years.

The two bodies were found just inside the front door and appeared to have suffered wounds from handguns, investigators said, adding that there were a number of guns in the home.

Deputies turned the young boy, Jim, over to county welfare workers until his father could pick him up. Officials would not say if the 3-year-old witnessed the shooting, but said he was obviously traumatized.

Garcia was sent to the Ventura County Medical Center to be treated for a gash on his arm, then to County Jail, where he was interviewed by investigators.

Garcia, who neighbors said operated a furniture and water bed store in Los Angeles, owns 20 acres next to Alexander's yellow single-story ranch house, records show.

He recently had the property subdivided and planned to build four homes there, but because of a falling-out with his wife the plans were stalled, neighbors said.

Investigators would not say what sort of relationship Garcia had with the two victims.

James Mellinger, who leased a home from Garcia, said Garcia often went onto his own property for target practice.

On Wednesday night before the shooting, Garcia chased Mellinger's young son through the yard, throwing rocks at him, Mellinger said.

"I don't know what was wrong with him, but he was out of control," Mellinger said, standing in his yard as investigators poured over clues next door.

Other neighbors described Garcia as a friendly man who often visited and chatted about building homes in the area but who sometimes frightened them with erratic behavior.

As for Alexander and his daughter, people who knew them described them as friendly and neighborly.

The two lived on an eight-acre parcel with chickens and rabbits. A small swing set and lots of toys were in the front yard.

Alexander, a retired Los Angeles city employee, had bought the home in the bucolic valley halfway between Ojai and Santa Paula more than 15 years ago.

His daughter lived in Inglewood with her husband, Tom Giardina, but in the last few years she often visited her father, who was ill with cancer.

"I don't know why anyone would want to kill her," Mellinger said. "She was the sweetest person."

Helen Dorothy Giardina recently moved to the small home to take care of her father full-time, said neighbor Katherine Dweedon.

"We were just good neighbors, and sometimes we'd talk over coffee at the [Summit] Cafe," Dweedon said.

Cafe regulars were aghast at the news as they hunched over breakfast Thursday. A waitress said the killings left regulars in a somber mood.

"It is shocking. It's very shocking," she said.

Passersby slowed their cars or walked past the Alexander property to look at the throng of reporters and TV crews.

Actor Larry Hagman, who lives a few miles away, stopped his motorcycle to ask onlookers what happened.

"I'm glad they caught the guy, because if they didn't the people up here would have been up in arms--I mean literally up in arms," Hagman said.

Times correspondents Scott Steepleton and Nick Green contributed to this story.

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