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California and the West

Drifter Accused in Grisly Slaying of Boy

March 24, 1998|ESTHER SCHRADER and MIMI KO CRUZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LA HABRA — A schoolboy whose dismembered body was found encased in concrete was killed by a one-handed drifter who lived alone in a backyard shed strewn with sexually explicit magazines and children's toys, police alleged Monday.

Six people who live in a house and a trailer on the property where Juan Delgado, 12, apparently was killed were released by police Monday, a day after they were arrested. But prosecutors said they plan to charge the remaining suspect, John Samuel Ghobrial, 27, an Egyptian emigre who is missing his right hand and forearm, with murder.

Police allege that Ghobrial killed the boy and dismembered his body while the other residents of the property were away from home. Ghobrial then encased some of the boy's body parts in concrete blocks, one of which weighed 200 pounds, and dumped them on nearby lawns, police said.

"It's difficult, and we are wrestling with this all the time: How could one person, especially one person who doesn't have two full arms and hands, accomplish this?" said La Habra Police Capt. John Rees. "But we haven't been able to determine that one person couldn't do it."

Police have yet to establish a motive for the killing, Rees said, but are investigating the possibility of a sex crime. The boy's pelvis is still missing, Rees said, making it difficult to determine if the boy had been sexually abused.

Coroner's investigators have found no other evidence of force or traumatic injury so far, Rees said.

A 10-year-old friend of Juan Delgado said Monday that the victim complained to him three weeks ago that a man had been following him.

"The last time he told me about the guy was like three Sundays ago at church," the youngster said. "Juan pulled me outside and told me that some guy kept bothering him. He said he was scared and the guy kept following him after school."

Parts of Juan Delgado's body were found Saturday, mainly in two concrete cylinders. The cylinders were found within two blocks of the Greenwood Avenue property where Ghobrial had rented a backyard shed since Feb. 28.

Police believe Ghobrial asphyxiated and dismembered the boy in the shed, and encased some of his remains in concrete that he mixed and poured in white paint buckets. Rees said police believe that Ghobrial then rolled the cylinders into an upended shopping cart, righted the cart, pushed it into the street and dumped the concrete cylinders on neighbors' lawns.

Police said other people living on the property had solid alibis and are no longer considered suspects. But he said investigators have not ruled out the possibility that Ghobrial may have had some assistance.

By Monday afternoon, about 80% of the boy's body had been found, Rees said.

People acquainted with Ghobrial described him as a well-known panhandler who frequented a nearby shopping center.

Maria Eugenia Asturias, who owns the Greenwood Avenue home with her two grown children and rents a trailer on the property to three other people, said she agreed to rent the shed to Ghobrial in late February for $100 a month.

"My kids didn't want me to rent the shack to him, but I just felt sorry for him," Asturias said. "He doesn't have an arm and he can't work. It's really sad. . . . Now we're scared. We don't know if he acted alone. My kids tell me, 'Mom, he could have killed us.' "

Inside the shack Monday were several children's storybooks on a shelf. Another shelf was covered with children's clothing. On a third was a mannequin's head, heavily made up and smeared with red nail polish. Stuffed animals were strewn on the floor next to sexually explicit magazines.

Part of the beige carpet was covered with dirt and chips of concrete.

It was not clear when Ghobrial, an Egyptian who immigrated to the United States through Mexico, arrived in the United States, police said. Ghobrial told authorities that he lost his arm when he was attacked by Muslim fundamentalists.

Police said he may have befriended Juan at a Harbor Boulevard butcher's shop near the boy's house, and persuaded the sixth-grader to go home with him voluntarily.

The owner of the market, Imran Bholat, said Ghobrial often came in asking for money for food and seeking a job. And Juan was friendly with employees and sometimes carried shoppers' bags to their cars for tips.

But Bholat and other employees of the store said they had never seen the two together.

"When [Ghobrial] would come by, I'd give him money to go eat lunch or something," Bholat said. "He seemed like a pretty sad guy."

Bholat and others at the store had nothing but praise for Juan.

"He was such a good kid," said the butcher at the store, who spoke on condition that he not be named. "He wanted to grow up fast and work to help his mother. He really loved his mother."

The boy had been missing since last Tuesday afternoon, when he left Washington Middle School but failed to come home, police and the Delgado family said.

Margarita Delgado said her son had left home twice before for several days, usually turning up at the houses of friends. So when he did not come home Tuesday, she did not worry.

But when her son was still missing Thursday afternoon, Delgado called the police.

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