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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Simi Man Held in Slaying of West Hills Teen

Crime: He is talked into surrendering after police surround his home. Two other people are also arrested. The victim's body was found in Los Padres National Forest.

August 17, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT and KATIE COOPER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SIMI VALLEY — A Simi Valley man and two other people were arrested Wednesday in connection with the kidnapping and killing of a 15-year-old boy whose body was found last weekend in Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County.

William Robert Skidmore, 20, was arrested about 4:30 p.m. after SWAT officers surrounded his parents' home in eastern Simi Valley and a crisis negotiator, by phone, talked him into surrendering.

Earlier Wednesday, a 20-year-old man and 17-year-old boy were taken into custody in Santa Barbara.

All three suspects were in Santa Barbara County Jail late Wednesday.

Authorities said late Wednesday they were searching for one, possibly two, more suspects in the shooting death of Nicholas Samuel Markowitz, who lived in West Hills with his family and was to have attended El Camino Real High School this fall.

Markowitz's bullet-riddled body was found Saturday in a shallow grave near a hiking trail off West Camino Cielo Road, which is about 12 miles north of Santa Barbara off California 154. The area is popular for daytime hikes and nighttime parties.

The victim was last seen at home Aug. 6; two days later his parents, Jeff and Susan Markowitz, reported him missing. This was not the first time Markowitz had turned up missing, investigators said, but in this instance authorities believe he was kidnapped near his home and killed in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Lt. Michael Burridge, whose agency is handling the case, released few details but said residents of the seaside city would be stunned by the motive.

"This is going to surprise people in Santa Barbara because this is a very brutal crime and not the typical homicide we see in this county," Burridge said.

Authorities confirmed they are investigating the suspects' history, including that of Skidmore, who has a drug conviction, according to court records.

"We're not looking for someone who stole a newspaper," Burridge said of the suspects still at large. "We are looking for dangerous individuals. They are involved in the kidnapping and homicide of a 15-year-old child."

Burridge said details regarding the crime and the identities and photos of additional suspects being sought would be released at a press conference today.

*

At first, there were few clues to go on, but authorities said they got a break when they received several leads on the department's anonymous tip hot line. Along with cooperation from the victim's parents, those leads pointed detectives to the Los Angeles area where they interviewed several people, including friends who said Markowitz frequently hung out at Universal CityWalk.

From there, the investigation shifted to Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

By Wednesday morning, deputies had made two arrests in Santa Barbara, Burridge said. The lieutenant declined to release the suspects' names or residences, saying it would compromise the investigation, which was at "a critical point."

The third person, Skidmore, was arrested after Santa Barbara deputies, along with the Simi Valley Police Department's SWAT team, surrounded his parents' home in the 6700 block of Cowboy Street in Saddlewood Estates at the base of the Santa Susana Mountains. A planned community near the Los Angeles County line, the neighborhood is home to many police officers and firefighters.

Deputies had had the house under surveillance for several hours early Wednesday when two men and a teenage girl who had been inside were seen leaving in a green sedan about 1:30 p.m. Simi Valley police pulled the car over at Alamo Street and Lemon Drive and took the occupants to the police station, where they reportedly confirmed that Skidmore was inside his parents' home.

After officers surrounded the home, a crisis negotiator called Skidmore, who agreed to surrender peacefully. He was immediately arrested, and his 2-year-old nephew who was inside the home with him, was kept at the local police station until family members arrived to pick him up.

The arrest shocked neighbors, several of whom described Skidmore's parents, Raymond and Florinda, as friendly people who moved to the area about five years ago. Florinda frequently baby-sits neighbor kids, and her husband is an accountant, neighbors said.

"We're freaked out, very scared," said a woman who lives next door. "My kids used to play at her house all the time. It's frightening. I'm worried about how the mom is taking this. She is a sweet lady and she was probably clueless about all of this."

Another neighbor said the Skidmores were "the perfect family--everybody thought so."

Some neighbors, though, were critical of William Skidmore, saying he didn't interact with people in the neighborhood and occasionally caused trouble.

At the time of his arrest, Skidmore had apparently recently returned home to live with his parents and younger sister, neighbors said. Skidmore, who sports close-cropped hair and several tattoos, fancied baggy clothes and enjoyed collecting spiders, said a friend of his sister's.

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