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Crime Watch

Volunteers Hunt for Clues in Possible Slaying

March 20, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT

This is what you call digging for clues.

Using a procedure called a grid search, three dozen Sheriff's Department volunteers returned last Thursday to where a woman's remains were found in the woods north of Ojai to look for more evidence.

The search in this case required mapping an area of about 50 by 100 yards around where two leg bones were found, and assigning volunteers to particular spots.

They scanned the ground with metal detectors and then crawled around on hands and knees and looked for evidence under bushes and rocks, Sheriff's Sgt. Earl Matthews said.

Next, the volunteers dug a foot beneath the surface and used colander-type devices to sift through piles of dirt.

Although the department rarely does such searches--maybe a couple a year because they are so labor-intensive--Matthews said the investigative tool is very reliable.

"Ninety-five percent of the time we find something," he said.

A decade ago, a grid search at the site where a man's body was found in Simi Valley uncovered bullets that led police to the killer, Matthews said.

In the case of the female leg bones found earlier this month, Matthews said volunteers found several more bones believed to be part of the same skeleton and several other items that Matthews wouldn't identify.

"We were pretty successful because quite a bit was found," Matthews said.

*

It's a case of mistaken identities.

An Oxnard woman who was shot at believes her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend are the only ones who could be responsible, but police say solid alibis have cleared the pair of any wrongdoing.

"We have no further leads to go on and we can't convince her these two aren't involved," Oxnard Police Det. Randey Cole said. "This may be one of those cases in which we may never know who did it."

Helen Flores, 25, was in her car with her 9-year-old daughter earlier this month when a bullet shattered the driver's side window and struck her in the left shoulder.

Flores was treated at a local hospital and released. Her daughter wasn't hurt.

The shooting occurred about 5 a.m. when Flores was parked next to a curb in front of her house and preparing to drive her daughter to day care before going to work, Cole said.

Police believe Flores was shot by someone she knows. Flores, who claims her ex-boyfriend is upset because she dumped him, didn't see the shooter and has given the cops conflicting reports about the getaway car, Cole said.

Anyone with information should call the detective at the Police Department.

*

The name is Coambs, Paul Coambs.

He doesn't pack an exploding pen or drive a sleek sports car loaded with gadgets, but the Simi Valley police detective has an interesting career investigating members of hate groups, militia factions, those known for violent demonstrations and motorcycle gang members.

Coambs has worked for a dozen years in the Simi Valley Police Department's Criminal Intelligence Section, a one-man unit and one of only two such offices in the county. The Sheriff's Department has a four-person criminal intelligence division.

"My job is to advise the chief on criminal organizations and other activities so he can properly manage and organize his resources," Coambs said. "There is, though, a covert aspect."

The plainclothes detective splits his time between surveillance and talking with detectives at county and federal agencies as well as snitches and residents in the field.

He doesn't prepare cases for prosecution but instead researches people that live in Simi Valley or come to town for a particular event. Such events have included protests at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and appearances by white supremacist Richard Barrett.

Detectives in other units use Coambs' information to learn when and where demonstrations may occur, how many officers to deploy and who in the city may be engaging in drug sales or other illicit activity.

Although Simi Valley historically ranks as one of the safest spots in the country, Coambs said the city has its share of bad guys. During his career, he has investigated terrorists, mobsters involved in local business and extortionists.

For obvious reasons the detective can't share a lot of details, but he said the public should know that Simi doesn't have any more of society's scumbags than any other city in the county.

"It's community policing at its best," Coambs said of the job.

Holly J. Wolcott can be reached at 653-7581 or at holly.wolcott@latimes.com.

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