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Elderly Couple Found Slain in Burning Home

Crime: The fire was set to cover up the killings, police say. The victims had just returned to their West Hills home from a cruise.

February 06, 2001|ZANTO PEABODY and MICHAEL KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The home of an elderly West Hills couple found slain in their bed had been set afire early Monday in an apparent attempt to cover up the crime, police said.

Firefighters responding to a small blaze at a residence in the 7200 block of Pomelo Drive made the discovery shortly after 7 a.m. as they entered the home of William Lasky, 76, and his wife, Bertha, 73, authorities said.

The couple had just returned Saturday from a Caribbean cruise, friends said.

"They were just really good people," said neighbor Deborah Dobson, who had known the Laskys for five years. "I'm just really upset. I can't believe this happened. We're all pretty shocked here."

Although nearly three dozen Los Angeles Police Department personnel were at the scene, only scant details were released.

"The Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a call of fire and smoke at the back portion of the residence at 6:20 a.m., then found the bodies of a male and female couple in their late 70s and called LAPD West Valley homicide detectives," said Dawn Danko, an LAPD spokeswoman.

The Laskys had lived for 25 years in the 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom home in the middle-class neighborhood. The home was built in the mid-1970s on the western edge of the San Fernando Valley, about three miles north of the Ventura Freeway.

Longtime friends Ida and Jeffrey Cohen of Woodland Hills said William "Billy" Lasky was retired from a cable company and Bertha was retired from Kaiser, where she was a home health care worker. She was a docent at the Getty Center.

Jeffrey Cohen said the two couples, friends for 40 years, helped raise funds to establish Temple Solael in West Hills, which recently merged with Temple Judea.

The Laskys were always together, Ida Cohen said.

"I used to say, 'You're making me crazy, the two of you. I can't tell who's Billy and who's Bertha,' " Ida Cohen said.

The Laskys returned Saturday from a cruise that took them to the Caribbean through the Panama Canal and back to California, said Ida Cohen.

Cohen said the Laskys have three children: Beth, an associate professor of special education at Cal State Northridge; Debbie, who lives in Seattle; and Scott, a photographer in San Jose.

Jeffrey Cohen said the Laskys were not known to wear expensive jewelry or have a lot of cash on hand. "I can't understand why this would be a robbery, but I can't understand what else it would be," he said.

Neighbors on the quiet street were stunned by the news Monday. "Oh, my, we are shocked," said Marcia McPherson, who lives two doors away from the Laskys. "It is a nice quiet area.

Her husband, John McPherson, said, "They were just very nice pleasant people and very good gardeners," he said.

McPherson said he was awakened about 6 a.m. by the sound of a lone fire engine, but didn't pay much attention because there was "not a lot of siren activity and just a whiff of smoke." Shortly before 7 a.m., he went outside to get the newspaper and noticed three fire engines, but not a lot of damage to his neighbor's house and no police cars. Within an hour, he said, police were knocking on the McPhersons' door, asking questions. Michele Katz, who lives four doors from the Lasky home, said news of the deaths was "real scary."

Katz, who met the couple at a neighborhood barbecue last July, said she thought "they were the nicest couple around."

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