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'81 Murder Is Solved, LAPD Says

April 06, 2002|STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Police Department's new Cold Case Homicide Unit has solved a 20-year-old murder, Police Chief Bernard C. Parks announced Friday.

The killing is the first one solved by the unit since it was established in November.

Parks said Friday that a man who recently died in an Arizona jail killed 52-year-old Leo Betancourt, the owner of an auto body repair shop then at Sunset Boulevard and Vendome Street.

Dets. Rick Jackson and Phil Vannatter identified the suspect as Alfredo Agrelo, 55, who died of natural causes. Agrelo was awaiting trial on several charges, including burglary and selling stolen guns. He also was waiting for extradition to New Jersey in a robbery case, Jackson said.

Parks said the Betancourt case is one of hundreds that the nine-person unit is examining. He said homicides in which DNA and fingerprints are the key evidence are the most promising cases.

Such technology played no role in the Betancourt case. The killing occurred Oct. 13, 1981, during a holdup by two men who pretended to be interested in buying a car from the victim, police said. When Betancourt took them on a test drive, they drove into an alley where one of them pulled a gun and shot him. Detectives said Agrelo fled on foot and his accomplice, who was never caught, escaped in Betancourt's vehicle.

The lead to Agrelo came from an inmate Jackson had arrested on suspicion of several murders in the early 1980s. Jackson said he decided to interview the prisoner because he suspected the inmate would know about some of the murders from those years. The prisoner knew the suspect as Alfredo Rodriguez, Jackson said.

Vannatter and Jackson found a booking photograph of Agrelo that strongly resembled a composite drawing that was compiled from witnesses who saw the assailants flee the alley, Jackson said.

Betancourt's widow told the detectives that the photo resembled one of two men who had been looking for her husband the day before he was killed. An original witness also identified the photo of Agrelo.

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