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Los Angeles

Cold-Case Unit Gives Hope to Daughter of Homicide Victim

Crime: New LAPD team is looking into 1996 Van Nuys slaying and other unsolved murders.

January 14, 2002|MICHAEL KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five years ago, the small, frail body of 47-year-old Armenak Gyulbudagyan was found riddled with bullets in the trunk of his car.

No one was arrested for the killing and the investigation grew cold, relegated to the back burner by overworked detectives.

But the crime was always on the mind of Kristine Langhenry, the victim's only daughter. She wrote letters to the Los Angeles Police Department, asking for help. Nothing came of them, she said.

This although a suspect in the case was her mother, Tamara Oganesyan, who had recently divorced the victim.

Last month, Langhenry, 27, who lives in Maryland, wrote to LAPD Capt. Jim Tatreau. Her timing was good. In late November, the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division, commanded by Tatreau, unveiled a new unit dealing with cold cases--unsolved homicides that had dropped in priority.

"It sounded like a good case," Tatreau said. "Van Nuys Division just didn't have the time and couldn't devote the necessary resources. So we picked it up."

Tatreau said there is no set way to determine a case has gone cold.

"There's different stages of cold," he said. "If it's sitting on somebody's list of current cases, I would say it's not too cold. But if it has fallen off the radar screen then it probably is.

"That's when the victim's family has to demand some level of service, and that is what [Langhenry] did very well," Tatreau said.

It is not unusual for a homicide to go unsolved. Of the 544 homicides in 2000 in Los Angeles, less than half were cleared, according to LAPD statistics. And a great deal of work was done on the Gyulbudagyan case before it cooled off.

On July 1, 1996, LAPD officers noticed an illegally parked car in an alley off the 5700 block of Woodman Avenue in Van Nuys. They found Gyulbudagyan's 5-foot-1, 120-pound body in the trunk with several bullet wounds in his torso.

Fingerprints were left on the steering wheel and doors and in the trunk, Langhenry said. There were cigarettes in the car, but Gyulbudagyan did not smoke. Hair and fiber evidence was collected, Langhenry said. She's hoping with crime-fighting technology having improved since her father's death, new clues will lead to an arrest.

Van Nuys detectives had filled seven notebooks with notes on the slaying of Gyulbudagyan.

"It wasn't like Van Nuys [detectives] shined it on, because they had a lot of work on it," said Det. Rick Jackson, one of eight officers now assigned to the case. "I already have some thoughts about it."

Langhenry is happy that the case is being reviewed.

"When Tatreau personally called me back and said his unit would take the case, I was star-struck," said Langhenry, a budget analyst for the federal government in Washington. "So I'm hoping, though I've hoped before."

Langhenry said she is not afraid of what detectives may discover.

"I've thought of my mom . . . being involved, but my main objective is to get it solved," said Langhenry, who maintains a close relationship with her mother. "Of course, it would upset me, but I've had 5 1/2 years to think of every possibility. Plus, my mom is a good lady."

Oganesyan, 49, who was married to Gyulbudagyan for 20 years, said she is also pleased Robbery-Homicide has the case, because she is eager to have her name cleared. The couple's divorce was finalized one month before the slaying.

"I think it's a great idea they are going to investigate it again," said Oganesyan, who owns a jewelry store and art gallery in Carmel. "This crime destroyed our family, and we're having a hard time coping with it. You wake up one morning and your life is destroyed.

"I think I was the biggest suspect, even though I was divorced at the time, even though I've never even seen a gun."

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