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Lone Attacker Suspected in Slayings of 4

Crime: Investigators say arrested neighbor may have argued recently with one of the victims.

July 16, 2002|RICHARD WINTON, JOSE CARDENAS and RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The 23-year-old man arrested in the grisly quadruple slayings of a South Whittier family probably acted alone, and may have quarreled recently with one of the victims, authorities said Monday.

Alfonso Ignacio Morales, a former security guard, is suspected of raping and killing his niece's best friend and murdering the friend's mother, father and great-grandmother.

Described as a close friend of the slain family, Morales also worked part time as a computer repairman for the father, Miguel Ruiz, 38, investigators said.

Though a motive was still unclear, investigators were probing whether a recent falling out between the men had triggered the rampage, said Lt. Ray Peavy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

"We're not clear on the motive ourselves," he said. "What could cause an individual to do what he did?"

Asked if Morales alone could have caused a crime scene he described as one of the most grotesque he has ever seen, Peavy said it was possible.

When authorities arrived at the one-story house Saturday morning, they found, in separate rooms, the bloodied bodies of Ruiz; his wife, Maritza Trejo, 41; their 8-year-old daughter, Jasmin; and Ruiz's grandmother, Ana Luisa Martinez, 79.

Blood stains covered the walls and ceilings, and the house had been ransacked, with drawers emptied and furniture overturned, authorities said.

Jasmin had been sexually assaulted and stabbed to death. Investigators said the other family members also had suffered greatly before being bludgeoned. They said the bodies had been dragged from room to room. Investigators said they believe the slayings occurred sometime Friday.

The amount of blood in the home reflected "a struggle," Peavy said. "It is like a movie murder scene. In the movies, they tend to overdo the bloody scene. In this case, it looked like an overdone movie scene."

Investigators focused on Morales as a suspect after interviewing neighbors and reviewing evidence at the scene. Bloodhounds led them to search his car.

Morales has been cooperative since his arrest Sunday, investigators said. He was being held without bail, and was scheduled to be arraigned this morning.

Morales' arrest has been a double emotional blow to members of his family, who were close friends of the Ruizes. They lived eight houses away, and Morales' niece, Candace, was a constant presence at the Ruiz home.

"How do you think we feel? I cannot even bring myself to think about what they say he did," said Yvonne Ybarra, Morales' sister.

Ybarra, who lives in a cottage behind the home where her brother lived with her mother and stepfather, said she had no idea why authorities suspect that her brother killed the four neighbors.

The slayings have shaken the quiet, working-class neighborhood. Residents erected a makeshift memorial near the Ruiz home and filled it with candles, teddy bears and handwritten notes.

Many of the notes evoke the memory of Jasmin, a popular, bright-eyed girl who was a top student at her elementary school. Some of the crayon drawings by children picture Jasmin as an angel. "My heart is sad, but heaven is more beautiful with you," reads one card dedicated to her.

Neighbors and investigators said Morales had a long and close relationship with the Ruiz family. He often drove over to the house in his Ford Mustang convertible and chatted outside with Ruiz. He recently sold the family a boxer dog.

Morales worked for Ruiz, who operated a computer repair business at his home, investigators said. Ruiz, they said, had been teaching Morales almost daily for much of the last year. But the visits had fallen off recently.

Though investigators suspected a feud might have prompted the slayings, they were not ruling other possibilities. Peavy said numerous possible murder weapons had been recovered from the home, and that a "great deal" of property was missing.

Brent Turvey, the author of a book on criminal profiling, said the nature of the slayings suggests the killer perceived himself to be part of the Ruiz family. "It can be similar to stalking behavior with celebrities. He has a fantasy in his mind of his relationship with the family," Turvey said. "This is pure rage."

Morales obtained a security guard's license in 2000, which expired earlier this year. According to the state Department of Consumer Affairs, Morales obtained the license to work for Paragon Protective Services in San Gabriel.

Kevin Flanigan, a department spokesman, said Paragon had ceased doing business in May. Under the law, Morales had 60 days after his guard license expired Jan. 31 to seek another license, Flanigan said.

Neighbor Art Arriaga said he knew Morales as a friendly, soft-spoken man who has often worn a black security guard's jacket and heavy Army-style boots around the neighborhood.

Morales once warned him that someone had tried to break into his car, Arriaga said. "He said not to worry about the neighborhood. He'd take care of it," Arriaga said. "To me, that time he was a good neighbor.

"Even right now, I cannot fathom what he did in there. To see him and what happened in there, they don't match."

*

Times staff writers Steve Berry and Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.

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