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2 Women Found Dead at Resort

A worker discovers the bodies in a cottage. The sheriff's and coroner's offices are investigating.

October 12, 2003|Jean Merl and David Pierson | Times Staff Writers

Authorities are investigating the bizarre circumstances surrounding the deaths of two young Long Beach women at a Big Sur resort, the Monterey County Sheriff's Office said Saturday.

The women were identified as Abigail Tapia, 27, and Jacqueline Toves, 26. The women, who lived at the same address on 2nd Street in Long Beach, had been traveling together and were guests at the oceanfront Gorda Springs Inn, about 25 miles north of Hearst Castle, the sheriff's office said in a statement.

An employee, Leonardo Flores, discovered the bodies when he checked their cottage Friday. He told Associated Press that he had found the bodies side by side on a bed. Black plastic bags secured with duct tape were wrapped tightly around their heads.

Flores said that one woman wore a grinning Halloween mask over the bag and that the hands of both were tightly bound with tape. He also said he had found a feathered mask lying nearby.

Flores and one of the resort's trustees, Sherwin Miller, said it appeared the deaths had been the result of a double suicide, but the sheriff's office said "suspicious circumstances" had spurred the department and the coroner's office to open investigations. Autopsies were scheduled Monday to determine the causes of death.

The resort, which sits off California Highway 1, features ocean-view cottages, with rates ranging from $200 to $600 a night. The women rented a $220-a-night cabin with a fireplace and porch, Miller said. He told Associated Press that the women had checked in Oct. 3. They declined housekeeping services during their stay.

A neighbor staying in the cottage next door complained of loud pounding coming from the room the first night. Flores checked the room the third night and said nothing seemed wrong. On the fourth night, the curtains in the room were drawn.

When the women failed to check out as scheduled Friday, Flores went to the cottage to check on them, Miller said. "It was a real shock," he said. "They seemed to be perfectly OK with each other. There was no evidence of any friction and disharmony between the two of them."

The women dined at the resort's restaurant and shopped at its store; nothing in their behavior drew attention, he said.

The resort, which opened in 1937, draws celebrities and politicians, as well as hikers, cyclists, surfers and whale watchers.

The women's Long Beach home is in an area largely of older, stucco apartment buildings east of downtown and about two blocks from the ocean.

The manager of their building said the two were good tenants, quiet and up to date on their rent. They had recently traveled to Las Vegas to celebrate Tapia's birthday but had not mentioned the Big Sur trip, said a woman who did not want her name published. Tapia worked in a medical office, but the manager did not know whether Toves was employed.

She said she was a little startled recently when a mask with a downturned mouth appeared on the women's door. "It spooked me when I saw it," the manager said.

She said Tapia's sister appeared at her door Tuesday night, saying she hadn't heard from the women and wondering whether the manager knew their whereabouts.

On Saturday, the manager called the sister to see whether she had heard from the women. Tapia's father took the phone and told the manager that the women were dead, she said.

Times staff writer Deborah Schoch contributed to this report.

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