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Deaths at Resort Shock Locals

Monterey County authorities are treating the case of two Long Beach women found dead at a Big Sur inn as a double homicide.

October 13, 2003|Sally Ann Connell and Richard Fausset | Special to The Times

Monterey County authorities continued their investigation Sunday into the deaths of two Long Beach women who were found in the cabin of a Big Sur resort with their hands bound and their heads covered in plastic bags.

Sgt. Craig Pakish of the Monterey County Sheriff's Department headquarters in Salinas said detectives were treating the case as a double homicide.

But employees at the Gorda Springs Inn have speculated that the deaths of Abigail Tapia and Jacqueline Toves may have been suicides. Meanwhile, residents of the scenic stretch of coast just north of Hearst Castle said they were shocked by the odd details of the case.

"It's so strange that anything like that would happen here," said Bunny Gries, 67, who lives near the resort and has been a Big Sur resident for almost 40 years. "The only deaths we ever seem to have are suicides and the occasional tourist who drives off a cliff."

Tapia, 27, and Toves, 26, were discovered in their room Friday by an employee of the inn, which sits off California Highway 1.

The women were lying in bed wearing underwear and T-shirts, said Leonardo Flores, the employee who found the women.

One of the women was wearing a Halloween mask over the plastic bag, and another feathered mask was found on a nearby table, Flores said. The plastic bag around one woman's head was tightly secured with tape, but the bag on the other woman was looser, he said. Both women's hands were bound with tape, he said.

The room, Flores said, was neat, with no evidence of a protracted struggle. The women's car was still at the cabin, with the car keys inside the cabin. A medium- to large-sized envelope addressed to a man was found near their bodies, Flores said.

According to Flores and Sherwin Miller, one of the owners of the inn, the women -- who shared an apartment in Long Beach -- had checked into the $220-per-night room on Oct. 3. The credit card they used had been OKd for the full payment, and they asked not to have housekeeping service during their scheduled seven-day stay.

A front-desk clerk at the inn, who asked not to be identified, said the women asked not to be disturbed because they were working on their "thesis." The women also asked if a cabin adjoining theirs could remain unoccupied -- a request the clerk could not fulfill.

Flores said he entered the room about 4:30 p.m. Friday after they failed to check out on time.

Miller and Flores said that none of the staff noticed the two women entertaining outside visitors during their stay. A neighbor complained about noise coming from their cabin on the women's first night, Flores said, but the pair quieted down after the neighbor talked to them.

Scant details of the women's lives have emerged since the bodies were discovered. Dennis Mercier, a former manager of the women's Long Beach apartment building, said they moved into the building around April.

Another neighbor said the two women kept to themselves but were friendly, often greeting neighbors as they sat on their staircase smoking cigarettes.

The neighbor, who did not want her name published, said the pair had few visitors to their walk-up two-bedroom apartment, located a few blocks from the beach.

One neighbor said Tapia worked at a medical office. Toves was recently unemployed and receiving disability payments through at least March, according to a bankruptcy filing she made that month.

At the time, Toves owed more than $57,000 in credit-card bills and about $6,000 in medical bills, bankruptcy records show.

"I don't know [what] happened, but she's a very nice and friendly person," said Duyen Nguyen, a neighbor who befriended Toves in 2002 when she was living at a North Hollywood condominium complex. "I'm really surprised."

Times staff writer Richard Marosi contributed to this report.

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