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Man Held in Rampage Had an Unstable Youth

A mediocre student with 'lots of stepmoms,' suspect tried hard in sports, friends say.

June 16, 2004|Andrew Blankstein and Nicole Usher | Times Staff Writers

His high school football coach described Keven Lee Graff as a regular kid who loved sports, was well-liked and tried hard in class.

Los Angeles police call the 27-year-old Washington native a coldblooded killer who randomly entered two Hollywood homes Sunday and used kitchen knives to decapitate a screenwriter and stab his neighbor to death.

After hours of interviews, Los Angeles Police Capt. Al Michelena said, investigators are still trying to unravel the mystery of who Graff is and what caused the rampage.

"These were obviously very gruesome murders," Michelena said. "At this point, we haven't found any particular motive. It doesn't appear that he knew the victims. We don't know if he entered the first home to commit a theft or was just in a murderous rage."

Graff, who is being held in lieu of $2-million bail at the Twin Towers jail downtown, is scheduled to be arraigned today in Los Angeles Superior Court on charges of murdering Robert Lees, 91, and Dr. Morley Engelson, 69.

Graff's parents separated when he was young and he moved frequently with his father, from Washington state to Arkansas, Oklahoma and eventually the small town of Irrigon, Ore., where Graff went to high school, Det. Bryan Tyndall said.

Dan Huxoll, whose two children attended Riverside High School with Graff and his younger brother, recalled him as a boy who persevered despite family instability.

"I remember there were lots of stepmoms," Huxoll said. He described Graff as "your average, everyday boy who played sports" such as wrestling, football and baseball.

The suspect's former football coach, Dirk Dirksen, who is now the high school principal, said Graff had a mediocre academic career and was an average athlete. But, Dirksen said, "he always worked to the best of his ability. He wasn't gifted, but he maximized his efforts."

After graduating in 1996, Huxoll said, Graff went to California and worked as a personal trainer.

Graff told detectives that he also served in the Marine Corps almost four years. Records show he lived at Camp Pendleton in the late 1990s, though officials could not provide immediate records of his military service.

After his discharge, Graff told police, he took odd jobs, working on a construction project at Mission San Juan Capistrano and as a meat cutter at Albertsons during the recent supermarket strike, Michelena said.

The suspect lived with his brother in Fullerton and a girlfriend in Long Beach. He also spent time in Huntington Beach.

Authorities called Graff's past brushes with the law -- including a narcotics arrest in Long Beach and one involving alleged lewd conduct in Las Vegas -- unremarkable.

But in July 2003, Graff was committed to a mental facility after he called Fullerton police and threatened to beat a man who he claimed had molested his girlfriend, said Police Sgt. Steve Matson.

"He was rambling and very angry," Matson said, adding that Graff was "not right in the head."

Over the next year, the suspect drifted between apartments and spent time on the streets, losing 20 pounds, detectives said. He eventually ended up in Hollywood, where he lived out of his pickup and on the streets.

Police said they believed he was using drugs, most likely methamphetamine, during that time.

Sometime after 1 a.m. Sunday, Graff entered Lees' home and began a homicidal rampage, police said. The next day, he was arrested after security workers at Paramount studios saw his picture on a live TV news conference and recognized him as the man who moments earlier had been at their gate. Police found him sitting on a nearby wall.

Principal Dirksen said he was devastated to hear of the arrest.

"There was no indication at all that he would do anything like this," he said. "It just hit me in the stomach."

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Times staff writer Regine Labossiere contributed to this report.

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