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Body Found in Suitcase at Ontario Inn

Police arrest a Los Angeles parolee in a motel poolside stabbing, then find a woman's body stuffed in a trunk in his room.

September 23, 2004|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Ontario police investigating a poolside stabbing at a Motel 6 made a grisly discovery Tuesday night when they found the body of an 18-year-old woman stuffed into a suitcase inside the suspect's motel room.

Mark Edward Thomas, 23, of Los Angeles was arrested on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, robbery and violation of parole, and had to be subdued with a stun gun after officers cornered him in his motel room bathroom, police said.

After the arrest, police found the nude body of Thomas' girlfriend, Briele Johnson of Perris, in the suitcase.

The victim's mother, Lisa Johnson of Youngtown, Ariz., alleged that Thomas had assaulted her daughter at least twice before.

Briele Johnson "told me that a little more than three months ago, [Thomas] choked her out to the point her eye vessels busted and turned her eyes blood red," her mother said Wednesday. Thomas "had told my daughter he thought he had killed her."

Lisa Johnson said her daughter took photographs of herself after being assaulted and kept the photos in her purse: "When I told the police about that, they told me, 'We have those photos.' "

Briele Johnson left her mother's Arizona home last week to meet Thomas, who was released from the state prison in Chino on Saturday. The two had known each other for four years and began a serious relationship more than a year ago, when Briele Johnson began writing letters to Thomas in prison, her mother said. Thomas was in prison for possession of stolen property, police said.

Briele Johnson had told her mother that she and Thomas planned to move to Texas, where his mother lived, to start a "new life, away from drugs."

Briele "had told me when [Thomas] would get high on drugs, he'd get real paranoid and real mad at her, accusing her of being an undercover cop," Lisa Johnson said.

Police said they believed Briele Johnson had been dead at least since Monday. An autopsy will be performed Friday by the San Bernardino County coroner's office. Ontario Police Sgt. David McBride said there were "no visible injuries" indicating how Briele Johnson was killed.

The 44-year-old woman allegedly stabbed by Thomas by the Motel 6 pool did not sustain life-threatening injuries. She remained hospitalized in stable condition Wednesday at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton.

The stabbing victim suffered wounds to her shoulders, arm and lower back, police said. The knife used in the attack was found at the motel Wednesday, police said.

Police said that according to the victim, Thomas struck up a conversation with her, then began attacking her. She also said he stole her purse.

Police responded to the stabbing call and conducted a room-by-room search of the motel, in the 1500 block of East 4th Street near Interstate 10, when they detained Thomas in his room.

Officers inspecting Thomas' room then discovered a "square, large piece of luggage, with a woman's body folded up inside of it in a fetal position," McBride said.

Thomas is being held without bail at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

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