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Could this be happening? A man's nightmare made real

Louis Gonzalez III stood accused of unspeakable acts: kidnapping, torture, sexual assault. If convicted, he faced life behind bars.

June 26, 2011|By Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times
  • Simi Valley Police Det. David Del Marto thought the assault on Tracy West pointed to an uncommon level of sophistication - to a man who took extraordinary pains to avoid leaving fingerprints or traces of his DNA.
Simi Valley Police Det. David Del Marto thought the assault on Tracy West… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

First of two parts

He kept thinking that there had been a mistake, that he'd be out in no time. That the system, set into motion by some misunderstanding or act of malice, would soon correct itself.

That was before the detective informed him of the charges, and before the article in the Ventura County Star. "Man held after woman found raped and tortured," read the headline, and there was his name, along with a quote from a police officer: "In 19 years of police work, this has to go down as one of the most brutal attacks I have ever seen."

The sky was beautiful that afternoon. Louis Gonzalez III remembered it felt like spring.

He was standing on the sidewalk outside the Simi Valley Montessori School, having just flown in from Las Vegas, hoping to get a look at his 5-year-old son's new kindergarten. Standing there, waiting for the door to open so he could scoop the boy up in his arms and fly him to Nevada for the weekend.

The first officer arrived on a motorcycle and headed straight for him. He did not explain the charges as he snapped on the handcuffs. As Gonzalez stood there stunned, he noticed little faces pressed against the schoolhouse glass, watching, and asked if he could be moved just a bit so his son didn't have to see.

Soon he'd surrendered all the items that tethered him reassuringly to the rational, workaday world. The BlackBerry he used a hundred times a day. His Dolce & Gabbana watch. His credit cards and photos of his son. His leather shoes and his socks, his pressed shirt and jacket, his belt and slacks and underwear. Naked in a holding cell, he watched his things disappear into plastic bags. He stepped into a set of black-and-white-striped jail scrubs, the kind his son might wear on Halloween.

A month passed in his single-bunk cell, and then another, and he had nothing but time to reckon all he'd lost. His freedom. His son. His job. His reputation. He had to wonder how much he could endure.

The other inmates in the solitary wing of the Ventura County Jail didn't talk about their cases, because anyone might be a snitch, but his charges were well-known on the cellblock. More than once, they warned him about what awaited if he were convicted and sent to state prison. With a sex crime on his jacket, he knew, he would be a target forever.

"Like you're waiting for death," he said. "Dying would probably be better."

A frantic 911 call

Minutes before Gonzalez's arrest around 2 p.m. on Feb. 1, 2008, Tim Geiges placed a frantic 911 call. By the account he would give consistently in years to come, he'd just returned from work and found his wife, Tracy West, naked and bound in an upstairs bedroom of their Simi Valley home in the 1900 block of Penngrove Street.

The dispatcher tried to calm him. "Sir, somebody beat your wife up?"

"Somebody tied her up, and I just got home — oh my God…" He was whimpering. "I just untied her head just now. She's crying. I need somebody, please!"

He managed to say that his wife's attacker would be at the Montessori School, a mile away.

"Who is this person?"

"Louis. Louis Gonzalez the Third."

When paramedics arrived at the house, they found West on the bed leaning forward, crying, with purple duct tape tangled in her hair.

A malicious attack

Det. David Del Marto was on the other side of town, working leads on a robbery, when he heard the radio chatter about the attack. He has level blue eyes, a graying mustache and the faultless posture of the Army MP he once was.

He found West, 33, in the emergency room of Simi Valley Hospital and followed her across the street to Safe Harbor, a forensic facility where sexual assault victims are examined and interviewed. Her appearance suggested an attack of concentrated malice. Her face was swollen, her lip gashed, her hair torn out in chunks. A cord, found tied around her neck with a slipknot, had left an angry red line, and there were burns on her stomach and ring finger.

Later, Del Marto would remember how she looked away and pulled herself into a fetal position as she talked. It was the body language he'd seen in dozens of sexual assault cases.

West was unequivocal about who had attacked her. It was Gonzalez, she said. He was her ex-boyfriend, the father of her son.

Del Marto made his voice gentle. "I need to find out what happened and what to charge him with, OK? You know he's in custody, right? You don't have to worry anymore about him for now."

In a small, fragile voice that kept trailing off and lapsing into silence, West explained that she and Gonzalez, 30, had been fighting over custody since their son's birth. She and Geiges were raising the boy, along with their younger daughter.

She said Gonzalez ambushed her in the garage, dragged her to an upstairs bedroom, hogtied her with her clothes, singed her with matches and assaulted her vaginally and anally with a wooden coat hanger. Then, she said, he forced a plastic bag over her head and held it tight, and she feigned unconsciousness until he left.

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