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Ocampo is eyed in 2 more deaths

Investigation of the homeless-slaying suspect now includes earlier O.C. killings.

February 02, 2012|Nicole Santa Cruz
  • Itzcoatl Ocampo, 23, of Yorba Linda, is arraigned last month. He is accused of killing four homeless men in Orange County.
Itzcoatl Ocampo, 23, of Yorba Linda, is arraigned last month. He is accused… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Detectives are investigating whether serial-killing suspect Itzcoatl Ocampo is connected to the slaying of a Yorba Linda mother and her son two months before a string of fatal stabbings of homeless men in Orange County began.

Ocampo, a 23-year-old former Marine, has been charged with four counts of murder in the fatal stabbings of middle-age transients, a run of violence that began just before Christmas and threw a chill over Orange County's homeless community.

Prosecutors said Ocampo stalked his victims before attacking, in one case following a homeless man for days after seeing his photograph in the Los Angeles Times. The killings, prosecutors said, became more violent and furious as time went on.

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas called the slayings a "serial thrill-kill spree" and suggested that Ocampo had other killings planned when he was chased down and arrested after the fourth slaying.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, February 08, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
Homeless slayings: In the Feb. 3 LATExtra section, an article about how a task force investigating the slayings of four homeless men in Orange County had tied suspect Itzcoatl Ocampo to two more slayings misspelled the last name of one of the homeless victims, John Berry, as Barry. The same error occurred in coverage of the slayings in the Feb. 2 and Jan. 26 editions.

Now, investigators want to know if the Iraq war veteran is connected to the Yorba Linda case.

Shortly after Ocampo's arrest, investigators began to look for links to other crimes, including the double homicide in Yorba Linda, said Sgt. Jim Griffin with the Brea Police Department, which patrols Yorba Linda.

"There are some similarities," Griffin said.

About 11:30 p.m. Oct. 25, police responded to a 911 call from a male stating he had heard loud banging and noises coming from a Trix Circle residence in Yorba Linda. Police arrived and noticed a large amount of blood pooled near the front door.

Inside, they found Raquel Estrada, 53, on the kitchen floor and her son, Juan Herrera, 34, in a hallway, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

Estrada's second son, Eder Giovanni Herrera, 24, was arrested the following day. He is accused of stabbing his mother and brother to death, then fleeing to a friend's house where he was arrested, according to a news release from the Brea Police Department. Herrera pleaded not guilty in a Jan. 23 hearing and remains in custody.

Griffin would not comment on specific similarities between the Trix Circle homicides and the homeless killings or what Ocampo's connection might be.

"We're waiting on forensics," he said.

Without DNA evidence, a link to Ocampo would be premature, said his attorney, Randall Longwith.

Longwith said he visits Ocampo at the Orange County jail once or twice a week and is slowly building a relationship with his client. During those visits, Longwith said, Ocampo is typically distraught, glassy-eyed and has a "thousand-yard stare."

"It takes a long time for me to even get a rapport with him," he said. "It's a slow process."

Susan Kang Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney's office, declined to comment on the case.

Ocampo, who was living in Yorba Linda about a mile from the home where the bodies of the mother and son were found, could face the death penalty if convicted in the homeless killings.

On Dec. 20, James McGillivray, 53, was stabbed while he slept outside a Placentia shopping center. Eight days later, the body of Lloyd "Jim" Middaugh, 42, was found on the Santa Ana River trail. Paulus "Dutch" Smit, 57, was stabbed to death Dec. 30 outside the Yorba Linda library, which Ocampo was known to frequent.

John Barry, 64, was the fourth victim. He was stabbed outside an Anaheim Carl's Jr. on Jan. 13. Ocampo was arrested shortly after that stabbing.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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