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O.C. serial killer sought in deaths of homeless men

Police say the attacker 'is extremely dangerous to the public' and urge homeless people to be on guard. A surveillance video provides the image of a possible suspect.

January 05, 2012|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • A screen grab from a surveillance video shows a figure moving toward James Patrick McGillivray, who was killed in a Placentia shopping center.
A screen grab from a surveillance video shows a figure moving toward James… (Anaheim Police Department )

After a wave of killings of homeless men in the area, police said Wednesday that they are looking for a "serious, dangerous serial killer operating in Orange County."

Investigators believe that one person is responsible for stabbing three middle-aged homeless men in 10 days and have formed a task force of police from Anaheim, Placentia and Brea to investigate the incidents.

"We believe these murders were likely committed by the same suspect and feel he is extremely dangerous to the public," Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said at a news conference.

Investigators, including the FBI, said that a white, four-door Toyota could be involved in the crimes, as shown in a surveillance video taken Dec. 20 at a Placentia shopping center, the scene of the first killing.

"This vehicle is of particular interest to homicide investigators," Welter said.

Police obtained a photograph of a possible suspect from the same video as he approached the victim, later identified as James Patrick McGillivray, 53. The suspect is wearing a dark, hooded sweat shirt or sweater.

Police declined to release further information about the killings, however, such as a motive and whether the men were sleeping at the time of the attacks, the most recent of which occurred Friday outside a Yorba Linda library.

Police were still looking for clues Wednesday afternoon as Placentia investigators walked around the library property and interviewed staff members.

Mike Wilson, 42, lives near the library and said he saw the victim, Paulus Smit, 57, riding his bike around the area about once a week. Wilson said he and his wife had one tense encounter with Smit, but brushed it off.

"We had one bad experience," he said. "But I'll tell you what, no one deserves to go down like that."

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens also spoke at the news conference, and said the coroner's office and the Orange County crime lab are working to expedite evidence.

"We want to get the information out to our homeless community throughout the county to be careful to not be alone if possible, to not go into the dark areas or isolated areas as much as possible," she said.

On Dec. 28, the body of Lloyd Middaugh, 42, was found on a riverbed trail near Tustin Avenue in Anaheim.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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