LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith announces that David Ben Keyes, in the pictures… (Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles…)
The Los Angeles Police Department took the unusual step Thursday of urging homeless people to get off the street and seek shelter at night after three transients were stabbed while they slept by an assailant who left behind rambling "death warrants."
Detectives said the attacks, none fatal, all occurred this month and involved middle-aged homeless people who were stabbed in the back. The attacker left signed pieces of paper that he labeled "death warrants" at the scene of each crime.
Police released a photo of a man whom they described as a "person of interest." David Ben Keyes, who has been missing for weeks from the Santa Barbara area, is being sought for questioning by detectives in the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division and the Santa Monica Police Department. Officials said Keyes' name appears on all three notes but would not provide details about their contents.
LAPD Capt. Billy Hayes publicly urged homeless people to find nighttime shelter or at least stay in groups until a suspect is caught.
"With numbers, there is safety," Hayes said at a news conference.
LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith added: "Get somewhere where you can be protected. Please do what you can to get into a shelter and be safe."
The first attack was reported July 3 when a 56-year-old man was found bleeding with a large "hunting type" knife protruding from his back near 3rd and Main streets in downtown Los Angeles, according to law enforcement sources. The man crawled 100 yards looking for help while the weapon was lodged between his shoulder blades, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.
On Tuesday, another man was stabbed in a similar manner as he slept on a Santa Monica bus bench near the Third Street Promenade. Police Sgt. Richard Lewis confirmed that a similar note was found by detectives but did not give details.
On Thursday, a 54-year-old woman was stabbed as she slept near La Brea and De Longpre avenues, blocks from Hollywood High School. Police recovered a black kitchen knife and another "warrant."
On various websites, Keyes describes himself as "a musician, and writer of original psalms, proverbs, love letters, poems and riddles for the Roman Catholic Church and Jewish Synagogues."
But LAPD officials stressed it's far from clear that Keyes committed the crimes, adding that it's possible someone else was using his name.
Police have alerted various social service agencies and plan to increase patrols Thursday night. Officers will also be urging homeless people they come across to seek shelter.
Hayes said that police have no motive for the attacks but that there is evidence the same person is responsible for all three.
The notes were typewritten and signed and contained rambling commentaries, officials said.
"It appears there is a common thread, but we cannot get into specifics," Hayes said.