Cruel end for an L.A. homeless man - Los Angeles Times
'John,' Buddha-like and unassuming, is doused with gas and set ablaze in the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood where he'd lived for more than a decade.
By Hector Becerra and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
October 11, 2008
He had called the multi-ethnic Mid-Wilshire neighborhood home for more than a decade. Sitting outside a shuttered dental office near Berendo and 3rd streets, the homeless man with the Buddha-like frame rarely asked for money. But he got it anyway.
Regulars at the California Donut shop bought him coffee and doughnuts in the mornings, a couple of Asian men took him for showers and a haircut, and poor Central American and Mexican immigrants would give him spare change or food.
"His priorities were cigarettes, Dr Pepper, hot Cheetos and, once a week, he would buy C batteries" for his radio, said Asit Bhowmick, the Bangledeshi owner of the Bengal Liquor store.
The homeless man, whom many in the neighborood knew simply as "John," never bothered anybody, said Jorge Garcia, owner of La Morenita Oaxaquena restaurant.
About 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Garcia said he was at work when a woman ran inside the restaurant, screaming for a fire extinguisher. He ran outside to find the man lying on his back in a nearby parking lot, his body still ablaze.
The man's clothes had been burned off, his face blackened and swollen, the tips of his clenched fingers sloughed off. The smell of gasoline hung in the air.
"There's no name for what they did to him," Garcia said.
Los Angeles police said that someone splashed gasoline on the man and set him on fire. No arrests have been made, and investigators are still puzzling over a motive for the grisly attack.
"This is one of the cruelest crimes you can imagine," said Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz, who oversees the LAPD's Central Bureau. "As an officer who has responded to many murders over the years, this is amongst the most horrific."
The victim has not been identified.
Capt. Dennis Cremins said police were looking for at least one man who was seen running from the scene. He was described as a Latino in his 20s, with short brown hair and a large black T-shirt. Cremins said police believe the man may have bought gasoline in the neighborhood and used it in the attack. A red plastic gas container was found at the scene.
One resident, who did not want to be identified out of fear for his safety,
said he spoke to someone who reportedly saw the crime. He said he told him several young men got out of a Honda Civic, doused the man with a flammable liquid and set him on fire. Police could not confirm this account.
Residents and merchants in the working-class neighborhood knew the man either as "John" or "Grimley." They described him as a white man in his 50s, with a beard and blue eyes. He may have lived in the neighborhood for as long as 20 years.