A New York parolee accused of fatally strangling a retired teacher in Hollywood may have come west after developing a network of pen pals, some that apparently grew from a shared fondness for the long-running soap opera "General Hospital."
Three months after he was released from prison after serving 20 years for murder, Scott Kratlian showed up in Hollywood and allegedly strangled one of his pen pals, 82-year-old Harry Major.
The relationship between the convicted killer and the retired Hollywood High School teacher was probably one of many the inmate fostered over the years while imprisoned at Marcy Correctional Facility outside Syracuse, said another of Kratlian's pen pals.
Kratlian was part of a "General Hospital" fan club whose enthusiasts wrote to one another, Jason Ward said in an interview.
"I don't know why I started writing him; it was a really dumb decision," said Ward, who connected with Kratlian through a mutual friend who received a "General Hospital" newsletter that went out to fans.
"I only wrote to him a handful of times because he got really weird," Ward said.
Authorities said Kratlian was released from prison two days before Thanksgiving, less than a year after a state parole board determined that his crime had been so horrific that releasing him would be to "undermine respect for the law."
In 1992 Kratlian used a belt to kill a man, tying the victim's hands and feet together and beating and burning him, parole board records show.
In prison, Kratlian had a "horrendous" disciplinary record, and his conditional early release was delayed more than four years because of infractions, according to the records. He was eventually released under the state's conditional release program — a separate avenue that doesn't require parole board approval.
A free man after two decades behind bars, Kratlian was in Los Angeles by Feb. 1, authorities say.
After months and possibly years of exchanging letters, detectives say, Kratlian went to Major's Hollywood apartment Feb. 10 and strangled him.
When Major failed to show up for a brunch the next morning, concerned friends called police, who discovered his body Feb. 12.
"He was a man of kindness and brilliance. To see one's kindness repaid by one's life is beyond unfair," said Norman Goldstein, one of Major's former students who was part of the class of 1972.
"I received a yearly call on my birthday and missed this year," said Goldstein, whose birthday was Feb. 12.
"It's a tragic case," agreed homicide Det. Steven Katz.
Kratlian may have been looking for other former pen pals as well when he arrived in Los Angeles, said Ward.
Ward was living in Los Angeles in 2010, he said, working as a caretaker for a woman who told him about her pen pal. It was Kratlian, who also went by the name Scott Porter, Ward said.
The two also had connected through a "General Hospital" newsletter and had been corresponding for years, Ward said. Kratlian had even told the woman about his relationship with Major, Ward said.
Though Ward eventually moved to Connecticut, he kept in contact with his former client and for a time with Kratlian.
"I was assuming he was writing to a whole network of people," Ward said. "I didn't think he was ever going to get out."
But Ward said that he one day got a letter from Kratlian asking for money and that his former client did too and she sent him cash.
In early February, Ward said, Kratlian showed up on the woman's doorstep with a book of addresses of his other pen pals and said he was looking for places to stay.
Ward said the encounter frightened the woman and she asked him to leave. The next day she heard about Major's violent death on the news and called police.
Major's friendship with Kratlian was known among his friends, who told police about the ex-convict after Major's body was found. Police said that the two had been seen together shortly before Major's death and that Kratlian apparently used Major's credit cards after the slaying.
New York officially listed Kratlian as a fugitive Feb. 14 after police identified him as their suspect. He was arrested by an LAPD and FBI fugitive task force at a Pasadena mental health and substance abuse treatment center Feb. 18, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department records show.
He has pleaded not guilty to murder and is being held without bail. If convicted, he faces up to 56 years to life in prison.