The body went unnoticed for two weeks in the summer heat, decomposing inside a sport utility vehicle parked in the affluent neighborhood of Pacific Palisades.
Once Los Angeles police were called, they traced the dead man inside the vehicle to a town house down the street. There, investigators found roughly two tons of ammunition and more than 1,200 high-end pistols, shotguns and rifles.
The cache of firearms and ammunition was so large that it took police days to remove several truckloads from the canyon home.
On Tuesday, police were trying to piece together how the dead man ended up inside the abandoned vehicle and determine why he had so many weapons. The coroner’s office had yet to formally identify him as of Tuesday, though law enforcement sources said detectives have a good idea of his name.
Several neighbors said the man was known only as “Bob” in the local area and described him as a gun fanatic who claimed to have worked covertly for either the FBI or the CIA. His fiancée had lived in the town home on Palisades Drive for years, they said.
“He'll say crazy things to people like he does night missions swimming to Catalina,” said one neighbor, who declined to give her name, saying she was afraid. “He would come … and tell us he would show us self-defense moves.”
An attorney representing the man’s fiancée said that he was the one who contacted police last week about the man’s death and the weapons at the home.
But that’s where the mystery began.
Harland Braun, a veteran criminal defense attorney who has represented celebrities and other high-profile clients, said the story the fiancée told him about what occurred “sounds so bizarre.” The dead man, he said, had told his fiancée that he was an undercover operative for the government and was being watched by the unnamed agency he worked for.
“The problem is that the truth may be unbelievable,” Braun said. “She’ll talk to the LAPD, but will anybody believe it?”
The man’s mysterious past is the reason why his fiancée, Catherine Nebron, didn’t immediately report his death to authorities, her attorney said. Braun said the dead man, whose name he said he couldn’t remember, had been suffering from cancer.
On the Fourth of July, the man, Nebron and two friends were in the parking lot of Bristol Farms on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica when the man began feeling hot and sick, Braun said. They tried to cool him down with ice, but it didn’t work and he died, Braun said.
The fiancée wasn’t sure what to do with the body, but figured the same unnamed agency watching him would know that he died and would come for him, Braun said. Nebron parked the vehicle on Palisades Drive and left it because she “assumed they were tracking him,” the lawyer said.
The woman went on a trip to Oregon, Braun said, and returned to find the vehicle still parked in the same spot. Nebron, he said, is “sort of in a state of shock” over the death of a man she knew for 17 years. She had lived in one room of the house while the weapons were locked in another, the attorney said.
“One of the mysteries of this guy is who he really is,” Braun said.
Coroner Deputy Chief Ed Winter said an autopsy was completed Tuesday but a cause of death has yet to be determined. The man’s body was badly decomposed, he said, and the man’s identity remains a mystery.
Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said detectives don’t believe the death is the result of foul play. Albanese said the man was suffering from end-stage cancer and did not work for a government security agency, despite the man’s claims about his past.
But questions remained about why the man had amassed so many weapons. On Tuesday, police were still performing background checks on the man’s firearms.
“We don't think the weapons are illegal. We are taking them for public safety,” said Sgt. David Craig of the LAPD's gang and narcotics division. He said investigators removed the weapons to ensure the ammunition and guns wouldn't be stolen from the home.
David Dwyer, president of the Palisades Homeowner Assn. #4, said no signs of hoarding, guns or ammunition were found during 2011 repairs in the town house.
“There were no guns or odd items that'd say we have a collector here,” he said.
The man, who introduced himself as Bob Smith, was personable but private and didn’t like to be bothered, Dwyer said.
The homeowner group, he said, never had a reason to question whether Bob Smith was his real name because Nebron owned the town house.
“There was no reason to suspect otherwise,” Dwyer said.