The killings took place at night near a dusty, desolate Las Vegas corridor.
On Jan. 3, a homeless man curled up in a blanket to protect himself from the frigid 44-degree temperature, was struck several times in the head as he slept near an intersection not far from the roar of the Spaghetti Bowl, a name locals use to describe a freeway interchange on the city’s north end.
The autopsy showed he was bludgeoned with a blunt object, perhaps a hammer.
A month later, a tragedy unfolded at the same intersection — this time on the opposite corner.
On Feb. 3, another homeless man, also nestled under a blanket to stave off the winter cold, was beaten to death as he slept in an open area near bushes.
Again, it appeared the weapon was a hammer.
The similarities between the cases prompted police to set a trap: a mannequin, wrapped in blankets like a sleeping homeless man with his head covered, was placed where the first man was killed.
The scene that quickly ensued — and captured on police surveillance video — led to the arrest of 30-year-old Shane Schindler, who on Tuesday was charged with attempted murder.
At around 3 a.m. on Feb. 22, Schindler, wearing a dark hoodie, walked to the intersection carrying a Little Caesars plastic bag, according to a police report. He spotted the mannequin covered heavily in blankets. He then hovered in the area for several minutes, and appeared to be looking around for any vehicle or pedestrian traffic.
Police say the video captured the following: Schindler approached the mannequin, pulled his hood up over his head to conceal his face and slowly pulled out of the bag a 4-pound engineer’s hammer. Using both hands, he raised the hammer and swung it down on the mannequin’s head several times.
Police, who were monitoring the surveillance footage, quickly flooded the scene and arrested Schindler.
Schindler’s bail is currently set at $50,000 and prosecutors have not charged him in the slayings of the two homeless men. At a previous hearing, shortly after his arrest, prosecutors charged him with carrying a concealed weapon.
(Police have not released the surveillance video footage and only publicized Schindler’s arrest last week after local media inquired.)
The police report described his interview with detectives: “Schindler admitted to ‘kicking the mannequin’ but didn’t remember hitting it with a hammer. After further questioning, Schindler admitted to striking the mannequin, but he said he ‘knew it was a mannequin’ before he struck it.”
Nationwide, violent attacks targeting homeless people — most often when they sleep — have concerned homeless advocates.
In 2014, three teens in Albuquerque were charged with first-degree murder after bludgeoning two homeless men to death with bricks and wooden sticks. In 2015, a homeless man was stabbed to death as he slept in a downtown Denver alley. And last year, police in San Diego arrested Jon D. Guerrero on suspicion of carrying out attacks over a two-week period that left three homeless men dead.
Since 1999, the National Coalition for the Homeless has tracked attacks on those living on the streets. According to a report released last year, the group estimates that nearly 1,700 homeless people have been victimized — including beatings, robberies, murders — since 1999 by people who are not homeless.
Megan Hustings, director for the National Coalition for the Homeless, said negative feelings toward the homeless population have persisted for decades.
“We have found that negative attitudes towards the homeless community manifest in regular discrimination and even violence, committed for no other reason than that a homeless person is seen as less than human,” she said. “It is our civic duty, more importantly our human responsibility, to provide safety … to these individuals.”
Moreover, Shelly Nortz, deputy director for policy at the Coalition for the Homeless, a group separate from Hustings’, said about the Las Vegas case, it’s “good to see police aggressively pursuing a suspect.”
“But a municipal right to shelter is also needed to help homeless people avoid street violence until they can regain their footing and move into homes of their own,” she said.
Last year, Clark County’s Social Services Department, which covers Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada’s most populous cities, found nearly 6,200 homeless people staying in shelters or on the streets during the two-day count and estimated more than 30,000 people experience homelessness in the southern part of the state throughout the year.
Among them, this year, were Daniel Aldape, 46, and David Dunn, 60.
Aldape was the man killed Jan. 3 near the intersection of Ogden Avenue and City Parkway. Dunn’s death came a month later in the same location as he slept near some landscaping bushes.