Burglar Kills Woman in Her Villa Park Residence

Times Staff Writer

A 53-year-old woman was shot and killed Wednesday afternoon when she and her husband returned to their Villa Park home and confronted an armed burglar, who later escaped a manhunt along a dry river bed and a rock quarry, authorities said.

Helen Schwartz died at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana at 4:20 p.m. after she was shot several times in her home at 18441 Adams Ranch Road, an unincorporated area next to the city of Orange.

The shooting occurred when Schwartz and her husband, whose name was not disclosed, returned to their home at about 1:35 p.m. and confronted the intruder, described by authorities as a Latino in his late 20s wearing a black T-shirt and a black cap with "AC/DC" and a lightning bolt on it.

Authorities said the house was ransacked when the couple walked in the front door.

"Shots were fired and the female was hit," said sheriff's spokesman Lt. Dick Olson.

Both the husband and the intruder then ran out of the house, Olson said, the husband apparently running to a neighbor's home.

A man who authorities believe was the woman's husband called the 911 emergency telephone number at 1:38 p.m. and said that the burglar had entered his home and shot his wife, said Sheriff's Lt. Bob Kemmis.

The woman was still alive when authorities arrived, Olson said.

Neighbors said that about 45 minutes after the shooting they heard at least one shot coming from the dry wash and quarry, which is surrounded by thick brush and is next to the neighborhood, according to Olson. There was no confirmed sighting of anyone there, he added.

Two helicopters, three police dogs and 30 to 35 Orange police and sheriff's deputies, including members of the sheriff's Special Weapons and Tactics team, searched for the assailant on both sides of the river bed and the Conroc gravel pits. The search was called off at about 9 p.m.

Neighbors told investigators that people often shoot guns in the rugged area, and deputies were skeptical that the shot or shots heard there were related to the incident at the Schwartz home, Olson said. But because of the seriousness of the crime, officers combed the area and also obtained the aid of county flood control workers to help locate drainage pipes where the attacker could have hidden, he said.

Heard Noise

Ken Miller, 33, who lives across the street from the Schwartz house, said he was fixing a car with another man when he heard what he thought was the car hood slam.

"I didn't see anybody go down the street, so I assume (the intruder) went over to the other side," Miller said, pointing to the rugged terrain behind the homes.

Neighbor Jason Wesner, 18, said: "People might make it like a Ramirez thing, but I don't think people should be scared." Later neighbors learned that the attacker reportedly wore a cap similar to that worn by Richard Ramirez, suspected of being the Night Stalker.

The Schwartzes have three children, none of whom were at home when the shooting occurred, authorities said.

Investigators described the attacker as being 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighing about 150 pounds and having black hair, a black mustache and a "scroungy" beard, Olson said.

Times staff writer Dave Palermo contributed to this story.

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