Suspect in Slaying Eludes Manhunt : Police Scour University Heights, North Park for 7 Hours

Times Staff Writer

A manhunt involving 150 police officers, three helicopters and police dogs was called off early Saturday when it failed to locate a suspect in the slaying of a University Heights man and the serious wounding of another.

The suspect, identified as Billy Ray Waldon, 33, reportedly evaded the dragnet by fleeing into the steep canyons near Washington Street and California 163. The seven-hour search was called off about 1 a.m. after search teams, which spotted Waldon twice during the chase, failed to track him down, Lt. Bill Skinner said.

Police warned residents of University Heights and North Park not to open their doors to strangers. Waldon is believed to be armed and dangerous, they added.

Waldon is suspected of killing Charles Gordon Wells, 59, in the garage behind his home at 3972 Cleveland Ave., and wounding John Copeland, 36, who lives in an apartment above the garage. Waldon allegedly shot the men with an automatic pistol Friday night as he ran through the neighborhood while fleeing police.

Wells and his wife, Alice, had owned their University Heights home, and the two apartments above the garage, for more than 25 years, according to Luther Nash. For many years, Nash has operated an auto repair shop at Lincoln and Cleveland avenues. Wells was his landlord.

"I heard about the shooting on television," Nash said. "I can't believe it. I knew him for over 25 years."

Copeland was reported in critical but stable condition at Mercy Hospital on Saturday after undergoing surgery the night before to remove a bullet from his neck.

The chain of events that led to the shooting began about 6 p.m. when police were called to the scene of a purse-snatching in the 1400 block of Van Buren Avenue. A gunman wearing a dark ski mask took a purse from a woman at gunpoint and then jumped into a car, leading police on a chase for several blocks through North Park and University Heights. After weaving back and forth over the road median, the suspect's car blew a tire near University Avenue and Park Boulevard, prompting him to abandon the car and flee on foot

The fleeing suspect, who shed some clothing as he ran, then encountered Wells and Copeland, Lt. Chuck Ellis said. The reason for the shootings remained unclear.

From the silver Honda Accord abandoned by the suspect, police recovered, among other items, a wallet containing "several identifications," including a passport, Skinner said. Waldon is described as being a white male, 6-foot-2, 160 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. Although pictures from the identifications portray Waldon as having a goatee and mustache, the suspect Friday had only a mustache, Skinner said.

Police would say little about the investigation, but Skinner said that "detectives are hitting leads, talking to suspected friends."

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