Sex Offender Sought in 2 Girls' Slayings Is Arrested

Times Staff Writers

Fugitive Warren James Bland, a convicted sex offender suspected in the kidnaping and slayings of 7-year-old Phoebe Ho and 14-year-old Wendy Rachelle Osborn, was shot and captured Monday night by police here after being spotted in a car at a restaurant.

Bland was wounded once in the buttocks while attempting to flee at about 6:50 p.m., after he was confronted by a plainclothes member of the San Diego Police Department's Fugitive Strike Team at Los Panchos drive-through restaurant in suburban Pacific Beach.

No officers were injured in the incident, which ended one of the most intensive manhunts in Southern California in recent years.

Local residents had reported seeing Bland--who has a distinctive, eight-inch dagger and rose tattoo on a forearm--in the San Diego area for days.

Police said they spotted Bland at about 6:30 p.m. in a 1970 blue Toyota parked at the restaurant.

Bland, 51, underwent two hours of surgery at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla and was later reported in fair condition. He is expected to be returned today to Riverside County, where Phoebe Ho's body was discovered Dec. 18 and where authorities last week issued a murder warrant for his arrest based, in large measure, on physical evidence gathered in the case.

The South Pasadena girl disappeared Dec. 11, while walking to school. At the time, Bland was working as a house painter at an apartment complex less than two blocks away from where she was last seen.

Wendy Osborn vanished Jan. 20 on her way to school in Placentia in Orange County a few miles south of the Los Angeles County line. Her body was found Feb. 1 in the Chino Hills.

Both girls had been sexually assaulted, apparently tortured with pliers or other clamping-type tool, and then strangled, authorities said. At the time of the crimes, Bland was on parole after being convicted of molesting an 11-year-old Torrance boy, whom he had tortured with pliers.

Bland had an extensive record of rape and child molestation dating to 1960, and had spent 21 of the past 26 years either in prison or in state mental hospitals.

Investigators to Scene

"Teams of investigators are en route to serve Riverside's arrest warrant on him in the Phoebe Ho case and our investigators will question him in the Wendy Osborne case," Sgt. Michael Stodelle of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said Monday.

San Bernardino County sheriff's investigators have described Bland as the "front-running" suspect in the Wendy Osborn case, although they said they do not yet have conclusive evidence linking him to that homicide.

Stodelle stressed Monday night that Bland is technically wanted only for questioning in the strangulation of the 14-year-old Tuffree Junior High School student whose partially decomposed body was found Feb. 1 by horseback riders.

"All we want to do is question him in connection with the Osborn case and find out one way or the other if we've got a case against him," Stodelle said. "He's a more solid suspect in the Ho case."

An autopsy showed that the 5-foot-3, 93-pound Wendy had been sexually assaulted and possibly tortured.

According to San Bernardino County Coroner Brian McCormick, the autopsy also showed about 12 "pinching wounds" on the body, apparently inflicted with a pair of pliers or clamps, and marks on her neck that indicated that she was strangled with a "ropelike material."

McCormick said the autopsy indicated that Wendy may have been alive eight to 10 days after she was last seen on Jan. 20 on her way to school, raising the possibility she had been held captive. She had been dead no more than 48 hours when her body was found.

San Bernardino Sheriff's Capt. Gene Rogers said last week that Bland was a suspect in the Osborn case because he is "pretty well linked" to physical evidence in the Ho case and because of similarities between the two killings.

The quiet community of Placentia was stunned by the discovery of Wendy's body. It was found near the Western Hills Country Club on a hill overlooking a custom-home construction site west of Carbon Canyon Road and about two miles northeast of the Orange-San Bernardino county line.

She was wearing the same clothes--a pink shirt with black markings, pink pants and high-top shoes--that she wore the morning she disappeared, authorities said.

Depending on how quickly he recovers from his wound, Bland will either be held at the Riverside County Jail or at a hospital in the Riverside area, Stodelle noted.

According to San Diego Police Officer Michael Moran, authorities received a break in the case Monday afternoon, when an unidentified acquaintance of Bland was arrested by federal agents in Washington.

That person had information, possibly a letter, linking Bland to an address on Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach, not far from where Bland was eventually captured. The information was relayed to Riverside County deputies who passed it on to police in San Diego, Moran said.

Recognized in Car

Late Monday afternoon, a San Diego police detective was assigned to check out the address and recognized Bland sitting in the blue Toyota in the restaurant parking lot, Moran said. Bland is believed to have stolen the car--and a handgun--from an elderly Long Beach woman whom he had once befriended.

The officer identified himself and drew his pistol. Bland took off on foot and the officer fired once, striking Bland in the buttocks. The suspect was then taken into custody without further incident. It was unknown if Bland was armed at the time of his arrest.

Bland was first interviewed by investigators Jan. 3 at his home in Alhambra, but authorities said at the time that they did not have enough evidence to hold him. Days later, after he failed to report to his parole officer, authorities renewed their interest in him.

Subsequently, California Department of Justice technicians scoured a van that Bland had been driving and searched his house to discover carpet fibers, paint chips and other evidence linking him to Phoebe Ho's slaying.

Riverside County authorities issued a "parolee at large" warrant for his arrest for questioning in the Phoebe Ho slaying.

A murder warrant was issued last Wednesday and authorities throughout the state were alerted. At that point, officers in San Bernardino County and Placentia said they wanted to question Bland in the Wendy Osborn slaying because of the similarities in the two cases.

Families' Comment

Phoebe's father, Kenneth Ho, a shoe salesman, was quietly elated at word of Bland's arrest. Ho, who speaks little English, said:

"We liked to hear about the man, that he was arrested. If he is the murderer, no one will get hurt anymore."

Jack Osborn, Wendy's father, said that for the first time since he buried his only daughter Saturday, he had something promising to talk about.

"I hope they keep him in custody this time," Osborn said. "That isn't the fault of the police. It's the fault of our penal system. . . . I think the police have done an excellent job.

"It seems that our California penal institution needs to be taken to task for even letting him out. . .

". . . When I was notified by the Placentia police, my first thought was, thank God he hasn't had a chance to do it to someone else.

"The man has destroyed his own life, and I hate to see that. I hate to see any man's life destroyed. But if he's proven guilty, I hope they keep him there for good."

Times staff writers Nancy Reed, H. G. Reza in San Diego, Louis Sahagun in Riverside County, Nancy Wride in Orange County and Nieson Himmel and David Holley in Los Angeles contributed to this article.

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