Police launched a statewide search for a 27-year-old Venice man Friday after uncovering evidence that they said connected him to the brutal knife attack on Los Angeles City Council candidate Ruth Galanter.
The suspect, Mark Allen Olds, has lived for two years in a rooming house across the street from the one-story stucco home in which Galanter was assaulted in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday.
At an afternoon press conference, Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said Olds is a former gang member with an extensive record of arrests, including two for a 1979 gang murder and others for drug use.
Olds was last seen in the neighborhood Tuesday, a day before the attack, Gates said.
He said police linked Olds to the Galanter attack Thursday, but were unable to track him down. On Friday morning, a bulletin was dispatched by Teletype to all of the state's law enforcement agencies asking for their assistance in apprehending Olds.
No arrest warrant has yet been sought, and Gates said detectives need to interview Olds before filing charges.
"We have probable cause to put out a bulletin on Mark Allen Olds, and that's where we are," Gates said. "That does not mean that we're in a position to say that he committed this crime."
Olds' twin brother, Michael, and the owner of the home where the two live, along with other renters, both denied that Mark Olds was responsible for the assault.
Asked by a reporter if his brother had attacked Galanter, Michael Olds replied, "Of course not."
"This whole business is stupid and silly," said the Olds' landlady, Eugenia Easton.
Gates refused to disclose the type of evidence that led them to Olds. However, police had been running several fingerprints found at the Galanter residence through the department's $6-million fingerprint computer.
Doctors at UCLA Medical Center, meanwhile, said Galanter continued to improve Friday from two deep knife wounds to the neck inflicted during the attack. One wound severed the carotid artery that supplies blood to the left side of the brain, and the other punctured the pharynx, part of the food tube near the esophagus.
Galanter underwent more than five hours of emergency surgery Wednesday to repair the wounds, and doctors said Friday that she remained in serious but stable condition. The 46-year-old urban planner faces Council President Pat Russell in a June 2 runoff for the 6th District council seat.
In their most optimistic appraisal since Galanter entered the hospital, the physicians said they were "encouraged by her strong recovery." She is expected to remain hospitalized for at least a week.
"She is upbeat and in good spirits," hospital spokeswoman Laura Butler said. "This morning she was visited by and conversed with her mother."
But Gates said Galanter, who is under police protection, was unable to communicate with detectives investigating her attack and said an interview is not expected to take place for a few days.
Police distributed a photograph of Olds to the news media and law enforcement agencies but did not ask Galanter whether she could recognize him as the intruder who crept through a back-door window into her home before the attack. Gates said police are still unsure whether Galanter managed to catch a glimpse of the intruder.
"We talked with her, but she was not really lucid," he said. "It is very important that we talk to her only when she is capable of recalling. . . . We certainly don't want to confuse her."
While he would not describe what sort of evidence led police to Olds, Gates said investigators had interviewed Olds' twin brother, Michael, and do not consider Michael a suspect in the case.
Michael Olds said Friday afternoon that he was at home and "heard the burglar alarm go off" on the night that Galanter was attacked. He said that after being interviewed by police, he was "not surprised" that his brother had been named a suspect.
Gates also said detectives searched Easton's bungalow, where the Olds brothers and other young men rent rooms. Mark Olds, Gates said, has not been seen since the day before the attack. Gates said the disappearance convinced investigators of the need to interview him.
"He is missing and has not been seen since . . . directly before the event, and he is someone who has been consistent in his habits," Gates said.
Olds' arrest record dates back to 1979, according to court officials, when he was arrested for killing a rival gang member during a fight in Culver City. He was released for lack of evidence, but was re-arrested two years later on the same charge.
After a 10-day trial in 1982, he was acquitted, according to Deputy Dist. Atty John Ouderkirk, who prosecuted the case. Olds' defense attorney, James Epstein, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Court records also show that in 1984, Olds pleaded no contest to a charge of being under the influence of a controlled substance, believed to be heroin. He was sentenced to three months in jail.
It could not be immediately learned whether any of the other arrests resulted in convictions.
The bulletin sent to the state's police agencies described Olds as a Latino, 5 feet 11, 140 pounds, with brown hair and eyes. He sometimes uses the name Mark Martinez, the bulletin said.
Gates said Olds has been attending bartender's school, but neighbors said they believe that the young man was working at a construction site. Gates also identified Olds as a one-time gang member.
Police had been considering three potential motives for the assault: that Galanter was targeted by a rapist, that she was sought out because of her political career or that she was the victim of a house burglar. Gates indicated that police are leaning toward the latter theory but have not as yet ruled out any motive.
"Until we really identify the person responsible in a way that will allow us to go forward with a warrant and with prosecution, we're not going to rule out anything," he said. "But it appears that there is simply a break-in and an assault."
In the Venice neighborhood where Galanter and Olds live, neighbors said that concerns raised by the presence of several ex-convicts at the Easton rooming house had led them to form a Neighborhood Watch group recently. Galanter was among the organizers.
"The house was our main concern," said Gerhard Fuchs, who lives on Galanter's side of the street. "Gang members moved in. That's why we started a neighborhood watch. There were things like noise all night, vandalism, dope peddling. She took them all in, people from all over."
Another neighbor who lives next door to the rooming house described Mark Olds as "a very withdrawn guy."
"Not the violent type," Ed David said. "I never saw him fight or anything like that. . . . There have been noisy moments in the past, but not so much in the last six months or so."
Easton, however, defended Olds and the other young men who rent rooms in her house, calling them "a darn good group of kids" who "don't cause any trouble."
The renters, all men who have police records, range in age from 22 to 35, she said.
"They have records, but they haven't done anything in years. They've paid . . . I feel safe," she said.
Mark Olds has lived at her home for about two years, she said.
"I hired him to do some yard work," she said. "I don't believe my boys would do anything like that, any of them. Police are just looking for a victim."
Galanter's family and friends, meanwhile, said through her campaign office that they "welcome " Olds' identification as a suspect.
"Ruth places her trust in the LAPD and the criminal justice system to bring her attacker to justice," said the statement, read by press secretary Jim Bickhart.
Times staff writers Alan Citron, Frank Clifford, Paul Feldman, David Ferrell, Eric Malnic, Judy Pasternak, Lori Shepler, Lois Timnick and Boris Yaro contributed to this story.