About 200 residents of the Antelope Valley have received extortion letters threatening them--and members of their families--with violent death if they don’t send up to $600,000 to other people named in the letters, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported Friday.
Most of these named people live in the area and have themselves received the threatening letters, all of which were postmarked in the nearby desert community of Mojave, investigators said.
“It’s not as though the person who did it thought he’d get any money himself,” said Lou Bozigian, a realtor and former Lancaster mayor who received one of the letters.
“I think its a wacko sicko who’s just mad at society,” Bozigian said. “It’s something like an arsonist setting a fire and then just standing back . . . and watching everyone getting upset . . . It’s someone in our midst, who’s enjoying it.”
But the Sheriff’s Department said it is taking the threats seriously. The FBI has joined in the investigation, and deputies have set up a special, seven-member task force to handle the case, according to Sgt. Bob Riley, a spokesman for the sheriff’s station in Lancaster.
Riley said the letters--actually sheets of computer-printed paper, folded to make mailers--began arriving at Lancaster households on Wednesday. He said the letters, which were continuing to arrive on Friday, could have been mailed from a variety of places in the Antelope Valley and southern Mojave Desert areas, since a lot of mail from there bears a Mojave postmark.
The main body of each letter is “pretty generic,” Riley said, but at the bottom, the writer included personal details about each recipient, made specific threats against the recipient and members of the recipient’s family, and made individual demands for specific amounts of money and directions on where it was to be sent.
Riley said most of the recipients are fairly prominent, successful business people in the Antelope Valley, “affluent people . . . who have the wherewithal to write a check for whatever amount was requested . . . “
“It’s something of a chain-letter,” he said. “They’re asked to split up the money and send it to other people named in the letter.”
In addition, he said, some letters ask that part of the money be sent to Galgano Records, a wholesale firm in Chicago. Galgano spokesmen said they had no idea why the firm was named, adding that as yet, no money had been received.
‘We Will Slice Up Wife’
Bozigian, who has talked with some of the others who received the letters, said his demanded $6,000 and told him, “We will slice up your wife if you don’t pay . . . or we will get one of your daughters.”
A local schoolteacher got a letter that was laced with “very obscene, four-letter words, all the way through,” Bozigian said. “It threatened to slice her up in little pieces. It went into a lot of detail. It was terrible.”
A lawyer who had recently written a contract received one of the letters. “The writer knew specifics about the contract the attorney didn’t think anyone knew,” Bozigian said.
Another recipient was another Lancaster attorney, Cathrin DeVoe, who used the nickname “Miss Cat” several years ago while operating an exercise studio in the Antelope Valley.
“The letter was personalized at the very end,” she said. “It said: ‘The organization has watched this area over the years and we know what you can pay. You should have stuck to exercise, Miss Cat. Do not (mess) with us. We will kill you.’ ”
Told to Divide Up Money
DeVoe said the letter told her to get $200,000 from her bank, divide it into five stacks of $40,000 each, adding additional money to each stack if she received any in the mail. She said she was told to mail a stack to each of the five people named in the letter.
“I was familiar with two of the names,” she said. “All five of them had local addresses.”
Like all the others who have been in touch with the Sheriff’s Department, DeVoe said she sent no money and instead turned the letter over to the deputies.
“At first, I thought it was just an elaborate Halloween prank,” she said. “But then it became frightening. Someone spent a tremendous amount of time gathering all that personal information on all of us. . . .”
“It makes you wonder,” DeVoe said. “Is there really someone out there who wants to kill me?”