Brea Man Killed in Ambush; Once Tied to Prostitution Ring

Times Staff Writers

A bodybuilder and former California Highway Patrol officer, who was charged 13 years ago with running what was then the largest prostitution ring in Southern California, was killed in a spray of gunfire early this morning when his limousine was ambushed at the gate of his Carbon Canyon ranch.

Police said Horace Joseph McKenna, 46, of Brea was killed instantly in the 12:30 a.m. gangland-style attack. He died of numerous gunshot wounds, possibly from automatic or semiautomatic weapons, detectives said. Police said they have no motive for the slaying.

McKenna owns Astro Gym in El Segundo and was preparing for the June Masters Nationals Bodybuilding Tournament, a contest in Atlantic City for men over 40, said Dana Sermas, a horse trainer at McKenna’s sprawling $800,000 hilltop estate in the 6200 block of Carbon Canyon Road.

“Mac,” described as 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, was divorced recently and lived alone at the isolated ranch, named “Gone With the Wind.” A stable hand also lived on the grounds to care for McKenna’s 11 Arabian horses, Sermas said.


Police said McKenna was riding in the limousine when one or more assailants appeared and began firing into the car. No one saw the attackers, officers said.

Chauffeur Robert Berg, 42, of Van Nuys, said to be a friend of McKenna’s, drove the fatally wounded man back to the house and called authorities. Police arrived and found McKenna dead at the estate.

Neighbors said McKenna’s son was at the home during the attack. The son declined to discuss the ambush or his father.

Although McKenna owned his own gym, Sermas said, he worked out at Star Gym and Fitness Center in Brea. That is where he was headed when Sermas last saw her boss Wednesday morning. She said he reached out a window of the limousine and waved goodby.


There is only one entrance to his home, a locked gate about a mile from the house, Sermas said. McKenna was in the process of installing an electronic gate, she said.

While police tried to piece together details of the gangland-style slaying, one neighbor said she watched three people--one with a flashlight--"going over the fence” about 6:55 p.m. Wednesday.

Police would not immediately comment on that or other details of the case.

McKenna, who is a native of New Orleans, served with the CHP from June, 1968, to June, 1972, working in the West Los Angeles area, a CHP spokesman said at the time. It was not determined why he was dismissed.

Four years later, on April 14, 1976, McKenna surrendered to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies investigating what they said was a prostitution ring centered in the Inglewood and Lennox areas. McKenna, vice squad deputies said, was being sought as a suspected kingpin of the ring.

The outcome of that case could not be immediately determined.