A couple's evening out at a Carson drive-in theater turned to horror when three gunmen forced their way into their car, kidnaped the pair and then severely beat the man with a board as they raped the woman, who was later murdered, authorities said Saturday.
The 20-year-old woman's badly beaten body was discovered Saturday morning dumped in a field in the Willowbrook area several miles away. She had been shot in the back of the head.
The kidnapers, who reportedly ranged in age from 18 to 24, had driven the couple to an alley in a deserted industrial section north of Carson, where they took turns beating the man, Jesus Martinez, 26, of Gardena, and sexually assaulting his companion, Irene Franco of Wilmington.
Miss Franco, a church-going Mexican immigrant, was described by her pastor at Holy Family Church in Wilmington as "very beautiful, very religious."
As they drove off with the woman, authorities said, the attackers told Martinez: "Don't worry about your girlfriend. We'll drop her off in a few minutes."
The coldbloodedness of the crime "incensed" even seasoned Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators. "This is an unusually vicious assault," said Deputy Dean Scoville, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department.
"They're animals," said Carson Sheriff's Detective Joe Barnes, one of the first investigators on the case.
Barnes and other authorities said there was no indication that gangs or drugs were involved or that the couple was anything but an innocent, randomly chosen target. "That's the scary part," Barnes said. "It can be you and your wife. You and your girlfriend."
There have been scattered reports of robberies and kidnapings at Southern California drive-in theaters over the years, but authorities said they knew of no other such incidents recently--certainly none so ruthless.
According to sheriff's investigators, Martinez and Miss Franco, who had dated for a few months, were out for the evening at the South Bay Six Theatre, a sprawling, multiscreen complex near the junction of the Harbor and San Diego freeways.
As they sat quietly inside Martinez's two-door Pontiac Firebird, a man appeared at the driver's window at about 10 p.m. flashing a chrome revolver, authorities said. He ordered the couple into the rear seat, as two other men quickly jumped inside.
Martinez and Miss Franco were tied up with electrical cord and told to keep their heads down and not look at their captors, officials said. It was not known how many patrons were near them in the drive-in, but authorities said they were not surprised that no one noticed the commotion because of the darkened parking area.
The gunmen then drove out of the theater and made their way to a deserted alley beside a junk yard near 128th and Figueroa streets. Miss Franco was beaten and raped as Martinez was taken from the car and attacked with fists and then a board the men found, Scoville said.
"When they weren't assaulting the girl, they were assaulting (Martinez)," Scoville said.
After the kidnapers left with the woman, Martinez freed himself and rushed to a pay phone to call the Sheriff's Department, Scoville said. Martinez was taken to Gardena Memorial Hospital where he was treated for numerous injuries and released.
The hunt for Miss Franco ended about 9 a.m Saturday, after a 13-year-old boy, who was playing with a cousin, spotted the woman's body behind some bushes in a field near 119th Street in Los Angeles. "It scared me, man," the boy told a reporter later as homicide investigators searched the area for clues.
The brutality of the crime left many along its path shaken Saturday morning.
In the trash-strewn alley where Martinez and Miss Franco were assaulted, there was a pool of blood among the stripped vehicles and stray auto parts.
"This is shocking," said Lloyd Russell of Compton, who owns Russell Auto Parts, as deputies cordoned off the front of his property.
Bill Fouts, a security guard for a construction company near the alley, recalled guard dogs barking at about 10:30 p.m. That is the time investigators estimate that the attack occurred.
"If I would have heard something (else) I would have checked it out," he said. "I didn't hear any shouts or screams. The dogs are always barking and sometimes with the dogs barking you can't hear anything."
At Miss Franco's parish in Wilmington, Father Luis Valbuena was trying to arrange with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for Miss Franco's relatives to come to Los Angeles to identify the body and make funeral arrangements.
He said Miss Franco, who worked in a shoe store, had come from Mexico about a year ago on vacation and decided to remain. He said she was "very outgoing . . . the kind of person going around happy."
"Nothing makes sense," Valbuena said. "This is the time before Christmas. It has to make you think, 'Where are we going?' "
At Martinez's Gardena-area residence, his family declined to comment, other than to say that the construction worker was resting and recovering from his injuries.
Meanwhile, investigators said they had no suspects in the attack and were being hindered by a lack of a detailed description of the assailants.
On Saturday afternoon, Martinez's car was found abandoned at 92nd Street and Holmes Avenue in South Los Angeles. It had been set afire.