Suspect Held in S.D. Serial Killings Is Freed Same Day

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the same day he was booked on suspicion of murder, a 31-year-old man who allegedly phoned authorities and threatened to "find another girl and kill her" was released from County Jail, and police said he is no longer a suspect in the slayings of three young women in Clairemont.

Luis Alberto Lebron, a former Marine employed as a truck driver delivering gasoline to service stations, was arrested Wednesday and booked early Thursday on suspicion of murdering Holly Suzanne Tarr, 18.

Tarr was one of three young women stabbed to death within a two-block area between Jan. 12 and April 3. Police said Lebron matched the description of a light-skinned black man who was seen fleeing the Buena Vista Gardens apartments moments after Tarr's death April 3.

Capt. Dick Toneck, who oversees the homicide division of the San Diego Police Department, said at a press conference that Lebron had been under surveillance for some time.

Toneck said that, early Wednesday, at least several days after the surveillance began, police received a call from an anonymous man who said, "Could you please tell Detective Greg Walton, San Diego Police Department, that I am going to find another girl and kill her?"

Toneck said an investigation revealed that Lebron made the call.

Asked Thursday if Lebron had admitted making the call, Toneck said, "I don't want to get into that."

He refused to say whether Lebron has a criminal record or whether he had used 911 in telephoning police, which allows authorities to pinpoint the location of a call.

Toneck said police traced the call to the Twin Palms Apartments at 4432 Pacific Highway. Fellow tenants say that Lebron moved into Apartment 17 about a month ago but that he does not have a phone. (A pay phone is on the property.)

Toneck and Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Carlton, who works as a liaison with the Police Department, said Lebron will not be charged with the misdemeanor he could have incurred for making such a call.

Asked about a motive Lebron might have had for making the call, Toneck said, "I'd rather not comment." But Lebron was aware that he was the subject of a police investigation, as he had been questioned several times before Wednesday, Toneck said.

Toneck said a warrant was issued Wednesday afternoon to search Lebron's Twin Palms apartment as well as his red 1979 Ford Fairmont. But, after "further extensive follow-up investigation," as well as "forensic comparisons," Lebron was eliminated as a suspect. Forensic results were the opposite of what had been expected, authorities said, but they declined to give specifics.

Lebron is "free to do what he pleases. . . . Our suspect is still at large," Toneck said.

Barbara Peters, who lives two doors down from Lebron, said he left the apartment complex about 6 p.m. Thursday. With television cameras catching "his every move," Peters said, Lebron jumped on the back of a friend's motorcycle, and the two rode away without "saying a word" to reporters.

It was not the first time Lebron had appeared on television. San Diego's ABC affiliate, KGTV (Channel 10), on Wednesday aired footage of Lebron that the station says was videotaped May 23 (of Lebron buying milk at a liquor store) and May 25 (of him buying gas at a filling station).

Toneck said Thursday that he saw nothing inappropriate or intrusive about the station airing such a tape, even though police called KGTV and asked that Lebron's face be obscured in future broadcasts. (His face was shown on the 5 p.m. newscast Wednesday but not at 11 p.m., police said.) Police said they did not know and were not concerned about how the station knew of their suspicions about Lebron. KGTV cameraman Bob Lampert, who shot the footage, is married to a sergeant for the Police Department.

Lebron was taped by another TV station returning to his apartment Thursday afternoon. Resident Charles Peters said two police officers escorted Lebron to the door of Apartment 17 at 2:25 p.m. Thursday. Peters said Lebron "holed up" inside, and that any attempt to talk to him--at one point, Peters said, he offered "to give him a ride someplace . . . anyplace"--was met with silence.

Toneck said police began investigating Lebron after Clairemont residents who had seen a reenactment of Tarr's murder on a "Crime Stoppers" TV segment called to say that he matched the description of the suspect as well as a composite drawing released shortly after that slaying.

Toneck said Lebron had lived in Clairemont, less than two blocks from where the killings occurred, from December to late April.

Carlton, the deputy district attorney, said Lebron was one of hundreds of men police have questioned since Tiffany Paige Schultz, 20, a San Diego State University student, was killed Jan. 12.

Schultz lived in the 3100 block of Cowley Way. Tarr, a high school senior from Okemos, Mich., who was in town to visit her brother on a spring vacation, was killed in his apartment in the 3400 block of Cowley Way.

On Feb. 16, Janene Marie Weinhold, 21, a UC San Diego student, was found stabbed to death in her apartment on Clairemont Drive, two blocks from where Schultz and Tarr were killed.

Police say the victims were attractive women who were murdered in upstairs apartments in the middle of the day.

On Jan. 13, just hours after Schultz was killed, police arrested Christopher Jon Burns, her 28-year-old fiance with whom she shared the two-bedroom apartment where she died. Burns was booked on suspicion of murder and held for five days in County Jail. He was released when the district attorney failed to issue a murder complaint.

Lebron was hired as a tanker-truck driver in December by Energy Personnel, an agency that furnishes drivers to oil companies on a temporary basis, said the company's president, Robert Boyich. Although the firm is based in Bakersfield, Boyich said Lebron was hired in San Diego to deliver gasoline to area stations.

Lebron, described as 5-foot-10 and weighing 160 pounds, incurred moving traffic violations once in each of the past three years, a spokeswoman for the Department of Motor Vehicles said Thursday. On each occasion, he was cited for failing to wear a seat belt, the spokeswoman said.

Lebron was born in Puerto Rico on Nov. 23, 1958, and enlisted in the Marines in New York City in 1980, said Master Sgt. George Spear, a Marine Corps spokesman at Camp Pendleton. Lebron served as a basic rifleman at Twentynine Palms, Calif., before being transferred to Camp Pendleton in 1984. He was discharged at the end of his enlistment in October, 1987, Spear said.

Within hours after Lebron was taken into custody and questioned Wednesday, his neighbors described him as a quiet man no one in the 32-unit complex really knew, either as a neighbor or as a friend. Some described him as eerie or overly nervous around people.

But, Thursday afternoon, with Lebron cleared of suspicion and locked inside his apartment, the neighbors' tone had changed dramatically.

"He's a little eccentric," said Roger Dewitt, "but I think everybody should give him a break."

"I knew they had the wrong man all along," said Phyllis Marshall. "The first time I saw him, I knew he didn't fit the composite posted at the See's candy store" near the complex.

"He's innocent," said Carl Leslie, who lives next door. "I knew all along he was innocent. I mean, they have no evidence on the guy. Yeah, he's innocent. Got to be."

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