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Police Believe 5 Killings Took Place in Canyon : Crime: Investigators are ‘looking for something in addition to robbery’ as the motive in the slayings of the members of a food-catering crew.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five members of a food-catering crew were probably killed in the remote, San Fernando Valley canyon where they were found stabbed, shot and beaten to death, investigators said Thursday.

Four of the five died of gunshot wounds to the head and stab wounds to the body, while a fifth was bludgeoned on the head and stabbed, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office announced following autopsies.

Los Angeles Police Lt. John Zorn said detectives do not yet know why one of the victims--Heriberto Sandoval, 16, of North Hollywood--was not shot, which he described as “a little mystery within a mystery.”

But Zorn said police now believe that the five were killed and left by the side of La Tuna Canyon Road either late Saturday or early Sunday, not long after their Mexican food truck was hijacked from the North Hollywood street where they usually worked. The hands of all five were bound behind their backs, a spokesman for the coroner said.

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The other victims were truck owner Ismael Cervantes Sr., 43, of Sylmar; his son, Ismael Cervantes Jr., 13, of North Hollywood; cook Francisco Gasca, 31, of North Hollywood, and Sandoval’s brother, Jesus, 19, also of North Hollywood. Gasca and the Sandovals, who performed odd jobs for Cervantes, were cousins. Cervantes’ son, whose parents were divorced, was spending the weekend with his father.

Zorn said detectives have not determined a motive but were “looking for something in addition to robbery at this point. I have great difficulty in believing that five people would be killed in this manner over a robbery that might have amounted to a couple hundred dollars. It seems there’s got to be more of a reason.”

Police believe that more than one killer was involved because of the number of victims and different types of wounds, Zorn said.

The group was reported missing early Sunday after Cervantes’ brother-in-law drove by his usual business spot in the 6800 block of Lankershim Boulevard and noticed that the catering truck was gone.

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The truck was found abandoned and ransacked about 12 blocks away Sunday afternoon. Police were led to the bodies Tuesday morning by a man who noticed them while walking his dog.

Since then, several residents of the rural area have phoned police to say they noticed a catering truck in the canyon Saturday night, which “caught their attention because they couldn’t believe there was a market for tacos in La Tuna Canyon,” Zorn said.


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