It was a mixture of tenacity and technology, authorities say, that finally brought Richard Leos to justice after 19 years.
Leos had been on the lam as the suspected gunman in a Pacoima barroom robbery and slaying since Gerald R. Ford was president. Along the way, authorities say, he used a series of aliases and false addresses. Most recently, he was living comfortably--and under several different identities--in a sleepy Seattle suburb with his longtime girlfriend and her two adult daughters.
But all along, Los Angeles police were on the lookout, running Leos’ name and his aliases through national crime computers and making periodic checks with other authorities. Recently, they got a tip, and the work paid off. When police finally caught up with him Monday in the suburb of SeaTac, Wash., Leos, 42, was taking an early evening nap on his favorite couch, the TV blaring in front of him.
“There he was, asleep in his boxer shorts,” said FBI Special Agent Dave Burroughs. “I asked, ‘Are you Richard Leos?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I am.’ He had nothing to say.”
For Leos, it was most assuredly a rude awakening; one minute, he was living what family members say was a tranquil life in the Pacific Northwest; the next, he was under arrest for a vicious 1975 slaying. After being handcuffed, he was hauled off to jail, speechless, and is now awaiting extradition to Los Angeles to be tried on murder charges.
“I couldn’t believe all these FBI agents in my house, yelling for him,” said Ginger Rosendale, Leos’ girlfriend. “They came in here with guns pulled and woke him up. He stood up, held his hands out, they cuffed him, and it was all said and done.”
Rosendale described Leos, whom she knew as Jess Caruso, as a hard-working man who eschewed violence, and who lovingly helped her raise and support her daughters since the two met through a mutual friend 16 years ago. He never mentioned his past much, she said, except to say that he was from Los Angeles. And he certainly never gave a hint that anyone was looking for him.
“It’s totally destroyed our world as we know it, our existence, our happy home life,” Rosendale said. “To everybody else, it’s just news. But to us, it is devastating.”
Rosendale’s daughter Jennifer, 20, was the one who answered the knock on the front door and watched as 10 federal agents barged in with their guns drawn. She, too, had no idea what was happening until an agent told Leos what he was being arrested for.
“I look at him as if he were my real dad,” she said. “He was always loving and wonderful. We will not be a full family until he comes home.”
Leos faces charges of murder, armed robbery and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
In 1975, authorities allege, Leos entered Moran’s Bar in Pacoima with two other men to commit an armed robbery. He is accused of fatally shooting a bar patron in the back of the head with a double-barreled shotgun after the man failed to follow instructions and walked toward the barroom entrance.
Leos’ alleged accomplices have never been identified, but Los Angeles police plan to travel to the Seattle area in the next few days to begin trying to track them down, said Detective Ray Broker of the LAPD’s Foothill Division.
The FBI said Leos has used a number of names and lived in various places in the United States and Mexico since the slaying. According to a Los Angeles Police Department bulletin from 1975, Leos was a heroin user with a scar over his left eye and a tattoo of a cross on his left hand.
The LAPD’s first break came several weeks ago, when a tipster said he had some information about an old, unsolved slaying.
Broker dusted off the case file, combined the old information with the new, and determined that Leos was living under an alias in the Seattle area. Authorities there ran computer checks and found that the person using the alias Jess Caruso had had several brushes with the law.
In Seattle, Leos was arrested for assault in 1989 and cited for a traffic violation in 1991. In both cases he gave bogus names and addresses, the FBI said, and no connection to Leos was made at first.
The addresses listed in police computers were wrong, but a phone number that Caruso had given to police during the traffic stop matched the one at the house where he was captured. Hours after making the match, Burroughs and other members of the Seattle Area Fugitive Apprehension Team arrested Leos.
For Broker, it was just another homicide case.
“I don’t care if it’s 19 years old or 19 minutes, it’s the same good feeling,” he said. “If someone takes a life, they deserve to go to jail for it. It is the most heinous crime that can happen.”
Authorities say an eyewitness in the bar that day--an old schoolmate of Leos’ who had just seen him several weeks beforehand--is expected to testify against Leos.
But his wife and her children said they will stand by a man they have come to love over 16 years.
“I’m gonna support him,” Rosendale said. “He’s not a violent guy, not at all.”