The last crime that 83-year-old W. E. Besse can remember happening on Manitowac Drive in Rancho Palos Verdes was when a car was stolen from somebody up the street--and that was years ago. So he was stunned when he came home from playing golf late Tuesday afternoon and saw a body under a white sheet near his house.
“These days you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Besse, a retired Army colonel, said. “It was kind of a shock.”
The body was that of a 17-year-old San Pedro youth, one of three young men who were stabbed in a bloody melee that horrified residents on this quiet street in Rancho Palos Verdes, an upscale community on the lush hillsides of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. That incident followed two other violent crimes in the peninsula area in the previous few days--the slayings of two Marymount College students in San Pedro and a shooting in nearby Rolling Hills Estates that left a woman wounded. Some residents wonder whether they are safe anymore from the crime that has long plagued people “down the hill.”
“We’re all suffering a little post-traumatic stress syndrome,” said Shannon Agnew, who lives across the street from the scene of the stabbings in the 5300 block of Manitowac Drive. “This is not a war zone, not like L.A. . . . But I can’t say (violent crime) is just happening over there. Obviously, it’s not just over there anymore.”
Statistically, crime remains a relative rarity in Rancho Palos Verdes, a sprawling community of about 42,000 people whose median household income is about $80,000. There were no murders in the city from 1989 to 1991, one in 1992 and none in 1993.
This year, in addition to Tuesday’s fatal stabbing, a body was found in a car in an open area near the city limits, although the murder may have occurred elsewhere.
“It was a shock to my system when I came here,” said Sgt. Jim Miller of the Lomita sheriff’s station, which provides police protection to Rancho Palos Verdes. “I’d never seen so many zeros on crime reports.”
But statistics do not reassure some Manitowac Drive residents.
“I hope (the attack) was an isolated incident,” said an 18-year-old neighbor who asked not to be identified. “This kind of thing is unheard of up here--at least it was. It was the first time I’d ever seen a dead body.”
Sheriff’s Department officials say the stabbing incident began when a group of teen-agers and young adults were visiting a teen-age girl who lives in a house on Manitowac Drive. A group of about eight young males, said to be members of a “tagging” gang, showed up at the house, reportedly looking for the girl’s brother.
A fistfight between the two groups broke out, sheriff’s spokeswoman Diane Hecht said, and one of the men ran into the house and grabbed a knife. He came back out and stabbed three of the men who allegedly were attacking one of his friends.
Christopher Michael Walsh, 17, died of stab wounds at the scene, Hecht said. Jeff Allan Kelly, 18, was taken to Torrance Memorial Hospital and was in critical condition on life-support systems. Edward Charles Morales, 17, was treated for a stab wound to the back and released. All three young men were from San Pedro, Hecht said.
Sheriff’s investigators arrested Neil Christopher Perez, 18, of Torrance at his girlfriend’s house in Carson and booked him for murder. He was being held without bail.
“If this had happened anywhere else, it wouldn’t have even been reported (by the news media),” said a young man who was standing in the driveway where the stabbings occurred. “If it had been in L.A. nobody would even care. But because it happened in PVE, it’s a big deal.”