Transient Held in Stabbing 'Just Snapped'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A transient allegedly said he had "killed an enemy of God" before he was arrested on suspicion of knifing an 81-year-old woman as she made him a sandwich in her home, her brother said Sunday.

Jim Shepherd, 32, was arrested Friday after allegedly stabbing Mary Varni in the face, neck and chest with a kitchen knife. San Fernando police said Varni had let Shepherd into her home and started to make him a meal prior to the attack.

"He just snapped. That is the best way to put it," John J. Varni, the woman's 82-year-old brother and a San Fernando Valley attorney for more than 50 years, said Sunday, adding that Shepherd had begun hearing voices recently.

Varni said Shepherd had performed odd jobs for the past seven years around the house Varni shares with his sister on Hagar Street. "He did all the heavy work and kept the cars washed up," said Varni, who paid Shepherd a few dollars an hour. "But he was acting odd lately."

Police confirmed that Shepherd has a history of mental illness. He is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail and will be arraigned Tuesday for attempted murder in Van Nuys Municipal Court.

After Shepherd allegedly attacked Mary Varni, he went to John Varni's law office on Brand Boulevard with blood splattered on his shirt. "There was a glare in his eyes," Varni said. "It was like he was looking right through me."

Varni said he was not immediately alarmed because he had seen blood on Shepherd before after he tripped and fell while drunk. But Varni did become concerned when Shepherd told him, "I killed an enemy of God."

As Varni picked up the phone and dialed the closest psychiatric care unit, at UCLA-Olive View Medical Center, Shepherd punched him in the face, Varni said.

"It was so fast, I didn't even see it," John Varni said. "I fell down behind my desk and he started kicking me."

John Varni said he yelled for his law partner, Albert J. Ghirardelli, in the next office and that Shepherd ran from the office. Varni became worried when he called home and there was no answer.

"I came home and there she was on the floor in the kitchen," he said. "She was conscious but had lost a lot of blood."

He dialed 911 and tended to his sister until paramedics arrived, he said. Shepherd soon returned to John Varni's law office and was arrested by police.

Varni said Shepherd began acting strangely about six months ago, drinking more and saying he was hearing voices. He said it was common for Mary Varni to fix Shepherd a meal if he was working around the yard.

A spokesperson for Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills said Sunday that Mary Varni was in fair condition and "doing very well" after undergoing surgery.

"She has cuts on her hands from trying to grab the knife," John Varni said, shaking his head.

The attack has left Varni a little less open to strangers and a lot more confused.

"You cannot trust anybody," he said. "You even have to be cautious with people that you think you know."

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