O.C. Man Held in Slayings of Parents, Brother
A 21-year-old gas station mechanic was arrested Wednesday night on suspicion of killing his parents and younger brother, whose bodies were found in a family car that had been doused with gasoline and set on fire outside a La Mirada high school.
Edward Charles III was surprised by Fullerton police as he walked out of his parents’ house just after 8 p.m. with his girlfriend. Officers had surrounded the house and had posted themselves at other homes in the neighborhood, “because they feared Charles might flee,” Sgt. Danny Becerra said.
“Charles was under the belief that we were here to provide security for the family and to keep the media from getting too close to the house,” Becerra said. “He didn’t anticipate being arrested.”
Investigators said that Edward Charles, 55, an electrical engineer at Hughes Aircraft, Dolores Charles, 47, a self-employed typist, and Danny Charles, 19, an opera singer and voice student at USC, were killed Sunday night and that their bodies were hidden in a car until Monday night, when the car was doused and ignited.
No motive was offered for the killings, which were discovered after neighbors of El Camino Continuation High School in La Mirada reported a fire in the school parking lot about 10 p.m.
Autopsies Wednesday showed that the father and son had been bludgeoned to death with a blunt instrument, and that Danny had been stabbed repeatedly--though not fatally. Dolores Charles had scratches around her neck, but the cause of death has not yet been determined.
The parents were found in the Honda Civic’s back seat, burned beyond recognition. Dental records provided identification.
The bodies had been doused with gasoline, detectives said. But while the rest of the car was buckled and burned to metal, the trunk and Danny Charles’ body were unburned. Investigators speculated that closure of the trunk kept out oxygen for a fire.
Earlier Wednesday, Charles had told sheriff’s investigators he is innocent, said his lawyer, John J. Donovan of Fullerton.
“Obviously, he’s distraught, as is the rest of the family,” Donovan said.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detectives said they were trying to arrange a polygraph examination for Charles.
“Charles was going to see us Thursday with his attorney so we could discuss this in a more controlled atmosphere,” Lt. Ray Peavy of the Los Angeles County department said. “But a call came this evening to the Fullerton Police Department, and they made the determination that evidence may be in jeopardy.”
Peavy said a neighbor reported that Charles had been seen washing down an area of the driveway that police consider a possible crime scene. Fullerton police acted on the tip by driving to the home on Terraza Place.
Wednesday evening, police surrounded the Charles house, waiting for Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies to arrive and fearful that Charles would slip out a back door, Becerra said.
Peavy said Charles’ grandfather last saw Danny Charles at 6 p.m. Sunday, when the teen-ager left his parents’ home to return to his USC dorm. It is not clear whether Eddie Charles walked his brother to the car, nor whether he was in the house after the younger brother left. But the grandfather told detectives that Danny Charles had not called his parents by 11 p.m. that night, and they could not reach him. They remained up and worried as the grandfather went to sleep.
At 9:30 p.m., a neighbor of the Charles family called 911 and told Fullerton police that she had heard a man’s voice screaming for help from the trunk of a car nearby. When police arrived nine minutes later, they said, the car was gone.
Investigators said that, when the grandfather awoke the next morning, the parents and Edward were gone, although the parents’ car was still in the driveway. The burned Honda belonged to Danny Charles.
“All day Monday he was concerned about their whereabouts,” Peavy said of the grandfather, whose daughter, son-in-law and grandson are gone, and whose remaining grandson is suspected of their murders.
A soccer and football player at Sunny Hills High School, Eddie Charles grew up in that part of Fullerton where homes sit on large parcels and sell for more than $300,000. It was not clear if he attended college, although his boss thought he was enrolled at Fullerton College.
Charles, who stands 6 feet, 2 inches, is in good physical shape and told his co-workers that he worked out at a boxing gym in Fullerton and hoped to compete in the Olympics. He also said he was a black or brown belt in karate.
Jim Burchit, Charles’ boss at a Chevron gas station, said, “I’m really nervous about how this is going to shake out for Eddie.”
He said Charles’ brother attracted a lot of attention because of his theater performances and beautiful operatic tenor voice.
“Everybody was always coming in and asking about his brother, what he was up to. He never talked about him. He didn’t seem particularly proud.”
Charles was living both at his parents’ home and at the home of his girlfriend’s parents.
Police said he told them he was at the girlfriend’s home Monday night, which her mother, Jeanne Bowen, confirmed.
She said Charles arrived at the Bowen home early in the evening and left only once for a matter of minutes. She said she did not know where Charles went.
“It was basically a normal night. The football game was on and he seemed fine,” she said.
Bowen said that she did not know the Charles family well but that Eddie worried about his father, who she said had prostate cancer.
Charles’ boss said the teen-ager had worked his regular shift Monday but then returned to the station, less than two miles from his parents’ house, “10 or 12 times,” the last time at 9 p.m. Burchit said he had no idea why Charles returned to the station after work.
Co-workers at Hughes Aircraft said Charles, the father, was nearing retirement. With 20 years’ seniority, he was just short of what the company calls “magic 75,” which allows an employee whose age and tenure equal that number to retire with full benefits.
Times staff writers Nicholas Riccardi and Don Lee and correspondent Danielle Fouquette contributed to this story.