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Forest Has Long History as Place for Hiding Bodies : Mountains: Though the number of homicide victims found in the sprawling Angeles National Forest is not staggering, the cases often capture public interest.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The remains of Cindy Lee Hudspeth, the 10th Hillside Strangler victim, were found there. So were those of model Kimberly Pandelios, 20, and Perla Valencia, a 3-year-old allegedly beaten to death last summer by her half sister. And con man Ron Levin, whose murder brought down the Billionaire Boys Club, was believed to have been buried there.

Victims of drug deals gone awry, romances gone sour and robberies turned deadly have also ended up in the giant Angeles National Forest above Los Angeles. Now, former Raiderette Linda Sobek has suffered the same fate.

Although the 1,000-square-mile forest is increasingly viewed as a repository for some of the worst urban horrors, the number of people murdered and then discarded there is not staggering. However, their stories often are.

“There are not that many human remains found in remote areas, certainly not any more than found in any other areas,” said Detective Gerry Biehn of the Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau.

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But, he noted, criminals see the forest as the ideal spot to hide their victims. “It is close to the Los Angeles metropolitan area, which gives access to somebody who needs to get rid of remains,” Biehn said. “It’s remote and there’s not a lot of people around, so it supplies the seclusion these people are looking for.”

“When you want to hide something, you go where there’s not a lot of people around to see you hide it,” said Sgt. Jack Barnes of the Crescenta Valley sheriff’s station.

So far this year, eight bodies have been found in the forest, not including unidentifiable bones, sheriff’s deputies said. In 1994, three bodies were found there.

Authorities say it is impossible to determine how many bodies are dumped in the forest.

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Some victims are never found. Even when they are, the corpse may be too decomposed to identify. Then, too, remains discovered by construction workers, unsuspecting passersby or attentive deputies can be those of victims of hiking or car accidents--not foul play.

But it is the criminal incidents that people remember.

In July, the body of 3-year-old Perla Valencia, her shod feet protruding from the mouth of a plastic garbage bag, was discovered at the bottom of a hill near San Gabriel Canyon Road. Elvira Moreno Valencia, the 33-year-old West Covina woman who was her legal guardian, told authorities that she had gotten carried away while disciplining the girl.

In 1994, the body of 73-year-old James Young was found along the forest’s Lake Hughes Road. A 35-year-old caretaker named Michael Benanti of Palmdale was charged with killing the man and dumping his remains in order to steal his jewelry and other valuable items.

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Young had been missing from his Quartz Hill home since he left for a Las Vegas vacation in February, 1993. Benanti, who worked for a landscaping company that mowed grass and watered plants for the older man, lived at Young’s home for nearly a year before the man’s disappearance. He told inquiring neighbors that Young had met a woman in Las Vegas and had moved to Mexico, leaving him to take care of the older man’s business affairs.

Skeletal remains of Pandelios were found in a shallow grave in the forest in March, 1993. When last heard from, the 20-year-old Northridge mother and part-time model said she was on her way to a photo assignment in the Burbank-Glendale area.

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Emmy Award-winning news engineer Jeffrey Webreck was buried in the forest in 1991. John Louis Rex, a 22-year-old Burbank soldier, allegedly told authorities he met the 44-year-old Webreck at Griffith Park, exchanged phone numbers with him and offered to meet him privately, intending to rob him. When Webreck made sexual advances, however, Rex shot him, court papers allege.

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In 1986, authorities found the headless body of convicted swindler Arthur Lee Evans, the owner of what was once Orange County’s largest brokerage firm, in the forest.

Michele (Missy) Avila was also left there, drowned at age 17 by two friends who accused her of having slept with their boyfriends. She was found under a log in a creek in 1985.

Convicted serial killer Randy Steven Kraft left at least one victim--Rodger DeVaul--to the elements in the forest in 1983. Kraft, a graduate of prestigious Claremont Men’s College, was convicted in 1989 of committing 16 murders.

Angelo Buono, one of the two Hillside Stranglers, abandoned Hudspeth’s body in the trunk of her car in the forest in February, 1978.

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More than five years later, after a two-year trial, Buono, a 50-year-old automobile upholsterer, was convicted of killing Hudspeth and eight other girls and women in late 1977 and early 1978. The murders were dubbed the Hillside Strangler killings because in nearly all of the cases, the victims’ nude bodies were dumped along Los Angeles-area hillsides. Most were raped or otherwise sexually assaulted before they were murdered.

Joe Hunt, who is serving a life sentence for Levin’s murder in the Billionaire Boys Club case, has said the victim’s body was dumped in a remote canyon. The remains have never been found.


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