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Lack of Clues in Shootings Stymies Probe

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When police try to solve a murder case or a shooting, they usually have something to start with: a fingerprint, a hair, a fiber or a witness.

But occasionally, they’re forced to rely on nothing more than somebody’s conscience.

Such a case has landed on the desks of investigators in three Southland communities, including Seal Beach.

“Sometimes there’s just no place to start,” said Gerald Berry, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy. “There’s nothing to work with. We can only hope somebody who might know something decides to call.”

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In the early hours of Feb. 15, a rash of shootings left one woman dead and another injured. At 12:15 a.m., two homes in Cypress were riddled with bullets. No one was injured.

At 12:40 a.m., Orange County resident Melody Spicer, 47, was driving on a transition road from the San Gabriel River Freeway onto the Artesia Freeway in Cerritos when she felt a pain in her back. Barely able to breathe or walk, she pulled over and called paramedics. It was weeks before surgeons could remove the bullet lodged near her spine.

Less than 40 minutes after Spicer was shot, Helena Joyce Dobiesz, 55, of Long Beach was driving on the 7th Street offramp from the northbound San Diego Freeway in Seal Beach when she was fatally wounded. She was shot in the head and died later that day.

Ballistics test results released Monday showed that all the bullets came from the same handgun. All the police have to work with are those bullets.

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“We have no witnesses, so we have no suspects,” said Gary Krogman, one of the Seal Beach police detectives trying to solve Dobiesz’s murder. “We suspect there was more than one person in the car because of the angle the shots were fired at. But I’ve never worked a case like this before. We have no idea who this shooter could be.”

The case defies categorization. It isn’t a clear-cut case of road rage and it isn’t a spree killing, said Dr. Park Dietz, a Newport Beach forensic psychologist who testified in the O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Dahmer and Menendez brothers murder cases.

“The term ‘spree killing’ is used only when there are deaths at three or more sites and a single killer,” Dietz said. “In this case, it isn’t clear if there was one person shooting from the car or several.”

Road rage usually involves threatening, sometimes violent behavior toward other motorists, which can include ramming another car or running it off the road, or even shooting at another vehicle. The incidents usually follow a traffic altercation.

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Spicer thought she was alone on the road that night.

“There was no one around me. I didn’t see anything or anybody,” said Spicer, who is cautious and extra alert any time she is out after dark.

The bullet that hit Spicer entered from directly behind her car. It tore through the trunk, back seat and driver’s seat before lodging between her shoulder blades, just to the right of her spine. Another bullet grazed the left side of her car.

“I heard a metallic sound and thought something had broken loose out of the car and hurt me,” she said. “I had no idea I had been shot until the police came, took a look and told me what had happened.”

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“I’m not angry about what happened to me because I don’t know who to be angry at,” Spicer said. “Whoever did it will have to answer to God. I just pray they’ll have the courage to turn themselves in, and I pray they’ll never do anything like this again.”

Spicer was still in the emergency room when doctors told her another woman had been shot on the freeway.

“My first thought was, why did I survive and not her?” she said. “I felt the need to reach out to her family.”

Spicer and Dobiesz’s only daughter, Cara Marquez, have struck up a friendship since the shootings.

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“It’s been hard,” said Marquez, a Washington state resident. “I miss my mom a lot. She wanted to be a grandmother, and I found out soon after she died that I’m pregnant. It’s a bittersweet blessing,” she said.

Marquez cannot fathom why anybody would want to hurt her mother, a deeply religious woman who loved to sculpt.

“The whole thing is strange. All I know is my mom and Melody both drove white cars. And there is a physical and spiritual resemblance between the two of them,” she said.

“But you know, somebody’s conscience has to be weighing on them. How long can they live with themselves knowing they did something like this?” Marquez said.

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Anyone with information is asked to contact Seal Beach police at (562) 799-4111 or (562) 799-4109.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

When a Bullet Talks

Markings left on a bullet by a gun barrel are as distinctive as fingerprints. They can link the bullet to a particular type and caliber gun. To make the connection, investigators first look for consistencies, such as grooves and lands. Then, under a microscope, they look for inconsistencies. Here’s what they look for:

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Why a Grooved Barrel

As a bullet travels through the barrel, grooves make the bullet spin rather than tumble. Like a well-thrown football, a spinning bullet will remain on a truer course.

Consistencies

Lands and grooves are markings made when a bullet travels through a gun barrel. These marks can be consistently identified with certain manufacturers and calibers. Interior view of gun barrel machined to create lands and grooves:

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Lands: Parts of grooved surface that are not indented

Grooves: Notches inside barrel guide bullet and create spin

* Cross-section of barrel with six grooves. The diameter of the bore is the caliber, such as .22 or .38 caliber or 9 millimeters.

Inconsistencies

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Striations are scratches or marks on bullets after firing. These patterns, which may be the result of use or cleaning, link bullets with the barrel from which they were fired.

Sources: Huntington Beach Police Department, Orange County Crime Lab and “Forensic Science Handbook” by Richard Saferstein, PhD; Researched by APRIL JACKSON/Los Angeles Times


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