For at least two days, Javier A. Sosa searched frantically for the wife who had fled his abuse, a woman who didn't want to be found.
The 26-year-old tire repairman from Commerce called her relatives in Anaheim and got no answers. His wife, Margarita, had told her family she had left home but left no word of where she was headed.
So on Sunday afternoon, Javier Sosa drove to the homes of his in-laws and confronted them with a knife and a gun. In quick succession at two separate apartments, Anaheim police say, Sosa stabbed one woman to death, slashed his niece, shot his sister-in-law to death and then dispatched himself with a bullet to the head.
On Monday, grieving family members and stunned neighbors lamented an outburst of domestic violence that had claimed victims on a scale that police who work such cases rarely encounter.
If there could be a lesson in such a senseless spree, it was that that one woman's best efforts to avoid domestic violence could do nothing to stop her spouse's uncontrollable rage.
"You have a woman doing what she knows she should to keep her family safe, and it still resulted in tragedy," Police Sgt. Joe Vargas said. "She lost a sister and nearly lost a niece. How can she believe she did the right thing?"
Vargas said police investigators met with Sosa's wife Monday at an undisclosed site in Los Angeles County to give her the news. The couple had a 5-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy, who Vargas said were with their mother.
Police said the Salvadoran immigrant had married his Mexican-born bride about two years ago, and that their relationship dated back seven years.
A Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman said deputies had no record of domestic violence calls from the Sosa address on Bartmus Street near the Santa Ana Freeway. It was not known whether the wife had sought a restraining order against Sosa.
One of Margarita Sosa's sisters, JulVia Villarreal Marroquin, mother of the niece who was stabbed, said Javier Sosa had a history of violence.
In a brief, tearful interview near her Anaheim apartment on North Brookhurst Street, Villarreal described her sister as "an abused wife" who had been beaten "pretty badly" earlier this month. She said her sister had left Sosa twice before fleeing their home a third and final time on Friday.
A neighbor in Commerce, who didn't want her identity revealed, said she saw Sosa's wife run out her door and into a sport-utility vehicle that spirited her away. Anaheim police said the wife went to a battered women's shelter at an undisclosed location.
The wife's departure drove Sosa into a frenzy, family members said.
The neighbor said Sosa cruised his street back and forth over the weekend in his blue Honda hatchback in the vain expectation that his wife might come home. His wife's relatives in Anaheim told police afterward that Sosa called them repeatedly over two days inquiring where she was and threatening them.
Despite the threatening calls, the family apparently did not seek police protection.
Shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday, Sosa knocked on Villarreal's door. There, he found his 18-year-old niece, Guadalupe Salazar Villarreal, and a 23-year-old friend, not identified by police, who was staying with the family.
"They let him inside because he was not acting violent or anything at first," Sgt. Vargas said. "But then when they didn't give him the answers he wanted, he flew into a rage."
Sosa stabbed both women repeatedly, fatally wounding the friend. His niece covered her chest and face with her arms during the attack and "pretended to be dead" so he would leave, Vargas said.
"She waited a few minutes until she was sure he was gone and then went to get help," he said.
The prognosis for the niece, a college student, was good. She was in fair condition Monday afternoon at UCI Medical Center in Orange, recuperating from stab wounds to the neck and right arm.
After the knife attack, Sosa left for another sister-in-law's apartment two miles away, on North Dresden Street, where he arrived only minutes later. He double-parked his Honda, hazard lights flashing, and ran to Marlene Guzman's unit.
Sosa again demanded to know where his wife was, police said. Not getting a satisfactory reply from Guzman, 36, he pulled out a handgun and shot her at least three times in the chest and neck and then shot himself once in the head.
Soon afterward, Pedro Linares and several other neighbors raced inside the apartment and found the grisly scene. Linares said he found Guzman dead on her back, on a bed, with a telephone clutched in her right hand. Sosa lay by the side of the bed, mortally wounded.
The scene also was witnessed by Guzman's 5- and 3-year-old sons, who ran to a baby-sitter's apartment upstairs. Jose Luis Nava, who lives in the apartment, said the older boy was distraught and hugged his wife, Eugenia, not wanting to let go.
According to Jose Nava, the youngster pleaded: "My mother has blood coming out of her head and chest. Who's going to take care of us now?"
The violence also dismayed Sosa's neighbors and co-workers.
"Good Lord! It is unreal," said Winston Shaw, manager of Berlin Tire Centers in Los Angeles, where Sosa worked as a roadside truck tire repairman for the last four years. "We've been looking for him all day."
Shaw said he had heard of the slayings the night before but never imagined the killer was Sosa, whom he met seven years ago. He described Sosa as an easy-going, hard-working employee who often asked for overtime.
"He was aggressive in trying to get ahead," he said. "I didn't even know he was having troubles. He was a real nice guy to be around. He had a temper but not anything that would even look like this."
In Sosa's neighborhood, a quiet corner of Commerce with trimmed lawns and well-maintained single-family homes, neighbors were incredulous too.
"I don't believe it," said Paula Flores, who lives just a few units from Sosa's gray stucco house. "They were so devoted to each other."
Flores said the Sosas had moved into the single-story home early last year and that they recently purchased the house; property records, however, could not confirm the transaction.
"He was so proud," Flores said.
Flores and her husband, Jose, said that they went out to dinner with the Sosas last summer at a nearby restaurant.
"They were like sweethearts," Paula Flores said of Sosa and his wife.
Her husband added: "They were the last couple in the world I would think something like this would happen to."
Times staff writers Daniel Yi and Erika Chavez contributed to this report.
* ONGOING NIGHTMARE: Safety is elusive even for women who do the right thing in fleeing, counselors say. A14