The Angeles National Forest was a home away from home for Alexander Roglinov.
Every other week or so -- whenever his work as a part-time security guard slowed -- Roglinov would take off to the forest and pitch his one-man tent on an overlook above the San Gabriel River. He gave people framed collages of pictures he took in the wilderness.
"He loved, loved, loved the forest," said friend Ginger Frankson, a recipient of one of those collages. "It was like something that fed his soul."
In the forest, he was a familiar face to rangers and even made friends among the gold prospectors who toiled in the area.
But on Tuesday, forest officials found Roglinov's body in the forest, next to his tent and ransacked car. He had been hit with blasts from a shotgun. As authorities try to determine the circumstances of his slaying, friends remember a gentle ascetic soul, a sociable outdoorsman who lived in his car -- seemingly homeless by choice.
Roglinov was last seen alive Sunday morning by another camper, said Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Hinkle, a homicide investigator.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigators quickly found proof of Roglinov's identification, but there was no indication of where the 61-year old Bulgarian immigrant lived. Forest Service officers and sheriff's deputies who patrolled the forest knew Roglinov as a regular camper. But the address on his driver's license, car registration and all other documentation was a mail drop in San Clemente.
"We couldn't even go to his next-door neighbor and say, 'Hey what do you know about this guy?' " Hinkle said.
Roglinov's next-door neighbor turned out to be Raymond Patnoe of Capistrano Beach. For more than a year, the two men camped side-by-side in their vehicles outside a storage facility.
"He was like a professor," Patnoe said. "This guy was not what you think of when you hear of a guy sleeping in his Honda."
Patnoe, who said he lives in a panel truck equipped with cooking gear, furniture and a shower, marveled at how Roglinov would emerge serenely unruffled after a night of sleeping in his two-door Honda Civic.
"He never looked bad. He never looked scruffy. I don't know another person who could live like that in that with that much style and grace," Patnoe said. "He was like some sort of ninja high-priest Buddhist monk."
Roglinov seemed to be homeless as a conscious lifestyle choice. He worked several days a week as a security guard in nearby San Clemente, and money didn't seem to be a problem, Frankson said. He owned a digital camera and a laptop computer, which he used to process his pictures, and he had a taste for exotic food. Roglinov said he had been a graphic designer and sometimes showed off examples of his work.
Once he bought $80 worth of groceries for a friend who'd been evicted from her home, said Frankson who, along with her husband, John, manages the storage facility where Roglinov and Patnoe store their belongings. The Franksons and the two men formed a tight circle of friends who checked in with one another several times a day.
Frankson laughingly recalls Roglinov as almost compulsively meticulous -- fussy about his appearance and desperate to keep his Honda parked in the shade.
"He would move that beat-up car three times a day," she said.
Deep in the forests, Roglinov had a second circle of friends.
Bernie McGrath, a gold prospector who works along the San Gabriel River, met Roglinov camping in the Angeles National Forest several years ago. He recalls a hulking man who rarely wore anything heavier than shorts, even in winter, and would take daylong solitary hikes wearing an enormous backpack.
Gradually, Roglinov became accepted into the tight circle of men who mine the river for gold. Roglinov would show up at the river camp once or twice a month and set up a card table with a bottle of whiskey and, "all these exotic cheeses and meats and breads that I'd never heard of," McGrath said. "He was intelligent as hell.... I always thought he was a professor of history or political science."
Roglinov was also intensely private, which has complicated the search for next of kin. Friends who knew him for years say they have no idea if he had any relatives when he emigrated from Bulgaria, or where he lived before settling in his car in Capistrano Beach.
"I never in my life heard him mention a family," Frankson said.
Authorities are still searching for living relatives to notify about Roglinov's death. Hinkle, the homicide investigator, said they have an address for a potential relative in Bulgaria, "but we're not even sure if that's somebody who's still living."
In Capistrano Beach, Patnoe and others are planning a memorial service for the friend who one day took his usual trek into the woods and never came back.
"He was just an exquisite man," Frankson said.