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Man held after body parts found

Times Staff Writers

A resident of a state-supervised group home in East Hollywood has been arrested on suspicion of killing a man, dismembering his body and dumping it in two nearby trash containers, police said Monday.

Frank Ruiz, 21, a resident of Western Ferndale Board & Care at 1745 N. Western Ave., was arrested Sunday in connection with the stabbing death of the 47-year-old man, who has not been publicly identified.

Police were alerted Friday when a maid at the group home noticed blood and signs of a struggle in Ruiz’s room.

When police arrived, “they locked down the place, and began searching around the area. There were signs of some kind of butchery,” said Deputy Chief Ken Garner.

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As investigators fanned out, they discovered body parts in two nearby garbage bins, one in front of a liquor store and the other in front of a drugstore at Western and Franklin avenues, across the street from Immaculate Heart School.

Garner said that Ruiz admitted to stabbing the victim in the throat and cutting the body up to try to conceal the crime.

Ruiz was already in custody on a parole violation when authorities tied him to the discovery of body parts, said Det. Wendy Berndt, supervisor of the Hollywood homicide unit handling the investigation.

One police source, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case was still under investigation, said that in addition to the body parts found in the trash bins, human remains were also found in a blender and frying pan in Ruiz’s room.

The home where the crime occurred has been licensed since 2000 by the state Community Care Licensing Division to house mentally ill adults, but police and residents said many of the people living there are recent parolees.

It sits uneasily in an area that has been undergoing an economic and social transformation.

“It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood,” said Sandra Clark, 40, a reporter for Star magazine grabbing a coffee at Starbucks across the street from the group home. “The scary thing is, a lot of these people are just getting out, and they don’t seem to be getting any rehabilitation.”

The group home is licensed for 96 people and listed 90 residents in September, according to Shirley Washington, a spokeswoman in Sacramento for the licensing division.

She said division officials did not immediately know whether the home had a troubled history and could not explain why parolees would be in a home for the mentally ill.

The division routinely investigates whenever a serious crime is committed in a group home, she said.

Joanne Armando, the group home’s assistant manager, at first denied that Ruiz was a resident, then later in the day declined to comment about either man, the murder investigation or the facility’s licensing history.

Residents milling in front of the three-story stucco building Monday afternoon described Ruiz as a chubby man with a shaved head who was “childlike,” with both the innocence and the temper of a 12-year-old.

“He wasn’t stable,” said Shannon Shaw, who said he has been at the group home for four weeks after being paroled for armed robbery and illegal possession of a firearm.

Shaw, whose arms are covered in blue-ink tattoos, said Ruiz had family in the area who would visit. He said Ruiz was taking a psychotropic medication but would stop taking it and get “flighty.”

He had a habit of repeating questions -- “Can I get a cigarette?” -- incessantly until he got his way, Shaw said.

Jail records show Ruiz had been arrested on a parole violation by Hollywood Division officers at about 2 p.m. on Friday, shortly before the discovery of the body parts. Court records indicate he had a previous burglary conviction.

Police said the suspect was believed to have dragged the body parts in a large black suitcase to the two garbage bins on Western Avenue.

“It blows my mind that he would get him down the stairs, all the way here and down there to the Pink Elephant,” Shaw said, pointing to the liquor store a block away. “It’s not easy to do.”

Abner Rafael, 62, on parole for grand theft, lived on the third floor and remembered seeing Ruiz in the hallway one night recently, slurring his words as if he was drunk.

The residents said they thought the victim was Ruiz’s roommate, but Garner said he was another man who knew Ruiz.

The 1700 block of Western Avenue, in Los Feliz, is a mix of businesses, with relative newcomers such as Starbucks and Cold Stone Creamery existing side-by-side with such low-budget holdovers as the Coral Sands and Bon Air motels.

Rents are rising on surrounding streets, where parking is at a premium, residents say.

“It’s a slow and steady effort at gentrification,” said Jamie TeSelle, 46, while enjoying an ice cream outside Cold Stone Creamery. But on Western around dusk, TeSelle added, “the hookers are still walking around, and we’ve had gang shootings.”

“It’s very sketchy,” said Jonathan Henley, 31, a welder who has lived on nearby Kingsley Drive for about six years off and on and grew up in Hollywood.

He said many of the group home residents have drug problems that sometimes spill into the streets.

“People just cycle in and out of there,” he said, adding that officers “should just have more of a visible police presence” on the block to combat crime.

TeSelle, a chef who has lived in a rent-controlled apartment nearby for about 2 1/2 years, said neighbors want the city to issue parking permits in the area and to increase police patrols. Tolerance for even petty crimes has dropped as the area has gentrified, she said.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

Times staff writer Mitchell Landsberg contributed to this report.


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