Man held in double slaying case

Times Staff Writer

A Van Nuys man has been identified as a “person of interest” in a crime spree this month that left two members of an Anaheim family dead and a third hospitalized after a savage beating, police said Tuesday.

Iftekhar Murtaza, 22, was arrested late Friday at the Phoenix airport on a fugitive warrant while attempting to leave the country, said Sgt. Rick Martinez, a spokesman for the Anaheim Police Department.

“He was on a long list of people to be interviewed,” Martinez said, “but we found out that he was about to leave the country and decided to take action.”


No charges have been filed against Murtaza in connection with the Anaheim case, and Martinez said he did not know the basis for the fugitive warrant. Murtaza was detained by the U.S. marshal’s office at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Murtaza, Martinez said, is “an acquaintance of some family members,” though he couldn’t say which ones. He added that he did not know why investigators were interested in talking to Murtaza.

“We are still far from solving this case,” Martinez said.

The crimes occurred May 21. Police dispatched to a fire in the 6100 block of East Camino Correr in Anaheim Hills found one of the home’s occupants, Leela Dhanak, 53, bludgeoned and unconscious on a neighbor’s lawn. Several hours later at a fire in an Irvine park about 20 miles away authorities found the charred bodies of Dhanak’s husband, Jayprakash “Jay” Dhanak, 56, and the couple’s 20-year-old daughter, Karishma.

A second daughter, 18-year-old UC Irvine student Shayona Dhanak, had moved out of the Anaheim Hills home and was unharmed. She and her mother are under police protection.

In recent days, the picture that has emerged of Jay and Leela Dhanak is contradictory: devoutly religious Hindus who were once enmeshed in white-collar crime.

In 2002, authorities said, Jay Dhanak pleaded guilty to bilking the U.S. Postal Service out of about $7.9 million when he was the operations manager of Master-Sort Inc., a Santa Ana direct-mail company.

Yet neighbors described the couple, who had emigrated from India, as inconspicuous, hardworking and involved in a Whittier temple that advocates a puritanical style of Hinduism whose adherents forgo television, meat, drugs, alcohol and dating.

On Tuesday, authorities said they were still trying to unravel the mystery.

“This is a very large puzzle, and there are missing pieces that the public may have,” Martinez said.

Anyone with information was asked to call Anaheim detectives at (714) 765-1944.

In the meantime, he said, Murtaza remains in custody in Arizona and is being questioned regarding the case.


Times staff writer Ashley Powers contributed to this report