2 women are brutally attacked on Venice Canals, forcing debate on crime, homelessness

Venice resident Mary Klein sits atop a bridge over the Venice Canals where she was attacked in April.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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Mary Klein wanted to get in 3,000 more steps.

It was around 10:30 p.m., and the longtime Venice resident and sculptor — who had just finished up at work caring for an elderly couple — hadn’t reached her daily goal of 10,000.

She headed to the canals, parked along Strongs Drive and started to walk. But soon after, she said, she felt someone’s presence behind her. Then everything went black.

About an hour later, another woman was attacked a few hundred feet away.

Police say Anthony Francisco Jones, 29, committed both assaults. He was arrested in San Diego days later.


That night of violence — with its brutality and seeming lack of a motive — has shaken the community. Many had always felt the tourist destination with multimillion-dollar homes perched along the waterways was safe, even when walking alone at night.

But even though violent crime in Venice is down, the fact that police say the suspect is a transient man has heightened years of debate about the neighborhood’s problems with its unhoused population.

A pedestrian and dog stroll through the Venice Canals.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Court documents reviewed by The Times reveal the disturbing details of the night of April 6.

Surveillance video from a home in the 2700 block of Strongs Drive captured the assault on Klein. The video — which prosecutors described in a document requesting that Jones be held without bail — shows a man dragging Klein’s body to the gate of a house. He was wearing a light-colored jacket, Nike shoes and a polo shirt.


The man is then seen in the video sexually assaulting Klein, who was unconscious, for about seven minutes. After the assault, he stands, pulls his pants up, kicks Klein and walks away.

The Times does not normally identify victims of sexual assault, but Klein, 55, agreed to share her story.

Prosecutors say Jones is the man in the video — and that the violence was far from over.

A few minutes later, the same assailant, according to authorities, is seen returning to the area where Klein was still on the ground.

He briefly stands over her body before again leaving.

For the next 20 minutes, Klein repeatedly tries to sit up. “Never is she fully able to get onto her feet,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Matthew Bunnett wrote in the court filing.

Klein’s attacker returned a second time and is seen in the video kicking her in the head “with full force” as she was sitting up. As she lay on the ground, he stood on top of her head with both feet before finally leaving the scene.


Prosecutors say Klein tried for nearly an hour “getting up and then sitting back down before she walks away.”

Mary Klein shows several teeth missing from upper front row
Mary Klein lost several teeth in a brutal attack on the Venice Canals in April.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Three of Klein’s front teeth were knocked out in the attack. She now has plates and screws in her face. She’s on blood thinners because her brain is still bleeding. She’s suffered seizures and numbness in her hands.

The day after the attack, residents found a pool of blood, earbuds, ChapStick, eyeglasses and the neck of a bottle of Maker’s Mark whiskey outside their home, prosecutors said. Because no crime had been reported there, Los Angeles police told them to throw the items away.

But the Los Angeles Police Department had received reports of an attack nearby.

An hour after Klein’s assault was captured on video, police were called to the 200 block of Sherman Canal by someone who had found a “bloody and unresponsive woman.”

LAPD officers found Sarah Alden on the ground in front of a residential gate. She was lying face down, breathing heavily but unresponsive, and her head was bloodied. Her shirt was wrenched up, and her pants were around her ankles. There was a large pool of blood about 120 feet away.

“The trail appears consistent with [Alden] being dragged,” Bunnett wrote in court papers.

A runner crosses over a bridge at the Venice Canals.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)


Police found Alden’s cellphone near the blood pool. Her purse was found in the canal.

The assault left Alden, 53, in a coma for more than a month. She was declared brain dead and died May 24 after being disconnected from life support.

Alden was passionate about jewelry and sold her items at Roseark, a jewelry store in West Hollywood, her son Llewellyn Liversidge said. She was from Massachusetts but had always loved L.A. and was planning to sign a yearlong lease to stay in the city, according to her son and close friends.

“She loved the climate, how beautiful it is, how fun it is, how many things there are to do. How lovely and sweet everyone is,” Liversidge said.

The search for a suspect in Alden’s attack connected it to Klein’s within two days.

Police and business owners sifted through dozens of hours of surveillance video, hoping to track the distinctly dressed man seen attacking Klein. Darrell Preston watched hours of video from one of his restaurants, Baja Cantina, located near the canals. Eventually he spotted the same man, who had approached numerous women in the area that day.

When Preston realized the man had shown an ID at another of his restaurants, he knew he had something helpful for police — a name.


Five days after the attacks, on April 11, Jones was apprehended. He has been charged with two counts of forcible rape, murder, attempted murder, mayhem, torture and sodomy by use of force. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Jones has a criminal record — a DUI and open container conviction from Oklahoma City in 2016 as well as a conviction for possession of a false ID card and an undated arrest in Las Vegas for trespassing, according to court documents seeking his detention without bail. He does not have a documented violent past, and authorities are still trying to understand the seeming randomness of the attacks he is accused of committing.

“It’s surprising for someone to commit crimes of that ferocity who does not have a violent background,” said a high-ranking LAPD official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case. “There’s usually a crescendo to these things.”

Jones’ attorney, Donna Tryfman, declined to comment on the case.

For Klein, the attack remains vague. She doesn’t remember being struck, just waking up afterward. She reported the attack two days later, according to prosecutors.

Doctors told her she suffered a traumatic brain injury.

When she finally was able to pick herself up off the ground, she said, she thought: “Huh, I don’t feel so good.”


“I knew I’d been knocked out by something, but I didn’t know what,” Klein said. “I just picked myself up and went home,” where she laid down on the couch and fell asleep.

As time has passed and Klein’s physical injuries have begun to heal, she’s become frustrated. She feels the attacks are emblematic of an issue no one wants to address: the mental health and drug crisis among the unhoused residents of Venice.

“It’s not like they’re horrible people,” Klein said. “It’s just we need to stop being in denial about our family members and our community members who are in desperate need of mental health help — especially those who are really struggling on the streets.”

It’s unclear if Jones lived in a Venice encampment or has mental health problems. Authorities do not know what brought him to the canals that night.

Although Venice has long been a destination for wanderers, the tenor has changed dramatically in the last few decades, according to many residents, some of whom previously lived on the streets.


In 2021, LAPD and outreach workers cleared 200 people from an encampment on the boardwalk. Those displaced were offered permanent apartments, spots in hotels used as shelters or shelter addresses.

Brian Averill, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, advocated for the dismantling of the boardwalk encampment, which had disturbed vendors and tourists. Three years later, the homeless population remains a problem, he said.

In 2022, the city counted slightly less than 1,000 sheltered and unsheltered homeless people in Venice, a 50% decrease from 2020. (That report, from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, was criticized after it failed to count any homeless people in the northwest census tract of Venice known as ground zero of homelessness.)

Much of the angst in the neighborhood revolves around homeless housing.

A homeless man sleeps on a sidewalk in front of a parking lot
A homeless man sleeps on the sidewalk in front of a parking lot where Venice Community Housing hopes to build the Venice Dell Project, which would house dozens of formerly homeless people at Venice Boulevard and Main Street.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

One flash point is A Bridge Home, a temporary city-run shelter where Venice residents say crime runs rampant. After it opened in February 2020, violent crime increased 88% in nine months.


When the shelter was proposed in 2018 — part of an initiative by then-L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti — Venice residents erupted in anger, arguing that it would encourage other homeless people to gravitate to the area.

The shelter, at Main Street and Sunset Avenue, houses more than 100 residents but is set to close around the end of the year. The city said it is working to identify alternative housing, either temporary or permanent, for those living there.

Equally controversial is the construction of the Venice Dell Project, a planned 140-unit apartment complex on a city-owned plot along Venice Boulevard between Dell and Pacific avenues that would provide affordable housing as well as supportive housing — with resources such as education and employment services — for people who have experienced homelessness. Many residents, including Averill, oppose the project.

“I think it’s fear of the unknown,” said Becky Dennison, co-executive director of Venice Community Housing, the developer behind the project. “Will we maintain the buildings? What will happen if there’s problems? In this case, there’s been some fear spreading around people with mental illness.”

Although a high-ranking LAPD official said crime is down in Venice, that is not necessarily the perception.


“There’s often a schism between what the numbers show and how people feel,” the official said.

Dennison too said those fears are largely unfounded, noting that the Venice Dell building will be staffed 24/7 with four property managers and case managers for tenants.

Still, construction has been tied up in litigation and City Council approval for more than seven years. The developers have succeeded in two lawsuits and hope to secure permits and begin work as soon as possible.

Dennison points to the Rose Apartments, a smaller development with 30 or so units on Rose Avenue.

A woman is silhouetted while standing beside an illustration of Bob Marley on a rasta-colored tapestry that reads "One Love"
Aanti Sumaiyya stands inside her apartment at Rose Apartments in Venice. Sumaiyya, who was homeless in Venice for many years, lived at A Bridge Home, a shelter in Venice, before moving to Rose Apartments.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Rose resident Aanti Sumaiyya, who is almost 70, has lived in Venice on and off for decades. She said she ran a sober social club and converted to Islam before falling on hard times, including drug addiction.


She was chronically homeless for 25 years and was living on the boardwalk when two police officers helped her get off the street and into A Bridge Home in 2020.

“It literally saved my life,” said Sumaiyya, who moved to Rose Apartments in 2022 when it opened.

Mason Lum, 25, also spent time at A Bridge Home but had a different experience.

Lum moved to L.A. from Virginia with his brother seven years ago and quickly became homeless.

Venice residents routinely called police on Lum to keep him from sleeping outside their homes, he said.

A close-up of Mason Lum wearing a hooded sweatshirt
Mason Lum was homeless in Venice for years before moving into Rose Apartments.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

At A Bridge Home, Lum said, one man walked around naked all the time. Others constantly challenged Lum to fights. Eventually, his case manager helped him get on the wait list for Rose Apartments, where he moved in 2022.

Dennison said she had hoped the closure of the shelter would coincide with the opening of the Venice Dell Project. But it’s far from complete. So at least some residents from A Bridge Home probably will go back onto the streets of Venice when it closes, further contributing to residents’ fears.

Lum said he fears that the Venice attacks will only worsen local perceptions about homeless people.

“All you see is people talking about this is why we need to end homelessness,” he said. “I think that’s just their perception of homelessness that needs to change.”

Klein said she wants to see the homeless population helped — even after her attack.

“We need to take care of them and help them rather than discard them and ignore them, because that’s why all this crime is happening — we’re ignoring the extreme mental health crisis going on in our streets,” she said.


Until the issue is dealt with, Klein told The Times, she plans to carry pepper spray and is considering getting a dog for more protection. But she says she is not going to let what happened to her alter her life. She still walks the canals.

“At any time things can happen to anyone,” she said. “If you live your life in fear, you’re not living a life.”