For 11 years, Eduardo Rodriguez was one of Los Angeles’ most wanted fugitives, an alleged Toonerville street gang member accused of killing four people.
His trail led from the streets of Atwater Village to Mexico, where police believed he fled years ago.
Then last year, the LAPD agreed to let Glendale police take a new look at the case. A police investigator working desk duty started plugging names of Rodriguez’s friends and gang associates into his computer.
That led him to a Facebook page for a woman in Riverside that included pictures of a man he thought looked like Rodriguez. He then found more photos: One that appeared to be him with a woman in Las Vegas, another taken with some children at the Griffith Observatory.
So began a new search that ended this week with Rodriguez’s arrest. It left officials marveling at how a search of Facebook did what years of “wanted” bulletins and even a segment on “America’s Most Wanted” could not.
The Facebook discovery marked the beginning of an investigation that would take several months. Police found an address for the woman’s house and began a stakeout, waiting for Rodriguez to appear, said Laura Vega, a deputy U.S. marshal.
“We just had surveillance until we saw his face and then we knew we were right,” Vega said.
On Thursday, with a Riverside County Sheriff’s Department helicopter hovering above, authorities waited for Rodriguez to come out.
About 6:30 p.m., Rodriguez walked out of the home and got into his car to go to work, authorities said. Marshals let him go down the street a short distance “so he couldn’t jump out and run back inside his house,” Vega said.
“He saw us and knew immediately what it was about. He didn’t even try to hide his identity,” Vega said. “You could see that moment when he knew what it was about and just gave up.”
Rodriguez didn’t resist and told marshals that he had been living under a pseudonym for five years, Vega said. His criminal record is under the Rodriguez name, but his biological name is Juan Carlos Campos Gamino. He was using a third name in Riverside, she added.
It turned out Rodriguez had a fiance and was living with her and her children. They didn’t know he was a wanted man, Vega said.
“She seemed genuinely pretty shocked,” she said.
Neighbors on Farnham Place were also stunned.
Jacqueline Wilson, 56, said Rodriguez and the family moved in about a year ago. They kept to themselves, and Wilson said her son sometimes complained that Rodriguez glared at him when he came home.
“The guy would be out there staring him down,” Wilson said. “My brother said the same thing…. We’re like the old people on the block, been here since ’58. Yeah, he wasn’t very friendly.”
Authorities said Rodriguez fled Los Angeles for Mexico in 2003. They believe he reentered the country before 2009.
Police say that Rodriguez was the second in command of the Toonerville street gang when he was charged with four counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. Court documents show that he was wanted in connection with the slayings of Bryham Robinson, 36, Mary Ann Wisotsky, 64, and her daughter Cheri Lynne Wisotsky, 45, on Aug. 8, 2001.
The shooting in Atwater Village received considerable media attention. At a 2002 LAPD news conference seeking leads in the case, one member of the Wisotsky family described the killings as executions.
The LAPD said Rodriguez killed the three victims as they were sitting in Mary Ann Wisotsky’s car because the gang believed Cheri Lynne Wisotsky had been talking to police.
Rodriguez was also charged in the 2001 shooting death of Marjorie Mendoza, 25, in Atwater Village, and two attempted murders.
Los Angeles County prosecutors said Rodriguez was a top deputy to Timothy McGhee, the infamous head of the Toonerville gang.
Rodriguez is being held without bail; his arraignment will be scheduled at a later date.
Authorities did not release the name of the investigator who cracked the case, citing concerns for his security