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Slain homeless men’s families grateful for efforts to catch killer

A mug shot of a wide-eyed man with a full-grown beard flashed on the evening news. The television reporter said he had been stabbed to death in Placentia.

Rebecca McGillivray said she knew the image was her father, but it was not the man she remembered.

Instead, she provided a description of a different man than the one on the broadcast. Her father, James Patrick McGillivray, 53, was the first homeless man to be murdered in a string of stabbings that began Dec. 20 in northern Orange County. She described him as a “blast” — a fun-loving father who could always provide a laugh.

Though she hadn’t had contact with him in about a decade, she spoke fondly of him, while grappling with how he died.

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“To find out this happened to my father, it’s horrendous,” she said.

While the family members of the victims anxiously await police phone calls and updates, some say they are grateful for the efforts thus far, including a roadblock conducted Tuesday night.

Police returned to the scene of the crime, interviewing drivers across the street from the Placentia shopping center where McGillivray was killed, looking for any information in the case. Two other men, Paulus Smit, 57, and Lloyd Middaugh, 42, were also killed in recent weeks. A task force involving five law enforcement agencies is investigating the crimes.

Sometimes, police canvassing is used to investigate drug crimes or child abductions. But rarely is it used in Orange County.

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“This is the first time I have ever been a part of one, and honestly the first time in the area that I’ve ever seen that form of information-gathering employed,” said Sgt. Bob Dunn, public information officer for the Anaheim Police Department. He added that the strategy remains an option, if needed.

“We obtained information for the task force to follow up on,” said Dunn, who would not comment on the specific findings of the canvassing.

So far, authorities believe the homicides are the work of a serial killer, and have released grainy photographs captured from surveillance video that show a male suspect dressed in dark clothing. A white, late-model Toyota Corolla is also a vehicle of interest.

One woman in a black Yukon who was stopped during the canvassing told authorities that she drives the route almost daily. She had seen McGillivray on the streets but had never spoken with him. She said she didn’t know anything about the white car. “I’m out here all the time,” she said. “I see so many white cars.”

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LaDonna McGillivray, 55, of Pomona, said she separated from Rebecca McGillivray’s father 20 years ago but has good memories of him.

When she had Rebecca, now 26, and James, 25, LaDonna said McGillivray was a great help, and always joked.

McGillivray also had epilepsy, LaDonna said, and she suspects that may have contributed to his eventual life on the streets.

Years ago, she was attracted to his “big blue eyes” and hearty laugh, she said, recalling how he took her on a first date to a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant to accommodate her daughter, Meleana, then 9.

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“That was definitely a big plus in his favor,” she said.

Of McGillivray’s killer, she said, “I am thinking that he is going to be tortured inside, and he will turn himself in.”

Meanwhile, Rebecca McGillivray is grateful that the police are focusing on the crimes; she too is hopeful that the killer will be caught.

Though her father separated from her mother when Rebecca was a child, she and her brother, James, would visit with him often.

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She would play his records — he liked classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and the Doors — and the two siblings would go on bike rides or visit the park with their father.

“We were always doing things,” Rebecca said.

She and her brother fell out of touch with McGillivray when they were teenagers. When she was 18, Rebecca had a son named Raymond James and tried to rekindle the relationship with her father, but was unsuccessful.

Then last month, two days before Christmas, she got a call from the Placentia Police Department. Still, she refuses to let the image of that mug shot replace the man she knew as a child. Instead, she focuses on how she remembered him: a casual dresser, clean-shaven, with a baseball cap and a smile.

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“He would have been an awesome grandpa,” she said.

McGillivray wasn’t the only one with grandchildren. Paulus Smit, who was killed Dec. 30 outside a Yorba Linda library, had 10 grandchildren, said his oldest daughter, Julia Smit-Lozano of Anaheim.

She said the children all called him Opa, and described her father as a “good man who always had a smile on his face.”

She said the outreach — from the whistles handed out by the Orange County Rescue Mission to the members of the Guardian Angels patrolling the area — has been positive.

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“I just really hope it brings the person to justice,” she said.

The family of Lloyd Middaugh could not be reached for comment.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com


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