After more than 10 years on the run, suspected L.A. hospital molester is captured in Guatemala
The Christmas card sent to Los Angeles Police Det. Ninette Toosbuy asked a simple question: Have you caught him yet?
Toosbuy had taken on the case of Eduardo Ramon Rodas Gaspar, a nursing assistant at the former Tarzana Hospital who was accused in 2006 of molesting numerous female patients. He had skipped bail, fled the country and was living in his native Guatemala.
Toosbuy told the women she would not retire until Gaspar was captured. But for more than 10 years, the answer to the Christmas card’s question was always the same.
“Knowing the answer was no, that just broke my heart,” Toosbuy said.
Last week, that all changed when Gaspar, 48, was extradited from Guatemala to the United States. He was immediately taken into LAPD custody at Los Angeles International Airport, police said.
“I am greatly relieved that not only will justice be served, but that I can also retire,” Toosbuy told reporters Thursday as she recounted the decade she spent trying to find him.
Police began investigating Gaspar in 2006, when patient Courtney Rosenberg reported that she had been sexually assaulted after undergoing an emergency surgery at the hospital.
After interviewing Rosenberg, Toosbuy reached out to the hospital to see if there had been other complaints. Two other female patients had told the hospital he assaulted them, but the hospital — which has since changed owners — never reported the incidents to police and allowed Gaspar to stay on staff, Toosbuy said.
Gaspar was arrested in June 2006 on suspicion of three counts of sexually assaulting women, according to the LAPD. A few weeks later, Toosbuy held a news conference, showing Gaspar’s photograph and asking other potential victims to come forward.
In all, 13 women — ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s — reported being assaulted while in the hospital, Toosbuy said. Some of the women said they were still under the influence of anesthetics at the time of the attacks, authorities said.
Gaspar currently faces charges for assaulting eight women, prosecutors said.
Eleven years ago, Toosbuy had a nagging feeling that he would post bail and flee once he learned other victims had come forward, she told The Times. When she came to an early court hearing and did not see him, her heart sank.
Gaspar had disappeared, along with his wife and then-6-year-old son, according to the LAPD. He left behind an adult daughter and other relatives in Los Angeles, Toosbuy said.
“When he ran, it was very hard for me to have to pick up the phone and have to call all of the women and say, look, he skipped bail,” Toosbuy said, sighing.
“This is where the cop in me comes out: I was like, the hunt is on,” Toosbuy said.
As the years passed, she kept in touch with the women, telling them she had not forgotten them and was still working on the case. Those first few years, there were thank you cards and letters. But they slowed as time marched on.
Toosbuy was scolded at work for promising the victims she would not retire until Gaspar was caught. But she meant it, she said.
The LAPD launched an international manhunt for Gaspar. The TV show “America’s Most Wanted” included a profile of him, and a $50,000 reward was offered by the Los Angeles City Council.
The tips came by the dozen. Authorities said he could be working as a masseuse or at a medical clinic and noted that Gaspar, a U.S. citizen, had family members in Mexico, Colorado and Northern California. But the tips suggested he was living in Guatemala, where he was born.
Toosbuy, herself an immigrant from Denmark, knew that Gaspar would have a detailed immigration package. She learned where Gaspar, who came to the U.S. as an adult, had family living in Guatemala, and where he grew up, went to school and got married.
She was infuriated by Gaspar, who was in the process of becoming a registered nurse at the time of his arrest.
“Here is a man who leaves Guatemala, comes to the United States and for all intents and purposes is living the American dream,” Toosbuy said. “He owns a home, he’s got a family, he’s got a good job, he’s about to get a better job.”
Toosbuy had a hunch that because he was on the run, Gaspar would return to a part of Guatemala with which he was familiar.
Police, with the help of Guatemalan authorities, confirmed about five years ago that Gaspar was living in there, working as a medic, and began a years-long extradition process, she said.
He was taken into custody in Guatemala City on Feb. 13 and was flown back to the U.S. on June 29, prosecutors said.
With Gaspar back in the U.S., Toosbuy began the process again of calling the women.
Rosenberg, who was the first to report him to police, said in an interview that she saw the detective’s number on her phone last week and froze.
“I thought, ‘Oh my god, is this it?’” Rosenberg said. “Or is she just calling to let me know that she’s still there, that she’s still working on it?”
Her assault, Rosenberg said, took place during her first-ever stay in a hospital. She had initially trusted Gaspar because he was a medical professional, she said.
“I was sick. I was in pain. He had scrubs on; he had a badge,” she said.
She has been haunted by the attack, she said. When she had a daughter two years ago, the birth took some coordinating with doctors and her family because she did not want to be left alone at any time in the hospital.
“What should be a really, really wonderful, happy experience was really overshadowed by my own fears,” she said. “I didn’t sleep for the first three nights I had my daughter. My body wouldn’t let me. I think I was too scared.”
Rosenberg is relieved Gaspar is behind bars. She plans to tell her daughter, some day, that “Mommy stood up. Mommy did the right thing.”
Anna Arnett of Porter Ranch said Thursday that she was at the Tarzana hospital a few weeks after Rosenberg for an emergency surgery, after which she was temporarily immobile. Gaspar, she said, led her to a shower.
“It was my first shower. I hadn’t been able to bathe for days. I was so relieved to get out of my bed and be able to shower, and that’s where it occurred,” she said of the alleged attack, her voice wavering.
Arnett was a single mother of three at the time.
“You just kind of put it in a box and don’t deal with it because you have to go forward,” she said.
Arnett has mixed emotions now that Gaspar is in custody. She’s relieved, of course, she said. But she does not like having to think about and talk about him again.
Gaspar has been charged with seven counts of sexual battery by fraud, five counts of sexual penetration by foreign object and three counts of sexual battery on an institutionalized victim, said Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Gaspar pleaded not guilty in 2006 before fleeing and pleaded not guilty again Monday on an amended complaint, Santiago said. He is scheduled to appear in a Van Nuys courtroom Friday.
If convicted as charged, he faces a possible maximum sentence of 26 years in state prison, according to the district attorney’s office. He is being held without the possibility of bail.
Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.
July 6, 4:10 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with new information from police and interviews with two women who have accused Gaspar of assault.
This article was originally published at 8:50 p.m. July 5.
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