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Body of Palmdale triple murder suspect found decomposing in truck in desert

James “Todd” Brown, a suspect in a triple murder in Palmdale, was found dead in the bed of his pickup truck.
(Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

Authorities on Tuesday identified a man whose body was found in the bed of a pickup over the weekend as the suspect in the slayings of three people and their three dogs in Palmdale last month.

Detectives had been searching for James “Todd” Brown for weeks after naming him as a person of interest — then a suspect — in the killings of a married couple and a son.

Richard Gardner II, 78; his wife, Pepper Gardner, 56; and the man’s son, Richard Gardner III, 52, were found stabbed, beaten and suffocated to death in their home on Jan. 13. The family’s dogs were also beaten to death.

Someone called authorities Sunday after seeing a decomposing body in a Toyota Tacoma off a dirt road in Lancaster, about 15 miles west of Highway 395.

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In the truck, authorities found an assault rifle, “quite a bit” of ammunition, Brown’s dog — alive — and some food, said Lt. John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “Thankfully he didn’t hurt anybody else.”

Brown’s cause of death has not been determined, but investigators did not see obvious signs of trauma on his body. It’s unclear when Brown died, but “he looked like he’d been there for a few days,” Corina said.

Brown had lived in a trailer on the family’s two-plus-acre property in Palmdale for about two years, paying them rent and doing odd jobs.

The killings may have stemmed from a rent dispute, which had recently become particularly heated between Brown and Pepper Gardner, Corina said.

Brown had also recently lost a workers’ compensation claim for disability, which Corina said “may have had something to do with his state of mind.”

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Twitter: @AleneTchek


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