Update: OK. This could not possibly get more ridiculous. SOMEONE JUST SET THE HOUSE ON FIRE.
Update: A suspect is under arrest! Sheriff's investigators found him near Beverly and Rosemead Boulevards in Pico Rivera. We assume the man in question is Marcos Lomeli (refer to character list after jump).
Update: The search for a second body has been postponed due to rain. Apparently, even the coroner's superstar digging team is too SoCal to do the whole icky mud thing.
Landlords suck and all, but we can generally agree that they don't deserve to be murdered and buried in their own backyards, right? Even if the roof is falling off and the shutters are replaced with dirty sheets and the front door has an office chair for a deadbolt... right?
Unfortunately, L.A. sheriff's deputies suspect that murder and backyard burial may have been the case for 53-year-old James Stein, who's been missing since December 17 (his mother was the first to notice). He also happens to own a dilapidated green house near 112th Street and Inglewood Avenue in Lennox, behind which the body of a middle-aged man was dug up yesterday, making him a pretty obvious candidate for victimhood.
The Daily Breeze described the run-down digs, which neighbors call a "drug house" and a "hangout" (oh geez):
Stein's small green house is in disrepair. The roof shingles are falling off, the shutters are broken, and a pile of palm fronds and trash littered the front yard today. The front window was covered with a dirty white sheet and bars. An office chair was placed in front of the door, with a piece of wood and the name "Jimmy" scrawled on it in large letters.
Wow. (On a brief side note, can anyone say "Degrassi" upgrade: Office-chair Jimmy? Unrelated, we know. But profound. And the Daily Breeze noticed it, reminding us why we daily at the Breeze and not the News.)
Then we get a 'hood-ful of testimonies from residents, who've had the displeasure of actually living next to this shack:
Stein lived at the house ... with several other people who rented rooms, [sheriff's homicide Lieutenant Don] Slawson said. Neighbors called it a "drug house" and a "hangout."
A neighbor, who refused to give her name, said she often saw Stein riding his bike on the street. She described him as a "hippie."
How, exactly, sheriff's deputies became involved, and who may be to blame for the backyard-body fiasco, is still a little muddled. We'll try to pull out the key characters:
Unidentified Renter: Told the Sheriff's Department that a couple of acquaintances had visited the green house and asked him for a truck. When he asked why, they said they needed to move a couple bodies. When he didn't lend them the truck, they tied him up -- but he later escaped and tattled to the sheriff. Phew.
Jenny Salazar: Arrested on suspicion of "false imprisonment" (for tying up Unidentified Man, we presume). Led officers to backyard body.
Marcos Lomeli: Jenny Salazar's 26-year-old ex-boyfriend. Considered a "person of interest" in the case. Currently on the run "in a beige 1984 Chevrolet pickup, license 3T55454, with a bumper sticker on the rear of the truck that says, 'War is not the answer.'" (Whereas horror-movie-style homicide, apparently, is.)
James Stein: Aforementioned landlord and missing person. Probably also the dead man who was recovered from the backyard wrapped in cloth and plastic.
Gabriella Stein: James Stein's wife. Also missing. Currently being searched for in the backyard.
A team of diggers from the L.A. County Coroner's Office (out-of-work archeologists?) struck their first body on Tuesday morning, but are still searching for a second while "collecting more evidence." And, apparently, to add more shroudy enigma to the whole thing, the sheriff says a few other green-house renters also went missing a week ago.
Lastly, from the City News Service wire today:
A neighbor identified only as Carlos told ABC7 that he had been calling the sheriff's department about problems at the house for years. He said there had been numerous overdose deaths there, but "nothing ever seemed to turn up."
Well, something turned up. And we're officially spooked.
Update: Just hours after lead suspect Marcos Lomeli was arrested in Pico Rivera, sheriff's investigators swung by the now-infamous green shack -- only to find it engulfed in flames.
This multifaceted crime scheme has gotten so damn weird at this point that even the Associated Press picked it up tonight, releasing the following report at 9:45 p.m.:
County Fire Inspector Frederic Stowers said the fire was reported late Wednesday at the house in the Lennox area, hours after a man wanted for questioning in connection with the case was arrested. It took firefighters about 20 minutes to extinguish the blaze.
Stowers said firefighters saw heavy smoke and fire when they arrived. An arson unit is at the scene because the house is under criminal investigation.
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Might the second body, erm, not have made it all zee way into the backyard? Heh. Nothing would really surprise us at this point.
On Fox11 News, neighbors are telling reporters that, all of a sudden, the house just sort of exploded into flames -- that's when they called 911. But the fire's out now, and the house appears to still be standing, if shakily. (Can someone please just put it out of its misery already?)
Originally posted at 1:30 p.m.