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Police seek possible second suspect in string of killings

November 5, 2010 | 10:05 am

John Wesley Ewell, 53, was arrested Oct. 23. Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department A Harbor Gateway man in custody on charges that he killed four people during three separate home-invasion robberies has continued to communicate with another suspect who is still using one of the victim's debit cards, sheriff's officials said.

John Wesley Ewell, 53, was arrested Oct. 23 for the string of killings that includes an 80-year-old man, a woman who lives on the same block as Ewell, and a couple inside their Hawthorne home.

Sheriff Lee Baca and investigators are expected Friday morning to appeal for the public's help finding a possible second suspect. That man, who authorities believe has been contacted by Ewell from jail, continues to make purchases from one of the victim's debit cards. The man was captured on video using the card at a market.

Investigators also allege that Ewell may have pawned or given away jewelry and valuables allegedly stolen from the victims. They are hoping the public will help locate the stolen property.

Baca is scheduled to appear at a press conference at 10 a.m. Friday.

While Ewell's neighbors describe him as a popular and likeable local handyman, investigators characterized him as a "career criminal" with two strikes and convictions for forgery, robbery and burglary dating back to the 1980s. Prior to the slayings, he was charged in September with an unrelated felony for allegedly burglarizing a Hawthorne Home Depot store.

The string of killings began Sept. 24 when Ewell, possibly posing as a utility worker, entered the Hawthorne home of Hannah Morcos, 80, in the 4100 block of 137th street about 3:40 p.m.

A grainy video from a neighbor's security camera captured an image from across the street. Morcos, an Egyptian native and retired county employee, suffered a fatal heart attack while gagged and bound, investigators say. Morcos' wife was asleep in the house at the time of the attack and was not injured.

On Oct. 13, prosecutors say Ewell struck closer to home -- allegedly killing a neighbor who lived just two door down from his home in the 12600 block of Hoover Street. Prosecutor said Denice Roberts, 53, was found bound, gagged and strangled inside her home.

A week later, authorities and Morcos' family made a public appeal during a televised news conference to appeal for help capturing his killer. The sheriff, investigators and Morcos' family  during a televised news conference on Oct. 21 made a public appeal for help in capturing his killer.

But the very next day, prosecutors allege Ewell conned his way into the home of Leamon Turnage, 69, and his wife, Robyn, 57, in the 4100 block of West 142nd Street. He allegedly bound and gagged the couple and ransacked the home, taking jewelry, valuables and credit cards. Turnage, a plumber and contractor, was killed in his garage, then the suspect went into the home and strangled his wife, according to prosecutors.

Within 24 hour, detectives arrested Ewell after he used the Turnages' ATM card at a Shell gas station. Video from the gas station security camera captured the vehicle, Ewell's 1992 Nissan Altima. Police spotted the car and arrested Ewell.

Sheila Spinks, Ewell's neighbor, said Ewell worked with his father doing home repairs or construction. Whenever she needed help with anything, he would fix it and not ask for any payment.

"Everyone is very surprised," Spinks said. "His wife is devastated. It is a shock to everybody that knows him. He likes to talk to kids, tell them to stay out of trouble, stay on the right path. This seems way out of his character."

-- Richard Winton

Photo: John Wesley Ewell, 53, was arrested Oct. 23. Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department


Click to visit The Times' interactive Homicide Report

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