Task force alerted to latest O.C. death of homeless man
The body of a middle-aged homeless man was discovered early Monday behind an audio and tire shop by an employee opening for business, and detectives are investigating whether the death is tied to a string of fatal stabbings believed to be the work of a serial killer preying on homeless men.
The shop where the body was found is about a quarter-mile from the Santa Ana River, where transients are known to frequent.
The discovery was made just after 9 a.m. when a worker spotted the body lying near the right passenger door of a brown truck that locals said the victim was known to sleep in, said Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
Investigators had covered the truck with a large sheet Monday afternoon while waiting for a coroner's official to arrive.
Bertagna said there were no obvious signs of trauma, but there was a large amount of blood in the truck. The other victims linked to the killer all died of stab wounds.
"Obviously, for us this is just like any other investigation," Bertagna said. "It's no different than any other homicide."
Santa Ana police have been in contact with a joint task force created last week in response to the killings of homeless men in neighboring cities. Police said they believe the slayings are probably the work of one person.
The killings began shortly before Christmas.
Santa Ana police said they are still trying to determine the nature of the latest man's death and said it's too early to connect it to the others.
"We are trying to determine whether this is a homicide or a death by natural causes," said Cpl. Jim Rose.
Across the county, at the urging of authorities, many of the homeless are seeking beds at emergency shelters, or making sure to sleep in groups outdoors, and taking pains to make themselves less conspicuous on the streets and in riverbeds.
Each of the three homeless stabbing victims, authorities say, was alone when attacked. James Patrick McGillivray, 53, was killed near a shopping center in Placentia on Dec. 20; Lloyd Middaugh, 42, was found near a riverbed trail in Anaheim on Dec. 28; and Paulus Smit, 57, was found outside a Yorba Linda library Dec. 30.
-- Nicole Santa Cruz
Photo: Santa Ana police cover a truck near where the body of a middle-aged homeless man was found early Monday. Photo: Nicole Santa Cruz