Beyond the murky surveillance photo, police aren’t revealing much about the suspect. He could merely be a predatory homeless person capitalizing on his compadres’ vulnerability. He could be some hellbent psychopathic Travis Bickle PTSD basket case raining down holy vengeance on the “scum.” He could be a thrill killer poaching easy prey—it’s even easier than killing prostitutes, and the victims probably get less sympathy than hookers. Or it could actually be three different killers going through the same gang-initiation ritual.
Since this is California, there was also speculation that the killer might be a lone-wolf Satanist offering up crippled street goats as sacrifice. When Vaughn Orrin Greenwood, LA’s notorious “Skid Row Slasher,” dispatched with an estimated eleven hapless winos in the 1960s and 1970s, he allegedly tossed in a few occultic twists such as drinking his victims’ blood and sprinkling salt around their heads. And Bobby Joe Maxwell, AKA “The Skid Row Stabber,” was convicted of two—and suspected of up to ten—murders of LA hobos in the late 1970s, although a judge recently ordered him a new trial. Maxwell’s original prosecutor depicted him as a Satanist who offered up dead souls for his dark master’s pleasure.
With all those surfers and serial killers and debutantes and paranoid schizophrenics and real-estate developers and Dumpster-divers, it’s scary out there. So what’s a worried Orange County vagabond to do?
A website for Orange County’s homeless—or at least those with computers—is giving updates on the serial-killer situation. Local charities have been handing out hundreds of emergency kits to the area’s vagrants, enabling them to whistle loudly and to frantically wave around a tiny flashlight should someone emerge from the shadows and suddenly begin stabbing them. Frightened out of whatever wits they have left, many of the OC’s homeless have crowded into public shelters over the past week.
But others are vowing to stay on the streets and fight back. A six-foot-two ex-boxer named Cary Singletary has his whistle and his flashlight ready should something go terribly wrong on the Santa Ana streets he calls home. He says he sleeps on public buses and now spends his waking hours seeking to avenge “my people” in their quest to “get the sick-minded coward” who’s been picking them off one-by-one. “If that serial killer wants to come at us, he’ll have his hands full,” Singletary told the Los Angeles Times. “We’ve got some soldiers out here. I’m just one of them. If that whistle goes off, you’ll have a whole army of homeless on him.”
In the opening scenes of the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, sociopathic young gang leader Alex and his band of droogies mercilessly stomp the feathers out of a belching old alcoholic bum singing to himself in a dark underpass. Much later in the film after Alex undergoes a chemical “rehabilitation,” the crusty old derelict recognizes him in the daylight and leads his own pack of stinking grubby urchins in a revenge attack. In one maniacal group lunge, they kick and poke and punch and grab and drool on this cowardly punk who needed a whole gang to beat up an old man. Before the mob of angry bums managed to finish off Alex, a pair of cops rescued him. (Coincidentally, the newly employed Bobbies were his former crime partners, who proceeded to club him unconscious themselves.)
This time around, the predator may bite off more angry bums than he can chew. That “whole army of homeless” could be a more efficient killing machine than a solo punk with a knife.
If it wasn’t all so sordid, it might even seem heroic.
UPDATE: A 23-year-old man named Itzcoatl Ocampo has been arrested and is being held in connection with what are now four murders.