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Mystery over cemetery slayings sparks fear and rumors in California town

Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- On a brisk Sunday evening, four men shared food and drinks before stumbling the next morning into a humble little cemetery dotted with leafless trees.

They came to pay their respects to an old friend, Uver Hernandez Castaneda.

Only one of the men would walk out of Perris Valley Cemetery.

Near the grave of Hernandez Castaneda, lay the bodies of three of the men. The fourth, Jose Luis Torres Garcia, has become the subject of a manhunt.

Detectives say the 33-year-old Torres Garcia killed Jaime Covarrubias Espindola, 50; Jose Maria Aguilar-Espejel, 38; and Rodrigo Aguilar-Espejel, 28.

The triple killing Feb. 17 in this Riverside County town of nearly 78,000 people caused a ripple of fear after the sheriff invoked the specter of cartel involvement.

 

Sheriff Chad Bianco was attempting to quell residents' concerns at a news conference, saying they should not feel in danger and that the killings were not related to several others in the county. On Feb. 2, a man was shot at an Arco gas station across from Perris' Mariscos Playa de Ixtapa restaurant, and 10 days later, a man was killed at a nearby park. (A couple days after the cemetery killings, three women were found dead in pools of blood inside a home in nearby Hemet.)

"We're receiving some of the same information that you are, that it's gang related, that it's cartel related," Bianco said. "We're looking into all of that."

The sheriff didn't answer questions about how the men were killed, whether a weapon was used or how they were found. Autopsies were completed Monday, but coroner officials referred questions to homicide investigators. The investigator on the case, Alberto Loureiro, declined to speak to a Los Angeles Times reporter about the details.

Asked if the men were killed "execution style" during the news conference, Sheriff Bianco said: "You could get into semantics of what you would call it but it certainly seems that way."

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