Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

LA Forensics: West Hollywood Hustle

The Hunt
Pays Off

Detective Sergeant Bert Luper
Detective Sergeant Bert Luper

In December 1993, Detectives Fred Miller and Bud Watts prepared to interview Juan in prison. They invited Detective Sergeant Bert Luper along, because he spoke fluent Spanish. But it did not prove easy to interview Chavez and it took a couple of visits before they got solid information about the three LAPD murders Randolph, Bayis, and Klugman.

Actors as Juan and Cruz Chavez
Actors as Juan and Cruz Chavez

At first, Juan denied any involvement. However, the detectives knew that if Juan had any conscience at all, they had some leverage his brother. He could either corroborate what Cruz had told them or implicate him in criminal activity that could put him in prison for life, or worse.

Juan apparently realized he was trapped, so he waived his right to silence and agreed to make a statement that exonerated Cruz and provided detectives with the whole story. Even then, they had to apply pressure at times and remind him of their physical evidence against him.

Juan identified himself in the bank photos and signed the back of each. Then he admitted he had told Cruz the bank cards were legit and had encouraged him to use them. "I told him that I bought it from somebody and asked if he could make a favor for me. I was thinking only of myself." His brother knew nothing about the murders, he insisted, and did not realize he was committing robbery. Chavez estimated that he had ended up with about $400 from the robberies, far below what he had really taken.

Then the detectives asked him about each of the cars and he explained how he had first seen them and what had happened. The first incident from 1996 involved Sergio Rodriquez, he said. They had been together late one evening, walking along, when the man drove by, stopped and asked for directions. He then offered them both $50 to come with him for sex. They got in. Chavez had a knife and decided to use it. When they arrived at the man's apartment, they tied him up, forced him to reveal his personal ID number for his ATM card, and then together they strangled him with a ligature. Chavez made off with the VCR and stereo, while Rodriguez took the car. He said he never saw Rodriguez again after that.

In the next instance three years later, Chavez was alone. This time he accepted a drink from his victim and when the man began to touch him, he decided to kill him. Chavez excused himself to go into the bathroom, where he removed the knife and came out with it to threaten the man. He recalled taking a gold necklace but not a ring. He also removed cash from a wallet.

Chavez provided his MO and motive, which was consistent in all five cases. Often, he met his victims while attempting to purchase illegal drugs on Vermont Avenue or near Echo or Elysian parks. He would be walking along and they'd drive up and offer him money for sex. He'd get in the car and they would take him home.

"Hey, man," he told the police, "I don't look for them. They come to me all the time."

While not gay himself, Chavez accepted the solicitations of gay men, just for the money. But he despised them. In the case of those he killed, he said that each enjoyed being bound as part of their sexual activity, so it was easy to get them under his control. He would tell them to disrobe and then go into the bathroom to prepare. He would then arm himself with a knife. [This part of the story rings false, because if it's what they wanted as part of the sexual activity, he would not have had to leave the room to prepare a weapon.]

Once bound, willingly or not, they were vulnerable, so he would use a knife to threaten them. If they did not give him the PINs to their ATM cards, he'd say he would kill them. Frightened, they gave him the information he sought, and once he had it he strangled them, taking their cars, other items, and their ATM cards. Chavez said he could recall doing this only four times.

But his motive apparently went beyond mere self-enrichment. He meant to punish his victims as well, for being gay and for having sexual contact with strangers.

Watch this story and many others from the case files of the LAPD's Scientific Investigation Division, which solves crimes using cutting edge forensics. Only on Court TV. Learn more.

 

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