The murders of three homeless, middle-aged men since Dec. 20 have police scrambling to caution the “significant” homeless population in Orange County, according to Anaheim police spokesman Sgt. Bob Dunn, ABC reports.
Anaheim police, together with neighboring police departments, the county sheriff, and the FBI, are warning homeless people throughout the area to take precautions, including traveling and sleeping in well-lit, well-populated areas.
They have launched a campaign to get the information to the vulnerable population, handing out fliers, notifying homeless shelters and soup kitchens, and asking churches to notify those who seek services, Dunn said.
In a span of 10 days last month, three transient men were killed in Anaheim, Brea and Placentia, according to police.
The body of the first victim, James McGillivray, 53, was found in Placentia on Dec. 20 outside a shopping center. The second victim was found eight days later on the Santa Ana River Trail in Anaheim, and identified as Lloyd Middaugh, 42. The third victim, identified as Paulus Cornelius Smit, 57, was found behind the Yorba Linda library, according to The New York Times.
The victims were alone when the attacks happened, said Dunn. But two of the murders occurred in public spaces, one at a strip mall around 8 p.m., and one outside of a library just before closing time, around 5 p.m. Passersby reported the crimes to the police, he said.
The other victim was killed along a riverside trail and discovered during the early morning hours by a jogger.
“Each victim was stabbed multiple times,” said Sgt. Bob Dunn of the Anaheim Police Department.
“There are some additional similarities between the victims that we are not going to discuss,” he said.
Dunn declined to comment on the weapon or other leads connecting the three attacks, informs CNN.
Police released a surveillance camera photo of the suspect taken on December 20. It shows the suspect standing a few feet away from the victim, who appears to be lying on the ground next to a strip mall, according to police.
Meanwhile, demand for beds at some shelters was up as much as 40 percent in the last couple of days, while other shelters have been inundated with calls from frightened homeless people wondering if the killer has been caught, whom he is targeting and where they can go.
Jim Palmer, president of the Orange County Rescue Mission, said the prospect of a serial killer in their midst had shaken the county’s homeless like nothing he had seen in the last two decades.
“People are very, very anxious about the situation,” Mr. Palmer said. “This is just so evil that somebody would go after the least, the last and the lost of our community: homeless people on their own.”
A lot of chronic homeless people, however, after years on the street, become wary of shelters and sleeping near others. Mr. Palmer said several organizations planned to conduct a major outreach effort, offering flashlights, whistles and cards with safety information tips, like sleeping in a group instead of alone.
Police are asking the public to call in with any helpful information to the task force hotline: 714-765-1944.