A "murder warrant" has been issued for a man now identified as a suspect in the slaying of three family members near Palmdale earlier this month, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced Wednesday night.
Authorities previously called 54-year-old James "Todd" Brown a "person of interest" in the triple homicide, but said there was enough evidence to identify him as the suspect in the case, according to a sheriff's bulletin.
An investigation began when three adults and three dogs were found dead in a home on West Avenue N-12 on the afternoon of Jan. 13 after a sister of one of the victims went to the home to celebrate her brother's birthday. When the family was nowhere to be found, she asked deputies to perform a welfare check on the residents.
Inside, investigators found a gruesome scene, with the three victims all suffering from traumatic injuries. They had been stabbed, suffocated and bludgeoned to death, authorities said.
The three were identified as 78-year-old Richard Gardner II, his wife, 56-year-old Pepper Gardner, and his son, 52-year-old Richard Gardner III.
Brown, a friend of the Gardner family, rented a trailer on the property and has since disappeared, according to authorities. He lived on the property for about two years, working odd jobs to make money, said Lt. John Corina of the sheriff's Homicide Bureau.
Corina said investigators believe Brown was apparently involved in a dispute with the family, and that it escalated.
The suspect is described as white, with brown and gray hair, and brown eyes, according to the sheriff's bulletin. He is about 6-feet tall and weighs approximately 265 pounds, according to the bulletin.
Brown is believed to be driving a 2002 silver Toyota pickup with a camper shell, with California license plate No. 42198C1. He may have a German shepherd with him.
Anyone who sees Brown is urged to dial 911.
Meanwhile, as the Sheriff's Department announced a suspect in the homicides, family and friends gathered outside the Palmdale area home on Wednesday night to honor the victims at a vigil.
“Just wonderful people. And it’s just their lives got taken away too soon.” said Mary Dean-Ronin, who was related to the victims.
Friends told KTLA that the son had moved in to help care for his father, who was bedridden after several strokes, and worked as a window washer in the area. They remembered Richard Gardner III as a kind and funny man who liked to carry out pranks and regularly attended church.
“I don’t understand. ... When I heard about it, I couldn’t believe it. It was like, who would want to do that to Richard," said his friend, Maria Ochoa.
Added Patty McKenzie, a friend from church: “It’s just sad that something like this could happen to such a nice family.”