Pepper Gardner, 56
Pepper Gardner, a 56-year-old white woman, was pronounced dead on Saturday, Jan. 13, after suffering “trauma to the body” in the 1100 block of West Avenue N12 in Palmdale, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide investigators.
Deputies went to Gardner’s modest Palmdale home around 2:25 p.m. after her daughter-in-law asked authorities to check on her family, said Lt. John Corina.
The daughter was worried, Corina said, because she hadn’t been able to reach anyone at the house where her disabled brother, Richard Gardner III, 52, lived with their father, Richard Gardner II, 78, and the elder man's wife, Pepper Gardner.
When deputies arrived they found the elder Richard Gardner II dead in the small, single-level house, Corina said. A short while later, investigators found his wife and son dead in another part of the house.
All three suffered “trauma to their bodies” that did not involve gunfire, Corina said, but he wouldn’t provide more details about the cause of death or where their bodies were found in the house.
Investigators have put a security hold on the autopsy results until the investigation is completed, meaning the cause of death can’t be made public.
Pepper Gardner and her husband did not work outside the home, Corina said. The son, Richard Gardner III, suffered head trauma when he was younger, leaving him with a slight mental disability, Corina said, “but the son did work. He’d go into town and do odd jobs and wash windows for businesses to make some extra money. He was more like a handyman.”
Corina said investigators believe the victims were all killed within a day of when they were found, but they are still trying to piece together what happened, and when.
“We don’t think it was a robbery or burglary,” Corina said. “And we don’t think they were all sleeping or killed in their beds. We think they were conscious and awake when this went down.”
Four days after the bodies were found, investigators identified a “person of interest” in the case, James “Todd” Brown, a 54-year-old white male who lived in a trailer on the Gardner’s five-acre property and has been missing since the bodies were found.
Brown “was renting a space from them, and he lived there for one or two years, up until the time they were killed,” Corina said. “We don’t have enough evidence to say he’s a suspect, but he’s definitely someone we want to talk to.”
Investigators released a photo of Brown and his 2002 silver Toyota pickup with a camper shell and license plate 42198C1, and said he has friends and relatives who live in the Antelope Valley and Inland Empire.
Anyone with information is asked to call Det. Gail Durham or Sgt. Eric Arias at the sheriff's Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500. Those wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.
Photo above: Investigators have identified James"Todd" Brown as a person of interest in the triple homicide that killed Richard Gardner II, his wife and his adult son. Brown was a tenant on the Gardner's property, authorities say. Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Homicide Bureau.