Texas man's wanderlust ends tragically in a South L.A. motel room
Soon after Robert Brewer's father died of brain cancer, the slender 21-year-old with shaggy blond hair began traveling from state to state.
Brewer, who went by "Robee," loved the independence found on the open road. Brewer's four older siblings wanted him to stay in Rowlett, Texas, about 20 miles northeast of Dallas, but they understood his wanderlust.
Friends and family were grateful to see Brewer's Facebook posts, sometimes informing them of where he was. He kept in touch with his mother via telephone.
Brewer spent time passing through Oregon and Montana. He talked about traveling farther, to Spain or Argentina.
On Nov. 9, 2013, not long after a short visit home, Brewer posted "on my way to Oregon" on his Facebook page. From there he planned to make his way down to California.
"He wasn't the homebody type," his sister, Rachelle Brewer, said. "He always wanted to be out doing something."
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Det. Louie Aguilera was called to a brown stucco motel off South Vermont Avenue about 11:15 a.m. on Jan. 23.
Aguilera knew the South L.A. neighborhood of Westmont well. He had worked as a gang investigator in the area for 12 years and expected a gang shooting.
Yellow tape surrounded the complex, and guests were confined to their rooms for questioning. Aguilera walked toward the back of the lot to room No. 20. Once inside, he saw blood everywhere in the simple room, which had a bed, powder blue walls and a flat-screen TV in the corner above a wooden desk.
A body lay face down on the bed, with long disheveled hair. Authorities found no identification. Deputies were told that a man named Oscar Bridges had checked in to the motel two days earlier. Bridges was described as a black man, 6 foot 2 and 180 pounds, with distinctive dreadlocks — not a match for the person on the bed. Motel employees told deputies they thought Bridges was alone.
As criminalists scoured the room for fingerprints and other evidence and a photographer snapped photos of the scene, detectives searched for information on Bridges' background.
He had a criminal record that included convictions for hit-and-run and assault with a deadly weapon. And he was a known sex offender who on multiple occasions failed to register, according to court records.
After midnight, authorities contacted various Los Angeles Police Department divisions and the West Hollywood sheriff's station with descriptions of Bridges.
In the following days, detectives interviewed a former employer, former co-workers and friends. "We started to do everything we could to get to know him," Aguilera said.
They learned that Bridges liked to keep himself in shape by hiking in the Hollywood area. He had been fired from a job in West Hollywood in December. He had met Brewer in Venice.
A security guard told detectives he ran into Bridges on a trail in Griffith Park on Jan. 25. The two spoke briefly, then parted.
The guard had no idea Bridges was wanted on suspicion of murder.
Four days later, the Sheriff's Department set up a search for Bridges in the Hollywood Hills. Had he been living there all along? Officers from the Police Department assisted, and between 75 and 100 officers and deputies took part in the search that began at 6 a.m. around the Greek Theatre, in Runyon Canyon and Griffith Park.
The search used helicopters and horses, and jarred area residents.
"They didn't want him in the neighborhood," Aguilera said.
The search produced more tips than any that Aguilera had ever had on a case in six years of working homicide.
One person said Bridges was at a Gelson's in the area. Another thought Bridges was walking on Hollywood Boulevard. But about 2 p.m., officers scaled down the effort.
Interviews with Bridges' acquaintances produced a new lead: He might be in San Francisco. Now, the search had extended more than 350 miles.
Authorities by then had used fingerprints to identify Brewer as the victim and notified his family. In Texas they prepared for a funeral, and a family friend raised money online for the expenses. His brother Ryan flew in from Thailand, where he does missionary work.
There were red and white flowers with a black ribbon that said "loving son" and a slide show with photos of Brewer and his family. Nearly 500 people attended.
In a video posted online, mourners remembered Brewer as an easy-going guy who wasn't afraid to show people his sensitive side. He was involved with the youth ministry at his church and would pray for other students.
"He was great at loving people," his brother Russell told those gathered.
While family members were eulogizing Brewer, the Sheriff's Department got a call. San Francisco police officers had spotted Bridges in the Mission District that afternoon. After a short chase, he had been arrested. Bridges has since been charged with one count of murder and has pleaded not guilty.
Brewer's family is waiting to learn more about the circumstances that led to his death and the man accused of killing him.
"You do have to wonder if this guy took advantage of his willingness to trust people," said his sister Rachelle.
Photos: (First) LAPD mounted patrol officers search at the Griffith Park Observatory as they assist the county Sheriff's Department in the search for the homicide suspect. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times. (Second) Robert Brewer in an undated photo. Credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department