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As trial nears in killing of Norwalk woman, her family remembers ‘Auntie DeDe’

You could use many different words to describe Denise Battey — "gentle,"  "loving," "elegant," "disciplined" — but a final descriptor, “stabbed to death in her own home,” doesn’t fit.

Battey was a fitness buff and vegetarian who arose at 4 every morning to exercise and water her vegetable garden, even though a back injury hampered her movement and kept her in constant pain. That’s where an assailant found the slender 50-year-old black woman the morning of Aug. 10, 2012, watering in the big backyard of her compact, tidy home on Allard Street in Norwalk.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Det. Ray Lugo said Battey was dragged inside between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., raped and stabbed repeatedly. She died in her bedroom, where deputies found her body that afternoon. Police went to the house after neighbors called with concerns about her well-being.


May 13, 1:15 p.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that Denise Battey's family requested that police check on her well-being. Neighbors called the police.

“She was just like the center of our family,” said Battey’s twin, Annise Battey. “I always co-existed with her; we were born together, raised in the same crib, went to college together and had the same majors." 

Denise Battey was one of five siblings.

“She was Auntie DeDe,” Annise Battey said. “She put $3 in a box every day, just to show how much you could save, and used the money to travel and give all seven of her nieces and nephew ski lessons. She was single, never married, and took my son and daughter almost every weekend.”

Her twin continued: “She kept portfolios for her nieces and nephew to help them get into college, then went on to help students she met at the library.… We had people from every culture in our backyard during her memorial who told us how she had touched their lives. That man who killed her had no clue who he was taking when he climbed over that wall.”

Authorities have arrested and charged Luis Diofron, also known as Luis Fernandez Diofron Lemus, a 22-year-old Guatemalan who was visiting the U.S. on a visa in 2012 and was staying with a family next to Denise Battey’s home. Diofron fled the United States after Battey’s slaying, Lugo said, and wasn’t found until about six months ago.

Diofron was charged with murder and special circumstance allegations that the killing was committed during the commission of a burglary and rape. He pleaded not guilty to the charge May 1, and is being held without bail at Los Angeles County jail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 24 at Los Angeles County Superior Court in Norwalk.

The search for Diofron wasn’t easy. Lugo said investigators believe he first fled to Tijuana and then to Guatemala. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office issued a warrant for his arrest in September 2012, but he wasn’t found until Dec. 4, 2014, when he was arrested in San Miguel, Escuintla, Guatemala, by the FBI’s Transnational Anti-Gang Task Force. The team of FBI agents and Guatemalan police focuses on gang-related crimes, but it also helps find fugitives suspected in major crimes in the U.S., FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

Lugo went to Guatemala to bring Diofron to the U.S. for trial. He said authorities put Diofron’s photo in a popular newspaper, offering a reward of about $1,500 for his capture. Diofron was arrested a couple of days later, Lugo said, in the home where he was living with his wife and baby.

“He told me he knew it was just a matter of time, because that’s a newspaper that everybody reads, and $1,500 is like the equivalent of seven months of work,” Lugo said. “He said even friends were coming to his mother and sister’s house, wanting to know where he was.”

Annise Battey says her sister didn’t know Diofron, but she was well known and liked in the neighborhood, where she often distributed her excess vegetables to neighbors.

Denise Battey

“A lot of her neighbors were devastated when they heard,” Annise Battey said. “We had a couple hundred people at her candlelight memorial.” People who knew her just couldn’t comprehend the way she died.

Annise Battey said her twin was “adored” by her siblings’ children and was especially close to her son, who has Down syndrome. “For over a year he was up every night, crying and pacing the hall, because he couldn’t understand where his Auntie DeDe had gone.”

After a back injury at work and two surgeries, Denise Battey gave up bicycling, one of her favorite activities, and took leave from her job as a systems analyst for the Social Security Administration. Her focus “was just surviving her pain,” Annise Battey said. But she never complained.

Denise Battey, who played basketball in high school and college, was also a big fan of the Los Angeles Sparks, and had season tickets for 15 years. “She missed maybe three games, so [the team's organization] noticed when she was gone, and they had a big memorial tribute to her,” Annise Battey said. The only times she missed was when her siblings’ children came to visit and she couldn’t get tickets for everyone to attend.

That’s just the way Denise Battey was, always thinking of others, her sister said. The night they moved her body from the house, Annise Battey remembered her sister’s savings box. She and the detectives searched the house and found it on a high shelf in the kitchen.

Inside were “stacks and stacks of $1 bills, nearly $3,000 in all, that she saved every day,” Annise Battey said. And at the bottom, under all the money, Denise Battey had left a simple note: “In case anything happens to me, this money should go to my nieces and nephew.”

-- Jeanette Marantos

Photos: Denise Battey in undated family photos.

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