A story for every victim

Female victims of homicide often know their killers

The victims vary in age. They were killed in upscale Stevenson Ranch and on the most dangerous streets of South L.A. The specifics may differ, but the homicides of women in Los Angeles County this year take on a deadly rhythm.

On Jan. 14, Mary Matsumoto, 72, was found shot to death in her San Pedro bedroom. Her husband has been charged with murder.

On Feb. 1, Yi-Tung Weng, 48, was tortured and stabbed to death in a downtown apartment. Her son has been charged with capital murder.

On March 5, Tanaya Shanette Goins, 32, was shot to death in her San Gabriel apartment. Her brother has been charged with murder.

On March 24, Klaudia Alas, 32, was found stabbed to death in a black Dodge truck in Van Nuys. Her boyfriend has been charged with murder.

A day later, Lakeisha Lynall, 32, was found shot to death in an alley in Westmont. Victor Terrazas, her boyfriend of about four years, was killed by deputies nearby. He was the only suspect in the slaying.

On April 12, Lucille Wills, 74, was found stabbed to death in a Carson bedroom. Her husband of more than 50 years was dead in the living room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

This year, 19 women have been killed in L.A. County, according to coroner's records. In the majority of cases where the suspect has been identified, the victim knew the assailant.

"When I was young, I was so afraid some strange man would come after me with a knife," said Katherine van Wormer, a professor of social work who wrote the book "Death by Domestic Violence." "When really, the people you need to be afraid of are the people in your family — especially when you break up."

About 93% of female homicide victims who are killed by men know their killers, according to a report released last year by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control. That number hasn't changed much over the last decade, said Josh Sugarmann, the center's founder.

Klaudia Alas

Sheriff's Lt. Dave Coleman said that in 10 years of working on homicide cases, those involving women routinely involve domestic violence or family members.

"Most of the time, we have an idea or a theory right away," he said.

Los Angeles Police Department Det. Greg Halka, who investigated the Matsumoto slaying, agrees. He estimated that in the Harbor Division where he works, half of the female victims knew their assailant.

"Any time a woman dies who is married or in a relationship, who is the first person you want to talk with?" he said.

But some cases are more difficult to solve. On Feb. 28, Najat Pennell, 41, was found stabbed to death on a bus bench in the 4000 block of Wilshire Boulevard.

Her daughter, Lia Davis, said that Pennell had been living on the streets since 2007. When she was killed, she had an iPod, a video recorder and some cash.

"I don't get why someone would stab her and not take the money she had on her," Davis said.

LAPD Det. John Skaggs has gone to the area at least 40 times since the slaying. Skaggs said Pennell was probably killed about 3 a.m., so he's been back as early as 2:30 a.m. to try to find witnesses.

"Nobody is out," he said. "Nobody is hearing anything, nobody is seeing anything. That makes it tough."

Davis said she dressed her mother for her funeral and applied makeup to her face, which was frozen in what Davis calls a "hurt" expression. She wonders whether her mother was caught by surprise.

"I'm absolutely lost," she said. "Why would someone want to hurt her?"

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photos: (Top) Family members of Klaudia Alas, including her three children, attend a  news conference announcing the arrest of Alas' boyfriend in her March slaying. (Bottom) Klaudia Alas was 32.  Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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