By: Tim Houchen
June 19, 2019 —
There were two major news stories related to homelessness in Orange County that shocked the world and captivated the international news media spotlight over the course of six months beginning in July of 2011 through February 2012.
The first story was so big and had so much impact on the way homelessness is perceived today, that stories continue to make the news on occasions. That would be the beating and murder of Kelly Thomas at the hands of Fullerton Police in July of 2011. It was an event that is firmly impressed into the memories of people living in Orange County at the time, and it’s likely to remain the most memorable event in the history of homelessness in Orange County ever.
But, there was another homeless story that began to unfold a few months later during the Christmas holiday that same year in 2011 and continued to progress with heightened fear into the early months of 2012 right here in Orange County. Sadly, few remember when four homeless men were murdered over a few weeks time by a serial killer who stalked them like prey. This is their story.
On December 22, 2011 at 8:30 am, Placentia Police officers responded to reports of a body in a shopping center in the 100 block of North Bradford Ave. Police arrived at the scene to find a homeless man stabbed to death. Detectives had no suspect or motive, but indicated that the death would be investigated as a homicide. The name of the victim was withheld pending notification of relatives.
The following day on December 23, 2011, police identified the homeless man as 53 year old James McGillivray. Detectives said that the victim had been “brutally” attacked and stabbed to death at about 8:15 pm the night before his body was found. The stabbing took place near where McGillivray was known to sleep in a strip mall adjacent to several businesses that had been closed or abandoned for a year or more.
Police described a suspect dressed in all black from a surveillance video that showed the suspect lying in wait for McGillivry and then stabbing him multiple times. They described McGillivray as a mild-mannered man who kept to himself and was not known to be involved in confrontations.
On December 28, 2019, 42 year old Lloyd Middaugh was found stabbed to death on the Santa Ana River Trail near the 91 freeway. Anaheim police reported that the man may have lived under the freeway overcrossing between Tustin Ave. And Lakeview Ave. and were investigating whether the incident was related to another fatal stabbing of a homeless man in Placentia on December 21st.
A body was found outside of the Yorba Linda Library on December 30, 2011 in what appeared to be the third killing of a homeless man in the prior two weeks. Brea police officers responded to reports of a man down outside of the library at 18100 Imperial Hwy. Police arrived to find an unresponsive man who was pronounced dead. Police were not able to identify the victim describing him as a homeless man in his mid-fifties.
On New Year’s Day 2012, authorities released the identity of a homeless man who had been found dead outside of the Yorba Linda Library three days earlier. Paulus Cornelius Smit, 57, whose last known address was in Yorba Linda was identified as the third homeless man that had been found dead from apparent homicide in the past two weeks. At that time police were still trying to determine whether this murder was connected to two other killings in Placentia and Anaheim.
As fear spread across the homeless community in Orange County and officials warned homeless persons to seek safety in emergency homeless shelters located at local National Guard Armories and to avoid sleeping alone in dark and secluded locations. The story was picked up by the New York Times on January 5, 2012.
On that same day, Anaheim Police Chief John Welter announced that police were looking for a serial killer as the suspect in the three murders involving homeless men over the holidays.
On January 13, 2012, authorities announced their continued search for the killer and set up a roadblock near the location of the third murder. A $5,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest.
Later that evening on Friday the 13th, Anaheim police responded to an assault in progress at the Carl’s Jr. at the intersection of La Palma Ave. and Imperial Hwy. Police arrived to find the body of a homeless man in his 60’s stabbed to death near a dumpster at the restaurant.
Witnesses of the attack followed the suspect who ran from the scene towards a nearby mobile home park. A security guard at the mobile home park caught a man climbing a fence and pulled the suspect down. Within minutes police surrounded a Yorba Linda man identified as Itzcoatl Ocampo, 23, as the man who fled the scene where the homeless man was stabbed behind the fast-food restaurant.
Police placed Ocampo under arrest for the killing which took place just three miles from the location of the third murder at the Yorba Linda Library. Officials did not identify the name of the victim until several days later.
About 75 people gathered near a bench on the Santa Ana River Trail on Tuesday January 17, 2012 to mourn the fourth victim of the serial killer. John Berry, a homeless Viet Nam veteran, was memorialized as a selfless and gentle person who was well-loved by many who prayed and told stories about the man at the gathering.
n a press conference held on that same day as the memorial for Berry, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus announced that the suspect, “Izzy” Ocampo, would be charged with special circumstances of committing multiple murders while lying in wait, which could lead to a death sentence. Rackauckus called Ocampo a “monster” who planned the murders in advance and stalked each victim looking for the right opportunity to execute them.
Ocampo was described as a former Marine Veteran of the Iraq war that had been unemployed since leaving the military in 2010. Relatives reported that Ocampo was a heavy drinker and had changed since returning from Iraq in 2010.
Ocampo appeared in court on Wednesday January 18, 2012 where he was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and held without bail by Orange County authorities.
On February 2, 2012 a press conference revealed that Ocampo was under suspicion for committing two additional murders. Investigators were connecting Ocampo with the Oct. 25 killings of Raquel Estrada, 53, and her son Juan Herrera, 34, at their home on Trix Circle in Yorba Linda. Two new murder charges were filed two days later against Ocampo.
In March 2012, Ocampo was placed under suicide watch after deputies at Orange County Mens Jail claimed that the accused serial killer tried to hurt himself.
In late November 2013, Itzcoatl Ocampo was found shaking and vomiting in his cell at Orange County Jail where he was awaiting trial for six murders including four homeless men in 2011 and 2012. Ocampo was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. It has been suspected that Ocampo had intentionally ingested Ajax, a powdered cleaner that may have been available to inmates at the jail.
After Itzcoatl Ocampo was arrested by Anaheim P.D. in January 2012, he gave a video confession to detectives. Revealed in this video are his reasons for murdering the four homeless men.