The riveting story of an Orange County police effort to track down and arrest a serial killer who targeted homeless men was the centerpiece of this year’s Anaheim Confidential fundraiser.
The Anaheim Police Department hosts the murder mystery-style presentation at the River Arena in downtown Anaheim as a benefit for Cops 4 Kids, which, under the auspices of the Anaheim Police Activities League in 1992, was created to reach at-risk youth.
Sgt. Ray Drabek, a department veteran of more than 23 years, organized the event, which is now in its second year. In addition to raising money for Cops 4 Kids, Drabek said Anaheim Confidential showcases excellent police work.
Cops 4 Kids helps more than 3,000 kids a year, said retired Anaheim Police Capt. Joe Vargas, a Behind the Badge contributor. Proceeds from Anaheim Confidential benefit the Junior Cadets and Police Explorers, as well as training through the Anaheim Boxing Club, and will help cover transportation costs for kids to attend events at our local mountains and beaches, Vargas said.
Sgt. Daron Wyatt was the lead detective on the Orange County Homeless Homicides Investigative Task Force that doggedly tracked down Itzcoatl “Izzy” Ocampo, a former Marine and Iraq War veteran accused of killing six people, including four homeless men.
The task force labored 42 days straight, often with 16-hour days, and included personnel from the FBI, Anaheim Police Department, an investigator from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Brea and Placentia police, among others, Wyatt said. The team chased 2,000 leads, conducted 200 interviews, executed some 30 search warrants, 10,000 pieces of paper discovery, and reviewed 20 terabytes worth of video footage.
Justice studies student Rebecca Carter said she enjoyed hearing about the task force and how all the agencies came together to seek justice and find the killer.
Anaheim Confidential “was really inspiring,” said Carter, who’s interested in a law enforcement career. “Even though it already happened, I felt like I was part of the investigation. It felt like we were right there with them, like an episode of ‘Law and Order.'”
In the end, law enforcement officials apprehended Ocampo soon after a murder, with the help of a bystander who chased him and patrol officers who made the arrest.
The saga began Dec. 20, 2011, with the death of transient James McGillivray, 53, who was stabbed more than 40 times while sleeping at a commercial complex in Placentia. Surveillance footage showed a man bending down and stabbing McGillivray multiple times, even after McGillivray stops struggling.
Seven days later, transient Lloyd James “Jimmy” Middaugh, 42, was found dead near a 91 freeway overpass in Anaheim with more than 50 stab wounds. Middaugh’s daily routine involved taking the bus to visit his mother at Leisure World in Seal Beach.
After Middaugh’s murder, Wyatt suspected a serial killer was on the loose.
The deaths continued. More than 60 stab wounds were found on 57-year-old Paulus Cornelius Smit, aka “Dutch,” outside a Yorba Linda library on Dec. 30.
After the third death, the Orange County Homeless Homicides Investigative Task Force was created, with Anaheim police taking the lead.
The murders had become a national media sensation.
Police spent thousands of hours looking at jail records, examining data from cell towers, and pouring through surveillance video.
“But we weren’t getting anything,” Wyatt said.
On Jan. 10, 2012, authorities conducted a massive canvass in Placentia near the first murder site with hopes of finding witnesses or clues, Wyatt said.
During outreach efforts, a homeless man named John Berry was interviewed by a newspaper. The suspect saw the article and targeted Berry, a 64-year-old Vietnam war veteran with a minor arrest record. Berry was found dead with more than 60 stab wounds on Jan. 13, 2012, at a Carl’s Jr. drive-through at Imperial Highway and La Palma Avenue.
Donny Hopkins, a forklift driver from Yorba Linda, saw the suspect from a nearby CVS. He called 911 and pursued the man on foot.
“People tell me I’m a hero, but I’m not. I’m just a guy who did the right thing,” Hopkins told the Orange County Register.
The audience watched portions of the hours-long interview footage with Ocampo. At one point, Ocampo admitted what he did was wrong.
“But it had to be done,” he said.
Ocampo told police he had gone through the Placentia vehicle canvassing station and a second canvassing authorities conducted. He explained how he did “meditating” to prepare himself for the murders.
Ocampo, who served in the Marines from 2006 to 2010 and was honorably discharged, had served in Iraq as a truck driver and did not experience combat.
During interviews with Wyatt, Ocampo mentioned frustration with his service.
“I didn’t get to kill while I was there,” Ocampo said.
After Ocampo’s arrest, he was tied to two October 2011 murders in Yorba Linda. The victims, Raquel Estrada and her son, Juan Herrera, were the mother and brother of a high school friend of Ocampo.
Ocampo, 25, died in his jail cell in November 2013 after being discovered sick the day before. He had been awaiting trial and prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty. Ocampo’s death was ruled a suicide.
Anaheim Confidential drew around 300 people to the River Arena and grossed around $7,000 in its inaugural year, with proceeds benefitting Cops 4 Kids. This time, both the attendance and fundraising amount more than doubled, with an estimated 800 attendees and $20,000 in gross earnings, Drabek said. Vendors at the event included two breweries and five local restaurants.
“The community support was incredible,” Drabek said.