Killing Scene ‘a Bloody Mess’

From the Los Angeles Times
Killing Scene ‘a Bloody Mess’
Homicide detectives find no sign of forced entry in a Garden Grove home where the bodies of a man, woman and 7-year-old boy are found. The couple’s injured baby daughter survives.
By Mai Tran and Christopher Goffard
Times Staff Writers

May 31, 2006

Detectives investigating a triple homicide at the home of a Garden Grove family are calling it one of the bloodiest crime scenes in the history of the Orange County city.

Officers discovered the bloodied bodies of a man, a woman and a 7-year-old boy in separate upstairs rooms after checking the two-story house on Summercrest Circle about 7 p.m. Monday. They also found a dehydrated baby girl crawling in the house who’d apparently been beaten in the face and left for dead.

The bodies may have been in the home for days, police said.

Detectives, who are looking for motives, found no signs of forced entry and said the killers might have known the victims.

“It’s a bloody mess, a very brutal scene,” said Garden Grove Police Lt. Mike Handfield. “This is something we haven’t had in many, many years of Garden Grove history. Three victims killed inside a home is not something that happens here often.”

In 1999, a gunman shot up a Garden Grove auto accessories store, killing two people and injuring four others.

Police have not released the names of the victims of last weekend’s violence, but the house was the residence of Phong H. Le, 30, a former gang member who did prison time for robbery; his 25-year-old wife, Ngoc Lam, a card dealer who commuted to work at a small Inland Empire casino; their year-old baby girl; and Tommy, Lam’s 7-year-old son by a different man.

Starting in 1994, Le served a four-year sentence in state prison for robbery and in 1998 began another stint for destroying jail property, a term that lasted two years and eight months, according to the California Department of Corrections.

After his release, Le went to work at a Garden Grove furniture store, where he was a top salesman before abruptly quitting about a year ago. He had numerous tattoos, including a teardrop beside his eye and the name he went by, “Sony,” across his knuckles, a former employer said.

His life, though, had seemingly rebounded. He and his wife lived in a trim neighborhood, drove expensive cars and seemed swept up with the arrival of their daughter.

The slayings occurred between Friday night and Saturday morning, said police, who went to the house because Lam’s co-workers had grown worried that she had failed to show up for her shift and didn’t answer the phone.

When police arrived, neighbors who were gathered in the cul de sac for a Memorial Day block party thought the officers had come to shut down the celebration.

“I didn’t hear anything all weekend,” said Hai Nguyen, 65, who lives across the street. “When the police came, that’s when I found out something was wrong.”

One body was in an office and another in a bedroom. Tommy, a student at Anderson Elementary School, was dead in his bed. Authorities took the dehydrated baby into protective custody.

Investigators are scouring the house for clues. “We don’t know why this happened,” Handfield said. “We don’t know why the baby wasn’t killed.”

Police said they would not release the cause of death or confirm the victims’ names until today, when autopsies were to be completed.

Neighbor Jasmine Contreras, 33, said she couldn’t understand why someone would kill the couple. She said Le had been staying home to take care of the baby; Lam didn’t want to hire a sitter they didn’t trust.

“They’re very friendly people,” Contreras said.

Hong Tran, owner of Today Furniture in Garden Grove, met Le after he got out of prison and hired him as a driver. She said his many tattoos at first gave her pause, but she wanted to help him overcome his past.

“He wanted to change his life,” Tran said. “No one looked at him with dignity because they see his tattoos. But he was a very respectful, nice, courteous and funny guy.”

Within a year, he learned the products and went into sales, becoming one of the best and highest-paid salesman on her staff. But she said that in 2005, shortly after he and his wife bought the house, he began to come to work late and take long lunches. Customer complaints filed in.

“He was among the best, and all of a sudden he began to slack off,” Tran said. She called him into her office and they talked for hours. They both cried, she said.

“He felt there were so many responsibilities,” Tran recalled. He drove an Acura sports car and his wife drove a Lexus, and financial problems seemed to weigh on him, she said.

She said Le, who married Lam last year while she was pregnant, decided to quit his job, though he dropped by last month to say hello and show off the baby.

“I don’t know where he got the money to buy the house,” Tran said. “But after he bought it, he was stressed out. He felt there were so many things he had to take care of.”


Times staff writers Jennifer Delson and Kelly-Anne Suarez contributed to this report.

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