Gang Leader Held in Arizona – Toonerville Member Timothy McGhee
LAPD detectives, U.S. marshals and local authorities capture Timothy McGhee, sought in 12 vicious killings in the Atwater Village area.
By Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton
Times Staff Writers
February 13, 2003A northeast Los Angeles gang leader labeled by authorities as one of the nation’s most-wanted fugitives and sought in connection with 12 homicides was apprehended Wednesday in Bullhead City, Ariz., authorities said.
Timothy Joseph McGhee, 29, was captured without incident about 1 p.m. by more than two dozen officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, Bullhead City and federal law enforcement, said LAPD Lt. Horace Frank.
“He was ordered out of the car and onto the ground. He surrendered without a struggle,” said U.S. Marshals Chief John Clark. “He did not say a word. One LAPD officer who knows him tried to engage him in conversation. McGhee just glared at him.”
Over the last five years, the Police Department says, McGhee has either supervised or pulled the trigger in the slayings of a dozen gang rivals, witnesses and others unlucky enough to have crossed his path.
McGhee was on the U.S. Marshals Service list of 15 most-wanted fugitives. But although the Atwater Village gang leader allegedly is responsible for more killings than Charles Manson, he hasn’t received much publicity, said Police Det. Andy Teague.
McGhee is expected to appear in the Mojave County courthouse in Kingman as early as today to begin extradition proceedings, Clark said. At this point, McGhee has been charged by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office with one killing.
McGhee has eluded detectives since they linked him to the homicides last fall. As many as 60 local and federal investigators have worked to determine his whereabouts.
The break came when a reader of a Mojave Desert newspaper saw a story about McGhee, told authorities that he was living in Bullhead City and led them to an apartment there late Tuesday, Clark said.
A surveillance team observed a man they believed could have been McGhee but members could not get close enough to confirm his identity. Surveillance on the apartment led investigators to a nearby double-wide mobile home.
Authorities were preparing a search warrant for the home early Wednesday and planning an entry with the Bullhead City SWAT team when marshals watching the mobile home saw McGhee leave.
He was a passenger in a car driven by a woman, authorities said. The task force, along with SWAT officers, pulled the car over, Clark said. The woman “was unaware of McGhee’s true identity,” Clark said. “She did not know he was wanted. It came as quite a shock.”
He was captured by officers of the LAPD fugitive warrants section, a U.S. Marshals Service task force and the Bullhead City SWAT team.
LAPD detectives say McGhee is the leader of the Toonerville gang, whose members claim a largely middle-class area that includes warehouses and $300,000 homes north of Los Feliz Boulevard between San Fernando Road and the Los Angeles River. The gang, formed in the late 1950s, also has members in Glendale, Sunland and Tujunga.
McGhee demanded absolute loyalty and led his charges like a military drill instructor, said Teague, who headed a team of detectives from the LAPD’s Northeast Division.
McGhee’s confederates were led in calisthenics and conducted target practice, rehearsed ways to elude police and take out rival gang members, Teague said.
The gang also posted armed sentries with cellular phones or walkie-talkies to guard the three main roadways that run in and out of their turf, according to police.
After an armed robbery July 4, 2000, gang members tossed debris, including washing machines and bicycles, in the street to hinder a police pursuit. They also fired numerous shots at officers, Teague said.
Three Toonerville gang members were found guilty of attempting to murder LAPD Officers Tom Baker and Carlos Langarica. McGhee was not charged in that incident.
McGhee was convicted in 1994 of assaulting a peace officer in San Bernardino County and sentenced to four years in prison. He was released after serving three years, and sent back in 1997 on a parole violation.
He was released in March 1999, violated parole again and was returned to prison in February 2000. He was released again two months later.
While he was on parole and staying with his grandmother in the San Gabriel Valley, McGhee took police science classes at Cal Poly Pomona, where detectives believe he was learning how police conduct investigations.
Each time McGhee was released from prison, police say, crime increased in the Atwater Village vicinity.
Until recently, detectives said they had difficulty linking McGhee to the killings because of fear and intimidation of neighborhood residents, rival gang members and his own associates. McGhee and fellow gang members would go out hunting for victims in a way that Teague compared to a big game hunt.
Police believe his killing rampage began in 1997 with the slaying of a rival gang member and two years later, police say, he was linked to the fatal shooting of a bodyguard for a rap artist at an Atwater Village music studio.
McGhee and fellow gang members also allegedly killed 16-year-old Ryan Gonzales in 2000, Teague said.
Gonzales happened to share McGhee’s street name and he allegedly gunned down the victim as he walked home from a party in the 3300 block of Silver Lake Boulevard.
Investigators said they believe the motive was that McGhee didn’t think the neighborhood was big enough for two people with the same nickname.
Police believe McGhee also fatally shot Marty Gregory Roybal, 17, who was sketching a picture at the Los Angeles River on Sept. 14, 2000, and then, seeing that a nearby homeless man — David Lamont Martin, 33 — might have been a witness, killed him too, police said.
McGhee is suspected of fatally shooting a Pomona resident, Manuel Apodaca, 21, and critically wounding his pregnant girlfriend, Nina Guerrero, on Los Feliz Boulevard near the Golden State Freeway in June 2001. Guerrero suffered severe brain damage, but was able to give birth.
The next month, McGhee ordered the killing of Carlos Velasco, a 21-year-old man working at a furniture warehouse on San Fernando Road, police said. McGhee had passed by and didn’t recognize the man. He ordered gang subordinates to take care of the stranger, police said.
Three weeks later, McGhee killed Bryham Robinson, 38; Cheri Wisotsky, 46; and her mother, Mary Ann Wisotsky, 64, police said. McGhee heard that Cheri Wisotsky told police about drug dealing at the house of McGhee’s sister in Atwater Village. Authorities allege that the others were killed because they were witnesses.
In November 2001, McGhee and fellow gang members, armed with handguns and assault rifles, went looking to kill a victim in rival territory, police said, in revenge for the slaying of a Toonerville member.
Instead, McGhee and his associates fatally shot Margie Mendoza and wounded her husband while they rode in their SUV in the 3100 block of Hollydale Drive, police say.