Accused serial killer Ramon Escobar, 47, was questioned and released by police in Houston about the disappearances of his aunt and uncle just days before attacks on homeless men began in Los Angeles
Police in Texas have revealed that they questioned an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who had been deported from the US six times just days before he fled to California, where he is now accused of bludgeoning three men to death and injuring four others.
Ramon Escobar, 47, came to the attention of Houston police when his aunt and uncle disappeared in August but he was released without charges since no foul play was suspected at the time, Houston police spokesman Kese Smith said Wednesday.
‘We had no probable cause to arrest or book him,’ Smith said.
However, Smith added that foul play was now suspected in the disappearances of the brother and sister Dinora and Rogelio Escobar.
Ramon, who had a history of violence, arrived in California earlier this month, where authorities say he went on a deadly rampage, targeting mostly homeless men.
Investigators believe that Escobar beat the victims with a wooden baseball bat or bolt cutters as they slept on the beach or on the streets of Los Angeles and Santa Monica in order to rob them.
He was charged on Wednesday with three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder and four counts of second-degree robbery.
He was ordered held without bail pending a November 8 arraignment.
Capt. Billy Hayes, left, told media at LAPD headquarters Tuesday that Escobar likely targeted victims to rob them
On Tuesday ICE revealed that he was first ordered out of the US in 1988 but it took until 1997 to deport him while he served a prison sentence for burglary.
He was subsequently deported five more times after entering the country illegally between 1997 and 2011.
Escobar spent five years in prison for robbery starting in the mid-1990 and has arrests for vehicle burglary, trespassing, failure to stop, public intoxication and assault.
He was caught entering the US again but allowed to stay under a supervision order in 2016 after winning an appeal, according to ICE.
Immigration records are generally not public, so it remained a mystery how he won.
Last November, Escobar was arrested on the misdemeanor assault charge by Harris County, Texas, authorities, according to Texas Department of Public Safety records. He was convicted of the misdemeanor in May.
It wasn’t immediately clear why he remained free after the conviction.
ICE spokeswoman Paige Hughes declined to comment on Escobar’s case beyond a statement issued late Tuesday. The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration courts, did not provide information.
Escobar was charged Wednesday with murdering fisherman and father-of-two Steve Cruze, Jr, 39 (pictured), who was found dead under the Santa Monica Pier last week
Escobar is also a person of interest in the disappearances of his aunt, Dina Escobar (left) and his uncle, Rogelio Escobar (right), in Texas a month ago
Escobar was looking for work and needed a place to stay so his aunt and uncle, Dina and Rogelio, took him in, his cousin Ligia Salamanca, told KTRK-TV in Houston on Tuesday.
Days later, 65-year-old Rogelio Escobar, a father-of-two, went missing, Houston police said in a statement. Dina, 60, a mother-of-four, was last seen on August 28 when she went looking for her brother.
Her burned van was found on a beach in Galveston, Texas, a few days later.
‘She loved him as she would a son,’ Salamanca said of her mother’s devotion to Ramon.
Suspect: Escobar, from El Salvador, had been deported from the US six times and had a prior history of violent crimes
Relatives in Texas told ABC7 they have not heard from Ramon since the disappearances but said he stopped taking medication for an unspecified mental illness around that time.
The 47-year-old man was questioned and released by Houston police on August 30.
Immigration status is checked by Houston police only when a person is being booked into the city jail after being charged with a crime, Smith said.
After he arrived in California, the attacks began.
Two homeless men sleeping on the beach were bludgeoned in the head early on September 8 and September 10, leaving one in critical condition, officials said.
Another man who apparently was sleeping on the beach was found dead under the Santa Monica Pier on September 20. Steven Ray Cruze Jr, 39, of San Gabriel, had been beaten to death.
Police initially described Cruze as homeless, but his family said he was a deck hand on sportfishing and whaling boats and would sometime sleep under the Santa Monica Pier so he could be closer to work after late-night fishing.
‘He called his girlfriend at midnight. He said he was going to fish, then sleep, and go to work in the morning,’ his aunt Cathy Smith told NBC Bay Area.
Escobar, suspected in at least seven attacks – three of them deadly – was caught on surveillance video in downtown Los Angeles in mid-September
Cruze is survived by two children, including his 12-year-old son, James, who wrote of his slain father in the description of a GoFundMe campaign that he was ‘the best daddy.’
Police in Los Angeles said they suspect Escobar used a baseball bat to batter three homeless men as they slept on downtown streets before dawn on September 16. Two of the victims, ages 20 and 59, later died of their injuries.
The third victim was hospitalized in critical condition.
Escobar was arrested Monday after a man sitting on a sidewalk was beaten unconscious and robbed of some of his possessions, Santa Monica police said. That victim remains in coma.
Detectives seized a wooden baseball bat and bolt cutters that police believe he used to carry out the random attacks.