LOS ANGELES – A Northern California woman and her husband was arrested on suspicion of hiring a hitman to brutally beat her mother in her Long Beach home, authorities said Monday.
Long Beach police said they believe Holly Ramos and her husband Frank Haverly, both 40, hired 50-year-old Keith Phillips to attack Ramos' mother after she tried to become a foster parent to their children, ages 2 and 4.
Los Angeles County prosecutors charged the three with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and robbery, and attempted premeditated murder.
The victim, 62-year-old Elizabeth Wells, sought to care for her grandchildren after they were taken from Ramos because of her arrest in Monterey County on narcotics and child endangerment charges.
Police said Wells let Phillips, a man impersonating a social worker, into her home in the wealthy Belmont Shore neighborhood last month to discuss the foster care placement process. Phillips allegedly asked to see an upstairs room in the house before repeatedly bludgeoning her head with a baseball bat, then trying to suffocate and strangle her.
"The suspect made it clear to the victim that he was there to kill her and she would not live through the attack," a police statement said.
Wells was so badly beaten that when she was taken to a hospital doctors thought she may not survive.
"The victim's resilience clearly enabled her to fight back and survive this brutal attack," the statement said.
Police said the motive for the Oct. 11 brutal beating remains under investigation, but it may have been to keep Wells from gaining custody of the children.
The complaint said Ramos had been depositing forged checks from her mother's bank account into another account from which she cashed a $10,000 cashier's check made out to herself in September. Phillips allegedly stole Wells' purse along with legal documents related to a check fraud complaint that Wells had made against her daughter in September.
The defendants were arrested Thursday following more than a month of investigation. Police said detectives served 18 search warrants and rented a motor home to conduct surveillance on Ramos and Haverly, who were living in a trailer park in Monterey County.
The couple was arrested at the park, and Phillips was arrested at a Veterans Administration hospital in Menlo Park.
The three appeared in court Monday, where a judge increased their bail to $50 million each and scheduled arraignment for Dec. 4.
Prosecutors said Phillips was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in a 2004 case in Monterey County and is therefore subject to enhanced sentencing if convicted in the murder-for-hire case.
Ramos faces additional charges of forgery, identity theft, burglary and grand theft in the alleged cashier's check scheme.
Wells, who spent several weeks in the hospital and underwent two surgeries, is receiving constant care for her injuries at a facility, police said.
The children remain in foster care.