VALLEJO, Calif. – A murder suspect who led officers on a high-speed chase with his dead girlfriend in the passenger seat is a central figure in the investigation of at least four killings, authorities said Wednesday.
Efren Valdemoro, 38, was shot and killed by California Highway Patrol officers Tuesday night after refusing to drop a meat cleaver, CHP spokesman Sgt. Trent Cross said. A high-speed chase upward of 100 miles per hour for Valdemoro, wanted in the death of a 73-year-old man last weekend, ended in a market inside a Richmond strip mall.
Inside the car, officers found the dead body of Valdemoro's girlfriend, Cindy Tran, 46, who suffered severe head and neck injuries, Cross said. Tran called a relative Tuesday evening saying that Valdemoro kidnapped her from a salon in Vallejo, Calif., said Vallejo police spokesman Lt. Abel Tenorio.
A motive for the killings has yet to be determined, Tenorio said.
Valdemoro's deadly confrontation with CHP officers occurred as Vallejo investigators came across the grisly discovery of two decomposing bodies in a home.
One of the victims, Segundina Allen, 63, was an acquaintance of Valdemoro who had allowed him to stay in her home off and on for about 10 years, authorities said. Close friends said she had grown fearful of him.
Allen and her longtime friend, Marcaria Smart, 60, were reported missing last weekend and hadn't been seen since Aug. 25.
Investigators on the missing-persons case searched Allen's home Tuesday afternoon after noticing numerous flies in the house earlier and found the bodies — one in the backyard and one inside the house, Tenorio said.
They also found chemicals used to make explosives in the home.
Allen's husband, Charles Rittenhouse, 72, who was home when the bodies were discovered, was arrested on suspicion of explosives possession and was being questioned in the women's deaths, Tenorio said.
Rittenhouse is a chemical engineer who works in nearby Fairfield, Calif., Tenorio added.
Tenorio said when investigators told Rittenhouse they think he was involved in the women's deaths, "He didn't react in a way we feel a normal person would react."
Tenorio said Valdemoro was arrested in Vallejo for public drunkeness in May.
Authorities tried to stop his vehicle Tuesday night because he was wanted in the killing of Ricardo Sales, who was found beaten to death in a Hercules home on Saturday.
Valdemoro was seen fighting with the elderly man and his son the weekend before, according to Hercules police, who were called to break up the fight.
A search is on for the son, Frederick Sales, 35, has been reported missing.
"Given the nature of the situation, as well as the growing number of murders here, there is concern for his safety," said Hercules police spokeswoman Michelle Harrington.
Police said Valdemoro was seen driving a white Cadillac Escalade belonging to Allen near the scene of the Hercules killing. The Saleses had been renting rooms in the home owned by Tran, Harrington said.
A dispute had occurred because Valdemoro thought there was something romantic between Tran and either Ricardo or Frederick Sales, Harrington said.
The Contra Costa County coroner planned an autopsy on Tran for Wednesday afternoon, and the Solano County coroner scheduled autopsies on the women in the Vallejo home for Thursday.
Joe Smart, 63, whose wife was among the victims, said Allen had grown scared of Valdemoro.
She and Rittenhouse had asked Smart to change their locks twice in recent weeks to keep out their unwanted house guest.
"This guy would sneak into the house, almost like a ghost," he said.
Allen also called Smart for help a couple weeks ago when Valdemoro showed up at the house. He said he drove over, grabbed Valdemoro and forced him to leave.
Smart said his wife asked him on Aug. 25 if she could visit Allen who called saying she felt ill.
Smart the last time he saw his wife, he told her: "If you see this guy, be careful."
A neighbor of the couple, Antonio Nicolas, said that at one point, Allen and Rittenhouse had posted a sign on their front door saying, "Efren, don't come back or we'll call the police."
He said he sometimes saw Valdemoro outside late at night, often saying he's looking for his cat. Nicolas described those conversations as "nonsense."
"Some days it would look like that he was out of his mind," Nicolas said.
Thanawala reported from San Francisco.