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Laguna Beach murder investigation of Damon L. Nicholson continues with more leads and reward
Laguna Beach – The murder investigation of Damon L. Nicholson continues. More leads and the reward are the latest developments.
When Nicholson did not show up for work at the Hotel Laguna on Oct. 23, a female co-worker went to the 41-year-old’s duplex in the 200 block of Dolphin Way. When no one answered the door, the co-worker entered through an open sliding glass door and discovered the gruesome, bludgeoned and bloody body sprawled out on the sofa. Police indicated that there were no signs of forced entry, leading investigators to conclude that the victim may have invited the killer or killers inside or the killer was someone he knew well. Police do not believe this was a random murder.
Investigators methodically examined the crime scene and forensic evidence was obtained. Police say Nicholson, who lived alone, was hit several times in his torso and head with a heavy blunt object, and that no murder weapon was found at the home. They believe he was beaten to death sometime between the evening of Oct. 22, a Thursday, and Friday morning of the 23rd.
Laguna Beach Homicide Detectives immediately began conducting a routine background check of Nicholson and many of his friends and co-workers. Police also have interviewed friends, co-workers and neighbors of the deceased in an effort to establish motives for the killing and in the hopes of obtaining more important information about the murder.
Cohorts have told investigators that Nicholson was very active in gay relationships and may have been lured to his apt. by the killer or killers. We have interviewed “many, many people,” in the past two weeks, said Sgt. Louise Callus, including some who were romantically involved with the victim. “He dated a lot,” she said.
Investigators are pursuing the possibility that Nicholson may have invited his assailant into his home, and that assailant he may have met in a gay bar or another place where gay men meet to pick up other men. Nicholson could have become a victim of what has become known as “pickup” murders and due to the violent multiple head and torso wounds indicate the “overkill phenomenon” which may be in play here. The overkill phenomenon is often associated with homophobic murders. In view of this information the key question then is whether this murder is being investigated as an anti-gay hate crime? For if it is the FBI could be brought into the investigation.
President Obama made history recently when he signed into law legislation authorizing the federal government to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violent hate crimes that target victims because of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.
The legislation bears the name of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, whose 1998 gruesome murder became one of the nation’s most widely reported hate crimes.
In the Nicholson case new leads are beginning to surface, according to sources the police believe that a lap top and cell phone was taken from the Nicholson home and it is reported that his cell phone was find in a near by dumpster, and is being tested for finger prints and that those phone numbers in the phone and communications are all being run down to see what roll if any they may play in this homicide investigation.
The embezzlement arrest of a Hotel Laguna’s long time employee, also maybe figuring in another tantalizing lead that could be a motive for the killing. It surfaced last Friday in what was claimed an anonymous call to a local news out let. They reported that a female caller suggested revenge was a possible motive in the killing of Nicholson, who had boasted to her about uncovering a $100,000 embezzlement plot at Hotel Laguna last October that led to the arrest and firing of longtime employee Cydney Ann Ruano, 50, of Laguna Niguel. The report indicates that Ruano is scheduled to appear in Newport Beach’s Harbor Justice Center on Nov. 10 for a pre-trial hearing in the theft by embezzlement case. A complaint filed by the district attorney on Aug. 4 says the alleged embezzlement occurred over several years.
The Laguna Journal contacted the DA’s office and asked if Nicholson had been the star witness in the case and the DA’s office refused to confirm one way or the other. Callus discounted the caller’s supposition. “Damon was never interviewed during the embezzlement investigation. His name never was brought up,” she said.
The complaint describes Ruano as a “clerk, agent and servant of Hotel Laguna.”
Proprietor Claes Andersen of Hotel Laguna Friday suddenly offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer of his catering and events manager of 15 years. Andersen, offered the reward to help identify and convict the killer of Damon Nicholson, said Laguna Beach Police Lt. Jason Kravetz. According to friends the reward is expected to grow.
Ruano, who was fired last October, was a very good friend of Nicholson, said Andersen, who claimed he was the one who discovered the Ruano alleged embezzlement scheme.
Andersen, also told the media he offered a reward to serve as an investigative catalyst. “Unfortunately, money talks,” said Andersen, who hopes a reward will prove irresistible to someone who has so far hesitated to divulge information about the killer.
Police believe that rewards can be successful lures. “They sure are. Sometimes money can entice people to come forward with information,” said Lt. Jason Kravetz. “On other occasions, people who have critical information feel that coming forward is the right thing to do, regardless of the reward money.”
Andersen’s reward is based upon police receiving information that leads to the identity, prosecution and conviction of the murderer.
Narciso P. Leggs Jr. a Laguna Beach Businessman who owned and operated a limo service was a victim of both a “pickup” murder and the “overkill phenomenon”.
Leggs, a gay man, was tortured and murdered by Gregory Michael Pisarcik. Pisarcik, according to court documents, was looking for a gay man to rob when he met Leggs. Upon capture, Pisarcik confessed the murder to police and asked not to be put in a cell with another man because he hated “fags.”
Gregory Michael Pisarcik
At the time of his murder, Leggs, 53, was retired from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, where he had worked for 22 years. He lived in a converted garage apartment in an unincorporated area between Tustin and Santa Ana. Neighbors often saw Leggs polishing his two prized automobiles — a white Lincoln Town Car and a mauve Rolls-Royce.
Leggs and Pisarcik met at Laguna Beach and went back to Leggs’ apartment, stopping to buy vodka along the way, according to court documents.
According to prosecutors, court records and person’s close to the investigation Pisarcik at Legg’s apartment grabbed an unopened bottle of champagne and started bashing Leggs’ head in. At some point he tied Leggs up. He asked where Leggs kept his money, rummaging the apartment between blows with the champagne bottle.
Pisarcik attempted to strangle Leggs, hog-tied and mutilated his body and wrote “FAGS DIE” on his back in black marker. With a pair of scissors, he cut off both of Leggs’ ears. Pisarcik then stomped on Leggs’ testicles, urinated on him, and shoved a large flashlight deep into Leggs’ rectum. He also cut off Leggs’s penis and stuffed it into the victim mouth. Forensic evidence (including blood on the refrigerator) later showed that Pisarcik stopped to eat Leggs’ food, and also took a shower before he left. Finding less than $2, Pisarcik took Leggs’ two guns — a .45-caliber and a .357 magnum — and drove off in Leggs’ white Lincoln Town Car. Before leaving, Pisarcik sat on a bed, over Leggs’ corpse, cleaning the guns he would take with him.
While police said they believed robbery was the motive in Leggs’ murder, they also said that Pisarcik had been involved in the robbery of gay men. The convicting jury found the defendant Pisarcik guilty of murder and was sentenced to life in prison and jury determined that his actions was a hate crime.
In custody, Pisarcik told detectives that he hated homosexuals and admitted he’d gone to Legg’s apartment to rob him. While he was being transported to the Orange County Jail, he told a deputy: “Don’t put me in with the homos. I’m not a homo. That’s why I killed him. I’m not a homo.”
Leggs’ body was found on June 29, 2002, when his landlord called the police after not seeing his tenant for two days.
An autopsy later revealed that Leggs died from blunt-force trauma to the head believed similar to Nicholson.
In a Washington DC Blade investigation a few years back looked into the murders of 25 gay men in the D.C. metro area over a five-year period and found, in retrospect, that many of the slayings had similarities to the Shepard case, although none were officially listed as hate crimes.
At the time of the Blade investigation, police made arrests in only seven of the 25 cases. Looking back at subsequent editions of the Blade, no reports could be found to show arrests had been made in the other 18 cases.
Similar to the Shepard case, nearly all of the 25 gay male victims studied in the Blade investigation were believed to have met their attacker at a bar — usually a gay bar. Investigators believe the killers in most of the D.C. area cases tricked their victims into thinking they were interested in having a sexual encounter, with the intent of luring the victim to a place where they could rob or murder him.
There were no gay bars in Laramie when Matthew Shepard was killed. Evidence that surfaced in the Shepard case shows that the two men charged with his murder — Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson — befriended Shepard in a mainstream bar in Laramie and offered to drive him home.
McKinney and Henderson’s girlfriends later told police the two young men confided in them that they targeted Shepard for a robbery and plotted to give him the impression they were gay as a means of luring him out of the bar.
Instead of driving him home, they drove him to a remote field and tied him to a wooden rail fence, where McKinney struck him in the head multiple times with the barrel of a large pistol, inflicting devastating facial and brain injuries that led to Shepard’s death.
In the D.C. area murders reviewed in the Blade investigation, nearly all of the victims were found dead inside their homes. While the Shepard murder took place in a remote field rather than in Shepard’s Laramie apartment, the multiple head wounds he suffered were similar to 16 of the 25 gay murders reviewed in the Blade investigation. Police said the victims suffered multiple wounds in what they described as a pattern known as “overkill.”
Some of the victims in the D.C. cases were struck in the head with heavy objects multiple times, like in Shepard’s case, while others suffered multiple knife or gunshot wounds. Five of the 25 victims who were not subjected to multiple wounds died by strangulation, police reports showed.
The 25 cases reviewed by the Blade were typical of gay “pickup” murders that have occurred in the D.C. area and other parts of the country such as Laguna.
Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York Anti-Violence Project, which monitors anti-LGBT hate crimes, and Chris Farris, co-chair of the D.C. group Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence, each said the so-called gay “pick-up” murders have elements of hate violence.
The two said that while the perpetrators in many of these murders were targeting gay men in what police call a crime of opportunity, the underlying motive clearly is based on antipathy toward gays.
“We think they view gay men, at least in some instances, as an easy target because they perceive them as weak and vulnerable,” Farris said.
Farris and Stapel said that while robbery may be one of the motives of a pickup murder, the recurring pattern of “overkill” leads those to believe an element of hate is also present.
“We have seen that pattern for years,” Stapel said. “The method of meeting has evolved from the bars to the Internet. But the motive seems to be the same.”
“We think these should be considered hate crimes, even though it’s unclear whether all existing state hate crimes laws could cover these cases,” she said.
It hasn’t let up. In Alabama, Billy Jack Gaither was battered with an ax handle, thrown on a pile of old tires soaked with kerosene, and ignited. Two suspects in the case confessed that they had plotted for two weeks to kill Gaither after he allegedly made unwanted sexual advances toward one of them.
The severed head of Henry Northington was found on a footbridge heading into a Richmond, Virginia, park that is a popular gathering place for gays. The rest of the body of this gay homeless man was found a half-mile away. To date, no one has been charged with the murder.
In rural Georgia, a transvestite stumbled up to a farm house before losing consciousness, bleeding profusely from head wounds. He’d been beaten with a baseball bat along a country road. He died a few hours later.
All these murders have occurred since Matthew Shepard was pistol whipped and crucified on a jackleg fence in Wyoming. The trial of the first of Shepard’s accused murderers was cut short when Russell Henderson pleaded guilty and received two consecutive life sentences.
The courts have not always seen fit to hand down stiff sentences for those who murdered sexual minorities. In an ironic twist to another hate crime story, the father of John William King, the man sentenced to death for his part in the horrific dragging death of a black man in Jasper, Texas, recalled another murder case with a different outcome. According to the elder King, 60 years ago his brother admitted killing a gay man. The brother’s attorney argued that the murder was justified because of the gay man’s “unnatural advances.” King’s brother was acquitted after only 29 minutes on August 22, 1939. The crowd cheered when the verdict was announced. “It was a hate crime, too,” said the elder King recently in an interview with the Houston Chronicle.
In addition to offering the reward for Nicholson’s killer, Hotel Laguna is organizing a memorial service.
Separately, a memorial service for Nicholson was set for 5:30 p.m. next Friday, Nov. 13, at Tivoli Terrace, 650 Laguna Canyon Road.
People who knew Damon are planning various tributes.
Tammy Hileman, is also working with Nicholson’s family to tie up loose ends since his death. She set up a fund through Bank of the West to accept donations that will go to helping the family pay for expenses. Any leftover money will be added to the reward money offered by Hotel Laguna she said or donated to create a scholarship at Cypress College. Hileman met Nicholson about four years ago in the college’s photography program.
“He loved photography,” she said.
Already, Nicholson’s clothing and furniture have been donated to charities, she added.
“That’s what he would have liked,” Hileman said.
The family would prefer donations instead of flowers, she said. Checks may be made out to Tammy S. Hileman/ FBO Damon L. Nicholson Memorial Fund and mailed to 11652 Fredrick Drive, Garden Grove, CA 92840.
For more information about the fund, e-mail Hileman at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Authorities believe this to be the seaside town’s first murder since 2002.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Laguna Beach Police Det. Debra Kelso at (949) 497-0371.
For related articles Google:”Laguna Beach-The food catering and wedding coordinator at Hotel Laguna was found murdered in his home.” Neighbors and co-workers are being interviewed, anyone with information regarding this homicide is being urged to call the Investigations Division at (949) 497-0371 (Detective Debra Kelso)…
Also Google: “Orange County News – The Killer Laughed”
Dec 1, 2005 … penniless drifter, thug and thief with a $120-a-day methamphetamine habit who murdered Narciso P. Leggs Jr. during a June 2002 robbery. …
Friends and associates of Mr. Nicholson
Laguna Beach Police Dept.
Orange County Sheriff Dept.
Laguna Beach Independent
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About the Author
America’s leading authority on Venture Capital/Equity Funding. A trustee on some of the nations largest trade Union funds. A noted Author, Lecturer, Educator, Emergency Manager, Counter-Terrorist, War on Drugs and War on Terrorist Specialist, Business Consultant, Newspaper Publisher. Radio News caster. Labor Law generalist, Teamster Union Business Agent, General Organizer, Union Rank and File Member Grievances Representative, NLRB Union Representative, Union Contract Negotiator, Workers Compensation Appeals Board Hearing Representative. Investigative Reporter for print, electronic and on-line News Agencies.
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