Home Features Itzcoatl Ocampo: A look back at four murders

Itzcoatl Ocampo: A look back at four murders

by Linda Lopez

The 4200 block of Trix Circle is not an exceptional place. Just a short walk away from Lakeview Elementary, a series of modest single-story homes align the cul-de-sac in Yorba Linda. Itzcoatl Ocampo was not an extraordinary person.

Growing up in suburban Yorba Linda, friends and family described Ocampo as a mild-mannered and polite teenager. After graduating from Esperanza High, he joined the Marines and was deployed to Iraq as a medic before being honorably discharged in 2010.

A grisly double murder of Raquel Estrada, 53, and her 34-year-old son, Juan Herrea, both stabbed dozens of times inside their Trix Circle home, was anything but ordinary.

Unbeknownst to authorities and residents at the time, the vicious slayings marked the start of a killing spree that would leave four homeless men dead and entire county on edge.

For more Orange County crime, click here to read about Stuart Tay – the Honor Roll Murder.

Itzcoatl Ocampo confesses to Anaheim police Det. Daron Wyatt (January 14, 2012)

You know what’s right and what’s wrong?

Yes, sir.

Do you think what you have done is right or wrong?

Wrong…but it had to be done.

James McGillivray’s bloody body sat untouched for nearly 12 hours before police responded to the grisly scene outside the Bradford Center, a strip mall along Chapman Avenue in Placentia.

McGillivray, a 53-year-old homeless man, had been stabbed multiple times and left for dead, just days before Christmas.

Cops had a description–18 to 25-year-old man with a thin build…5-foot-6 to 5-foot-9… dressed all in black…–based off some fuzzy security camera footage but no leads.

Why would someone stab a harmless homeless man to death, let alone four days before Christmas?

Perhaps it was an isolated incident. A case of mistaken identity gone terribly wrong.

A week later, it happened again. And again. And again.

Lloyd Middaugh. Paulus Cornelius Smit. John Berry.

All three had been stabbed viciously.

All three had been homeless.

Orange County had a serial killer on the loose.

So because their homeless state and basically sucking up resources of society, they were making us look bad?

Yes, sir.

And that’s why it needs to be done?

Yes, sir.

So really what you were doing is you were helping clean up the county?

In a way sir yes.

Ocampo’s confession to Anaheim Police Detective Daron Wyatt was a chilling one.

The 23-year-old ex-Marine calmly and rather politely revealed his story.

He knew it was wrong. He understood his victims were in fact victims.

He studied the human anatomy to find the most effective way to kill. He obsessed over the skill of past killers like Lee Harvey Oswald. He targeted the head of his victims because he had seen how it was a quick kill in Terminator 2. He browsed through a copy of Penthouse magazine to pump himself up before each kill. He walked for hours along the Santa Ana River Trail searching for a specific victim he had in mind. Eventually, he hoped, his list of victims would reach 16.

He needed to kill. It had to be done.

After all, he never had the opportunity to do so as a Marine. While Ocampo never saw combat in Iraq, he didn’t escape witnessing the brutality of war. A member of the Marines 1st Medical Battalion, his job involved inspecting the wounded before they were flown to the hospital.

By the time he returned back home things had changed. His father was homeless and bouts of depression became a common occurrence for Ocampo. Despite being diagnosed with psychological problems by the Veterans Administration, he refused to seek treatment.

Three years after returning from war, Itzcoatl Ocampo was dead, the result of consuming a lethal amount of Ajax industrial cleanser while awaiting trial inside his jail cell in Santa Ana.

What made you want to kill somebody? Is it the fact that you are a marine?

Probably sir. Yes sir. I didn’t get to kill when I was there so…I look at other marines and I want to be like them.

Scott Bonn, an associate professor of sociology at Drew University and expert on criminal behavior, explored the public’s fascination with serial killers in his book “Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers.”

“The one element that all serial killers share is fantasy which drives them to kill,” Bonn said. “But the reality of killing never lives up to the fantasy which is why they must keep on doing it.”

Bonn said that contrary to popular belief, most serial killers are not reclusive, isolated, or dysfunctional misfits.

“They are often married, gainfully employed, and live normal-looking lives in our very midst. Dennis Rader and John Wayne Gacy are classic examples,” Bonn said. “These killers are often stone-cold psychopaths who are nearly impossible to detect because they are meticulous, unemotional, intelligent, and even charming. It is their ability to blend in that makes them very dangerous, frightening.”

“Don’t worry about me… I’m ok…Everything is good.” – Itzcoatl Ocampo in a Christmas video from Iraq to his family in 2008

Today, the sites of Ocampo’s killings bear no signs of their dark past.

Business continues as usual at the Bradford Center strip mall.

Customers sit and chat over a burger and fries at the Carl’s Jr. in Anaheim Hills, where Ocampo claimed his final victim.

Along the Santa Ana River Trail in Anaheim, bicyclists cruise past couples out for an evening walk with their dogs and pairs of joggers whisk by along the nearly dry stream of water.

Nearby, to the east of Tustin Ave, cars zip through an overpass of the 91 freeway. Underneath, a homeless man quietly sleeps, blissfully unaware that Lloyd Middaugh had also chosen the cozy spot on a cold December night in 2011 before being awoken by a face he did not recognize.

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