Word on the street was Anthony and Miguel could be dangerous men. In the Humphreys Street neighborhood of East Los Angeles, neighbors are polite but distant, but rumors circulated.
A few neighbors kept tabs, waiting for the right time to say what they knew. The Velasquez men seemed to be surrounded by talk of violence and guns, but friends were surprised when they heard the father and son were arrested for serial killings.
Anthony Velasquez and Manuel Velasquez are accused of murdering three innocent victims between 2014 and 2018. The killings were based in rage or payback and all the victims were shot to death in East L.A., in about a 2-mile radius. The last, a 27-year-old mother, was ambushed as she slept at a homeless encampment.
East L.A. has a violent reputation for gang warfare, but authorities immediately knew this violence was different. The victims didn’t belong to gangs, and the Velasquez’s didn’t run in one. The murders appear orchestrated by the son, Anthony, with help from his father.
Authorities caught up with both men on Sept. 26.
Anthony is being held on $6 million bail, while father Miguel is facing a $2 million bail. Neither of the accused is expected to be able to post bond. Miguel Velasquez was allegedly present at all the murders but is charged with acting as an accessory in only one, according to the Associated Press.
The motives will come out in trial, perhaps, but the events paint a picture of a vengeful killer who couldn’t overcome his rage. Instead, he picked up a gun. He convinced his father the violence was justified, or maybe talked him into helping a son evade punishment.
FATHER-SON DUOS ARE RARE
Anthony Velasquez grew up and lived in the same neighborhood, in his father’s house on Humphreys Avenue, his whole life. He lived at home well into adulthood.
Anthony, 31, faces three counts of murder, in addition to the alleged use of a firearm in the murder of Jesse Antonio Avalos on Feb. 11, 2014. A year and a half later, he allegedly gunned down Eduardo Robles on July 6, 2015. On April 22, 2018, he is suspected of shooting Amanda Nicole Lopez to death, according to ABC News.
Lt. Hugo Reynaga, of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, was on the scene at Velasquez’s arrest and noted that father-son murder teams are rare, and speculated Miguel, 51, was trying to protect his grown son from getting arrested, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Murders in East L.A. are frequent, at the rate of two or three per month. Most involve guns, and many never find a resolution, getting tossed into a “cold case” bin. But in the three murders of Avalos, Robles and Lopez, the police quickly saw a connection. One fact that stood out was the victims seemed targeted — crimes of passion.
These three homicides became a focus for investigators once they’d tied the victims together by ballistics evidence and location. Detectives strongly believed the gunmen might kill again.
WITH A GUN
The shootings were similar. The first victim was shot in the head and chest with a handgun, the second with the same weapon, and the third, Lopez, died after a shotgun blast to the chest.
Two victims were ambushed in the early morning hours. For the second victim, a confrontation occurred in the evening and the gunmen appeared to be exacting revenge, slashing his tires minutes before they shot him to death.
Detectives saw a pattern, although witness accounts were hard to find.
Jesus “Jesse” Avalos, 34, was gunned down not long after he left home in his vehicle to help a friend jump-start a car. In the early morning hours of Feb. 11, 2014, he drove his blue Toyota 4Runner across town. He was found shortly after he was shot, sitting in the driver’s seat, still strapped in, dead from two gunshot wounds.
The killer shot him through a closed window, in the head and chest, according to the L.A. Times.
Police believe he was set up to drive to the scene at the intersection of Telegraph Road and Arizona Avenue, then ambushed once he arrived. According to Oxygen, two suspects were seen fleeing the area moments after gunshots were heard.
Eduardo Robles, 38, was at home, passing the time with friends outside his apartment complex on a warm July evening six years ago when two men approached him and started an argument. The conflict got physical, then both men disengaged and drove away. Out of sight, one of the men slashed the tires on Robles’s vehicle, which they recognized.
The two returned just a few minutes later, approached the apartment complex entrance and one man fired several shots through the wrought-iron gate, hitting Robles multiple times in the chest. Robles, unarmed, was not alone and witnesses were able to describe the assailants.
Emergency rescue personnel pronounced Robles dead at 7:46 p.m., about 15 minutes after he was shot, according to coroner’s records. The gunman fled on foot and the second man drove away.
The suspect was picked up later that night by a Hispanic male driving a distinctive green vehicle. Based on that information, and later tips, authorities were able to track down reliable witnesses to Robles’ murder and begin tracking the vehicle involved.
Miguel Velasquez was the suspect, as it is believed he drove the car.
Unlike the first two killings, in which the assailant used a handgun, the last known victim died from a shotgun wound.
SHOT IN HER SLEEP
Amanda “Nikki” Lopez, 27, was living in a tent as part of a homeless encampment on 3rd Street, near the Los Angeles Civic Center, situated in a large government complex. Her killer approached the camp and, according to detectives who reviewed surveillance footage, looked through several tents before finding her, according to Oxygen.
The intruder wore a ski mask and had exited a PT Cruiser, according to the L.A. Times.
Lopez was acquainted with Anthony Velasquez. She was shot after the gun-wielding, masked man unzipped her tent and fired inside. The killer got back into the vehicle that dropped him off.
In the early morning hours of late April 2018, as gunshot echoes faded, a vehicle sped away.
Lopez died of wounds to her upper torso. She was the mother of a 4-year-old boy, and one of seven siblings, according to her obituary.
Detectives later tied Anthony to the PT Cruiser seen at the encampment. His father is suspected of being the wheelman.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies set up an anonymous tip line with an $80,000 reward on Aug. 18 and began receiving calls almost immediately.
Over the years, authorities attempted to interview witnesses but were unable to get much cooperation. The new tipsters, however, reported details of the crimes that helped detectives piece together what evidence they had into a common suspect.
Although neighbors and friends of the Velasquez’s did not want to be identified, they confirmed many facts authorities knew and helped open new avenues of investigation.
Last month, a SWAT team arrived at the Velasquez doorstep, armed with body armor and a search warrant. They took both men away in handcuffs at 4:30 a.m., following up with a search of the premised for weapons and other incriminating evidence.
Anthony Velasquez, shirtless and heavily tattooed, was placed in a patrol vehicle.
Jesse Avalos' sister, Maria Orozco, told media her family believed they would never know who killed her brother, and they were surprised and relieved to hear the good news from detectives, according to the L.A. Times.
"It meant relief and I thought of my brother, that's he's somewhere in heaven right now celebrating and that he's happy that justice was made and that they will not hurt anyone anymore," she told The Times.