A career criminal has been arrested on suspicion of beating, robbing and strangling a couple in their Hawthorne house after posing as a utility worker to get inside, authorities said Monday.
John Wesley Ewell, 53, of Los Angeles, who was arrested on suspicion of murder, also is under investigation in the death of another Hawthorne resident last month just five blocks away, sheriff's homicide Lt. Dave Coleman said.
Ewell allegedly bound and gagged Leamon and Robyn Turnage, whose bodies were found Friday afternoon when relatives asked police to check on them at their home in the 4100 block of West 142nd Street.
"We believe that the suspect used a ruse or posed as a utility company employee such as gas or electric or water to gain their trust," Coleman said.
A family member said the killers escaped with credit cards and some jewelry.
Detectives arrested Ewell on Saturday night, shortly after he attempted to use one of the Turnages' automated teller machine cards, Coleman said.
Surveillance cameras at a Shell service station spotted his red 1992 Nissan Altima. Detectives zeroed in on the neighborhood and soon found the car about 7 p.m. Ewell was driving it, Coleman said.
Coleman said homicide detectives are investigating whether Ewell is a suspect in the death of Hanna Morcos, an 80-year-old retired county employee who was attacked in his home in the 4100 block of West 137th Street on Sept. 24.
Morcos, whose 83-year-old wife was asleep in the bedroom, was bound and gagged. The assailant took items from the house.
Coroner's officials said he died of a heart attack brought on by stress and ruled his death a homicide.
Coleman said that if Ewell is tied to the crime, he could have similarly entered Morcos' home with the utility worker ruse.
Ewell's prison record was not immediately available, but county records show he has had arrests and convictions since 1987 for crimes including grand theft, robbery and burglary.
His most recent conviction was for forgery in 1995.
"He's a burglar. He's a robber," Coleman said.
County jail records show Ewell was arrested by Hawthorne police on Aug. 30. He was released on $20,000 bail the next day. The nature of the arrest was not immediately available.
Ewell is being held on $1 million bail. He is scheduled to appear for arraignment Tuesday at the Airport Courthouse.
The Turnages traveled extensively, using the Hawthorne house whenever they were in Southern California.
They had just returned from a trip to Florida to visit their son and daughter-in-law for the birth of a grandchild 2 1/2 weeks ago.
Their nephew, Tim Bradbrook, said he had mixed feelings upon hearing the arrest.
"I'm glad they caught him," Bradbrook said. "I was praying for that. It still won't bring them back."
The Turnages met while attending Leuzinger High School. The house belongs to Leamon Turnage's mother, who has Alzheimer's disease and lives in a nursing home.
The couple was married for 30 years and had one son together. Each had a child from a previous marriage, and they had six grandchildren.
"Nothing really has hit us," Bradbrook said. "I attempted to go to work today. I had a 45-minute drive to work and it just hit me."
He returned home.