By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A man who fled to California from Texas after being questioned in the disappearance of two Houston relatives was arrested on suspicion of bludgeoning seven men, three fatally, in a string of Los Angeles-area attacks on mostly homeless victims, police said on Tuesday.
Ramon Escobar, 47, faces three counts of murder and four counts of attempted murder in a case that investigators plan to present to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office on Wednesday for formal charging, police said.
Los Angeles Police Department Captain William Hayes described Escobar as a "previously deported felon" who is originally from El Salvador and applied for and was possibly granted asylum in the United States.
Escobar spent five years in prison in Texas, from 1995 to 2000, on a burglary conviction, and was arrested on suspicion of assault and criminal trespass in Texas during the past two years, Hayes told a news conference.
Six of Escobar's seven alleged victims in California were homeless men, all of them assaulted during the past three weeks. Three were attacked while sleeping on the streets of downtown Los Angeles and three others while asleep on the beach in the adjacent seaside town of Santa Monica.
Three surviving victims remained hospitalized - two in a coma. A third was on life support, police said.
All were bludgeoned in the head. A baseball bat recovered from Escobar's car and a pair of bolt-cutters found at the scene of one of the attacks were identified as the weapons Escobar used, Hayes said.
The police captain told reporters that Escobar was apparently homeless himself and that robbery appeared to be his motive for the attacks, which Hayes called "crimes of opportunity."
Surveillance video caught the suspect rummaging through some of the victims' belongings, police have said.
Asked about an unconfirmed report that Escobar may have gone off the medication he was taking for a mental illness, Hayes said: "Nobody in their right mind would do something as vicious as this, but it still doesn't take the criminal culpability away from it."
"He is a violent predator," Hayes added.
Escobar was jailed without bond following his arrest in Santa Monica on Monday shortly after the latest attack. It was not clear if he had an attorney yet.
Hayes said Escobar was already considered a "person of interest" by Houston police investigating the disappearance of two relatives he had been living with in that city. The two family members, identified by the Los Angeles Times as an aunt and uncle, went missing in late August.
Police found the charred wreckage of his aunt's van days after the couple went missing, the newspaper reported.
Hayes said Escobar was questioned by Houston homicide detectives on Aug. 30 before he "fled the state of Texas," traveling by car to Southern California and arriving in Los Angeles on Sept. 5. The first attack of which he is suspected occurred three days later.
(Writing and reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney)