A boat deck hand and father of a 12-year-old son has been identified as the most recent victim in a string of brutal, unprovoked bludgeon attacks on men as they were sleeping outdoors.
The body of Steven Ray Cruze Jr., 39, was found beneath the Santa Monica pier Thursday morning around sunrise. Police said the victim appeared to have been beaten on the head with a blunt object.
Cruze worked out of Marina del Rey on sportfishing and whale watching boats, said his uncle Steve Smith.
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"He just loved fishing," Smith said as family members gathered at the San Gabriel home of Cruze's parents, where he has been living. Cruze often went to Santa Monica after work to fish off the pier, and when he stayed late, would sometimes avoid the drive home by camping at the pier. That's what the family believes happened Wednesday night.
"He called his girlfriend at midnight. He said he was going to fish, then sleep, and go to work in the morning," said aunt Cathy Smith. He never woke.
In the past two weeks, five other men sleeping outdoors have also been beaten with a club-like object, two of the other attacks nearby on the Santa Monica beach, and the other two early morning attacks last Sunday in downtown Los Angeles. Two of the Los Angeles victims died of their injuries Thursday. The coroner's office Friday was attempting to locate their next of kin.
The other two Santa Monica incidents occurred of September 8 and 10. One of those victims remains hospitalized. The other has recovered enough to be released, according to Lt. Saul Rodriguez of the Santa Monica Police Dept.
Detectives from his department have been in communication with the LAPD Robbery Homicide investigators working to solve the downtown attacks. Police have spoken of "striking similarities" in the cases. The possibility all of the attacks have been carried out by the same person — a serial predator — has not been ruled out.
The third victim in Sunday's baseball bat attacks remains hospitalized in critical condition with severe head injuries, said Drake Madison, public information officer of the Los Angeles Police Department.
The downtown attacks occurred between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday. Los Angeles police released security camera video of a man suspected in those attacks.
All three victims were attacked while they slept, and the suspect went through their belongings before leaving the scene.
The suspect was described as white or Hispanic with dark bushy hair and wearing a blue hat, gray sweatshirt, black shorts and bright white tennis shoes. Police noted that the suspect, who might also be homeless, appeared slightly bowlegged and walked with a distinctive gait.
Investigators have not linked him to the Santa Monica attacks.
Anyone with information on the downtown Los Angeles attacks was urged to call Robbery-Homicide Detectives at (213) 486-6890.
Patrick Healy contributed to this report.