Suspect possibly linked to 4 East Bay murders

Marcaria "Carol" Smart, Efren Valdemoro, and Segundina "Rita" Allen
September 2, 2010 12:46:08 AM PDT
One man is the link between murders in three Bay Area cities. Police suspect 38-year-old Efren Valdemoro killed his girlfriend, two women in Vallejo, and a 73-year-old man in Hercules, whose son is still missing.

The gruesome killing spree ended Tuesday night with a police chase and the fatal shooting of the suspected killer. He had been driving around with his dead girlfriend's body in the passenger seat.

A fight over Valdemoro's girlfriend, 46-year-old Cindy Tran, occurred over a week ago and may have started the whole thing.

Tran called her family Tuesday to tell them she had been kidnapped. Friends and colleagues of Tran say they tried to accept her boyfriend, but really didn't think he deserved her.

"They had a really rocky relationship. We loved [Tran] dearly, so we always knew there was something about him, but she loved him, so we loved him," said Sandra Le, Tran's friend and co-worker.

But now Valdemoro is suspected of killing Tran. Police believe Valdemoro became jealous of Tran's two tenants who were living in her Hercules home. On August 22, investigators say Valdemoro filed a police report saying two men who rent rooms from Tran assaulted him.

"The dispute was possibly over a concern by the suspect and that there may have been something going on between Cindy and either the victim [Ricardo Sales] or his son," said Hercules police spokesperson Michelle Harrington.

Police found the body of 73-year-old Ricardo Sales last Friday -- the same day loud music was heard coming from the home between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.

"Loud music at that time of hour, you know, could be some sort of attempt to cover up if something was happening. We do know that Ricardo Sales was bludgeoned to death," said Harrington.

Ricardo's son -- 35-year-old Frederick Sales -- is missing. Search teams spent the day looking for a sign of Sales around a Hercules office park where a white Cadillac Escalade Valdemoro was seen driving was found.

"At this point it would appear that that's the biggest loose end for us is trying to locate Frederick Sales," said Hercules Police Chief Fred Deltorchio.

On Tuesday night, authorities spotted Valdemoro driving his girlfriend's Acura in Pleasant Hill. A 100 mph CHP chase through the East Bay ended in Richmond at a Ranch 99 Market. Inside the Acura, police found Valdemoro's girlfriend. She appeared to be strangled to death. Valdemoro ran inside the market, grabbed a meat cleaver at the meat department, and threatened officers. The CHP shot him dead.

"The officers gave multiple commands for him to drop the weapon. He refused to do so," said CHP Sgt. Trent Cross. "The officers were in fear for their lives so they discharged their firearms, in which the suspect was hit and suffered fatal injuries."

"We love her dearly. [Tran], she's a great catch. Any man would love to be with her and it's just so sad because she will never get to see her sons get married or be a grandmother," said Le.

Tran had three sons and friends say she was a loving mother who lived for her kids. Friends say Tran had broken up with Valdemoro a couple of weeks ago and that she was planning on reuniting with her sons' father.

Police say the white Escalade is linked to both the suspect, Valdemoro, and to two women found dead inside a house in Vallejo. They believe the decomposing bodies inside the home are the two missing friends, 63-year-old Segundina Allen and 60-year-old Marcaria "Carol" Smart. They were found dead about three hours before the police shot Valdemoro in Richmond.

"Bombs and bodies... Yep," said one neighbor describing the scene at 110 Upland Court where two women were found dead in a scene one detective likened to the gruesome movie "Silence of the Lambs."

"It appears that the bodies have been here for several days. I can say that one body was located inside the residence, the second body was located in the backyard," said Vallejo Police Lt. Abel Tenorio.

Oddly, Allen's husband, 72-year-old Charles Rittenhouse continued living here after he reported his wife missing on Sunday.

"What I can say is that when he was confronted with the fact that bodies were located in his residence that we believe he may have been involved. He did not react in the way we feel a normal person would react," said Tenorio.

Rittenhouse is now in jail, not for the murders of the women, but instead for possessing a cache of highly explosive material. A Vallejo detective told ABC7 the materials include the military explosive C4 and dynamite, along with assorted bomb-making chemicals. Additional explosives were found at a storage unit on Lemon Street in Vallejo.

"The items that were located appear to be chemicals that are consistent with precursors to manufacture explosives," said ATF special agent Helen Dunkel.

The connection to the murders in Vallejo and the murder in Hercules is Valdemoro. Neighbors say he lived at the Vallejo house off and on for 10 years, often borrowed cars and money from friends. He is also believed to have gotten into fights with the homeowners, stole money from them, and disturbed the neighborhood. Police confirm they have visited the house at least 10 times in the past year.

Neighbors say they saw Valdemoro sleeping in his car recently.

"At 3 a.m., he'd be out here just pacing, yelling on the phone. He'd be sleeping in his car over there and he'll stop at every stop in the neighborhood," said neighbor Patrick Nicolas.

Valdemoro is a former security guard who once worked at Bio Rad Lab in Hercules, not far from the area where a white Escalade was discovered Wednesday.

The Escalade is registered in Rittenhouse's name and it is the same vehicle spotted at the Hercules murder scene.

Rittenhouse is in custody happens to be a chemist for Goodrich in Fairfield. He may be the only one who can help piece this mystery together.

Police will not say what they think the connection between the explosives and the murders might be. They also do not know the cause of death of Allen and Smart because their bodies were too badly decomposed. An autopsy is set for Thursday.


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