LOS ANGELES (AP) - Fresh graffiti declaring "Thank God! They
caught the killer!" was scrawled Friday on an abandoned storefront
that last fall was the scene of the horrifying murder of a
mild-mannered homeless man set on fire as he sat on his familiar
The message was in response to the Los Angeles Police
Department's announcement the day before that Benjamin Martin, a
barber who used to work in a shop near the murder scene, had been
arrested for the October 9, 2008 killing of John McGraham, 55.
Martin had "personal dislike for not only Mr. McGraham, but
also homeless people in general," Deputy Police Chief Charlie Beck
said, adding: "It's far too soon to ascribe a motive to this thing
but it's probably going to end up boiling down to the demons in
this guy's head."
Police said they linked Martin, 30, through witness
identification and DNA evidence at the scene. He was arrested
Thursday in Rancho Mirage, about 120 miles east of Los Angeles.
Arraignment was set for Monday.
A former co-worker said Martin briefly worked five years ago at
a barbershop a block from the murder scene.
"He was a little bit crazy, and fighting - not hitting, but
talking - fighting, fighting all the time," said the co-worker,
who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
Martin is accused of drenching McGraham with gasoline and
setting him ablaze on a street corner in the multiethnic, largely
working-class neighborhood west of downtown. Witnesses rushed to
extinguish the flames but McGraham suffered burns over 90 percent
of his body and died.
Though homeless, McGraham was not friendless. In the densely
populated area where he wandered just west of downtown, people
recalled him as mild-mannered, quiet and kind.
"He didn't mess with anybody, he was such a nice guy," said
Samuel Escobar, a resident who has lived in the area for five
years. "I'm amazed it happened the way it did. It's just terrible,
and makes us all look so bad."
McGraham was a fixture on the block who befriended people and
got regular visits from family members. But for two decades, he
rejected their efforts to get him off the streets.
Those who fed McGraham and gave him spare change and clothing
said he liked to drink Dr Pepper and listen to a portable radio. He
frequently hung around near a doughnut shop, where the owners gave
him a cinnamon roll and cup of coffee every morning.
McGraham wasn't always on the streets. As a young man he worked
as a hotel bellman until he fell into a debilitating depression and
lost his job.
David McGraham, his brother, said officers had promised him they
would find the killer, but "as time passed, I thought it wasn't
going to happen. I just figured the killer got away with it," he
told the Los Angeles Times.
Police said tips began pouring in after McGraham's story aired
on the TV show "America's Most Wanted."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)