The District Attorney’s Office held off Monday on filing a case against a woman arrested in the fatal stabbing of a 66-year-old woman inside a mall parking structure in Rolling Hills Estates.
Cherie Townsend, 39, was taken into custody early Thursday morning in Victorville and booked on suspicion of murder in the death of Susan Leeds of Rancho Palos Verdes, who was attacked about 12:15 p.m. May 3 in the parking garage at the Promenade on the Peninsula in the 500 block of Deep Valley Drive.
Police presented their case against Townsend to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, but prosecutors asked law enforcement to “conduct further investigation,” according to Sarah Ardalani, a public information officer with the District Attorney’s Office.
Townsend, who had been jailed in lieu of $2 million bail, was expected to be released later Monday evening, according to the sheriff’s department, which issued a statement that said “the general public has come forward and provided additional information in this case which has been followed up appropriately.”
“The focus of our investigation has absolutely not changed. The investigation has progressed,” according to the sheriff’s department.
“It is not unusual for prosecutors to request additional information and we are confident this homicide case is moving forward. Investigators also had the opportunity to obtain key statements from a suspect and collect physical evidence that is now undergoing rigorous forensic examination at an LASD crime lab.”
After Townsend’s arrest, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said at a news conference Friday at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles that the motive for the crime was believed to be robbery, and that investigators believed the victim was “randomly chosen” and was not known by her killer.
Leeds was found inside her white 2016 Mercedes-Benz SUV parked on the first floor of the Promenade’s parking garage, with her throat cut and several stab wounds to the chest.
Townsend’s vehicle — a gold 2008 Chevrolet Malibu — had been parked on the same floor, McDonnell said, noting then that there was still a “tremendous amount of investigative work” to be done and asking anyone who may have seen any suspicious activity around the two vehicles that day to contact detectives.
“There were items taken from the scene that led us to believe it was a robbery as well as additional follow-up evidence,” sheriff’s Capt. Chris Bergner told reporters. “The physical evidence is what helped lead us to a suspect, but there’s still a lot of physical evidence to process — both physically process and forensically process.”
A man was initially detained May 4 as a person of interest in the case, but was ultimately ruled out as a suspect in the killing.
McDonnell has said investigators have not ruled out the possibility that one or more other suspects may have been involved.
“Our homicide investigators still believe that this remains an isolated incident in a historically safe community,” according to the sheriff’s department statement. “As a measure of reassurance, the LASD has increased visibility of their deputies in this case.”
Investigators renewed their call for anyone who was at the mall between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on May 3 to come forward. Information can be provided by calling Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau Detectives Quintero or Austin at (323) 890-5500.
Anonymous tips can be submitted through Crime Stoppers by calling (800) 222-TIPS.