By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
RAFU STAFF WRITER
The corridors at the Chetwood Hotel on Fourth Street were again buzzing with conversation Wednesday afternoon, as word spread of an arrest in the murder of the hotel’s former manager.
Los Angeles police detectives announced the arrest of 39-year-old Jian Hong Li, who was a resident at the Chetwood Hotel who vanished on the day of the murder. Li was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon and booked on suspicion of murder in the Jan. 5 stabbing death of Hideko Oyama, 74.
Li, a Chinese national who had been staying at the hotel for an undetermined period of time, was discovered at about 3:30 p.m. walking along a sidewalk at First and Boyle Streets, not far from the murder scene. LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon said that investigators had wanted to interview Li along with other Chetwood residents, but that he had disappeared.
“Detectives followed leads from Los Angeles to Camarillo, only to discover him walking on First Street, just east of the Los Angeles River,” Vernon said, describing Li as a roustabout who had bounced between restaurant jobs and had a penchant for gambling.
Allen Hwang, who lives in the room directly across the hall from the suspect’s former quarters, said he saw Li acting strangely the day of the crime and figured he was being suspected from the outset.
“He was here at the time of the murder,” Hwang said “his laundry was still tumbling in the dryer and he ran out very suddenly.”
New Chetwood manager George Doi hadn’t heard the news of the arrest before speaking with the Rafu. He was at first surprised, then relieved to hear a suspect was in custody. He revealed that LAPD detectives returned to the hotel Tuesday to again interview Kazuki Okabe, the Japanese tourist who first discovered the mortally wounded Oyama on the floor of her office, but that he was on his way back from Las Vegas. Doi said the officials wanted Okabe to review some photos, presumedly to see if he could identify Li.
Lt. Vernon said his detectives now believe robbery was a motive in the slaying, but Doi said Oyama had already deposited the monthly rent receipts and suggested that a contentious relationship may have been a contributing factor in the crime. Doi and Hwang acknowledged that Li and Oyama were known to have had some heated exchanges at times during his residency at the Chetwood.
Bail was set at $1 million and Vernon said that Li’s connection to the crime became evident during questioning at the police station.
“In short order, the detectives were able to compare, confirm, and tie forensic evidence to Li’s presence at the crime scene,” Vernon said. “Once the detectives interviewed Li, they were able to develop enough probable cause to arrest him for the murder.”
Det. Thayer Lake, one of the lead investigators in the case, said he expects the case to be presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office on Thursday. A news conference that will include Oyama’s daughter is expected to take place soon after the filing.
The story has received a great deal of attention in the Japanese media, with almost daily visits from reporters who send every shred of information they find back to Japan.
The unsettling case doesn’t seem to have dissuaded visitors–including young women–from staying at the low-cost hotel that caters to seniors and tourists.
“I wasn’t worried or scared at all,” said Aya Narasaki, who is staying at the Chetwood while she is visiting from Tokyo. “I heard that Little Tokyo is pretty safe and this case was very rare.”
Doi said a Buddhist monk came Tuesday to bless and purify the room previously occupied by Li.