This is the third in a seven-part series looking at the six murders that were reported in the Santa Clarita Valley in 2017.
In the hills that unfold across more than 2,000 acres around Pyramid Lake there runs a small creek—wild in places and popular among kayakers—where on a hot sunny day last summer the body of Josue Salvador Pedraza Antunez was found stabbed.
Four hikers, an adult and three teens, were exploring the shallow creek south of Piru Lake on July 8, 2017, when they found a man partially submerged in the creek, and concealed by dense vegetation.
“When they turned him over they noticed he had been stabbed multiple times,” Assistant Chief Ed Winter, of the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner said, reading from the report.
The hikers ran and summoned 911, he said. “We rolled our team out there.”
When first responders arrived at the site, what they noticed was the ruggedness of the area.
“It’s not possible to get there, other than on foot,” Winter said.
Detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Homicide Bureau described finding the body 1.5 miles north of a U.S. Forest Service fire station, near the
Frenchman’s Flat Campground, a favorite Los Angeles County picnic spot.
Detectives suspect Antunez, whom friends lovingly called “Chavo,” according to a family friend, may have gone to Frenchman’s Flat with a group of friends the day he was killed.
Many visitors to the area are drawn there for swimming, hiking and picnicking.
And while the recreational area by Piru Creek, dotted with picnic tables and barbecue pits, remains popular, it remains profoundly remote.
If anyone witnessed Antonez being stabbed on July 8, 2017, homicide detectives have yet to speak to that person.
“Right now, we don’t believe it was gang-related,” Det. John O’Brien of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau told The Signal this past week.
“I don’t think anybody out there has anything to fear,” he said. “There’s no random killer out there.”
Without elaborating, O’Brien said he and his team hope to have a “break in the case” in about one month’s time.
Newhall, new life
Josue Salvador Pedraza Antunez was born July 21, 1987, in La Huacana, in the southwestern corner of Mexico, about 80 miles from the Pacific Ocean coast, about 200 miles west of Mexico City.
He came to the United States about eight years ago and soon found his way to Newhall.
At the time of his death, he worked as a dishwasher for a restaurant in Santa Clarita, O’Brien said.
On July 8, 2017, at about 5:40 p.m., just 13 days shy of his 31st birthday, Josue Antunez’s body was found near Frenchman’s Flat Campground on the Golden State Highway Old Road in an area identified by O’Brien as near the Piru Creek Campground.
Homicide detectives began focusing on the young man’s friends and coworkers as “persons of interest.”
A 27-year-old Newhall man who worked with Antunez washing dishes at the same Santa Clarita business was picked up by homicide detectives as a “person of interest.”
The coworker was arrested shortly after 6 p.m. on July 11 for allegedly having violated a condition of his parole, Lt. John Corina of the LASD Homicide Bureau told The Signal at the time.
According to court records, the coworker was on parole for attempted murder. On Apr. 30, 2009, the “person of interest” was sentenced to seven years in prison after the accused man pleaded no contest to attempted murder, Ricardo Santiago, spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, said.
Nonetheless, homicide detectives interviewed the parolee about the Antonez murder, having him arrested and brought to the Sheriff’s Station.
“He is a person of interest and he was arrested on a parole hold,” Corina told The Signal in July, shortly after the coworker was picked up.
Generally, a parole hold authorizes deputies to detain someone suspected of having violated a condition of their parole.
“They may have gone up to the (Piru) Creek Campground together,” Corina said at the time.
Three days into the murder investigation and detectives had little to go on. There were no witnesses. There were no ID and no vehicle found near the body.
Det. O’Brien told The Signal: “We don’t have anything so far.”
The coworker was interviewed and released.
Another person of interest
On Aug. 14, a month after the killing, detectives picked up a second “person of interest” to detain and interview.
It was a Hispanic man with a criminal record who lived in Newhall and worked as a laborer.
Detectives’ second “person of interest” had been arrested in December 2016 on suspicion of possession of a narcotic. That drug case, however, “was declined due to insufficient evidence,” D.A. Office spokesman Ricardo Santiago told The Signal.
The second “person of interest,” like the first one, was released from custody after having answered questions put to him by the detectives, Corina said at the time.
Detectives stuck with their strategy, however, telling The Signal in mid-August that they were already looking at a third “person of interest.”
“We’re looking at a different (third) person of interest right now,” Corina said in mid-August. “We think we have a better idea of what happened. But, we’re still trying to solidify things.
“This is a tough one,” Corina added. “A guy stabbed and left slowly to die in a creek.”
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