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Arrest Made In Rolling Hills Estates Mall Murder

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A woman was arrested in connection with the fatal stabbing of a retired nurse that rocked the affluent community of Rolling Hills Estates.

Cherie Townsend, 39, was arrested early Thursday in Victorville and is being held on $1 million bail. She is suspected of killing 66-year-old Susan Leeds of Rancho Palos Verdes at the Promenade on the Peninsula on May 3. Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said her booking photo will not be released to preserve the integrity of any future photo identification lineup.

"This is a very active investigation and so we're eliminating what we can say about the nature of all the evidence and we're still asking any potential eye witnesses to share what they know," McDonnell said.

Leeds was found with her throat cut and several stab wounds to the chest. Officials say they believe Townsend intended to rob Leeds and did not know her personally.

"We don't believe she was specifically targeted," Homicide Bureau Capt. Chris Bergner said. "We believe it was a crime of opportunity."

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Investigators say that, even though a suspect is in custody, they are asking for anyone who may have seen Leeds or Townsend that day to come forward. Leeds was found in her white 2016 Mercedes SUV, while Townsend was driving a gold 2008 Chevrolet Malibu.

The crime was believed to have been committed at 12:10 p.m., McDonnell said, and anyone who was at the Promenade that day between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. is being asked to come forward.

Fred and Ben Leeds, Susan Leeds' adult stepsons, were on hand at the news conference to urge witnesses to come forward.

She was "very kind, very sweet, very loving," Fred Leeds said. "She's missed. She's greatly missed by her family."

Ben Leeds said his stepmother, who was a retired Kaiser nurse, dedicated her life to helping patients with Type 1 diabetes.

"There must be other people out there," Ben Leeds said. "We would like to solidify this case and make sure we keep a murderer off the streets."

A man who had been called a person of interest was detained a day after Leeds was killed, but he was ultimately ruled out as a suspect in the murder. He was, however, arrested for an unrelated offense.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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