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Suspect arrested in stabbing death of retired nurse at upscale California mall

Susan Leeds

CBS Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — A woman was arrested in connection with the fatal stabbing of a retired nurse as she sat in her Mercedes in the parking garage of an upscale shopping center, reports CBS Los Angeles.

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. Investigators believe Townsend approached Leeds and tried to rob her inside her Mercedes-Benz SUV before she fatally stabbed Leeds.

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

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.

She was "very kind, very sweet, very loving," said Susan Leeds' adult step-son, Fred. "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."

Bergner said detectives were still trying to determine whether there was a struggle during the robbery. He declined to say whether investigators have found the murder weapon.

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.  

Townsend was being held on $1 million bail. A telephone number listed for her in public records rang unanswered Friday.