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Suspect in deadly California beatings was deported 6 times, ICE says

LOS ANGELES --- A Texas man suspected of killing three people and seriously injuring four in a 17-day string of attacks on sleeping Southern California men - most of them homeless - had been deported from the United States six times and had a long criminal history, immigration officials said Tuesday night.

Ramon Escobar, 47, who was believed homeless himself, likely targeted victims to rob them, Los Angeles police Capt. William Hayes told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

Hayes said the attacks didn't appear to be based on any hatred toward homeless people, CBS Los Angeles reports. "I think it was a crime of opportunity," he said. " … It appears the motive in most of these cases was robbery."

Escobar could be charged Wednesday with murder and attempted murder in connection with the series of attacks.

Meanwhile, authorities in Houston were investigating him for the disappearance of his aunt and uncle.

Escobar was being held without bail, but U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials have filed a detainer seeking to take him into custody if he is released, the agency said.

Escobar was first ordered removed from the country in 1988 and was deported to his native El Salvador six times between 1997 and 2011, ICE said in a statement Tuesday night.

He was released from ICE custody last year after appealing his latest immigration case, ICE said, but the agency didn't offer any information about his current legal status.

Escobar has six felony convictions for burglary and illegal reentry, ICE said.

Hayes called Escobar a "violent predator" and said investigators believe he drove to California from Houston after his relatives disappeared, and attacked the men in Los Angeles and suburban Santa Monica beginning Sept. 8. Detectives seized a wooden baseball bat and bolt cutters police believe he used to carry out the attacks on his random victims.

Escobar was arrested Monday after a man sitting on a sidewalk was beaten unconscious and robbed of some of his possessions, Santa Monica police said. That victim remains in a coma.

Police will ask prosecutors Wednesday to charge Escobar with three counts of murder and four counts of attempted murder, officials said.

It wasn't immediately known whether Escobar had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Escobar is a person of interest in the disappearances late last month of 60-year-old Dina Escobar and her brother, 65-year-old Rogelio Escobar, Houston police said in a statement.

Dina Escobar's burned van was found in Galveston, Texas, a few days after she went looking for her brother. She was last seen Aug. 28, two days after her brother vanished, the statement said.

Texas authorities said they want to talk to him about the disappearances.

Escobar spent five years in prison for robbery starting in the mid-1990s, Hayes said. Records in Texas show Escobar has had arrests for vehicle burglary, trespassing, failure to stop, public intoxication and two assaults, most recently in November 2017. That case was described as a misdemeanor.

Dina Escobar's daughter, Ligia Salamanca, Ligia Salamanca, spoke to CBS affiliate KHOU-TV on Tuesday.

"The detectives called me last night wanting me to know before I saw it on the media that there has been an arrest made of a family member and it may be connected to our case," Salamanca said. 

She told the station she's heartbroken, but feels better having some answers.

"The not knowing is the worst, going to sleep every night not knowing where your family is, what they're going through or if something bad happened; not having them at home to know what they're going through – to lay them to rest if that's what it comes to," she said.

Salamanca told KTRK-TV in Houston Tuesday that Escobar, her cousin, had never come across as violent and wasn't a source of trouble for the family. "She loved him as she would a son," Salamanca said of her mother's devotion to Ramon Escobar.

Salamanca said he had been looking for work and needed a place to stay, so he was taken in by his uncle, who went missing days later.

Investigators believe Escobar was the man who used a baseball bat to bash the heads of three homeless men sleeping on downtown Los Angeles streets before dawn on Sept. 16, police said in a statement. Two died.

He was recorded on surveillance video ransacking their pockets and belongings.

Two homeless men sleeping on the beach were bludgeoned in the head early on Sept. 8 and Sept. 10, leaving one in critical condition, officials said.

Another man who apparently was sleeping on the beach was found dead under the Santa Monica Pier on Sept. 20. Steven Ray Cruze Jr., 39, of San Gabriel, had been beaten to death.

Authorities at first described Cruze as homeless, but family and friends said the father of two, who loved to fish at the pier, worked boats in neighboring Marina del Rey and sometimes camped out under the pier to avoid the long commute home.