SANTA ANA, Calif. — When his desire to kill at war was dashed by a tour of duty as a truck driver in Iraq, the young Marine returned home to wage combat in affluent Orange County.
Itzcoatl Ocampo said he felt he needed to kill to be a "real Marine" and he told police he set out to murder 16 people, carefully selecting victims from homeless men sleeping on the street and those he believed had wronged him.
While Ocampo's killing spree was stopped at six, the slender 30-year-old spilled the details of his grander plans and chilling accounts of his slayings to detectives, who recounted them to an Orange County grand jury that indicted Ocampo on six counts of murder last month.
Ocampo told investigators he researched human anatomy, looked at Penthouse magazine to "pump himself up," then stalked and stabbed each of his victims more than 30 times with a roughly seven-inch long military style blade hoping he'd sever their esophagus or strike their heart.
Ocampo could face the death penalty if convicted of murdering a high school friend's mother and brother and four homeless men in what prosecutors have dubbed a "thrill kill" spree that terrorized suburban Orange County in December and January. He is being held without bail after pleading not guilty.
New details in the case emerged this week, when a 179-page transcript of the grand jury proceedings was released.
Ocampo told investigators he planned to kill 16 people to follow in the footsteps of University of Texas tower killer and fellow former Marine Charles Whitman. He said he had no history of psychological problems and felt the need to kill after he was confined to driving a water truck and a dirt truck on a military base in Iraq.
"He entered the Marine Corps with the purpose of seeing combat and becoming a killer," Anaheim police detective Daron Wyatt testified. "He felt in order to become a real Marine, he needed to kill."
Ocampo's attorney Randall Longwith said the fact that his client confessed to the murders so soon after his arrest is unusual and highlights his mental state, as does a videotape of a session with Wyatt that shows Ocampo talking to himself during breaks in the questioning.
"He talks to Wyatt about the distinction between who he refers to as Corporal Ocampo and Izzy," Longwith said on Friday. "Corporal Ocampo is who he says does this bad stuff."
"I don't think anybody could listen and watch that interrogation and not come to the conclusion that this is a very disturbed mentally ill young man," Longwith said.
James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston, said detailed confessions by murder suspects are not uncommon.
"Sometimes they confess because of a certain element of pride in their ability to have committed these crimes and outsmart the police, at least for a period of time," said Fox, who has co-authored a book on serial killers. "A lot of them will take credit by almost boasting about what they did."
Ocampo, who was discharged honorably from the Marines in 2010, told investigators he had planned to kill his former high school friend Eder Herrera after the two had a falling out last year, and Herrera's family because they "seemed to have an attitude." One night in October, he recalled slipping into Herrera's house on a quiet cul-de-sac through the back sliding door, grabbing a butter knife from the kitchen and plunging it into the neck of Herrera's mother Raquel Pacheco, investigators said.
Ocampo then backed up Herrera's brother Juan Carlos against a wall and stabbed him. The whole time, Ocampo secretly hoped one of them would ask what he was doing there so he could answer, "I am here to kill you," Brea police detective Phil Rodriguez told the grand jury.
Once they were dead, Ocampo said he sprayed their hands with a bleach substance to rid them of traces of his DNA, Rodriguez said.
Ocampo then moved on to homeless victims because they were "available and vulnerable" and because he felt they were "a blight to the community," Wyatt said. Ocampo said he killed a homeless man in Placentia in an attack recorded by nearby surveillance cameras. The next day, he said he took his bloody clothes to a self-service laundry.
Ocampo found his next homeless victim near a riverbed trial in Anaheim, some 26 miles southeast of Los Angeles. He said he waited for 42-year-old Lloyd Middaugh to fall asleep, then moved in and began stabbing him. After Middaugh was dead, Ocampo walked to a nearby convenience store and bought beef jerky, which he ate in the parking lot before heading home, Wyatt said.
After a third homeless man was murdered outside a public library, police fanned out across the suburban county known as the home to Disneyland and urged people to seek shelter indoors. Ocampo's father, Refugio, who was homeless and living in the cab of a broken-down big-rig, said his son came by to personally warn him to be careful.
In January, Ocampo said he began stalking a fourth homeless man who had been featured in a Los Angeles Times article about the killings. Three days later, when Ocampo saw 64-year-old John Berry walk by in a busy shopping center in Anaheim, he attacked him from behind, Wyatt said.
Afterward, Ocampo bolted from the scene. He was arrested later that night when he returned to the shopping center to retrieve his knife, according to the transcript.
Since then, Ocampo spoke with investigators five times. He seemed to get excited when talking about the act of killing, so Wyatt asked him if he was aroused by the murders.
Ocampo at first questioned the word, according to Wyatt, but then added that he felt a surge "and I knew that I had the killer gene."
Wyatt testified that he asked Ocampo whether he thought he deserved a negative consequence for his decision to kill.
"He told me that he believed he deserved the death penalty, and he said lethal injection or whatever is quickest."
The district attorney has not yet decided whether to seek capital punishment in the case.
Victim James Patrick McGillivray, 53, was stabbed Dec. 20 near a shopping center in Placentia; Middaugh, 42, was found Dec. 28 in Anaheim; Paulus Smit, 57, was stabbed to death outside the Yorba Linda library on Dec. 30; and Berry was killed on Jan. 13
Herrera was initially charged with the murder of his brother and mother but the charges were dropped last month. Prosecutors said they no longer had enough evidence to hold Herrera after finding DNA that linked Ocampo to the crime, but they said Herrera is still under investigation.
Ocampo told detectives Herrera was not involved in the murders and that he had initially planned to kill his former friend, too, and make it look like a murder-suicide, but Herrera left the house too soon for him to attack, according to the transcript.
Ocampo, who lived with his mother and younger brother and sister in Yorba Linda, said he hadn't told his family about the stabbings but his mother had joked a few days before his arrest that maybe he was the murderer, Wyatt said.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Susan Price told the grand jury that Ocampo had used his military service to justify preying on the weak and vulnerable in killings that were "outrageous."
"It is the stuff that movies are made of," she said during the proceedings. "Because rarely do you find anyone that is so evil, so sophisticated, and so determined to end another person's life."