ORANGE, Calif. — The blood-stained carpet was the first clue Arlet Contreras and her two young sons had not just abandoned their apartment in a gated Orange County complex.
Police began looking for them and Contreras' boyfriend, Shazer Fernando Limas, after a cleaning crew discovered the old stains on the walls and under the carpet they were pulling up.
When an observant officer spotted Limas in a parking lot in a nearby city, however, the 31-year-old fled, leading police on a high-speed chase that ended with his arrest on three counts of murder.
Prosecutors now believe that Limas, who works for a commercial cleaning supply company, stabbed his girlfriend and their 3-month-old and 1-year-old sons, on April 14 – nearly three weeks before police responded to the bloody apartment.
Investigators subsequently found Contreras' body in a Los Angeles County morgue where it had been lying unidentified for 10 days. The children have still not been found but are also believed dead, and authorities searched a nearby landfill Tuesday using a bulldozer and cadaver-sniffing dogs.
No one filed a missing report on Contreras or her children and there was no sign of trouble before the cleaning crew called police, he said.
"This is like something you'd see on TV, you know, and then you add in a car chase," said police Sgt. Dan Adams. "We were actively looking for all four of them because when our officers were at the apartment, it was evident that something had happened there and something was wrong. We definitely wanted to check on the welfare of all four of them, but when he led us on a high-speed chase, it raised our suspicion level very much."
Limas made a brief court appearance Monday in Santa Ana. His public defender asked that the arraignment be postponed to provide more time to review evidence in the case. The arraignment was continued until May 23. Limas remained in custody without bail.
On Monday, prosecutors laid out a timeline for the killings but acknowledged they have more questions than answers.
Authorities believe Limas stabbed his family to death April 14, in part because he reported to Long Beach Memorial Hospital the following day for surgery for a cut on his hand, Senior Deputy District Attorney Scott Simmons said.
Also, Contreras' body was found with stab wounds under a tarp in a gutter in La Puente, a city more than 20 miles north of the couple's apartment, according to police.
Ten days after Limas killed the three, prosecutors said, he purchased a tarp at a Home Depot and dumped Contreras' body the next day.
More than a week later, on May 3, the cleaning crew called police to report the bloody carpet and within a day, Limas was under arrest and police had found Contreras' body.
"There's a lot of things that we're still working on. I don't know what he was doing specifically between the date of the murder and the date of the body dump. I don't know where he stored the body. I believe it was at the apartment somewhere," Simmons said after the court hearing.
Limas was recently ordered by an Orange County Superior Court judge to pay $284 a month in child support to Contreras starting April 1, and that could be a possible motive, Simmons said.
Limas has been cooperative and has talked to investigators but has not provided the location of the children's bodies, he said. Authorities would not say whether he had confessed.
"We're just doing due diligence and doing everything we can to locate these two children," Simmons said. "But I'm confident in the case even if we don't find the children."
Limas has no known criminal history but has a handful of cases in family and civil court, according to court records.
In 2007 court filing, one of Limas' ex-wives said that he grabbed and wrestled her to the door and pointed an air gun at her and pulled the trigger. The gun was empty but the attack aggravated the woman's back injury, according to the request for a temporary restraining order filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
A judge issued the woman a one-year protective restraining order requiring Limas to stay at least 100 yards away and not call her, records show.
She and Limas filed for divorce days later.
Limas also was ordered to pay $302 a month to support a daughter from another relationship, according to court files.
___Associated Press writer Anthony McCartney in Los Angeles contributed to this report.