Friday, June 20, 2008
[size=11pt]Detective honored for work on family's tragic case
Karen Schroepfer led investigation on crimes that left father and daughter dead and mother clinging to life.
By DENISSE SALAZAR
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
ANAHEIM – In the wake of one of the most gruesome cases in Anaheim history that left two family members dead and a third nearly bludgeoned to death, one detective led the investigation that put three suspects in jail.
Homicide detective Karen Schroepfer, 52, was recognized Fridaywith the Special Recognition Award at the Anaheim Police Department Awards Ceremony and Retirement Dinner. The award is given occasionally to employees for their superior devotion to duty.
Schroepfer is the lead detective in what has been described as one of the most complex and high profile homicide investigations in department history.
The phone call woke her up in the middle of the night more than a year ago. Schroepfer initially thought she was dealing with a family dispute but quickly realized it was a horrendous crime.
The attacks took place around 11 p.m. May 21, 2007 at the Dhanak family's Anaheim Hills home, police said. About five hours later, the bodies of Jayprakash Dhanak, 56, and Karishma Dhanak, 20, were found near an Irvine bicycle trail. They had been strangled, burned and stabbed.
The mother, 53-year-old Leela Dhanak, was found bludgeoned and unconscious in her neighbor's yard as the family's home burned.
"I've been a homicide detective for 10 years. This is one of the most – if not the most – violent crimes I've seen," Schroepfer said.
In the days following the crimes, Schroepfer oversaw 50 officers working on the case. She put her personal life on hold and worked for the next two months without a day off.
The clues started trickling in as she and her team interviewed family and friends of the Dhanaks. Interviews led to Iftekhar Murtaza, 23, the on-again-off-again boyfriend of the Dhanak's youngest daughter, Shayona, who was not at home during the attacks. Court records indicate that her Hindu family disapproved of her relationship with Murtaza, who is Muslim, and Murtaza was angry with the Dhanaks for interfering.
"I interviewed Murtaza before he went to Arizona. It was a routine interview that … you hope will point you in the direction of a suspect."
Days later, Murtaza was arrested at Phoenix International Airport attempting to board a flight to India.
"Things just started falling into place after we found the key piece to the puzzle," she said.
Last June, Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 22, of West Hollywood, was arrested near Phoenix. A third man, Charles Murphy Jr., 23, of Mission Hills, was arrested in August at the Irvine Spectrum.
The defendants are each charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. [glow=red,2,300]They are in jail awaiting an Aug. 12 preliminary hearing.[/glow]
During the peak of the investigation, Schroepfer was suffering from severe knee pain and underwent surgery after the third arrest. During the two weeks she took to recover, she continued to work from home and then returned to work on crutches.
Police Capt. Joe Vargas said he doesn't know how Schroepfer was able to give 100 percent the whole time.
"What I see is passion for justice," Vargas said.
Prosecutor Howard Gundy said he was glad Schroepfer, who he described as a "quiet hero," is being recognized for her dedication, knowledge and focus.
Through the lengthy and ongoing investigation, Schroepfer has occasionally talked to the surviving Dhanaks to answer their questions.
"Leela is traumatized. She lost her husband and daughter and nearly lost her own life. She is trying to come to grips with all this and trying to make it to the next day," Schroepfer said.