Suspect Arrested in Stabbing Death of Woman in Rolling Hills Estates

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Victorville woman was in custody today as a suspect in the fatal stabbing of a 66-year-old woman inside a mall parking structure in Rolling Hills Estates.

Cherie Townsend, 39, was arrested on Thursday in Victorville, and she was booked on suspicion of murder in the death of Susan Leeds, whose body was found in her SUV on May 3, the sheriff's department reported.

Townsend was being held in lieu of $1 million bail, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said at a news conference at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles.

``This was a crime that shocked the community,'' McDonnell said.

The motive for the crime was believed to be robbery, and investigators believe the victim was ``randomly chosen'' and was not known by the suspect, McDonnell said.

Leeds of Rancho Palos Verdes was attacked shortly after 12:20 p.m. May 3 at the Promenade on the Peninsula in the 500 block of Deep Valley Drive. She was found inside her SUV parked inside the Promenade's parking garage with her throat cut and several stab wounds to the chest.

A man was detained on May 4 as a person of interest in the case but was ultimately ruled out as a suspect in the killing -- although he was arrested for an unrelated offense.

``Forensic evidence and video surveillance indicated that (the man) was not involved in this crime,'' McDonnell said. ``However, our investigators collected critical evidence at the crime scene that has led us to ... Cherie Townsend.''

McDonnell said investigators have not ruled out the possibility that one or more other suspects may have been involved in the crime.

``However, we do not have any information that leads us to any other suspects at this time,'' McDonnell said.

Anyone with information on the case was urged to call the Sheriff's Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500.

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