Safety concerns grew among the transient community Friday following the discovery of a second homeless man who had been beaten to death in Mesa in two days.
Lambert John Ormsby Jr., a 23-year-old transient, was arrested Friday afternoon on suspicion of first-degree murder in connection with Thursday's slaying of Peter Paul Caronna, 41. Friday's slaying of a 52-year-old man remains unsolved.
"It is unusual to have two individuals (killed) within close proximity and with head trauma and both homeless individuals, but we don't believe the two cases are linked at this point," said Mesa detective Tim Gaffney.
Gaffney said detectives will look at the possibility that the second death was the result of a "copycat" killer.
"We have questioned Ormsby in connection with the second case, but he has denied all involvement," Gaffney said.
Caronna's body was found about 8:30 a.m. Thursday about 30 feet west of railroad tracks at the 700 block of South Center Street after a Union Pacific Railway engineer noticed that he hadn't moved either time he passed by, police said.
Ormsby was arrested Friday afternoon after an individual contacted by detectives provided them information, Gaffney said.
"They knew each other prior to this incident," Gaffney said.
As detectives interviewed Ormsby, other detectives collected evidence at the second slaying at 1440 S. Country Club Drive.
Employees of Mesa Family Physicians called 911 at 7:20 a.m. Friday, Gaffney said. They had found a man lying underneath bushes outside the business and wanted paramedics to check on him.
Paramedics pronounced the man dead and the parking lot was cordoned off.
The identity of the second man is being withheld until family members can be contacted, Gaffney said.
Police have notified homeless advocates and local transients about the homicides, Gaffney said.
Ormsby has had run-ins with the police, including arrests for aggravated assault, criminal damage and drug offenses, Gaffney said. Detectives continued to question him late Friday.
Maria Rebuth, a real estate agent at Century 21 across the street from the second slaying, said she has grown used to seeing three homeless men in the area. They usually spent their nights sleeping in an enclosed trash bin area in the same parking lot as the doctors office and they spent their days drinking beer on a nearby wall, she said.
"It's so sad," Rebuth said. "They're really nice guys who don't cause any problems. They never asked me for anything, they never begged."
At Paz de Cristo community center on West Broadway Road, where up to 250 homeless people gather for meals every evening, director Joyce Faith said she planned to warn her clients to be careful.
"We'll let our people know at the meal service, but that's about all we can do," Faith said. "I imagine people will be watching their backs more than they normally do."
Faith said she worries that the victims were men she knew. People at the center tend to become part of a surrogate family, she said.
Violence against the homeless isn't uncommon, Faith said. Sometimes the assailants are other homeless people and sometimes they are just people bent on being mean, she said.
"They're easy targets. If you live on the streets, you have to sleep sometimes," Faith said.
Richard Hood, 62, spent Friday afternoon reading Tom Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears" on a West Broadway Road park bench while waiting for Paz de Cristo to open. Nearby, his clothes and collection of books were piled in a shopping cart.
"It really makes a guy wonder," Hood said of the slayings. "I guess I'll just try not to be alone."
Stan Burkholder, who spent Friday snoozing at Pioneer Park on Main Street, said he read about the first slaying in the Tribune. He expressed surprise at the news of the second slaying.
"Before this, my biggest worry was where I was going to keep my stuff and where I was going to go if it starts to rain," Burkholder, 34, said.
Asked if he could defend himself, Burkholder held up a small knife.
"I'll sleep with one eye open now, but I've always figured that if it's time to go, the Lord will take you no matter what," Burkholder said.