Police find evidence linked to homicide in La Brea Tar Pits

A dive into the deep dark depths of the La Brea Tar Pits by Los Angeles police Thursday paid off for investigators, who said they recovered multiple items from a cold homicide case.

At 6 a.m. Thursday, personnel with the LAPD's Metropolitan Division, criminal gang homicide unit — as well as Long Beach police and port police — gathered in the 5800 block of Wilshire Boulevard.

Authorities deployed heavy equipment, including metal detectors on land and in the tar, high-powered magnets and sonar to map the area. Video cameras were able to focus on possible items of interest.

By 2 p.m., multiple items in the detective's criminal investigation were recovered, showing that police would "go as far as we can to make it as difficult for a suspect to discard evidence," said Sgt. David Mascarenas of the LAPD’s dive team.

Mascarenas' dive into the tar pits was part of a joint investigation into a murder case by local and federal law enforcement agencies. Police would not describe nor detail the evidence they were seeking.

The La Brea Tar Pits are a cluster of dark pools where tar has seeped to the surface for tens of thousands of years. The pits are famous for containing the fossils of Pleistocene animals — such as saber-tooth cats, dire wolves and mammoths — that were trapped in the tar, their bones preserved over time.

Mascarenas said he was surprised by the topography of the pit, which he said included protrusions of tar that looked like small mountains.

"The methane gas was pushing up tar in pinnacle-like fashion," Mascarenas said. "I would squeeze the cylindrical columns and they would pop and I heard the gas burp.

"The tar," he said, "went all over my face and arms."

During the dive, he said, he got in a couple of tight spots, once when his fins became stuck to the bottom and another time when his communications line became pinned to a pipe.

"I've been under moving ships, in underwater reservoir sheds ... you name it," Mascarenas said. "This is by far the craziest thing I've ever done."

Police had been planning the search for weeks.

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andrew.blankstein@latimes.com