LA Forensics: Where There's Smoke...
"Immigrant Success Story"
To Michael Duarte, Lon Kim's story was part of what makes the United States such a great country.
"He was from Vietnam," Duarte says. "(He) came to the United States with nothing, went to DePaul University, got a degree, moved to California, started working as an engineer and started his own real estate business on the side. As a result of that, (he) owned some apartment complexes in Southern California. It's the American dream, the immigrant success story."
On the day he disappeared, Lon left home in his 1983 Mercedes 240D to drive into Hawthorn, in South Central L.A., to an 18-unit apartment building he owned. He told his wife he was going to pick up rent from a couple of tenants.
One of Lon's tenants, Kerry Ephriam, a hospital security guard, owed more than $2,000 in back rent. He had sent Ephriam several letters about the rent. None had been threatening. There was no mention of eviction. That wasn't Lon's personality. He had simply asked Ephriam to pay what he could, even if it was as little as $50.
Earlier that day, Kerry Ephriam's brother, Kacey Ephriam, called Lon's house and left a message with his wife. Kerry had $40 to pay toward his rent, Kacey said. That afternoon Lon went to meet with Kerry Ephriam.
He never came back.
When detectives found out what Lon had been doing just before he disappeared, they canvassed the apartment building. They knocked on all 18 doors and talked to every resident they could find. A couple of people said they had seen him at the building that day.
The detectives also talked to Kerry Ephriam.
Ephriam said that just before he left for work he gave Mr. Kim $900 in cash. But there was a problem with Ephriam's story, which the homicide cops quickly uncovered.
Watch this story and many others from the case files of the LAPD's Scientific Investigation Division, which solves crimes using cutting edge forensics. Only on Court TV. Learn more.