A knife-wielding serial killer is on the prowl in Orange County, targeting the homeless, officials said Wednesday.
One day after police in three cities to explore possible links among a trio of transient slayings, Anaheim Police Chief John Welter told reporters, "We believe these murders are likely committed by the same suspect and we feel he is extremely dangerous to the public.''
Police said each of the victims was a homeless, middle-aged white man stabbed multiple times.
Although the killings have been confined to north Orange County, investigators believe the suspect poses a wide danger.
“We have reached out to all Orange County law enforcement agencies and asked them to help reach the homeless community and warn them,” Anaheim police Sgt. Bob Dunn said.
The slayings have frightened the area's homeless and those who look after the county's transients say they are mobilizing to get the word out on how they can protect themselves.
"The mood is very anxious," said Jim Palmer, president of the Orange County Rescue Mission. "They're frightened for their own safety and people don't really understand why someone would be so evil to pick on the least, lost and last of society .... We're encouraging people who don't normally stay in a shelter to do so until police catch [the killer]."
Orange County Rescue Mission workers will go out in vans Thursday afternoon to hand out fliers and reach out to the area's homeless, Palmer said.
The Rescue Mission's beds are "fuller than they have been in three years," mostly because of the recession, "but obviously things like this are stirring fear in peoples' hearts."
Two of the slayings happened last week. On Friday afternoon, 57-year-old Paulus Cornelius Smit was found stabbed at the bottom of a stairwell outside a library in Yorba Linda. Paramedics tried to revive him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Facebook posts by Julia Smit-Lozano said her father was stabbed 15 to 20 times in the upper body, after he confronted someone for stealing his bike.
Two days earlier, transient Lloyd Middaugh, 42, was found dead along a riverbed bike trail near Tustin Avenue and the 91 Freeway in Anaheim.
On Dec. 20, James Patrick McGillivray, 53, was fatally stabbed in a Placentia shopping center. Surveillance camera footage showed a possible suspect dressed in black walking toward McGillivray, police said.
Also shown was a white car leaving the area, although the victim was alive and standing as it drove off.
Police have been posting fliers in areas where transients congregate, warning them to be careful and stay in groups. Authorities have also passed out fliers to church groups and service organizations that work with the homeless.
Public vigilance was also urged. “When people go about their day, we want them to be more aware, and if they sense something isn’t quite right, to report it,” said Dunn.
Word has been getting out among the homeless in just the last couple of days, though the first killing occurred weeks ago, Palmer said.
The Rescue Mission has set up a website -- realhomeless.com -- to get information out quickly to the area's transients, Palmer said.
"We get it that it might sound silly that the homeless would have access to the Internet, but they regularly do from the library," Palmer said. "We figured a website would be the quickest way to get information out."
Anyone with information should call 714-765-1944 or email detectives at email@example.com.
-- City News Service contributed to this report.