Body Remained in Car for 14 Days Before Fiancée’s Attorney Tipped Off LAPD
By FRANCES SHARPE | Editor-in-Chief
As nerve-wracked neighbors looked on, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) removed over 1,200 firearms and two tons of ammunition from a condo in the Highlands in Pacific Palisades on Sunday, July 19, according to LAPD.
“This is the most unusual gun hoarding case I’ve seen in the 27 years I’ve worked for LAPD,” Capt. Tina Nieto told the Palisadian-Post. “The number of guns was a record for me.”
In addition to the weapons cache, police also counted and removed thousands of dollars in cash, according to Nieto.
The removal operation took most of the day Sunday, slowed in large part because of what policed called an “extreme hoarding” situation. Inside the 2,000 square-foot, two-bedroom, three-bath condo, guns, ammo boxes and random items were stacked high in every room.
Peter Branch, who lives nearby, watched as gun after gun was removed. He also witnessed as authorities stacking and counting cash in a neighbor’s garage.
The unusual scene marked the end of a hot, humid, stormy weekend when the typically quiet neighborhood, which is approximately three miles up Palisades Drive from Sunset Boulevard, provided the backdrop for intense police activity.
After the weapons and potentially dangerous chemicals were found in the condo on Saturday afternoon, LAPD ordered an evacuation of nearby neighbors and shut down Palisades Drive to through traffic. The bomb squad, Hazardous Materials Unit (Hazmat), K9 units and more than a dozen squad cars and other emergency vehicles arrived on scene.
“With the chemicals, we err on the side of caution, so we got rid of them,” Nieto said.
Gun enthusiasts told the Post the arsenal, which included rifles, shotguns and handguns, could be worth well over $1 million.
The weapons were discovered in the condo in the 1700 block of Palisades Drive during a death investigation that began on Friday, July 17.
That’s when the decomposing body of the man who lived in the condo with Catherine Nebron, who is the condo’s owner according to real estate records, was found in a car on Palisades Drive.
“I reported the dead body to LAPD,” said Nebron’s attorney Harland Braun in an interview with the Palisadian-Post.
Braun said Nebron was with the man, whose identity has not yet been released, when he died.
“She did not contact authorities because for various reasons, she believed the people her fiancé worked for would come and take care of him,” Braun said.
According to Braun, the deceased man believed he worked for an undercover government agency.
“Whether he really was working undercover for some government agency or not, he was convinced he was and he had my client convinced,” Braun said.
The deceased man had told neighbors the same thing.
“I’ve only talked to him maybe once or twice. He mentioned at one point that he was either currently or used to be with the CIA or was some kind of secret agent. I thought he was full of it,” said a neighbor who lives in the same condo complex as the couple and who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity.
“He was odd and he made me uncomfortable,” the neighbor added.
According to a long-time close friend who has known Nebron’s family his entire life and who spoke to the Post, the man died on July 3.
“I got a call from Catherine at about 11:30 p.m. that night. She told me, ‘It’s urgent! You need to get here. Things are bad,’” said the friend, who is a medical professional and who asked not to be identified by name.
When the friend arrived in the Highlands, he found Nebron’s fiancé in the passenger seat of an SUV.
“It took me about 90 seconds to assess the situation,” he said. “Catherine wasn’t aware he had already passed away.”
The friend said he spent about an hour and a half performing life-saving measures to no avail and did his best to calm Nebron.
“She was wailing and grieving,” he said.
When asked if he or Nebron called 9-1-1, the friend said they didn’t.
“She said he had given her very specific instructions about what to do and what not to do if he passed away,” the friend said, adding that in his opinion, the man died of natural causes. “He had been ill and it was just a matter of time.”
The friend could not confirm rumors that the dead man’s body was wrapped in plastic or packed in dry ice. He said that after helping out for about two hours in the highly tense situation, “I just wanted to get the f—k out of Dodge.”
According to Nebron’s attorney, Nebron went away for a number of days after the death of her fiancée and when she returned, she was shocked to see his body still there.
That’s when she contacted Braun, a nationally renowned criminal defense attorney, about representation. In turn, Braun contacted police about the dead body.
His client subsequently told him there were guns in the condo, and he followed up and informed LAPD about the weapons.
“Catherine thought there were about 500 guns in the condo, but there turned out to be about 1,500. Many of them were locked in rooms and she didn’t know about them or have access to the rooms,” said Braun, adding that this case continues to get stranger.
The attorney said he told LAPD that Nebron would consent to a search without a warrant, “but LAPD went ahead and got a search warrant anyway.”
The news about the massive arsenal in the condo complex where units sell for close to $1 million stunned and frightened the close-knit community.
“We knew the guy who lived there was a hoarder, but it’s shocking to find out that someone living so close by has hundreds of guns and possibly explosives,” said Linnard Lane, who lives a few doors down from the townhouse-style unit where the guns were found.
“We have a fairly attentive HOA and the neighbors know each other, but nobody knew anything about this,” Lane told the Post.
“If someone wants to keep guns in their home, okay, but to have hundreds and hundreds of them? How many guns do you need? I mean, it’s the Palisades, and we have a lot of families and kids in this complex,” he added.
Lane was one of the residents ordered to evacuate for the majority of Saturday and was allowed to return home at about 11 p.m.
“Everybody from LAPD was swift and efficient and couldn’t have been nicer,” he said about the ordeal.
On Monday morning on the 1700 block of Palisades Drive, things appeared to have returned to normal as residents walked their dogs and people drove off to work. Residents were still talking about the bizarre incident, however.
Andrea Manning, who has lived in the condo complex for years, expressed relief that the arsenal of weapons was no longer a few units down from her residence.
“It’s a great benefit to our community that they took all these guns away,” she told the Post.
An autopsy on the deceased man is scheduled and no cause of death has been determined. Foul play is not suspected and the death is not being investigated as a homicide, according to LAPD Capt. Nieto.
LAPD’s gun unit is currently inventorying and tracking all the weapons to see if they were legal.
LAPD’s Robbery Homicide Division is taking the lead on investigating this case. Anyone with information on this case is asked to call Robbery-Homicide Division at (213) 486-6890.
—Additional reporting by Alexandria Bordas.