Arrests Made in "Craigslist Murder" of SoCal Father

Investigators believe one suspect used the same ad to bait other robbery victims

By Samantha Tata
|  Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013  |  Updated 12:43 PM EDT
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Eighteen-year-old Markell Thomas and 17-year-old Ryan Roth were arrested for the murder of Rene Balbuena. The 41-year-old father was shot down in front of his son as the two were responding to a Craigslist ad to buy a cellphone. Patrick Healy reports from South Los Angeles for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. Oct. 28, 2013.

Patrick Healy

Eighteen-year-old Markell Thomas and 17-year-old Ryan Roth were arrested for the murder of Rene Balbuena. The 41-year-old father was shot down in front of his son as the two were responding to a Craigslist ad to buy a cellphone. Patrick Healy reports from South Los Angeles for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. Oct. 28, 2013.

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A Craigslist ad linked to several armed robberies lured a Southern California father and his son to a deadly encounter with two teenage gang members in South Los Angeles, LAPD investigators said Monday.

Ryan Roth, 17, and Markell Thomas, 18, were arrested late last week in connection with the fatal shooting of Rene Balbuena in the 9200 block of Gramercy Place near 92nd Street in South LA.

The 41-year-old father of two was in the area Oct. 19 responding to an ad for a $300 Samsung Galaxy that his son found on Craigslist.

Investigators said Balbuena (pictured below) texted the suspects – who are believed to have posted the ad – to let them know he was there and ready for the transaction, LAPD Detective Chris Barling said in a news conference Monday afternoon.

That’s when Thomas allegedly jumped in the backseat of Balbuena’s car and pointed a gun at the victim’s 15-year-old son, demanding property.

Balbuena stepped out the car and was shot multiple times in the torso, allegedly by Roth, who was waiting outside the car, Barling said. Balbuena’s son suffered a non-life threatening graze wound.

The pair ran and the murder weapon is still outstanding, Barling said.

Thomas was arrested Oct. 24; Roth was arrested the next day. They are both believed to be part of the same Inglewood Bloods gang.

"No one else is going to get hurt," Sandra Balbuena, the victim's 19-year-old daughter, said of her reaction to the arrests.

Tearfully, Sandra Balbuena expressed gratitude for the detectives who tracked down her father's alleged killers.

Investigators said the arrests came after they linked the slaying and attempted robbery (the suspects did not get any money from the Balbuenas) to at least seven stick-ups in the Baldwin Hills area. Those heists all involved the same Craigslist ad for a Samsung Galaxy smartphone and happened between Aug. 2 and Oct. 7, Barling said.

Thomas is believed to have been involved in all seven of those robberies, Barling said.

Both suspects were charged by the LA County District Attorney’s office Monday with one count each of murder, attempted murder, robbery with special circumstances and gang allegations. The 17-year-old was charged as an adult, Barling said.

Additional charges may be filed against Thomas, pending further investigation into other alleged Craigslist crimes, he said.

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