In the early hours of January 4, Las Vegas police found the body of Daniel Aldape, a 46-year-old homeless man, laying in an empty lot at an intersection near the city's downtown, dead of head trauma. They suspected he had been killed in his sleep, bludgeoned over the head with a hammer as he lay wrapped in blankets.
One month later, another homeless man, 60-year-old David Dunn, turned up dead at the same intersection. He, too, was likely sleeping when someone struck him repeatedly in the head with a hammer, police said.
Detectives worried that both men were victims of "thrill kills," random slayings carried out solely for the rush of taking another person's life, as the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
With no leads on a suspect, police decided they'd try to bait the killer. Just a few feet from where Aldape's body was discovered, they set up a decoy, a mannequin draped in blankets and positioned to look like a person sleeping on the sidewalk.
Within hours, someone approached. After surveying the scene, the suspect pulled up his hooded sweatshirt, took out a hammer and bashed the mannequin "several times" on the head, according to police. The incident was captured on surveillance video.
Police arrested Shane Schindler, 30, and charged him with one count of carrying a concealed weapon, local media reported last week Friday. He appeared in court last week, and a judge set his bail at US$50,000 ($72,000). Though Schindler has not been charged in the deaths of the two homeless men, police say his attack on the mannequin made clear he had "the intent to kill."
"The decoy mannequin was staged in a manner which would have made it impossible for Schindler to have determined the mannequin was not a human being before he struck," police said in the arrest report, according to the Review Journal.
During questioning by police, Schindler admitted that he kicked the decoy and struck it with his hammer, but told investigators he "knew it was a mannequin" before he attacked it, according to the report.
Schindler has not entered a plea. His next court hearing is set for March 15. His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ashley Sisolak called his bail excessive and disputed the charge against him. "My client has proclaimed his innocence, and I look forward to fighting these allegations," she told the Review Journal.
Police said Schindler was carrying a 2kg engineer's hammer inside a pizza bag on the night of February 22 when he went to the area where the homeless men were found dead. The intersection, located several blocks west of the city's business district, is mostly empty except for a small deli and a bus stop. The Las Vegas Strip, home to most of the city's gambling and entertainment fare, is several miles away.
According to police, Schindler arrived at the scene around 3am and approached the mannequin three times before striking, as the Las Vegas Sun reported. Police said Schindler swung the hammer with both arms to "generate maximum force to his blow."
The episode has rattled homeless people in the area, as KSNV reported. Bobby Sutherland said he was avoiding the strip where Aldape and Dunn were killed. "I figure if there are killers, stay away from them," he told the station.
"This block itself, there's a lot of people who sleep on this street, so that could have been me," Larry Potts said of the spot where police left the decoy. "It's not too good for a home person to be in struggle already. And then for them to be murdered for no apparent reason is just a tragedy."