A day laborer from Annandale has been charged with murder in the stabbing death of a Fairfax County contractor who had hired him to work in a Chevy Chase home, police said yesterday.
The slaying occurred after the day laborer stole stereo equipment and jewelry from the house where they were working, court records say.
The issue of day laborers gathering informally to be hired by contractors has been contentious recently, particularly in Herndon, where the town government is trying to accommodate workers with a gathering place away from a 7-Eleven on Herndon's main street. Police said yesterday that other day laborers were crucial in helping police make an arrest in the slaying.
"I know there's been a lot of discussion about day laborers," said Lt. Bruce Guth, a Fairfax homicide division supervisor. "But the people down there were more than helpful and willing to do what they could do."
The smoldering body of Hak Bong Kim, 55, was discovered Aug. 15 in the woods near St. Michael's Catholic Church on Ravensworth Road in Annandale. The body was so badly burned that police initially could not tell whether it was that of a man or a woman. Kim's family had reported him missing the night before, so detectives were quickly able to obtain dental records and identify Kim.
Kim, who lived in Burke, was a self-employed carpenter who did a variety of home repair jobs, a family member said last week. But the family did not know where he had been working the day of his disappearance, and his work van also was missing.
The day after Kim's body was found, the homeowner in Chevy Chase returned from vacation to find that someone had taken a DVD player, gold jewelry, class rings and coins, court records show. Spots of blood were on the floor, Montgomery County Police Lt. Phil Raum said, and the contractor the family had hired several times in the past was nowhere to be found: Hak Kim.
Montgomery and Fairfax police launched a joint investigation. Police found unspecified evidence that led them to a 7-Eleven store in Annandale where day laborers congregate, Guth said, and detectives began reviewing the store's surveillance tapes, hoping to find footage of Kim.
It worked. After reviewing dozens of tapes, Guth said, detectives spotted Kim and another man. The police printed up a poster with the unknown man's face and offered a $1,000 reward. Then they sent Spanish-speaking officers to several day-laborer gathering sites to try to identify him.
"Fifteen minutes into it, somebody knew who it was," Guth said. He also said the tipster didn't want the reward money but just wanted to help solve the case. "He thought it was the right thing to do," Guth said, although he said police would probably give him the money anyway.
"Once we had a name, it was just a matter of finding him," Guth said.
The name was Carlos H. Bustamante Medieta, and police found him Monday afternoon. He agreed to go with Fairfax detectives back to police headquarters.
Once there, according to a search warrant affidavit written by Fairfax homicide Detective Dennis Harris, Bustamante admitted killing Kim in Chevy Chase, then taking his body to Annandale and trying to dispose of it by burning it in a pit.
Bustamante, 29, was arrested, and Montgomery police obtained a warrant charging him with first-degree murder. He is being held in the Fairfax County jail pending extradition.
Police searched Bustamante's home in the 4500 block of King Edward Court at 2 a.m. yesterday. Records show they found the same type of DVD player stolen from Chevy Chase, a plastic storage bag containing assorted jewelry and a plastic bowl holding coins. They also seized a folding knife. Police said yesterday that Kim died of multiple stab wounds.
Police said Bustamante is from Honduras. They did not know how long he had been in the country, and they did not think he was here legally. He speaks little English, and an interpreter was used to interrogate him, Harris's affidavit said.
Kim was trusted and loved by his customers, his family said, and Raum said the Chevy Chase homeowners had hired him before and had given him a key to work in their house while they were gone. Police believe he was killed in their house on Warwick Place in the Friendship Heights neighborhood.