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3 Men Behind Grisly Murders of 4 Family Members Who Were Hogtied and Burned Alive
Hatred between two families and a business dispute leads to quadruple homicide and arson in Los Angeles.
Just after 11 p.m. on May 4, 2002, firefighters were dispatched to a single-family residence in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles.
Waiting in the driveway was Harish Kumar, 47, who’d called 911. He had tried to get inside, “but he was unable to do so because of the flames and the heat,” Vic Pietrantoni, a former LAPD homicide detective, told Fatal Family Feuds, airing on Oxygen.
Detectives track Harish Kumar family quadruple homicide
The charred bodies of Harish’s family members were found in one room. The four deceased victims were identified as his wife, Gita, 42; son Paras, 18; daughter Tulsi, 16; and mother Sitaben Patel, 63.
Arson investigators and detectives from the LAPD were called to the scene, where the smell of gasoline was present. The victims had been “hog-tied” and their mouths sealed with duct tape, said Pietrantoni, adding, “That is an obvious indication that foul play was involved.”
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The deceased “had obviously endured immense heat,” said Jay Moberly, a former LAPD homicide detective. “I remember one of the bodies having a leg burned off up to the knee.”
Investigators learned that the Kumar family had moved to the U.S. in the late 1970s. In 1990, Harish and Gita bought a rundown hotel in the Studio City area.
They worked hard to renovate the property. “Gita was an amazing businesswoman,” said Harish’s nephew, Sagar Kumar. The Kumars eventually developed a chain of hotels and were enjoying their success.
Harish Kumar reveals business dispute with Victor Govin
Harish told detectives that he returned home after a volleyball game and that there were no problems within the family. Investigators were able to clear him early on.
Harish mentioned that his family was involved in a dispute with Victor Govin, another member of the Indian community, said Pietrantoni.
Govin owned a small rundown hotel adjacent to the one Gita ran. There was a dispute over access to an alleyway, but the issue had remained relatively cordial, Harish told detectives.
As police worked the case, surveillance footage from a house near the Kumars showed that a gray truck had been in the area before and after the blaze began.
A close look at the vehicle raised a red flag. “There was no license plate on it,” said Moberly. “It had been taken off.” Police tried to track down the unmarked truck.
In the meantime, detectives walked through the crime scene with Harish. He pointed out that Gita’s case, filled with jewelry, and about $5,000 in cash were gone.
"Obvious hatred" at Kumar crime scene raises doubt robbery was a motive
Despite the missing valuables, investigators doubted that this was a robbery gone wrong “because of the obvious hatred that was inherent in this crime scene,” said Moberly.
More disturbing revelations emerged after the autopsies. Smoke in the victims’ lungs showed that they were burned alive.
Gita and Tulsi both suffered injuries to their throats. “Both the daughter and mother may have been strangled,” said John Little, a former LAPD arson investigator.
Investigators turned their attention to Victor Govin. They learned that Govin had blocked an alleyway to expand his property. Gita needed the shared alley to be opened up to conduct her business. The dispute arose and the Department of City Planning became involved.
Victor and Peter Govin, Carlos Amador become suspects after a tip
At this point, Rod Bernsen, a former LAPD sergeant and former Fox 11 crime reporter, reached out to detectives. He’d gotten a call with inside information about who committed the quadruple murder and arson. Bernsen convinced the caller to meet with police.
The tipster, named Angel, claimed that six weeks before the murders he’d been contacted to intimidate some folks into signing some contracts, according to Moberly. He would be accompanied by two men. He knew them as Pedro, who drove a gray truck, and Freddie.
The targets of the scheme that didn’t pan out were the Kumars. Angel identified the man Freddie as Victor Govin. Detective work led investigators to Carlos Amador, who had a gray pickup registered in his name.
Investigators found out that Amador had a history of minor offenses. Some of them had been committed with Peter Govin, Victor’s brother.
Peter had been convicted seven years earlier for assault with a firearm. He somehow got less than two years in jail for that crime, detectives said.
The Govins had major expansion plans tied to rights to the disputed alleyway. “It meant millions to the Govins,” Moberly said.
Investigators learned that the Govins were aggravated by the fact that Harish deferred to Gita in discussions about the alleyway.
“We determined that both Victor and his brother were incensed by the fact that they had to talk to Gita,” said Pietrantoni, adding that believed this “started the hatred” between the two families.
A hearing scheduled for May 10, just six days after the murders, would have determined who won the alley dispute — the Kumars or the Govins, according to Fatal Family Feuds.
Investigators spoke with city planners. “They indicated to us that Gita would have been granted full access in the alley,” said Pietrantoni. “Victor Govin would have been required to remove any structures that he had illegally set up.”
After tapping the phones of the Govin brothers and Amador, investigators posed as auto theft detectives and spoke with Amador. They managed to get the VIN number of his truck.
In late July, they came to suspect that the Govins, who knew that he’d spoken with authorities, planned to kill their co-conspirator.
Carlos Amador, Victor and Peter Govin charged with murders
Amador was taken into custody. He admitted that he accompanied the Govins to the Kumar residence on the night of the murders, investigators said.
The Govin brothers were arrested. They denied any involvement in the crime and Victor claimed that he didn’t know Amador. When he was shown a picture of them together he turned silent.
Detectives banked on Amador being the suspect to crack under pressure. He cut a deal for a reduced charge of four second-degree murder charges in exchange for giving evidence against the Govins.
Amador claims the Govins told him the plan was just to intimidate Gita into signing documents to give up her family’s rights to the contested alleyway.
The scheme involved staging a robbery by Peter and Amador, who burst into the home wearing masks. Victor, who was already inside, acted as if he was a victim too. The Kumars were led to a bedroom and hogtied. Their eyes were covered.
But the plan was abandoned when Gita’s blind came off and she saw that Victor was in on it, Amador told police. The bedroom was doused with an accelerant.
“Amador claims he went out to the truck before they were set on fire,” said Moberly.
Victor and Peter Govin were charged with four counts of capital murder, as well as burglary, arson, and robbery. They pleaded not guilty.
Amador was offered 15 years to life for his testimony. Victor and Peter Govin’s trial began on March 25, 2004. They were found guilty and sentenced to death.
Harish Kumar died a few months after the trial.
In 2018, Victor Govin committed suicide in his cell. Peter Govin remains on death row to this day.
To learn more about the case, watch Fatal Family Feuds, airing on Oxygen.