Friendly, talkative and extremely smart are how friends and neighbors remember 63-year-old Charles Russell Lavenson, whose body was discovered early Sunday evening on Cerro San Luis in San Luis Obispo.
Police investigating his death are calling it a possible homicide. Investigators think robbery may have been the motive.
Detectives are looking over some surveillance video where they believe Lavenson was seen earlier in the day withdrawing money from Chase bank in downtown San Luis Obispo.
“The way his injuries were, it definitely looked like they didn’t come from a fall,” said San Luis Obispo police Lt. Chris Staley. “It looked like someone assaulted him with some sort of object like a bat or a pipe or some other sort of blunt object.
“We are trying to get a search warrant on his residence to determine what is missing and what he had on him at the time of the incident,” Staley added.
Lavenson was found near Lincoln and Mountain View streets with severe injuries to his face and head. The cause of death has not been determined; deputy coroners with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department will conduct an autopsy today.
Lavenson was found wearing khaki pants, a button-up, short-sleeve white shirt with blue stripes, and brown dress shoes with white shoelaces, according to police.
A plastic key card to a hotel room was found in one of Lavenson’s pockets, and detectives are trying to identify which hotel it belonged to.
Lavenson enjoyed sharing knowledge, said Sandy Medhurst, administrative assistant at Judson Terrace, a subsidized San Luis Obispo retirement community where Lavenson lived since July 2010.
“Talking to him was like reading an encyclopedia,” she recalled. “He was very intelligent and well-educated. He could talk about things that happened hundreds of years ago. He knew all of the details and facts. He had once been a state park ranger and a librarian.”
Several Judson Terrace residents said Lavenson often took the bus to Grover Beach to check on a storage unit he had there and to walk by the ocean near Pismo Beach. Sometimes he would get a hotel room and spend the night there.
“To die so suddenly in such a horrible way is a very sad ending to a life that should have had many more years to go,” Medhurst said.
Barry Rands attended First Presbyterian Church of San Luis Obispo with Lavenson.
“I’ve been a member of the church for about two years, and he was there the whole time I was there. It’s a shock to everybody. It’s sad that this happened.”
Lavenson, who is survived by a brother and a sister in the Bay Area, was an avid outdoor enthusiast and could often be seen walking throughout San Luis Obispo and the South County.
Investigators say they are working with that information and trying to piece together what Lavenson was doing on the last day he was seen alive. So far, detectives say they believe he woke up early as usual and headed out. “What we are really focusing on is establishing a timeline,” San Luis Obispo Police Department Lt. Jeff Smith said. “Right now, there’s about a 31⁄2-hour time period where we don’t know what he was doing or where he was.”
Lavenson had a criminal history: six misdemeanor cases were filed against him from 2002 to 2007. His latest arrest was on a battery charge, to which he pleaded no contest. Investigators say they do not believe his run-ins with the law are in any way connected to how or why he died.
San Luis Obispo investigators are asking anyone who may have seen Lavenson on Sunday to contact them at 781-7317 or Crime Stoppers at 549-7867.