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Sunday, March 10, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Train Hopper Suspected Of Slaying Dozen Or More

AP

AUBURN, Calif. - A member of a loosely organized gang of train-hopping homeless people is suspected of killing at least 12 people, and may have killed many more, police said.

Police departments from around the country were inquiring about Robert Joseph Silveria, 37, a former roofer from Redwood City, Calif., arrested yesterday by Southern Pacific Railroad police.

Silveria, who agreed Friday to be extradited to Oregon to face charges in two deaths last December, was a member of a group called the Freight Train Riders Association, investigators said. They said members have banded together for common defense and to prey on other homeless people.

"It's a very tenuous life on the rails," said Lt. Brad Marenger of the Placer County Sheriff's Department. "You don't know what your bunkmate in the boxcar is going to be like."

Marenger said Silveria is being very cooperative. But Marenger would not comment when asked whether he had confessed to the slayings.

Silveria is suspected in the slaying of William Pettit Jr., whose body was found in a boxcar in Millersburg, Ore., on Dec. 3. Three days later, the body of Michael Clites, 24, was found in a boxcar in Portland.

Marenger said Silveria is also suspected in slayings in Klickitat County, Wash.; White Fish, Mont.; Salt Lake City; Topeka, Kan.; Grand County, Utah, and Redding, Roseville and Keddie, Calif., and a double homicide in Pima County, Ariz.

Silveria is also suspected of being an accessory to the slayings of an elderly couple in Havre, Mont., Placer County Undersheriff Stephen D'Arcy said.

The slayings in which Silveria is accused occurred between 1981 and 1995. Most, but not all, involved male transients and occurred on railroad property, Placer County Sheriff's Detective Bill Summers and Salem Police Detective Mike Quakenbush said.

Few details of the slayings were available. Marenger said it would be up to individual jurisdictions whether to prosecute Silveria.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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