Toni Yager, who was found stabbed to death in her Hancock Park home Monday night, didn't have family in the United States and never had children, but always wanted a daughter.
As her hair dresser and travel companion for 25 years, Trisha Cardinale felt that was her role.
"It's like losing my mother," Cardinale said through tears. "So it's very hard."
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Yager was found dead by her caretaker, who is cooperating with police and is not considered a suspect, police said. Someone stabbed the 86-year-old widow of a onetime Los Angeles Superior Court judge multiple times and took off.
Homicide investigators said she may have been killed during a burglary, but police found no signs of a break-in.
"I'm praying to God that she didn't suffer because she was such a wonderful woman, just wonderful," Cardinale said.
Friends, meanwhile, mourned a "stately" woman who gave to the Assistance League of Los Angeles.
"She was concerned about the children," said her neighbor Joyce Skinner. "She did donate. It was her life."
Lt. John Radtke of the Los Angeles Police Department said detectives would be meticulous in trying to solve the case.
"We are looking for fingerprints. We are looking for footprints. We are looking for blood," he said. "We are looking for anything that might help us identify the person who might have been involved in this crime."
Skinner said she rang the doorbell at 3 p.m. Monday to deliver pastries to Yager, but no one answered the door.
"It's beyond me," Skinner said. "Who would do this to her?"
Police said they did not know how long she had been dead.
Detectives said they found her home disheveled, leading investigators to believe "there was some kind of criminal activity" there, said LAPD Capt. Howard Leslie.
Crimes, particularly homicides, are rare in Hancock Park, investigators said.
Mike Larkin, Annette Arreola, and Willian Avila contributed to this report.