First there were the threats. “I’m going to kill that son of a bitch. I’m going to kill that motherfucker. I’m going to take out Mickey. I’m too smart to get caught. I’ll have him wasted. He’ll never see a nickel. I’ll kill him first. Mickey doesn’t know who he is fucking with. He is fucking dead.”
“Mickey” was Mickey Thompson, a dynamic, charismatic and much-admired former off-road racer and promoter. Fearless on his own behalf, he was “scared to death,” he told his sister, that someone was going to hurt his “baby” — his beloved wife, Trudy. He hired a guard to watch his house, asked the sheriff for extra patrols, wore a bulletproof vest, loaded his shotgun with buckshot, avoided standing in front of lighted windows, varied his work routine, but none of it made any difference in the end.
At 6 a.m. on March 16, 1988, as Trudy backed the van out of the garage of their home in Bradbury, a small gated community in the San Gabriel foothills just east of Monrovia, two black males in their 20s, wearing dark, hooded jogging suits, suddenly materialized out of the shrubbery. One fired a 9 mm bullet that shattered the side window and penetrated the windshield. The van rolled back and hit a wall. Trudy jumped out, lost her balance and tried to crawl away, breaking her acrylic fingernails on the concrete drive. At the same time, Mickey apparently ran out around the side of the garage screaming, “Don’t shoot my wife.” One shooter crippled Mickey with a volley to the legs and abdomen. Even as Mickey begged the gunmen to at least spare Trudy, the second shooter killed her with a shot to the back of the head. Then, to complete the job, the first gunman administered the coup de grâce to Mickey as well.
As the screams and gunshots brought early-rising neighbors rushing to their windows and decks, the killers jumped on two 10-speed recurve-handlebar bikes and fled downhill at top speed. Narrowly avoiding being hit by a woman driving her dog to canine-assertiveness training, the men pushed their bikes across North Royal Oaks Avenue, went through a break in a grape-stake fence, down an embankment, and disappeared along a jogging path, which had once been an old railroad right of way.
News of the killings flashed like summer lightning through the Thompsons’ family and friends. One of the neighbors called the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group offices at Anaheim Stadium to say that he didn’t know what had happened, but shots were fired and “someone is lying in the driveway.” By the time Thompson’s vice president for operations, Bill Marcel, got there, the Thompson compound was cordoned off with yellow tape, behind which he could see the bodies of Mickey and Trudy lying in the drive “50 feet apart.”
Marcel spent the rest of the morning waiting to be interviewed by Sheriff’s investigators. When they finally got around to him, they asked, “Do you know anyone who would want to ?do this?”
Yes, said Marcel. As a matter of fact, he did.
Next week, after 18 years of investigation, 40,000 pages of discovery, 1,000 interviews, four different lead investigators and a 61-volume murder book that took the defense attorney seven months to read, another dynamic and charismatic — though far less admired — race promoter, Michael Goodwin, will go on trial in Pasadena Superior Court for the murders of Mickey and Trudy Thompson.
It is a case that has engendered deep and bitter hatreds on both sides. For the prosecution and Thompson’s family members, it is the chance (finally) to make Goodwin pay for his vicious crimes. But for Goodwin and his supporters, it’s justthe latest chapter? in a wrong-headed vendetta.
As his longtime friend John Bradley tells it, Goodwin is not only innocent but a deeply wronged man, hounded by corrupt prosecutors and criminally out-of-control investigators who essentially made up evidence without which Goodwin never would have been arrested, let alone indicted for murder. And the person Goodwin most blames for all of this is the woman he sees as the power behind the throne, Orange County victims’ activist and politician Collene Campbell, who is also Mickey Thompson’s sister.
Goodwin’s defense attorney, Los Angeles public defender Elena Saris, readily admits that the fact that her client is innocent doesn’t mean he’s an admirable guy in every way. (Even Goodwin’s friends call him an “asshole.”) But just because someone is a complete jerk doesn’t mean he’s a murderer too. And she’s not saying that just because Goodwin is her client and it’s her job to defend him. “He has never wavered on his innocence,” she says. “He’s never asked for a deal or a plea bargain.”
For one thing, says Saris, he doesn’t have to. The prosecution essentially has no case. It can’t put Goodwin at the scene of the crime. It has no murder weapon, DNA evidence, tape recordings, letters, documents, phone records or photographs to prove that he hired the men who shot the Thompsons (or did anything else to help, assist or further their deaths). Sheriff’s deputies have never caught the hit men nor do they even know who they are (though they suspect they live in the Caribbean). Other than a “couple of people” who claim to have heard Goodwin threaten Thompson 18 years ago, says Saris, “they have no evidence whatsoever tying Goodwin to the crime.”