By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
If the prosecution has no evidence, then why wasn’t Goodwin acquitted long ago? That’s a good question, says Saris. Deputy district attorneys stop her in the halls of the Criminal Courts Building to ask her the same thing all the time.
At the other end of the spectrum are people like Campbell and the lead investigator, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Detective Mark Lillienfeld, who feel in their bones that Mike Goodwin plotted, directed and paid for the Thompson hits, but worry that because all the evidence against him is circumstantial, it is entirely possible that a jury might not convict him. “I’ve had stronger cases, that’s for sure,” says Lillienfeld.
That said, Lillienfeld adds, all the circumstantial evidence that he does have points to no one else but Mike Goodwin. “Ray Charles or Helen Keller could figure this one out. This is not a difficult case.”
I first began investigating Mike Goodwin in May 1988, when I wrote a story about the Thompson murders for the Los Angeles Times. But I never got a chance to meet him, because he and his wife had recently left the country to sail the Caribbean on their $400,000, 57-foot, single-mast yacht, the Believe. In 1992, after two years spearfishing and doing underwater photography, and another two years skiing in Aspen, Goodwin finally returned to Southern California, where, on his way out of court after filing a lawsuit, he was arrested on secret bank-fraud charges. When his trial started, I drove down to Orange County to watch the action in court.
Goodwin, I discovered, was a big, commanding presence in a nicely tailored sports coat. But he seemed, I thought, to know nothing of how a jury might perceive him. Everything he did was oversize and over-dramatic. He acted as if he were less a defendant on trial than an actor onstage. When his attorney handed him a document, he would hold it at arm’s length, furrow his brow and study it in the most transparent manner. If someone made even a feeble attempt at humor, Goodwin would chuckle longer and louder than anyone, in his confident, masculine way.
Although resolution of the matter took four years, in the end Goodwin was convicted of failing to list an unpaid prior loan on a new loan application and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Part of the reason, I think, was his phony public persona. (“I told him to be sincere,” John Bradley would later say of Goodwin’s TV appearances, “but I don’t think he has it in him.”)
There was nothing in Goodwin’s early childhood to suggest that he might one day find himself accused of double murder. By his own (and sometimes shifting) accounts, he was a Navy brat from Pensacola, Florida, and a chronic overachiever who claimed to make Eagle Scout in record time. After high school, he says, he ruptured a lung scuba-diving off Catalina, floated to the surface unconscious and was choppered to USC University Hospital, where an orderly put a dead-on-arrival tag on his toe before he regained consciousness. After taking off a year to recover, he enrolled at San Diego State, where he started out in mechanical engineering and ended up in marketing. He also began holding TGIF parties, charging girls 50 cents, he says, and boys $1.50. According to Goodwin, he dropped out of college six credits shy of graduation to take a job in sales for Procter & Gamble. He soon left to join a small promotion firm in San Diego. Bradley, who was the junior member of the company at the time, initially didn’t like him. “He was too loud and too brash,” says Bradley. And he had an explosive temper.
On the other hand, there was no denying Goodwin’s quick intelligence and relentless enthusiasm. No matter what they asked him to do, says Bradley, he always answered, “Super!” He actually seemed to like dealing with avaricious agents and their drug-addled stars. He was good with money. Unlike their clients, he apparently didn’t do drugs, and, because he was such a big guy — 6 feet 3 inches, 200 pounds — with self-confidence to spare, he could serve as his own bouncer. After it became clear that he was a better promoter than his bosses, he struck out on his own, eventually promoting concerts, Bradley says, with stars like Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Stones, the Beach Boys, the Supremes, Sonny & Cher and Petula Clark.
The glamour notwithstanding, concert promotion was such a stressful, financially precarious business that, after what Goodwin once called the “traumatic experience” of Janis Joplin’s final tour, he decided he’d had enough. He bought a beat-up VW van and decided to spend a couple of years traveling around North and South America with his then-wife, Diane Seidel.
One day, Goodwin found himself in a men’s room in a Belize hotel reading a motorcycle-magazine story about a Madison Square Garden race that, despite poor sightlines and little in the way of professional production, still managed to attract 17,000 fans. This, says Bradley, gave Goodwin the idea of putting on a motorcycle show in a stadium with comfortable seats, clean toilets, hot dogs that were actually hot, and cold beer. When Goodwin got back to the States in 1972, he persuaded the manager of the Los Angeles Coliseum to rent the stadium to him for an event Goodwin called “the Superbowl of Motocross.”