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Murder On the Last Turn 

Mickey Thompson was a renowned race-car driver and promoter. Mike Goodwin was the brash, egocentric creator of motocross. They became business partners. Then all hell broke loose.

Wednesday, Oct 18 2006
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Page 9 of 12

“Well, there’s nothing there,” says Campbell. “I’ve kept all my checks going back 25 years. And if they want to call me to the stand and claim I robbed Goodwin, there’s nothing I’d like better. They can say that Mickey was involved with the Mafia drug lords and Trudy was a prostitute and Mickey was seeing other women,” but if that’s all they’ve got, she says, Goodwin is going down.

Given that so many people had named Mike Goodwin as someone who had reason to kill Mickey Thompson, Sheriff’s investigators had the keenest interest in talking to him. It wasn’t just the threats or his acrimonious dispute with Thompson. Although Goodwin was supposedly bankrupt, he and his wife still had enough cash on hand to buy $275,000 worth of gold coins two months before Thompson’s death and, says Lillienfeld, put them aboard his boat. In the meantime, his wife had wired $400,000 to banks on the Caribbean islands of Grand Turk and Caicos. Two or three months after the murders, they left the United States to cruise the Caribbean in the Believe for the next two years.

Following the murders, Sheriff’s investigators made heroic efforts to solve the crime. But despite interviewing more than 700 people in the first nine months, detectives essentially found nothing tying Goodwin to the murders. Most of the threats were hearsay (Mickey telling someone that Mike has threatened him) and thus inadmissible in court. It was undeniable that Goodwin had a strong motive — Thompson had, after all, forced Goodwin into bankruptcy and taken away his business. But motive still wasn’t proof. What was needed was a confession, the arrest of the gunmen, an eyewitness of some sort, or a wife or girlfriend willing to repeat any incriminating pillow talk. But detectives could never put together a case. And as years passed and lead investigators retired or moved on, the investigation slowly ground to a halt.

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Then, in May 1997, Mark Lillienfeld, a highly rated and experienced homicide detective, was designated lead investigator on the case. It was quickly apparent to Lillienfeld that Goodwin was “brilliant,” “cunning” and “the smartest guy I ever met as a cop.” But, he says, he also soon discovered that Goodwin was a “bipolar,” “narcissistic sociopath” who liked “to intimidate people.” In 14 years as a homicide detective, Lillienfeld, a mild-mannered and self-deprecating Midwesterner, had never gotten a single threat. But once he started investigating Goodwin, he said, he began getting anonymous messages on his answering machine (“You motherfucking piece of shit”) and the number “187” on his pager (the state Penal Code section for murder).

If such tactics were intended to intimidate Lillienfeld, they didn’t work. In short order, the detective made what he regarded as a major breakthrough. From studying the bullet fragments found in Mickey’s and Trudy’s bodies, Lillienfeld concluded that the bullets that killed them could have come from a 9 mm Smith & Wesson Model 469, just like the one that gun-registration records showed Goodwin had purchased in 1984, four years before the murders. Lillienfeld also learned that a few days after the murders, in March 1988, Goodwin bought another Smith & Wesson “identical” to the first.

To Lillienfeld the inference was clear. Goodwin had given his first gun to the killers, and then, after the murders, bought a new gun to replace it. This wasn’t exactly proof of anything, but to Lillienfeld it was at the very least suggestive of criminal intent.

Then fate stepped in to lend a helping hand.

In 1998, at the end of one of many TV shows about the killings, viewers were invited to contact authorities if they had any leads. A tip led Lillienfeld to one of Mickey Thompson’s neighbors, Ronald Stevens, who had seen suspicious strangers in the area not long before the Thompsons were killed.

Stevens told Lillienfeld that around noon a week before the murders, he and his wife had seen two men in an old, badly oxidized light-green 1970s Malibu station wagon parked in front of his house on the wrong side of the street. One of the men was wearing a dark watch cap and peering through binoculars. As there was an elementary school just down the street, Stevens approached the car to ask what was going on, but when the driver noticed him, he looked startled and sped away. Lillienfeld later showed Stevens a photo lineup of six men, and, despite some hesitation, Stevens eventually picked out Goodwin.

With this tentative identification, Lillienfeld arrested Goodwin, who at the time was living in a house trailer with his elderly father in Dana Point, and put him in a police lineup, where both Stevens and his wife agreed that Goodwin was the man they’d seen in front of their house 13 years previously.

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