Sunday, 21 July 2024


This is the fifth installment of a series on the unsolved October 2002 murder of Barbara LaForge.

LAKEPORT – On Oct. 10, 2002, Janeen Hawkins, Barbara LaForge's adopted sister who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., received a phone call from Nancy Enos, a friend of LaForge's from the Lakeport English Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. {sidebar id=14}

Enos gave her unimaginable news: That two days earlier, LaForge had been found fatally shot in her Main Street frame shop.

Hawkins got her family together, including sister Lisa Hatcher and mother Christine Jones, to share the news.

It was amazing to the family that LaForge – a woman who loved life, who had overcome so much in her 43 years, who was devoted to her family and friends and to her church – could have died in such a violent manner.

Hawkins said it took her a year to come to terms with the violence of her adopted sister's death. “You can't even grieve the loss until you get past the violence.”

On the night of the murder, Enos went to the crime scene, where then-Sgt. Brad Rasmussen of Lakeport Police delivered LaForge's whippet dog, Carmen, to her. The dog had been kept at the scene throughout the day. “She just leaped into my arms,” said Enos.

The trembling dog sat in the lap of Nancy Enos' husband, Norm, all the way to LaForge's house at 5232 Piner Court in Kelseyville. There, LaForge's husband, Dan Hamblin, and his family were gathered.

Enos said she reached out to comfort Hamblin, and later in the week brought over food for him.

LaForge – who loved to cook – had a weekend routine, said Enos, which included fixing food for the coming week. When Enos opened up the refrigerator, she found it fully stocked, with three casseroles LaForge had made after getting back from the Sacramento dog show over the weekend.

Hatcher said her family also tried to reach out to Hamblin, to offer support and comfort.

“From day one he would not talk to us,” she said.

Hawkins added that her mother and sisters all took turns calling Hamblin, never receiving calls back. She spoke to Hamblin's sister shortly after LaForge's murder, and had been told he was having a hard time.

LaForge's friend Genevieve Day, who left Scotts Valley for Klamath Falls, Ore., had sold LaForge Carmen, but retained a partial ownerships. She said she and LaForge were planning to attend a dog show together in Pleasanton later in October.

On Oct. 7, 2002, Day said she spoke to LaForge. “She was really upbeat and looking forward to getting to Pleasanton.”

A day or so after the murder, another friend of Day's from Lake County called to tell her the news. Day said she spoke with Dale Stoebe of Lakeport Police shortly after the murder to try to find out more about what happened.


Day said Hamblin had never liked Carmen, making LaForge keep the dog in a crate at night rather than letting her sleep on the bed with the couple. So when LaForge died, Day said she decided to try to get the dog back, since she and LaForge had reached an agreement in which Day retained part ownership of Carmen.

She said she called Hamblin to ask if he wanted her to come and take the dog. Day said Hamblin told her no, that it was one of the last things he had that still connected him to LaForge.

But Day said a few days later, Hamblin called her back, saying the dog was upset and that Day could come and get her.

LaForge's memorial service was held on Oct. 13, 2002, at the Lakeport English Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, according to her obituary.

Day said she made the trip down to pick up Carmen on the day of the memorial service so she also could attend.

Enos said Hamblin sat in a separate part of the hall, called the library, during the service. It's an area with a glass wall where the service is piped into the room, where mothers frequently take babies.

Day, Tommy Gilliam and Enos said Hamblin sobbed openly through the service. Gilliam and Day said they felt his tears were staged.

Later, after the service, Day met Hamblin at 5232 Piner Court, the home he had shared with LaForge, to pick up Carmen.

Day said she walked into the front of the home where Hamblin and his family were. She stood speaking with Hamblin when, from the back of the house, came Carmen, who Day said always was overjoyed to see her.

Day said Hamblin turned around toward the dog and Carmen flinched away, a reaction Day said she didn't know how to interpret, considering Hamblin never liked the dog.

Hamblin and Day went out into the garage to gather Carmen's things, including beds and toys, which Day offered to pay for; Hamblin, however, refused her offer.

As they talked for an estimated 20 minutes, Day said Hamblin began a strange confessional, telling her that he was with another woman, that he had not found LaForge sexually attractive and had wanted to be with someone else.

“It was like he had this load of guilt and he had to dump it,” said Day.

Stunned by the conversation, Day said she took the dog and left.


Within weeks, possibly days, of LaForge's memorial service, life at 5232 Piner Court moved on.

On the day of the memorial, a woman was seen packing LaForge's clothes and belongings into black garbage bags, according to former Lakeport Police Chief Tom Engstrom.

That woman was 47-year-old Linda Ann Mafrice, that “someone else” the 41-year-old Hamblin had desired.

LaForge's family in Jacksonville said they were told that Mafrice moved in with Hamblin within a few weeks of LaForge's death.

Two months before the murder, in August of 2002, Mafrice was charged with 90 counts of forgery, theft from an elder adult and theft, according to court documents. The theft charge and 89 of the forgery charges were dismissed.

The charges stemmed from her theft of about $180,000 from residents at the Royal Shores condominiums. District Attorney Jon Hopkins, who personally prosecuted Mafrice, said she had done some bookkeeping at the complex, which gave her access to an elderly couple, who were the source of much of the stolen money.

Court documents show that a search of Mafrice's condominium at Royal Shores revealed copies of the couple's financial documents throughout her residence.

Mafrice eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 300 days in jail, which she finished serving in 2004 before being released on probation, court records show.

The court also ordered her to pay back restitution to totaling $113,116.07, with credit for $65,000 that she had already paid back. In addition, Mafrice was required to pay 10 percent in administrative costs, 10 percent per year to the victim and more than $1,000 in other fees and penalties.

“She has not paid full restitution at this point,” said Hopkins in an interview Oct. 5.

Court records from 2005 state that Mafrice suffers from serious unspecified health problems, besides mental health issues. She had taken a doctor's note to court asking for her probation – which she is still under – to be modified. Hopkins said she forged the doctor's note.


When it comes to important players in the drama that surrounds Barbara LaForge's death, few are as key as her husband, Dan Hamblin.

And few are as silent.

Unlike some family members of murder victims, Hamblin has never approached the local media to ask for help in finding his wife's murderer. Nor did he place an obituary for his wife in local newspapers. Instead, her Jacksonville family placed an obituary in the newspapers in that city.

When Lake County News approached him to request an interview for this investigation, his employer, Charlie Tanti of Henry Repairs, promised to pass on the request but said he doubted Hamblin would agree.

“He doesn't like to talk about it,” said Tanti.

And, indeed, he never contacted Lake County News in response to the request.

Nor has he worked with Lakeport Police to solve the murder, say police.

Tom Engstrom, Lakeport's former police chief, said he found Hamblin neither candid nor sincere during interviews following his wife's death.

Engstrom said he has given death notifications and seen people so distraught that he had to hold them in his arms. Yet, when, at the Lakeport Police station, police informed Hamblin of the murder on Oct. 8, 2002, Engstrom said he received the news matter-of-factly.

Current Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke said Hamblin has retained an attorney and refuses to speak with police any further about LaForge's murder.

Engstrom said Mafrice had been cooperative “to a certain extent” with the investigation, and agreed to speak to police. He said he wasn't able to form an opinion of her sincerity.

Eventually Mafrice retained an attorney and also quit talking to police, he said.


Hatcher, Hawkins and their mother, Christine Jones, had requested pictures and mementos of LaForge's, but their requests of Hamblin were never acknowledged or honored.

Instead, LaForge's family also was told that a box of her belongings, with her name and date of death, was left in the driveway of a woman who she had attended church with at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Lakeport. A similar box with her religious books was left at the church itself.

Enos added that Hamblin gave her many of LaForge's belongings to pass on to other church members.

After police were done with the crime scene, Tommy Gilliam said he went into LaForge's frame shop to help clean it up.

He said there were small drug vials that rescuers had used to try to save LaForge littered across the floor.

Gilliam said from looking at the scene it appeared that his sister must have spun around as she was shot, leaving a trail of her blood on the wall.

He could see where her body had fallen into what he called a “nest” of matte board and glass, where she remained until she was found hours later, bleeding out on the floor.

“If they had found her sooner, she may have lived,” he said.

A terrified Gail Salituri, the artist whose gallery shared space with LaForge's framing shop, kept the shop shut for months because she felt frightened and unsafe in the building.

When she did reopen early the next year, she sealed off the back door through which LaForge had last entered the building.


In part six, Lakeport Police investigators share the latest developments in the case.

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LAKEPORT – A Clearlake man has been sentenced for a murder he was found guilty of committing earlier this year.

Andre Lafayette Stevens, 43, was sentenced Friday to 52 years to life for the May 4 murder of John Rayford McCoy, 42, according to Deputy District Attorney John Langan.

A jury found Stevens guilty of first-degree murder on Sept. 12, as Lake County News previously reported.

Stevens was found guilty of stabbing McCoy multiple times in a jealous rage, thinking McCoy had had a relationship with his ex-girlfriend.

Police reportedly found Stevens at the Clearlake apartment complex where the stabbing occurred with the bloody knife still in his hands. Stevens later admitted during an interview with police that he stabbed McCoy.

The jury also had found true a special allegation against Stevens that he had a previous “strike” for a 1990 robbery in Santa Clara County, which doubled the basic sentence from 25 to 50 years to life, said Langan.

In addition, two more years were added to Stevens' sentence, said Langan; one for using a knife in the crime and one for having committed a crime within five years of being released from serving a state prison term.

Langan said Stevens' defense attorney, Jason Webster, filed a Romero motion to have the strike involving the 1990 robbery dismissed.

“Our office opposed that motion,” said Langan.

Judge Robert Crone denied the motion, Langan added.

A call to Webster's office for comment Wednesday was not returned.

Langan said sentencing guidelines gave Crone no discretion in sentencing, and so he handed down the 52 years to life sentence.

Stevens is expected to be sent to San Quentin State Prison to serve his sentence, said Langan.

Andre Stevens is the son of Israel Stevens, convicted in September 2004 of second-degree murder for the shooting of Ruben Plevney outside the Swinging Door Lounge in December 2002.

The elder Stevens had a confrontation with Plevney, who was working as a bouncer at the bar. Stevens left the bar, returned with a shotgun and killed Plevney.

Langan said Israel Stevens, who is now in his early 60s, is serving his sentence – which was a minimum of 15 years to life – at High Desert State Prison in Susanville.

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GLENHAVEN – The California Highway Patrol reported Tuesday night that a big rig had gone off of Highway 20 and into the lake.

The accident took place at 9:07 p.m. on eastbound Highway 20 just west of Bruner, according to the CHP.

Emergency personnel, tow trucks and Caltrans were called to the scene.

No further information was available Tuesday night from the CHP.

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KELSEYVILLE – The stoplight project at the Kit's Corner intersection could be finished by the end of this month, according to Caltrans officials.

The project, at the intersection of Highways 29 and 281 – known locally as Kit's Corner – went forward thanks to community efforts to convince Caltrans that it was needed.

Phil Frisbie Jr., a spokesman for Caltrans' District 1 – which includes Lake County – said this week that the agency hopes to wrap work on the project by the end of October.

If there are no weather delays in the coming weeks, Frisbie said the contractor, Steiny and Co. of Vallejo, will be able to finish up work.

That, said Frisbie, would allow Caltrans to stay on a tentative schedule of turning on the light on Oct. 24.

The contractor is expected to finish some paving and raising of light standard poles by week's end, said Frisbie.

Caltrans began work on the intersection signalization project in September, said Frisbie.

The signal project has only cost the county about $33,000, as Lake County News previously reported. The entire project originally was expected to costs about $500,000, but Steiny and Co.'s bid came in at just under $400,000.

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LAKE COUNTY – A night of steady rain brought some much-needed moisture to the county, along with some problems on the roadways.

The California Highway Patrol reported rock and mudslides are various points around the county, beginning Tuesday night and throughout the day Wednesday.

Small slides were reported on Highway 29, two miles south of Hofacker near Lower Lake, and along Highway 20 west of Paradise Cove, west of Blue Lakes and near Irwin Drive, CHP reported.

Rock also were reported in several spots along the Hopland Grade, according to the CHP incident logs.

With the ground filled with moisture, downed trees also were a concern. The CHP reported a falled tree, 24 inches in diameter, blocking the roadway on Spruce Grove Road Extension shortly before 6 a.m.

A commuter reportedly hit the tree, which the County Roads Department was called out to remove.

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CLEARLAKE – A Clearlake man who failed to register as a sex offender has been sentenced to state prison.

On Oct. 5, Judge Stephen Hedstrom sentenced Albert Wilbur Charboneau, age 63, to four years in state prison for failing to register as a sex offender, according to Deputy District Attorney John DeChaine, who prosecuted the case.

Charboneau is required to register pursuant to penal code section 290 because he was convicted of committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child under the age of 14, a felony, in violation of Penal Code section 288(a) in 1987, DeChaine said.

Charboneau was prosecuted for moving from his Clearlake address to a new residence in Lucerne without notifying law enforcement of his move, said DeChaine. Sex registrants are required to notify law enforcement within five working days of any change in address. The investigation revealed that Charboneau had been out of compliance for months.

On Aug. 24 Charboneau pleaded guilty to one felony count of failing to register as a sex offender, DeChaine said. The court sentenced Charboneau to three years in prison for failing to register.

However, Charboneau was required to admit that he previously served a prison sentence for a furnishing or transporting a controlled substance in violation of section 11379 of the Health and Safety Code, said DeChaine. The admission of the prior prison sentence served to increase his prison commitment from three years, the maximum sentence for failing to register, to a total of four years in prison.

Prior to being sentenced, Charboneau was held in custody with bail set in the amount of $30,000, said DeChaine.

DeChaine said Deputy Mike Curran of the Lake County Sheriff's Office, who also is a member of the Region II Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Task Force, investigated the case.


This is the fourth installment of a series on the unsolved October 2002 murder of Barbara LaForge.

LAKEPORT – In the last years of her life, Barbara LaForge – who had survived a rough childhood, overcoming loneliness and abandonment – was able to achieve the American dream: she and husband Dan Hamblin bought their first home. {sidebar id=14}

“She was so thrilled,” said friend Nancy Enos, who met LaForge through their membership in the Lakeport English Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Enos visited the home at 5232 Piner Court often. She remembered walking through the house with LaForge, who was proud and excited to have her own home.

In one area of the yard Enos said LaForge had planned to plant a vegetable garden. Nearby was a small bridge that crossed Kelsey Creek. LaForge loved that the big garage had a work bench for her husband.

Enos said LaForge fell in love with a large screened-in porch and made it the master bedroom. LaForge's artistic skills were put to good use in the home, said Enos, who added that LaForge was having a great time with her new space.

While LaForge enjoyed her life and her own activities – especially music and art – she also was devoted to caring for others.

A main focus for her was her mother and stepfather, Donna and Tom Gilliam.

Stepbrother Tommy Gilliam said that his elderly father was living on a large property outside of Lakeport that became too much for him, so he and Donna purchased the house next door to LaForge and Hamblin on Piner Court.

Friends say LaForge took the couple meals every night, becoming their primary caregiver.

Gilliam said his stepsister was the love of his father's life.


Enos, who had known LaForge for 12 years, said she also was like a daughter to her and her husband, Norm, who died last year.

LaForge, said Enos, was extremely creative and even happy-go-lucky despite her sad upbringing.

And she loved people. LaForge would make a point to come and watch football with Norm Enos, especially when LaForge's team, the Miami Dolphins, played.

“Boy, the two of them, they were noisy,” said Enos, remembering the two football fans cheering in her living room.

Enos said LaForge was a talented artist and singer, and a loyal wife.

“She had so many things she liked to do,” said Enos, adding that LaForge wanted to do so much more. “If she'd had enough time, she probably would have.”

Enos said LaForge was a devoted dog lover, who for years had a beautiful mixed breed, red-eyed dog named Kelly.

It was dogs that brought together LaForge and Genevieve Day, a former Lake County resident who now lives in Klamath Falls, Ore.

Day, who previously lived in Scotts Valley, went into LaForge's shop one day and mentioned that her purebred whippet was about to have puppies. LaForge would purchase one of the pups from her, and named her Carmen, an appropriate name since LaForge loved opera.

While she still lived in Lake County, Day said she saw LaForge and Carmen at least three times a week. When Carmen was 6 months old, LaForge started taking her to dog shows, said Day. “She very much enjoyed the dog showing.”

In the fall of 2001, Day moved to Klamath Falls. The following May, LaForge and Carmen made the rip to Oregon for a dog show, where Carmen won her first and only point on the show circuit.

“I'm glad she was able to do that,” said Day.

Enos said she received a call from LaForge announcing Carmen's win. “She was so thrilled,” said Enos, who said LaForge was very enthused about showing the dog, and planned to spend more time pursuing it.

Day said she and LaForge became good friends over the years. LaForge was a tremendously thoughtful person, giving Day several antique boxes for her collection. In return, Day said she gifted LaForge with spoons, which she enjoyed collecting.


But LaForge's last years weren't free of trouble.

In the fall of 2001, LaForge received a death threat. It came via mail, in – of all things – a Christmas card.

Gail Salituri, who saw the card, said the Christmas greeting inside had been crossed out and someone had written in the card, “You will be dead in 2002.”

Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke said police have followed up on the threat, but did not disclose more, saying the threat is part of the protected information contained in the homicide investigation.

In addition to the card, Salituri said there other events that caused concerns.

"I recall Barbara had received disturbing telephone calls at the frame shop the same week she received the mailed death threat,” Salituri recalled. “The phone calls stopped when she installed caller ID.

"When I questioned Barbara about who was calling her, she said it was a female and she had no idea whose voice it was,” Salituri added.

Stepbrother Tommy Gilliam said he believed something was definitely amiss with LaForge during the last year of her life. He said he felt she was having a psychic breakdown. The frame shop appeared out of order, he said, with unused supplies and cardboard stacked everywhere.

Tommy Gilliam said both LaForge's biological mother, Donna Gilliam, and grandmother had psychological problems. “She was convinced it was happening to her, too.”

LaForge also had had a major confrontation with her younger sister, Leilani Prueitt, who lives in Kelseyville, said Gilliam.

At a family reunion on July 4, 2002, Tommy Gilliam said Barbara and Prueitt had a serious argument, in which Barbara LaForge told her sister to stay away from their stepfather, Tom Gilliam, because she didn't like the way Prueitt treated him.

Salituri said she also noticed a change in LaForge, but couldn't put her finger on just what was different.

Shortly before LaForge died, Enos said she sensed a change in her friend.

“I could tell she was upset for the week before her death,” said Enos.

Adopted sisters Lisa Hatcher and Janeen Hawkins agreed with the assessments of LaForge.

“You could tell things just weren't right in her life with her husband,” said Hawkins.

Hatcher said the last year of her sister's life, “there was something different,” although Hatcher believes it was not spiritual but emotional, and based on her husband's other relationships.

Stepbrother Tommy Gilliam said LaForge was doing a lot of online shopping in her last months, especially on eBay.

Hawkins concurred, saying her sister had run up some debt because of the shopping – a statement corroborated by a bill from Chase credit cards submitted to her estate that totaled just under $10,000.

For LaForge, shopping was a means of escape when she was depressed, Hawkins explained.

Hawkins surmises that her sister may have found out that her husband was having another affair.

After leaving LaForge in January 2001 for his first wife, Hamblin had returned to LaForge. But later he began a relationship with then-Lakeport resident Linda Mafrice, a fact that was generally known at the time, said family and friends, as well as retired Lakeport Police Chief Tom Engstrom.

Hawkins said that, according to Jehovah's Witnesses teachings, adultery is one of the few true grounds for divorce.

“The only reason she would have left him was for adultery,” Hawkins explained, noting that her sister was extremely trusting of Hamblin. “That's the one thing she would not have tolerated from him.”

Although LaForge and Prueitt had had a strained relationship in light of the July 2002 argument, they eventually worked out a deal, said stepbrother Tommy Gilliam.

Prueitt had reportedly borrowed money from their stepfather, Tom Gilliam. LaForge and Prueitt agreed that on the morning of Oct. 8, 2002, Prueitt would be at the frame shop to help do some clean up in order to pay back the money she owed to Tom Gilliam.

On that morning, as LaForge walked into her gallery for the last time, she likely was expecting her sister to join her that day.

Who was waiting for her in the gallery, however, remains the critical mystery.

In part five, friends and family receive the news of LaForge's death and struggle with its unsolved nature.

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This is the third installment of a series on the unsolved October 2002 murder of Barbara LaForge.

LAKE COUNTY – On a wall in the Jacksonville, Fla., home of Christine Jones hangs a pencil drawing of a covered bridge and a Model A, done by her adopted daughter, Barbara LaForge. {sidebar id=14}

It was in Jones' home, amongst her four biological children, that Barbara LaForge would find an emotional and spiritual anchor for a life that, had the Jones family not come along, could easily have gone astray.

Barbara LaForge, born in 1959, and Lisa Jones met in the sixth grade in Jacksonville, Fla., where both girls had been raised.

Not long before, Barbara LaForge's mother, Donna LaForge, had taken her two younger daughters and abandoned Barbara, the eldest of four children, and her brother Jack, according to Jones, who now goes by her married name, Lisa Hatcher.

Barbara and Jack's father, Jack LaForge, retired out of the military to take care of his children, said Hatcher. But Jack LaForge was a troubled man, and he committed suicide, an act his daughter Barbara witnessed. Hatcher believes Barbara was 11 when the suicide took place.

The two LaForge children were taken in by a cousin, a single woman who was their father's only surviving relative. Nearby lived Hatcher, her two sisters and brother, and their parents, Christine and Gerald Jones.

The LaForge children became friends with the Joneses, said Hatcher, and soon they were over at the family's home on an almost constant basis, attracted by the large and warm family.

The Jones family offered to take in Barbara and Jack, and at one time had legal guardianship, said Hatcher.

It was in the Jones' home, Hatcher said, that Barbara would learn about the Jehovah's Witnesses, a religion she would follow devotedly for the rest of her life.

For all intents and purposes, Barbara and Jack LaForge became part of the Jones family, said Hatcher.

While it seemed that Barbara and Jack LaForge had finally found a safe haven, it wasn't to be. Their family found out that they were being brought up as Jehovah's Witnesses, said Hatcher, and their cousin came back to take custody.

“She stepped in and she took both of those kids and moved them out of our home and promptly put them in an orphanage in Mobile, Alabama,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher's sister, Janeen Hawkins, said the family tried to stay in touch with the LaForges. Barbara LaForge, devoted to her new faith, was baptized a Jehovah's Witness at age 14 while still in the orphanage.

LaForge's cousin signed paperwork to keep the two children in the orphanage until they turned 21, said Hawkins. But Jack LaForge ran away, and when the cousin died, Barbara LaForge was left with no legal guardian. When she turned 18 that allowed her to leave the orphanage.

Hatcher said LaForge promptly returned home to Jacksonville, and to the home of Gerald and Christine Jones, her “pa” and “ma.”


LaForge enrolled in the local community college and began studying art, said Hatcher.

“She was drawing all the time,” said Hatcher.

LaForge also wrote constantly, filling journals with her observations on life, her poems and reviews of movies and concerts she attended, complete with the ticket stubs.

Christine Jones, in the mean time, helped Barbara LaForge and her brother find their mother, who was living in Southern California with Tom Gilliam, a World War II veteran she would eventually marry. Hatcher said Tom and Donna Gilliam visited the Joneses more than once in Florida, and in turn Barbara and Jack LaForge traveled to California to see them.

When she was in her 20s, Barbara LaForge decided to move west to Los Angeles to be near her biological mother, said Hawkins.

Later, LaForge moved to Seattle, where she lived for several years before moving back to California, to Lake County, where her mother and stepfather had moved.


In Lake County, Barbara LaForge came into the loving embrace of Tom Gilliam, her stepfather.

Tom Gilliam, born in 1919, was a decorated veteran of World War II and Korea.

He was a tough but generous fellow who raised four sons, says his son Tommy Gilliam, who lives in Lakeport.

Tom Gilliam had always wanted a daughter, said his son. When he married his second wife, Donna LaForge, he got the daughter he wanted in Barbara LaForge.

Gilliam was very generous with his stepdaughter, purchasing a trailer for LaForge in a mobile home park, said Tommy Gilliam.

It was there that LaForge met Dan Hamblin, working as a handyman at the trailer park, according to Hatcher.

Hatcher said LaForge was deeply in love with Hamblin, who she married on Oct. 20, 1996. It was his fourth marriage, her first.

“She had waited all her life to get married,” said Hatcher.

Hawkins said that LaForge was drawn to Hamblin, despite the fact they did not share the same faith. “She said it was the way he treated her, the way he looked at her."

LaForge was much more outgoing than her husband, said Hawkins. LaForge told Hawkins that Hamblin was a homebody, while LaForge herself “was always traveling,” said Hawkins.

That included taking a month-long backpacking trip in the Australian outback when a young woman, said Hawkins.

In 1997, the year following LaForge and Hamblin's marriage, Tom Gilliam purchased the Wild Wood Frame Shop from a previous owner and helped LaForge get set up in business. She originally opened the shop across the street from the gallery's current location.

Artist Gail Salituri said Tom Gilliam introduced her to LaForge. “The minute I met her, we were friends, right from the get-go,” said Salituri.

In 1997 LaForge approached Salituri about sharing space in the new location across the street, with Salituri's art gallery in the front and LaForge's frame shop in the back, which Salituri called “a perfect set up.”

The women rented the shop at 165 N. Main St. in October 1997, remodeled it and opened for business in January 1998.

“It was a very happy beginning,” said Salituri.


Barbara LaForge hadn't seen her adopted family in Florida in many years, said sister Lisa Hatcher.

But in January 2001 her nephew was to be baptized into the Jehovah's Witnesses church. Hatcher said the family was talking about how great it would be to have LaForge come and visit.

Hatcher and LaForge talked about it, and the two concocted a plan. Telling no one else, they arranged for LaForge to come out and arrive unannounced.

Then Hatcher drove LaForge to Christine Jones' drapery shop. Hatcher said her mother fell to pieces when she saw her adopted daughter appear in person.

“It was so awesome to have everybody all together again,” said Hatcher, who said LaForge spent time with all of her adopted family.

Despite the happiness of the occasion, LaForge's life had taken another heartbreaking twist.

“While she was there, Danny had left her for another woman,” said Hatcher.

Both Hatcher and her sister, Janeen Hawkins, said Hamblin had told LaForge he was going back to his first wife, with whom he had a child. He had told LaForge that he had “unfinished business” with his first wife, because he believed he as still in love with her.

So, with that heartache, she came to Florida. But, said Hatcher, “She didn't come dragging her feet.”

Hatcher added, “While she was here, she didn't make a big deal out of it.”

Hawkins said LaForge put on a brave face, saying she wanted Hamblin to be happy, and wouldn't hold him back.

During that visit to Florida, Hatcher and Hawkins said their adopted sister made a point of bringing up the topic of her will.

In 1978, when LaForge turned 18, Hatcher said Jones took LaForge to an attorney so she could work out some inheritance issues from her late father. At the same time, LaForge asked the attorney to create a will for her.

That will, a copy of which was obtained by Lake County News, names Jones as executor. Jones and her husband, Gerald, also were left half of LaForge's estate, with the other half left to her brother, Jack. She specifically did not provide an inheritance for her mother, Donna, or sisters Leilani or Laura.

In addition, LaForge stated that, in the case of her death, she wanted to be cremated, with her ashes sprinkled over the grave of her biological father, Jack LaForge, at Oaklawn Cemetery in Jacksonville, Fla.

During the January 2001 visit to Florida, LaForge told her family that the will was still in force. “She brought it up,” said Hatcher, who added the family didn't broach the subject.

Christine Jones said she believes LaForge didn't trust Hamblin, which was why she left her original will in effect.

Meanwhile, LaForge and Hamblin remained in contact during the visit, said Hatcher. A short time after Hamblin got to his first wife's home – the sisters could not remember if it was in Washington or Oregon – he called LaForge to tell her he had made a mistake.

Hatcher said LaForge immediately sent Hamblin money to go home, and bought him a new bed because of his bad back, hurt in an accident years before.

On that same visit, Hatcher said her mother vividly remembers going to a local bookstore with LaForge, who purchased a book on guns. LaForge told her family that Hamblin was “getting into guns” and wanted her to learn how to shoot with him. Hawkins said the family wasn't thrilled with the idea.

Soon, it was time to head back to Lake County, and LaForge took leave of her adopted family in Florida.

None of them dreamed it would be the last time they saw her alive.

In part four, Barbara LaForge's family and friends document the last years of her life.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


This is the second installment of a series on the unsolved October 2002 murder of Barbara LaForge.

LAKEPORT – It was about 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2002, when a customer going to Barbara LaForge's Wild Wood Frame Shop on Main Street to pick up an order found the business locked. Inside one of the shop's front windows a small dog could be seen, her leash trailing from her collar. {sidebar id=14}

The man went next door to a pizza restaurant run by Michael Stafford. Together, the two men began calling Gail Salituri – the artist whose gallery shared space with LaForge's frame shop – to find out where LaForge was.

The front door of the business was locked, but Stafford found the back door of the shop standing open, according to a previous police report. He looked inside and saw LaForge slumped down on the floor against a table, facing the back of the gallery.

A terrified Stafford called Salituri, screaming that he had found LaForge. Salituri told him to call 911, which she did also. The 911 operator tried to keep Salituri calm, telling her not to leave her home to go to the gallery but to stay put.

Retired Lakeport Police Chief Tom Engstrom said in an interview with Lake County News that when he arrived at the gallery between 11 a.m. and noon his police officers were on scene along with paramedics who were trying to resuscitate LaForge.

His first responsibility, he said, was to try to save LaForge's life.

Yet he wasn't sure she could be saved.

“I am convinced that Barbara was dead when I got there and the paramedics were working on her,” he said.

But he knew LaForge, as did most of his department. She had framed their department photograph; she wasn't just a stranger.

“There's a friend lying on the floor and nobody wants to make that call to say, 'Hey guys, quit working on her,'” Engstrom said. “We wanted to do everything we could to save her life. And so I was the one that gave them consent, they wanted to transport her and I said, 'By all means, do it,' even though I felt that she was probably dead the whole time that we were there, but they continued to try to work on her all the way out to the hospital and she was eventually pronounced dead there.”

Doctors at Sutter Lakeside gave LaForge atropine and epinephrine, drugs used to try to restart the heart from cardiac arrest, according to LaForge's probate documents. They also used a defibrillator to shock her heart, and performed pericardiocentesis, a technique that inserts a needle into the sac surrounding the heart to remove excess fluid.

None of the measures worked.

LaForge was declared dead at 1 p.m. in the Sutter Lakeside Emergency Room, according to her death certificate. The document states the cause of her death as "pending an investigation."

At 1:18 p.m., a Sutter Lakeside employee contacted the Lake County Sheriff's Office to report a death, according to sheriff's logs. A coroner's report was taken.

As of the fifth anniversary of her death, the results of her autopsy remain sealed, part of the documents protected in the police investigation.

Engstrom, however, stated publicly after the autopsy that LaForge had been shot four times, with at least one of the bullets striking her in the heart.


Engstrom said as soon as the emergency personnel took LaForge to the hospital that afternoon, police sealed the gallery.

From an investigative standpoint, Engstrom said the presence of so many people in the gallery had essentially “contaminated” the crime scene even before the investigation began.

In an effort to try to separate evidence from any disturbance, Engstrom said an officer was assigned to write down the names of everyone who came in – including Engstrom's. Police also had tried to keep activity confined in one space.

Later that night, crime scene investigators with the state Department of Justice arrived. Engstrom said they worked through the night, scouring the gallery for evidence.

In the weeks before the murder, police had investigated a series of commercial burglaries in downtown Lakeport. But Engstrom said he didn't believe the murder was connected, largely because there were no signs of forced entry and nothing in the gallery was stolen.

Engstrom said a task force of Lakeport Police detectives, then-Chief Deputy District Attorney Jon Hopkins and District Attorney's Office investigators met on a daily basis in the weeks immediately following the murder. The group included many investigators with homicide experience.

All told, about 12 people were working on the case at one point, said Engstrom, interviewing more than 200 individuals and sending investigators to Southern California to follow up on leads.

Leading the investigation from the Lakeport Police side was Dale Stoebe, a trained investigator who did not have any actual homicide experience, said Engstrom. That was because the last two murders in Lakeport were murder-suicides which quickly resolved themselves.

Brad Rasmussen, then a sergeant who has since been promoted to lieutenant, has been with the case since the beginning. Engstrom called Rasmussen an "excellent investigator" in whom he had a lot of confidence.

Later, Det. Norm Taylor, also with the department since the murder, was rotated into the lead investigator position in 2004, according to Kevin Burke, who succeeded Engstrom as police chief.


The evidence gathered from the gallery was taken by crime scene investigators and sent to a Department of Justice crime lab in Santa Rosa, where ballistics and fingerprint testing was conducted, according to original police statements.

But nearly a year later DNA evidence that should have been sent for testing at a Sacramento crime lab was still sitting in Santa Rosa. The evidence was finally sent to Sacramento, with results arriving back at about the time of the first anniversary of the murder.

Yet, to the frustration of police, the tests yielded no conclusive evidence.

"I was so comfortable with getting the state crime lab people up here, I just couldn't believe we didn't get anything out of that," said Engstrom.

He said he expected some piece of evidence – including fingerprints – to be found. "It just didn't happen."

Another piece of evidence believed to be crucial, a shoe print that didn't match those of rescue or police personnel in the gallery that day, didn't match any prints from the "persons of interest" in the case, said Engstrom.

Still, police didn't stop trying, said Engstrom. "We looked into every lead that came along," including those that seemed far-fetched. They ruled out no possibilities, and continued actively investigating the murder.

One of the items never recovered, said Engstrom, was the .22-caliber murder weapon.

Engstrom said dive teams searched certain areas of Clear Lake where they thought the gun might have been thrown. Search dogs scoured areas on the Hopland Grade; that search, Engstrom said, yielded a toy gun.

Engstrom said they also called on the help of psychics, some of whom donated their services.

One of the psychics was a dog psychic, said Engstrom, since the only witness outside of LaForge and her killer was LaForge's beloved whippet, Carmen.

The dog psychic had police send her a picture of Carmen, said Engstrom. "She claimed that she did not know anything about this case and she came up with some very interesting things that were very close to what we were getting from other people."

He added, "At that point in time I was willing to try anything."

They also used regular psychics, one of whom came and walked through the gallery with police, Engstrom explained.

"They confirmed a lot of our suspicions,” he said. “They were coming up with some of the same things that we had thought about, but you can't convict anybody on that. We were hoping that maybe, you know, it might point us in the right direction."

They also had veteran homicide investigator Carl Stein review the case, said Engstrom.

Retired from the sheriff's office and working part-time for Clearlake Police, Stein had more homicide experience than any investigator in the county, said Engstrom. At the time when he reviewed the case, Stein had more than 40 years of law enforcement experience.

"He thought that our guys had done a very good job," said Engstrom. "He had a couple of ideas they might want to follow up on."

Engstrom also secured a $50,000 reward from the governor's office – which remains in effect indefinitely – for information leading to a conviction in LaForge's murder.

Some leads initially resulted from the reward offer, said Engstrom, but none of the information brought forward proved conclusive.

As time went on the task force investigators met less frequently, going from daily to weekly meetings, then less frequently than that.

"We never got that one piece of evidence or that one piece of testimony that we could have gotten charges filed against somebody with," said Engstrom.

"We had a lot of circumstantial stuff and a lot of speculation, but never that concrete piece of evidence that we needed to get a complaint filed and to proceed with a trial or an arrest," he added.


Engstrom had vowed publicly that he would not retire until the case was solved and prosecuted.

Yet, in early 2005 his plans changed suddenly, not as a result of the case, which he had fully intended to see to its conclusion, he said, but as a result of an issue with an employee.

"I had just had enough. I was tired," he said. "I had a disciplinary action that I took before I retired that broke my heart. In a small department, you're like family, you know each other's spouses and children. I did what had to be done but I never wanted to do it again."

In May 2005, Engstrom stepped down after 11 years as Lakeport's police chief, and 25 years as a small town police chief around California. That length of service is believed to be one of the longest in the state.

Engstrom said he has had no official part in the investigation since his retirement, but he likes and respects Kevin Burke, the new chief hired in February 2006. He said he has felt that it's important to stay out of Burke's way and let him lead his department.

"They've got good people working there," he said.

He said in his 37 total years of law enforcement experience, this is the only unsolved murder he's had. Not solving the case, he said, is the one true regret he has in his career.

"I think about it every day, every time I go down Main Street, which is at least five times a week," he said. "When I pass that shop I think about it."

In part three: Barbara LaForge's story.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge in San Francisco ruled on Wednesday to bar the Bush administration from implementing a plan to prosecute businesses, including farms, for failing to fire workers and knowingly employing illegal immigrants if their Social Security numbers do not match government records within 90 days of notification.

The California Farm Bureau Federation said that the ruling should provide “breathing room” to family farmers and others so they can continue to press for federal immigration reform that would allow special visas to immigrants coming to the U.S. to work on farms.

Farmers around the state and here in Lake County expressed concerns late this summer about the proposed Department of Homeland Security reform that would require employers to fire workers within 90 days of receiving a “no-match” letter – a letter stating that the names and Social Security numbers do not match their records – which might cause them to lose legal workers because of a mistake by the government.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer told the San Francisco Chronicle that immigration officials wanted to reverse a long-standing government policy not to prosecute employers just because a workers’ Social Security number did not match their records, but did not provide adequate analysis to support the change.

In August, when the Homeland Security released the rule, California Farm Bureau President Doug Mosebar expressed concern about the impact of firing farm workers from California farms which rely heavily on immigrant labor.

“If that were to happen during harvest and [the farmer] couldn't quickly find replacements, he'd lose his crop and face financial ruin,” Mosebar said in a Farm Bureau statement.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose agency issued the rule, said the government would consider its options, including an appeal to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, according to the Chronicle.

Until then, the Chronicle reports that Breyer’s order will remain in effect until sometime next year when it goes back to trial or a higher court intervenes.

E-mail Terre Logsdon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


CLEARLAKE – City leaders got together Monday to use a little elbow grease to beautify Clearlake.

Nine people, including City Council members, Clearlake Planning Commissioners and members of the Chamber of Commerce, were out in force Monday morning, working on a cleanup project in Redbud Park.

Monday's cleanup effort, said Clearlake Mayor Judy Thein, was inspired by the Clearlake Vision Task Force report, presented to the City Council last month. The report highlighted volunteer participating in improving the city.

“The most effective way to introduce a volunteer program is to lead by example,” said Thein. “How could we ask our citizens to volunteer if we were not willing to volunteer ourselves?”

The volunteers cleaned the park, picked up litter, painted curbs and speed bumps and did anything else that needed to be done over about three and a half hours.

“We worked so well together as a team,” said Thein.

She called the results “awesome.” People who were at the park commented on how the group accomplished a lot, and how the painting improved the park's look, said Thein. One man even offered to help paint the park's gazebo.

“We felt this was something that we could do which would help 'free up' Public Works to work in other areas that are needed,” said Thein. “It is very rewarding as to how a team of volunteers could get together and accomplish a task that improved the appearance of our park.”

Thein said the group is talking about plans for a giant cleanup before Memorial Day next year to welcome visitors to the city.

As part of that effort they're discussing putting down striping for parking spaces, Thein said.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


UKIAH – A three-car crash on Saturday along Highway 20 at Potter Valley Road left three people, including a Kelseyville woman, with moderate injuries.

A report from the California Highway Patrol explained that the accident took place at 4:40 p.m. Oct. 6.

Maria Macias, 60, of Kelseyville was driving a 1993 Toyota van southbound on the east side of Potter Valley Road at the intersection with Highway 20, with 3-year-old Michael Graham in the car, according to the CHP.

For an unknown reason Macias' van didn't stop at the stop sign, but instead drove into the westbound lanes of Highway 20, where the CHP said it collided with a BMW driven by Kathren Babcock, 21, of Ukiah.

The collision pushed Babcock's vehicle into Highway 20's eastbound lanes, the CHP reported, where it collided with a 1999 Infiniti driven by Andrea Barcello, 41, of Ukiah. Barcello then hit a mailbox.

Macias was transported to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for treatment of moderate injuries, according to the CHP. Also transported to Santa Rosa was Babcock's passenger, 50-year-old Darren Linnett of Ukiah.

The rest of the passengers were taken by ambulance to Ukiah Valley Medical Center, the CHP reported.

Babcock suffered moderate injuries and her other passenger, 34-year-old Ukiah resident James Jones, had minor injuries. Barcello also had minor injuries, according to the CHP report. The 3-year-old who had ridden in Macias' van was not injured.

CHP said both lanes of Highway 20 were closed for approximately 30 minutes for Calstar and REACH helicopters to transport the crash victims to Santa Rosa.

All of the people involved in the collisions were wearing their safety belts.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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