SEYMOUR, Conn. | Ronald Allen Grecula racked up tens of thousands of dollars in debts over his effort to build an engine fueled by water. While in Europe to drum up money for it, he fell in love with a French flight attendant and, as a result, ended his first marriage of 32 years, his family said.
Though he hadn't completed high school, the onetime land surveyor, auto mechanic, ironworker and tree cutter had what a colleague called an impressive knowledge of engines and fuels.
''It's just hard to believe,'' said his first wife, Angelina Grecula, about his arrest Friday in Houston for allegedly plotting to sell bombs to al-Qaida.
In the living room of the Seymour home where she and Grecula had raised four children, Angelina trembled Tuesday as she read about the man she hadn't seen in years and doesn't want to see again. ''This is very distressing,'' she said.
Only a few years ago, she had persevered through wide media coverage of Grecula's kidnapping of his two young children from his second wife, Monique, the flight attendant. In 2000, he took them to Malta, where they were found with him almost two years later.
According to a federal criminal complaint in the bomb case, Grecula, 68, had been plotting the bomb sale from a borrowed office in Upper Mount Bethel Township and wanted to have Monique killed and to regain his two children.
A friend of Grecula's wasn't surprised to learn he was in trouble again. California engineer Thomas Fay, who had done some research work for Grecula, had forwarded his mail to him while he was in Malta, according to federal court papers in the abduction case.
''He has a way of stepping on toes,'' Fay said.
''Ron'' Grecula attended but never graduated from Staples High School in Westport, Conn., a wealthy town south of gritty Bridgeport. He met Angelina Condo at Norwalk (Conn.) Hospital, where she was pursuing an associate degree in nursing. They married on March 26, 1959, and went on to have three girls and a boy.
During the first decade of their marriage, Grecula worked as a land surveyor while Angelina was a delivery room nurse. In 1970, she quit work to care for their children.
Three years later, the couple bought a house in Bridgeport, 17 miles from Seymour, and the mortgage was placed solely in Angelina's name. Ron then began career hopping.
He became an auto mechanic, then an iron worker, a job he held for about a decade. In 1985, he started a tree-cutting business, RR Tree Service, with his wife as the bookkeeper.
Two years later, Grecula and his son, Ron Jr., began work on Grecula's invention, which the divorce papers refer to as ''a new technology for gasoline internal combustion engines, apparently a new form of carbonation.''
In 1988, Ron and Angelina Grecula refinanced their Bridgeport house so Ron could pursue the invention. He spent $60,000 on its development and sought investors in Europe and Florida.
Fay, Grecula's friend, had worked for Grecula's business, Combustion Dynamics, called Combustion Innovations in divorce documents, after the two met in the late 1980s at a Wisconsin air show. Fay did several research assignments for the company in areas such as fuels and advanced materials. The pay was good, he said.
Grecula knew a lot about engines and had some ''revolutionary'' ideas to make racing engines faster, Fay said from his California home. He also had promising ideas on how to stretch fuel to make it last longer. He had worked on cars for racing competitions and was an avid pilot, flying his single-engine plane around the country.
Fay called Grecula a ''type A personality. He talks so fast he stumbles on some of the words.'' He had a good sense of humor, although sometimes he unintentionally made Fay laugh with mispronunciations he would say ''menthol'' instead of the alcohol ''methanol,'' for instance.
During a trip to Paris in the late 1980s, Grecula met Monique, and on June 29, 1990, he filed for divorce from Angelina.Throughout the next year, at least two of Grecula's lawyers quit, forcing him to act as his own attorney. Documents he filed in court were riddled with spelling errors.
In his financial disclosure statement, Grecula wrote he was unemployed and had $150,500 in liabilities. He listed a wood chipper as an asset, worth $2,500. He also had $50 in savings and $200 in a checking account, and no assets in two corporations: Combustion Innovations and Crystal Energy.
On Sept. 3, 1991, the divorce was granted, and Grecula was ordered to pay $250 a week in alimony, $3,000 in legal fees and to forfeit one-third interest in future proceeds of his invention.
But that didn't mark the end of his troubles. In a bitter custody dispute with Monique, Grecula in late 2000 abducted their children, ages 10 and 3, and took them to Malta. After learning of their whereabouts, Monique successfully fought for custody of them in a Maltese court and returned to the United States with them in March 2002.
Grecula was jailed in Malta for overstaying his visa, then deported to Pennsylvania, where he spent eight months in prison, first on the abduction charges and later for wiretapping his estranged wife, Monique, and her boyfriend in 2000.
Monique Grecula, who lives in a Houston suburb, said late Tuesday she left Grecula in 1999 because he had become ''paranoid.'' He had a fear of dying and that the world would come to an end as 2000 approached. He thought the United States was controlled by ''evil forces.''
''After I married him, he changed completely and became a different person.''
'Pretty confident' of backer
Angelina Grecula and Ron Jr.'s wife, Erica Grecula, tried to digest the latest news. The FBI had not contacted the family, they said, with Angelina adding, ''We don't want anything to do with him.''
And the idea she said obsessed Grecula? Her husband had built a prototype car that would run on a water engine he built. ''He was into building that engine for so long,'' she said. ''I don't know what happened to the car since the divorce.''
Grecula's son, who had worked on the invention, couldn't be reached for comment.
Fay said Grecula called him in mid-January and said he was ''pretty confident'' he would find a backer for a new company he wanted to form. And e-mails released by Toni Lynch, an Upper Mount Bethel Township businessman who lent Grecula an office on Johnsonville Road, show that Grecula was pressing ahead on some venture.
In an undated e-mail, Grecula talks about needing money for an airline ticket ''to rendezvous at the Paris Air Show'' in June and ''3,000 euros to cover expenses in France and Germany.''
Part of the e-mail reads: ''I have numerus contacts throughout the world who will be present at this airshow who possess the knowledge and technology pertinent to our mutual interest in HCl for its development, these contacts are critical.'' Lynch said HCl is hydrogen chlorine.
Another undated e-mail, signed by ''Karen C.,'' who Lynch said was Grecula's girlfriend, says, ''Unfortunately Ron has been in a serious accident. He is unable to receive phone calls. As you know, Ron has great passion for HCl technology and will pursue again when he is able.''
Grecula will have a bail hearing Thursday in Houston. Under federal law, a judge can decline to set bail if he determines that Grecula is a risk of flight or a danger to the community.
Reporters Joe McDonald and Elliot Grossman and librarian Diane Knauss contributed to this story.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times