A quarter of a century after a Santa Ana strip club owner was ambushed and gunned down, a Hawaiian man has been sentenced to life in prison in what once was one of Orange County’s most intriguing unsolved murders.
Richard Curtis Morris Jr. was found guilty of murder earlier this year in the 1987 slaying of Jimmy Casino, who was born James Stockwell until he rebranded himself when he became the flamboyant owner of the Mustang Topless Theater in the 1980s.
Morris wasn’t arrested until 2008 when advances in DNA testing allowed investigators to pump new life into the cold case. Authorities said they were able to make a match to evidence gathered from the murder scene when Morris’ DNA was collected after a DUI arrest in Hawaii.
A second suspect in the shooting remains unidentified.
Casino was fatally shot and his girlfriend raped in the strip club owner’s Buena Park condo. Police at the time said the gunmen pumped three bullets into the back of his head with a silencer-equipped handgun before making off with credit cards, fur coats, jewelry and two of his cars.
At the time, Casino's slaying was front-page news, a story that included mobsters, hit men, prostitution and extortion.
His death was also seen as the opening salvo in a battle for control of the Mustang strip club in Santa Ana, which grossed $150,000 a month and had ties to organized crime, according to authorities.
Over the next 15 months, a financial backer of the Mustang was shot and blinded by a Los Angeles mob underboss who was convicted of attempted murder. Mustang bouncer "Big" George Yudzevich — who also happened to be an FBI informant — was shot to death in an Irvine industrial park; no one was ever charged.
Casino was a high school dropout from Pomona who got into the topless club business on the Sunset Strip in the 1970s, according to old news reports. He was arrested for fraudulent use of credit cards and possession of counterfeit $20 bills. He served time in federal prison.
During his ownership of the Santa Ana strip club, Casino developed a reputation as an off-beat and colorful character who read the Bible to his strippers and preached the evils of drug use but lived a fast life, with a car collection that included a Camaro, a Mercedes-Benz and a Rolls-Royce.
His income from the Mustang was $20,000 a month, court records from the mid-1980s show, but he was also accused by a creditor of skimming profit from the club to maintain his lifestyle. At the time of his death, the IRS was poised to shut down the Mustang because of unpaid taxes.
A year after Casino was killed, the club burned in an explosive fire that investigators determined was arson.
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