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Marin Bank Officer Allegedly Hired, Killed Prostitute : Trial Ordered in County Woman’s Death

Special to The Times

A former bank executive was ordered Tuesday to stand trial in the murder of a 19-year-old Huntington Beach woman during a sexual bondage session in his home.

Judge Gary W. Thomas also revoked $250,000 bail for Leslie Arthur (Art) Byrd and ordered him held in the Marin County Jail Tuesday. Byrd, 39, who was fired as senior vice president of Westamerica Bank in the city of Marin after his arrest, paled as a bailiff led him away.

Byrd, the father of two daughters, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Cynthia Lynice Engstrom, 19, of Huntington Beach at his home in the San Francisco suburb of Novato June 17.

“I’m not feeling any relief” said the dead woman’s father, Bill Engstrom, about the judge’s decision Tuesday. “I’m just looking at it as a positive step.”

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Linda Engstrom, Cynthia’s mother, said she and her husband are concerned about Byrd’s wife and children.

“It’s like a spider web,” she said. “It didn’t affect just Cindy; it affected all of us, our family and his. We just hope that, somehow, this can help other girls.”

Investigators said Byrd told them the victim had been hired by Byrd as a prostitute. How Miss Engstrom, who had left home for San Francisco only three weeks before her death, fell into prostitution is a tragedy that her parents said was too painful to discuss.

The Engstroms attended two days of testimony last week before returning home. They have filed a $1-million wrongful death suit against Byrd and Westamerica Bank.

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Byrd has admitted commissioning Miss Engstrom’s services for sexual bondage but said she drowned while bathing alone after the session, Marin County sheriff’s investigators said.

Byrd also has admitted dumping her nude body, which was found the following morning in rural western Marin County.

The county coroner has concluded that Miss Engstrom’s death was not accidental, and prosecutors charge that Byrd suffocated her while playing out a fantasy involving bondage and drowning.

Byrd’s preliminary hearing, which began last week, included testimony from three prostitutes who said he hired them for up to $500 each to engage in bondage. Byrd has admitted to investigators that he repeatedly hired prostitutes.

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All the encounters mentioned by witnesses took place at Byrd’s home while his family was absent.

Byrd’s wife has told investigators that he is a “marvelous” father and that she will support him.

Byrd, who had resided with his family while on bail, is a “danger to the public,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ed Berberian.

Jerrold Ladar, Byrd’s attorney, said Tuesday that he will appeal for restoration of bail. Ladar argued that his client is undergoing therapy and that bail was secured by the $610,000 home of Byrd’s father in Rolling Hills.

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His arraignment was set for Sept. 24 in Marin County Superior Court.


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