Slain Man Was Going to Testify in Father’s Murder Trial

Times Staff Writer

An Illinois farmer whose body was found floating off Seal Beach in March was scheduled to testify in the murder trial of his father but disappeared before he could take the stand, authorities said Wednesday.

Seal Beach police would not comment Wednesday on whether a connection existed between the shooting death of Jeffrey Leon Grabbe, 29, and his role as an Illinois state’s witness against his father, Fred Grabbe, 48, who has been convicted twice of killing his wife, Charlotte, in 1981.

In the first trial of his father in 1985, Jeffrey Grabbe testified about the bad feelings between his parents and the beatings his father gave to the entire family, Illinois officials said. He also told Illinois state officials that his father had repeatedly threatened him since the murder.


When his father’s murder conviction was reversed on appeal in November, a new trial was scheduled and Grabbe again was set to take the stand.

But when the trial started March 28 in the Grabbe family’s hometown of Marshall, Ill., Jeffrey Grabbe had been missing for one month. His wife, Cindy, said she last heard from her husband Feb. 28 when he telephoned her while on a business trip to California.

Boaters discovered Grabbe’s body in about 35 feet of water 1 1/2 miles off Seal Beach on March 22, Seal Beach Police Detective Charles Castagna said. Grabbe had been shot, but Castagna would not disclose the type of weapon used or location of the wounds. Castagna said the body broke away from the anchor that had been weighting it down.

Police could not identify the body for several weeks. A forensic anthropologist and police artist were asked to make a clay reproduction of the victim’s face. Police said the victim, dead for about a month when the body was discovered, was wearing Union Bay-brand blue jeans and snakeskin cowboy boots.

Release of that information in the local media failed to produce information leading to identification. Then, for reasons he declined to disclose, Castagna said the investigation turned to Marshall, a town of 4,000 near the Indiana state line.

Clark County Sheriff Dan Crumrin said he was asked to provide Jeffrey Grabbe’s dental records to the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner’s Department. The records matched, and the man was identified as Grabbe.


Two detectives from the Seal Beach Police Department then flew to Illinois to continue an investigation that already had taken hundreds of hours, Castagna said, adding that the investigation is expected to continue until at least next week.

When his mother disappeared off the family’s soybean farm in 1981, Jeffrey Grabbe told local authorities that his father was a possible murderer, said Illinois State’s Attorney David Lewis, who prosecuted the case.

“The son maintained from the first day that his dad did it,” Lewis said.

The father was convicted in 1985 after his former girlfriend, Vicki McCalister, testified that he strangled his wife, burned her body and threw the remains into the Wabash River. Although a body was never found, Lewis said the former girlfriend’s testimony, along with testimony from the son and a daughter, were enough to convince a jury of Fred Grabbe’s guilt.

He appealed the verdict, and in November, 1987, a higher court reversed the conviction on the grounds that the jury was given faulty instructions, Lewis said. Fred Grabbe again was found guilty after the retrial ended April 12. On Aug. 3, he will face a possible sentence of life imprisonment.

Lewis said the second conviction was obtained without the son’s testimony. But he said a daughter testified about Fred Grabbe’s abuse of family members. Lewis said he tried to introduce the missing son’s previous testimony into the retrial but a judge refused to allow it.