Prosecutor Accuses Defendant in Fatal Letter Bomb Case of ‘Quiet Cowardice’

Times Staff Writer

A wealthy Hawthorne real estate broker was accused in Los Angeles federal court Thursday of a “clearly violent case of quiet cowardice” in arranging the mailing of a bomb that killed a Manhattan Beach woman in July, 1980.

In making the accusation against 52-year-old William Ross, Assistant U.S. Atty. Nancy Wieben Stock called him a quiet man who had succumbed to rage when he decided to kill a woman during a feud over the purchase of a two-bedroom bungalow in Manhattan Beach.

Ross and Rochelle Ida Manning, 48, are accused of mailing a bomb to a Manhattan Beach computer company that killed the firm’s secretary, Patricia Wilkerson, 32. A letter accompanying the device--addressed to Brenda Crouthamel, the firm’s co-owner--said it contained a recording that would explain a new invention.

Killed Instantly


But when Wilkerson plugged in the device, as the letter instructed, it exploded, killing her instantly.

Ross and Manning have been on trial for Wilkerson’s death since Dec. 21.

In making her closing arguments in the case, Stock said Ross made Crouthamel, who has since married and changed her last name to Adams, the target of a “venal, lethal” scheme.

“This was the work of a quiet man; a man who didn’t normally vent his feelings,” the prosecutor said. He is “a man of such ill will toward Brenda Crouthamel that he gave vent to those feelings.”

Stock said that Ross and Crouthamel had an angry confrontation less than a month before the bombing during an inspection of a Manhattan Beach bungalow that she wanted to buy from Ross. The disagreement arose over repairs Crouthamel wanted done and her refusal to allow Ross to try to sell her house.

A week after the inspection, Stock said, two calls were made from Ross’ realty office in Hawthorne to the office and home of Robert Manning, Rochelle Manning’s husband, who is also charged in the case. Robert Manning, whose fingerprints were found on the bomb parcel, is a fugitive living on the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“He (Ross) is the link between the two parties,” Stock said.

Stock said Rochelle Manning’s fingerprints were also found on the letter that accompanied the bomb.

Mitchell Egers, Ross’ attorney, attacked many of Stock’s statements, saying there was no evidence, for example, to show who made the two phone calls.

“Could it have been Bill?” Egers asked. “Where is the proof of that?”

Egers also said Ross was too wealthy to concern himself about the sale of a modest home, pointing out that Ross and his wife sold five pieces of real estate in 1980 and owned nine others in Los Angeles with a total value of $1 million.

Rochelle Manning’s attorney, Michael Adelson, said convicting his client would be “unspeakable.” He said her fingerprints on the letter “could have gotten there in a hundred ways at a hundred different times.”

The jury is scheduled to begin deliberations today.