Vengeance Called Motive : Death Spree Suspect’s Life Was Unraveling

Times Staff Writers

In the days before the savage killing rampage for which he is blamed, life in the United States began to unravel for Ramon Salcido, who came to the California wine country from Sinaloa, Mexico.

He was using and selling cocaine and may have had troubles at Grand Cru Vineyards, where he worked. He was served with papers ordering him to pay back child support to a former wife in Fresno who had been looking for Salcido for two years.

And his wife, Angelia, a slender blonde with a model’s looks whom he jealously guarded from even casual contact with other men, found out about his previous marriage and wanted to leave him.

While a massive manhunt continued for Salcido on Sunday, details began to emerge in interviews about his transformation from a well-known and liked person around the small wine country towns into the crazed, knife-wielding killer that Sonoma County Sheriff Richard Michaelsen said is responsible for “the worst crimes I’ve ever seen.”


‘Daddy Cut Me’

Just after 7 a.m. Friday, after a long night of drinking and cocaine-snorting with a woman friend, police say Salcido began taking revenge for grievances not yet entirely understood. By the time he was finished, Angelia lay dead in the couple’s Boyes Hot Springs home. Two of their children were left dead with their throats slit near a Sonoma County dump. A third child survived and told police, “Daddy cut me.”

Angelia’s mother and two of her sisters were also killed, more brutally than the others, their throats cut, one almost decapitated. His supervisor at the winery was shot dead and a co-worker wounded.

Revenge Motive Cited

“It was clear that he had been bent on getting back at several people,” Michaelsen said Sunday, after conferring with a psychologist who prepared a psychological profile of Salcido for law enforcement officers.

Just what Salcido, who had been arrested before on suspicion of hit-and-run and welfare fraud, was seeking to avenge remains a mystery to investigators. But Michaelsen warned that Salcido could be anywhere--even lying low in the woods of Sonoma County--and is “capable of anything, capable of suicide, certainly capable of taking another life. It doesn’t have to be a relative or a co-worker. Anybody who has contact with him is in jeopardy.”

The sheriff warned citizens not to approach Salcido, who may be heavily armed, under any circumstances.

“I envision a very serious encounter with him when we do find him, and I’m very optimistic we will,” Michaelsen said.


Also on Sunday, the owner of Grand Cru Vineyards offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to Salcido’s arrest, and said the winery and its tasting room would be closed while he is at large.

“Families, including our own, are living in hiding until Salcido is captured,” said Walter Dreyer, the winery’s owner. “These atrocities have caused fear and terror to invade an area known for its beauty and hospitality.”

Dreyer contradicted reports from Salcido’s acquaintances, and from sheriff’s deputies, that he was having trouble at work.

“His job was not in jeopardy,” Dreyer said. “He was a solid employee. He had received merit increases and was receiving an hourly salary of $8 . . . as a lead man in the bottling department.”


On Thursday, the day before the killing spree, Salcido cooked a barbecue lunch for the entire staff, Dreyer said. Co-workers noticed “no indication of trouble,” he said.

But something set off Salcido, police believe. The crisis appears to have flashed into life Tuesday when he was served papers ordering him to pay nearly $6,000 to his former wife for support of their 4-year-old daughter.

This led to Angelia Salcido’s discovery that her husband, whom she met four years before at a soccer game, had been married and that he had a child born not long before their oldest daughter, Sofia.

On Wednesday, two days before her murder, Angelia Salcido told a neighbor that she had just learned about Ramon’s other life. Next-door neighbor Steve Nielsen told The Times on Sunday that Angelia told his mother, Connie Breazeale, that she wanted to leave Ramon. Breazeale runs a day-care center in her home where Salcido’s three young daughters often played.


“ ‘Now I can get an annulment,’ ” Nielsen quoted Angelia as saying.

Angelia broke off the conversation with Breazeale when Ramon drove up, Neilsen said. Ramon’s intense jealousy did not even allow Angelia to talk with neighbors, Nielsen and others said. Salcido demanded that she stay in the house as much as possible.

Ramon showed two faces to those who knew him. Bryan Mann, manager of the Boyes Springs Food Center, said Salcido shopped there for six years. “He was very nice, always friendly and smiling,” Mann said.

But Richard Clark, a neighbor, said the couple often argued, often about Ramon’s being jealous that Angelia’s looks were enticing to other men.


“I could hear them yelling, arguing with each other. I heard him say, ‘I’m going to blow your head off,’ ” Clark said. He once heard Angelia cry and yell at Ramon: “Living with you is like living in jail. You won’t let me go out.”

After work on Thursday, Salcido was seen by acquaintances at the Valley of the Moon Saloon on California 12, the road that winds from Sonoma through the Valley of the Moon area to Santa Rosa, the county seat.

Warren Grunhagen, a customer, said Salcido often drinks at the saloon and was usually peaceful. “If we had had 30 bar patrons like Ramon, there would be no problems,” Grunhagen said. But Thursday night, Salcido was looking for cocaine and amphetamines, he said.

Later that night, he showed up at McNeilly’s Tavern in El Verano, a small town near Boyes Hot Springs. McNeilly’s was often the last stop for Salcido after an evening of drinking, and owner John McNeilly said he frequently saw Ramon and Angelia in the bar.


“I’d say he was overly possessive. He always had his hands on her and he would never leave her by herself,” McNeilly said.

Salcido stayed until closing time at 2 a.m. Friday, Bartender Carlo DiClemente said. He had four drinks, a “7 and 7" and three “separators"--a combination of brandy, Kahlua and cream that Salcido did not normally favor.

Salcido was normally a “friendly and gentlemanly” customer who never caused trouble, DiClemente said. But that night the bartender noted something out of the ordinary. Salcido was trying to sell customers French sparkling red wine under the E. Chauvnet label for $5 a bottle or $40 a case.

“I thought that it was strange. Either he lost his job or he was going to lose his job,” DiClemente said.


After leaving the bar Salcido found his way to a woman friend’s apartment where they snorted cocaine until 5 a.m., just hours before the killings began, several acquaintances who asked not to be identified said. Salcido was well-known in the small towns around Sonoma.

Several acquaintances--including two bartenders and a restaurant owner who did not want their names used--said he was a regular seller and user of cocaine and possibly amphetamines.

They also recall he was a neat dresser who usually stayed out of trouble. “He had a lot of friends,” a longtime acquaintance said. “He would go with Americans to American cantinas and with Mexicans to the Mexican cantinas. They would lend him money for beer.”

Police still are not sure of the exact sequence of events, but Sheriff Michaelsen said Sunday that the rampage is now believed to have started a little after 7 a.m. at the Cotati home of Robert L. Richards, Angelia’s father, where her mother and sisters lived.


Hiding in Yard

Roy Curtis, who lives across from the Richards family on Lakewood Street, said he saw Richards leave for work just before 7 a.m., and 10 minutes later saw the family’s dog out on the street barking. He thought it was unusual because the Richards family never let the dog out of the back yard.

Curtis caught the dog and knocked on the Richards’ front door. He thought he could hear some movement inside and hear a radio or television playing. But no one answered the door.

He tried again several times between 7:05 and 8:45, but the door was never opened. Curtis then left for an hour, and when he returned shortly before 10 a.m. the police had already discovered the grisly scene.


“In 22 years as a law enforcement officer, I’ve never seen a crime scene as grim as this,” Michaelsen said.

“The Richards home was a blood bath. Throats were cut and one head was almost decapitated. The children had their throats cut. It was a horrible sight.”

A preliminary autopsy report Sunday showed that Marian Louise Richards, 42, and two daughters, Ruth, 12, and Maria, 8, all bled to death. Early reports said that the girls were sexually assaulted, but the autopsy report said it appears only one may have been molested. Richards is under guard, Michaelsen said.

Curtis said that Salcido was not a welcomed addition to the Richards family and had recently clashed with his mother-in-law.


“She told me she didn’t like ‘the Mexican,’ ” Curtis said Sunday. “She felt that her daughter was too good for him.”

Angelia was “beautiful, tall slender, very artistic,” Curtis recalled. “Her mother felt that she could have had anybody she wanted.”

Salcido and his mother-in-law recently fought over a Pontiac Firebird purchased by Salcido, apparently without Angelia’s knowledge. When Salcido could not meet the loan payments he lent the car to a Latino friend who was to make the payments, Curtis said.

He said that Mrs. Richards told Salcido “that was kind of dumb--to give it to another Mexican. He’ll never make the payments.”


Curtis said that, from what he knew of the hot-headed Salcido, “I would say that (the ethnic remarks) would stick in his craw.”

Salcido later drove to the Glen Ellen area and shot and killed his supervisor, Tracy Toovey, and then found another co-worker, Ken Butti, and wounded him in the shoulder about 10 a.m.

At the Butti shooting, Salcido was seen with blood on his shirt, police said. But about 10:30 a.m. Salcido calmly cashed a check at a Wells Fargo bank in Boyes Hot Springs, with a clean shirt on.

Michaelsen said authorities still are not certain when Salcido killed his wife, who was found shot in the couple’s Boyes Hot Springs home. Michaelsen said Sunday that a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol found in Salcido’s abandoned car on Saturday was used to kill Angelia Salcido and Toovey.


Then on Saturday the bodies of two of his children--Teresa, 1, and Sofia, 4--were found discarded near a dump in Sonoma County, their throats slashed. Michaelsen said blood found in the abandoned car may indicate the children were attacked in the car.

Carmina, the 3-year-old who survived, was conscious and speaking when she reached Petaluma Valley Hospital about 3:15 p.m. Saturday. “She was crying and making sounds but they really weren’t words,” spokeswoman Mary Frost said.

She underwent two hours of surgery for the knife wound to her throat and is in stable condition. She also has been placed under 24-hour guard.

Michaelsen said that Carmina told police that Salcido attacked her and her sisters. Asked if a 3-year-old would be a reliable witness, he called her “very reliable. She knows what her father did.”


An “overwhelming community response” has brought a deluge of toys and offers of blood to the hospital. The Petaluma Argus-Courier, which has been publishing since 1855, normally Monday through Saturday, on Sunday published a special edition, its first since Pearl Harbor was attacked. An account called the Salcido Trust Fund was established at the Bank of America, P.O. Box 199, Sonoma, CA 95476.

In Fresno, Salcido’s former wife is staying with a friend and is in touch with Fresno police.

“She’s frightened. She’s worried that he might possibly try to harm her,” said Fresno Police Capt. Patrick Rhames. “She’s not panicking by any means, but I think she is appropriately worried.”

Roderick reported from Los Angeles and Morain from Northern California. Also contributing to this story were Times staff writers Tracy Wilkinson and Kenneth Reich in Sonoma County, Virginia Ellis in Fresno and Judy Pasternak and George Stein in Los Angeles.