Marriage of Salcidos Torn by Money Woes

Times Staff Writers

She liked cowboys. He dressed like one.

He’d bring her books with pictures of horses and she would make drawings of them. After a passionate courtship, Angela and Ramon Salcido were married, on Dec. 8, 1984, over her parents’ objections and her mother’s characterization of Salcido as “the Mexican.”

“Ramon said they (the parents) had hatred for us,” said Javier Saldana, who worked as a stableman with Salcido in Sonoma County.

Their first child, Sofia, was born less than four months after the wedding. Two more daughters were born in the next two years. But all along, Salcido’s drinking, together with his demands that Angela stay at home, their ever-worsening money problems, and his fear that she would have an affair tore at the marriage.


The marriage ended with a bloody rampage, when Salcido, shot her to death, authorities believe.

By the time the killing frenzy was over last Friday, Salcido, 28, shot and killed his supervisor at the winery where he worked, hacked to death his mother-in-law and two young sisters-in-law, and cut the throats of his three daughters, killing two of them, authorities said.

On Monday, the FBI joined an intensified hunt for Salcido and agents questioned several of his acquaintances. Helicopters flew above the Sonoma Valley wine country, searching for cars that Salcido might be driving.

In Cotati, police blocked the street of the home where Angela’s mother, Marion Louise Richards, and sisters, Ruth, 12, and Marie, 8, were murdered, and asked people leaving for work if they had noticed anything unusual the previous Friday.

Rewards posted for Salcido’s capture were expected to total $35,000 by today. Gov. George Deukmejian posted $10,000 on Monday. Walt Dreyer, owner of Grand Cru Vineyards, where Salcido worked, put up $5,000 on Sunday. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors was expected to authorize $20,000 more today.

Eluded Authorities

But the fourth day of the hunt for the burly suspect ended with Sonoma County law enforcement authorities acknowledging that they did not know where he was or where he might be going.

“We will finally locate him and get him, but it’s hard work to do that,” FBI spokesman Chuck Latting said.

Carmina, the Salcidos’ 3-year-old daughter, continued to recover in a Petaluma hospital. She was discovered in a garbage dump on Saturday, her throat cut ear-to-ear. Her sisters, Teresa, 1, and Sofia, 4, were found dead at the site. Carmina’s grandfather, Robert L. Richards, visited her Monday. Both were under the protection of deputies.

On the surface, the courtship and marriage of Angela and Ramon seemed to come from a storybook. In fact, it began with a lie. Four months before their marriage, Salcido had a daughter, Maria Crystal, born in August, 1984, by a previous relationship to Debra Whitten Salcido, 27.

(The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department spells her name, Angelia. However, her name is spelled, Angela, on several documents, including her marriage certificate.)

Salcido apparently never told Angela, the beautiful 19-year-old blonde who caught his eye in the Valley of Moon, about the daughter or about Debra Whitten. And there is no record in California of Whitten and Salcido ever divorcing.

Salcido is listed on the birth certificate as the father. He told a friend last month that he planned to gain custody of the girl. But Assistant Dist. Atty. George A. Grenfell Jr. of Fresno said in an interview on Monday that, in March, Salcido challenged the claim that he was the father after he learned that authorities were demanding almost $6,000 in past child support and $511 in continuing payments.

Debra Whitten, meanwhile, was in hiding in Central California, protected by constant police patrols. “She’s frightened to death that he’s going to find her and kill her,” a relative said.

Angela Elaine Richards was an unlikely mate for Salcido. The daughter of a hard-working delivery truck driver grew up cloistered in a devoutly Catholic household.

Like her two younger sisters, she always wore dresses her mother made. And as she did with Ruth and Marie, mother Marion Louise schooled Angela in her home because she was concerned about what was being taught in schools and about drug use among students. Angela never had a boyfriend to speak of before she met Ramon.

Ramon Bojorquez Salcido grew up in Mexico, the son of a fisherman. He slipped across the border when he was about 18, lived in the country illegally and worked as a migrant, picking grapes in the Sonoma Valley, later as a stableman and finally at Grand Cru Vineyards just up California 12 from Boyes Hot Springs where the Richards family was living at the time.

They met at a community dance, then at a soccer game. Soon, Angela was sneaking out at night just to see him. Javier Saldana said that as Ramon told it, he courted her by giving her books with pictures of horses, and she would practice drawing them. Saldana said Angela was attracted to Salcido’s rugged cowboy appearance.

Once married, she set out to help him become a legal resident, vouching for him as her husband in a form submitted to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. He was granted permanent residency in January, 1986.

Money Woes, Welfare Fraud

At the same time, the marriage was constantly troubled by a lack of money. In 1987, the couple was charged with a misdemeanor for fraudulently obtaining welfare benefits for their children from December, 1985, to March, 1986. Authorities dismissed charges against Ramon, although Angela pleaded no contest and was fined $170 last year.

“I specifically remember them because they were both very good looking people,” said Deputy Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi, who represented the Salcidos.

At first, Ramon was adamant that he would plead guilty to spare his wife, Pozzi said. But he changed his mind because he was on probation from a 1984 hit-and-run, and worried that another conviction would cause him more legal trouble.

“Obviously, it (the motive) was money, they needed money, with three children. She had one, the youngest, in court with her. She was just learning to walk. . . . He was making $1,200 a month,” Pozzi said.

Salcido turned to making extra money by selling wine stolen from Grand Cru and cocaine, according to friends and acquaintances.

“He didn’t have to steal it. They gave us two bottles a week,” said next-door neighbor Steve Nielsen, who worked for a short time at the winery, where Salcido drove a forklift and supervised bottling operations.

Another acquaintance, asking that his name not be used, said Salcido pushed $25, $50 and $100 quantities of cocaine. “He wanted to make a little money,” the source said.

Six months ago, Salcido asked a friend, Nicanor Saldana, a construction worker and former stableman at Arabian horse ranches in Nicasio in Marin County, if he would take over $197-a-month payments on a black 1982 Firebird.

Saldana said Salcido claimed that he could no longer pay for the car--which he bought off a used car lot with no money down--because of medical bills for one of his daughters, who was being treated for a leg deformity.

On March 29, Nicanor was $50 short on the monthly payment and asked Salcido if he could make up the difference. Salcido demanded full-payment because he was expecting to get custody of his first daughter from his relationship with Debra Whitten. It was the first that Nicanor had heard that Salcido had the child.

An acquaintance of Salcido said four days before the rampage, Salcido was drinking beer at a park in the valley trying to sell his Ford Ltd. One man offered $1,000, but Salcido wanted $2,000.

Despite persistent money problems, Salcido drank often at bars in the town, choosing saloons where patrons drink hard, shoot pool and dance until closing. He rarely took his wife, preferring that she wait for him at home.

At McNeilly’s Tavern in El Verano, Salcido was always a perfect gentleman, even when he stayed through to the last call. To bartender Carlo DiClemente, he seemed like the typical hard-working immigrant who was trying to make something of himself.

“He always talked about his job. He was proud that he was making it,” DiClemente said. “He felt he was doing something really significant.”

But at a Mexican restaurant across town, owners said Salcido would swagger in, drink beer and try to leave without paying. “He was a moocher. If he could cheat someone he would,” said the restaurant owner.

For all the money problems, Salcido discouraged his wife from working. Like her mother, Angela helped out by doing her own sewing, making clothes for her daughters and husband, and occasionally selling a blouse or some other item. A woman who bought one of her blouses said it only cost $15.

Angela aspired to be a model and graduated from Covers Modeling School in Santa Rosa in January. An employee at the private school would give no other details.

In more recent months, there were increasing signs of trouble. Neighbors heard fights. One said he heard him hitting her. He threatened to shoot her with the gun he often carried, a neighbor said. Father Javier Ochoa said that last November, the Salcidos approached him at church and asked for an appointment.

“They didn’t arrive,” the priest said. Angela finally showed up and apologized by saying, “my husband cannot come because he is not well.”