A homemade straitjacket, plastic handcuffs and other evidence recovered near a rented truck lent credence to a police theory that the man who crashed through a Lorimar Studios gate and killed himself with a shotgun may have gone to the Culver City lot to take "Dallas" star Ken Kercheval hostage, police said Thursday.
In an interview at his Hollywood Hills home, Kercheval--who had been accused by suicide victim Edward P. Phillips of "stealing" the popcorn company they once co-owned--said of the incident: "My initial reaction to the whole thing is pity that any human being could become so confused, and Ed was certainly confused. . . . But I do not believe he would have carried it out."
Police said that in addition to a crudely fashioned straitjacket and cuffs, they also found a length of rope in the truck that Phillips used Tuesday to ram through the Lorimar gates.
"We found a yellow shirt, the sleeves of which were bound together with duct tape--sort of like a straitjacket, a piece of rope tied to a black canvass belt, a few plastic flexi-ties and a wooden ax handle," said Culver City Police Sgt. Hank Davies. "Maybe he was planning on taking a hostage."
"I think he (Kercheval) was glad he wasn't on the set that day," Davies added.
Phillips, 43, formerly of Corydon, Ind., also left behind an envelope containing a birthday card addressed to "Mr. Mucky Mucks Kercheval," Davies said. According to police and acquaintances, Phillips was distraught over losing his share of a popcorn company co-owned by Kercheval.
The birthday card read, in part: "Yes, the sick policies taught us on 'Dallas' do work. But there are repercussions. You are truly mentally the sickest human being alive."
In the card, the Indiana businessman also asserted that "we all suffer from your deviant greed and behavior on April 15, 1988," an apparent reference to the day when Kercheval and Phillips' wife, Linda, ousted the Indiana businessman from the Old Capitol Popcorn Co.'s board of directors. Linda Phillips sued for divorce shortly thereafter.
Former acquaintances of Phillips said it was on that day that the former president of Old Capitol Popcorn began to trail into a deepening depression that ended Tuesday evening when he rammed the movie lot gate, set fire to his rental truck and shot at the sound stage where "Dallas" is filmed.
Detectives believe that Phillips drove to California from his home in Carroll, Ohio, over the weekend. On Tuesday afternoon, Phillips spent several hours drinking in a Culver City bar across the street from the movie lot, police said.
Kercheval, who was not on the lot when Phillips burst through the gates, said the businessman's final act of violence was the culmination of a year of failed attempts to win vindication.
"He cried for help in a million different ways," Kercheval said. "His erratic actions were cries for help."
The 54-year-old actor said Phillips even tried to have his side of the story picked up by major television news programs, including ABC's "20/20." "They thought he was off the walls," Kercheval said.
Allan Simmons, who was hired by Kercheval in 1987 as sales vice president for the popcorn company, agreed that what Phillips "wanted . . . was for people to find out what happened to his company."
But Simmons, one of a host of company officials fired by Kercheval two months after he became president of the firm in 1988, also said that the actor could abruptly change into the role of a "ruthless businessman."
Kercheval, who plays the character of a tough oil tycoon named Cliff Barnes on "Dallas," responded that "I'm no more that character than a fly."
"I can't help it if Cliff Barnes has the same voice that I do . . . or might have some of the same physical gestures that I do," Kercheval said. "I assure you, Cliff Barnes did not deal with a popcorn company and its trials and tribulations."
The actor said he bought a third of the company from Phillips and his wife for nearly $1 million in 1985, and then lent his name to national sales campaigns. Kercheval then agreed to pay the couple $309,000 for their two-thirds share of the business. At the time he took over the company, however, "debts were in excess of $2 million," Kercheval said, blaming most of the firm's debts on mismanagement by Phillips.
As an example of what the actor called Phillips' irrational behavior, Kercheval said that Phillips "would call buyers and then tell them they need not pay their bills because the company was going into bankruptcy. . . . I don't think he could ever get over the fact that the company could exist without him."
As it stands, Kercheval, said, "we are all but debt-free and we are making a profit." Kercheval declined, however, to disclose the company's annual revenues or earnings.