As 41-year-old Tom Hayhurst of Escondido sits in the County Jail in Vista, charged with murdering his 74-year-old mother by pounding her unmercifully on the head with a crowbar, neighbors and friends talk of justice.
“I sympathize with him,” said Gordon Christensen, “for having had to put up with her.”
“I was struck by the horror of it, but he’s more the victim than her,” said a longtime family friend, a professional who asked not to be identified. “She pushed him over the edge.”
“She drove her son to kill her,” said Mildred Culbertson, who had known the Hayhursts since 1972. “She drove him beyond endurance.”
Even the prosecutor, although emphasizing the brutality of the killing, concedes that Tom Hayhurst “had finally come to his wit’s end with his mother.”
It was the kind of killing that beckons reference to the black comedy “Throw Momma From the Train,” where the son, played by actor Danny DeVito, plots to murder his tyrannical, curmudgeon of a mother, played by the late Anne Ramsey.
In this situation, Tom Hayhurst--a small (5 foot 6, 110 pounds), quiet man so unobtrusive that neighbors didn’t know he had moved in with his mother last December--is charged with murdering her Oct. 15 in an outburst so violent it left both prosecutors and his defense attorney shaking their heads.
“Based on the beating the body took, there was a considerable amount of anger in this attack,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Greg Walden, the prosecutor. “It wasn’t for any other reason than to get back in anger.”
Tom Hayhurst is being held in jail without bail pending his preliminary hearing, scheduled for this morning before Vista Municipal Judge Suzanne Knauf. Hayhurst, through his attorney, declined to be interviewed.
“The mother was very strong-willed and very opinionated,” Walden said. “She rode roughshod over everybody she came into contact with, from what we can gather. We believe he finally got tired of that and took matters into his own hand and did the dirty deed.”
Added John Jimenez, Hayhurst’s defense attorney: “The question isn’t so much whether Tom is guilty or innocent, but why it occurred. Apparently he was mad as hell and didn’t want to take it anymore.”
Close family friends and longtime neighbors along San Pasqual Road and Viento Valle, a rural neighborhood on Escondido’s eastern side, say the Hayhurst household was a volatile one punctuated by the sounds of berating, arguments and shouting, day and night. Consistently, Violet Hayhurst, who stood less than 5 feet tall, was painted as the antagonist, the bullheaded, imperious matriarch who occasionally would even kick her own husband out of the house for reasons that were unclear.
“She would berate Lou (husband) terribly in front of other people,” said the longtime family friend who asked for anonymity. “He was a gentleman and very meek, and he wouldn’t ever retort. Everyone wondered why Lou would take that kind of abuse from her.”
Christa Petro, another longtime family friend, added: “She was always cutting him short, to knock him down. It was pretty nasty, but he’d take it. I understand, though, that, when they were alone, they fought a lot.”
But the abrasive relationship between husband and wife could stand no more, apparently. Lou Hayhurst killed himself with a handgun shot to his head in August, 1987. Different stories had come from Violet Hayhurst in trying to explain her husband’s death; she never publicly acknowledged his suicide, and curious friends found out by checking the county coroner’s records.
“My wife said at the time he should have been nominated for sainthood for having put up with his wife that long,” said neighbor Christensen.
Tom Hayhurst didn’t know of his father’s death for many months. Hayhurst had sold a piece of property in Escondido and--to his mother’s consternation--used his $80,000 profit to satisfy his wanderlust. He eventually settled down near one of his two older brothers, Ray Hayhurst, in Glendale, Ariz., where he worked first as a manager of a car wash and then with his brother at a feed supply store.
Tom Hayhurst returned to Escondido last December, after Violet Hayhurst was struck by a car while trying to repair her mailbox at the bottom of her driveway. She was hospitalized at Palomar Medical Center for more than a month and needed Tom to help care for the family’s 10-acre avocado grove and to help care for his sister, Ann, who is 30 years old and developmentally disabled.
To Violet Hayhurst, “the sun rose and set on Ann,” said Mildred Culbertson, whose friendship with the Hayhursts goes back to 1972.
Others agreed that Ann was the center of Violet Hayhurst’s life. She would invite friends over to listen to Ann play popular show tunes on the organ; she would frequently take Ann to a roller-skating rink in town, and she supported Ann’s involvement as a singer in the folk music group at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Escondido.
But the two also fought often.
When Ann visited her mother at the hospital after the car accident, the two became so violent that nurses had to physically separate them and Ann was ordered to stop going to the hospital, according to one hospital employee.
Neighbors say the two fought so loudly that the heated words were broadcast over the neighborhood. Others, to Violet Hayhurst’s defense, said Ann simply needed to shout because of her disability, in order to effectively communicate with her mother without stammering.
When they did argue, it always seemed to be over food and concern for Ann’s weight. Once, in a cafeteria line, Violet Hayhurst ordered her daughter to return a helping of potato salad. Another time, Violet Hayhurst locked the family refrigerator with a bar and padlock so Ann couldn’t get inside in her absence, one friend said.
It was to this home that Tom Hayhurst returned last December, and mother and son had a testy relationship at best.
Tom Hayhurst slept in his van, parked in the driveway, and was only allowed to go into the three-bedroom home to use the bathroom and occasionally fix meals in the kitchen, Walden said. One friend said the third bedroom in the house, one that could have been used by Tom Hayhurst, was instead used as an office by his mother. Yet another friend speculated that the son didn’t want to live in the house.
Petro said she was bothered by having dinner at Violet Hayhurst’s home while Tom stayed outside in his van. “She always seemed very secretive about Tom, or ashamed of him, although I don’t know why she would be,” she said.
Another friend said Violet Hayhurst was still angry at her son for spending the proceeds of his real estate sale.
“She was always butting into his business,” Culbertson said. “She said she was the mother hen looking after her children. But she had a bossy nature to her.”
Others saw a decidedly different side to Violet Hayhurst.
“She’s the most wonderful woman you’d ever want to meet,” Debi Temprendola, a church musician and good friend of Ann, said of Violet Hayhurst. “She was always very gracious to me the five or six times I had seen her.”
Temprendola said she wasn’t sure what would spark the arguments between mother and daughter, but characterized them as spats not unlike those that occur between teen-age girls and their mothers.
“Ann’s very sensitive. She loved her mother to death, but there’s no question they were always fighting. When Ann would talk, you’d hear the anger in her voice toward her mother,” Temprendola said.
Sister Vivian Barga, a music instructor at St. Mary’s School, knew Ann and her mother for years and characterized Violet Hayhurst as “socially pleasant.”
Still, the mother was at times “nagging and critical” toward her husband and would make “quick remarks” to Ann, Barga said.
Terry Leland, who moved to a house next door to the Hayhursts 18 months ago, said Violet Hayhurst was a pleasant woman who would share her avocados with him.
“She had us up for dinner and was very nice--extremely nice--to us,” Leland said.
Aurora Engel, who lived on the other side of the Hayhursts for 11 years, also described her as “very nice.”
Still, Engel said, “she was different than most people. She was very strong and complained about a lot of things. It sounded to me like she wore the pants in the family.”
Christensen, a neighbor of more than 15 years with the Hayhursts, recalled his own confrontations with Violet Hayhurst.
Christensen is the superintendent of the San Pasqual Union School District and remembers fielding any number of phone calls from her, complaining about this or that.
“After I was installed as superintendent, she complained that, by hiring me, they were taking food out of the mouths of hungry kids,” Christensen said. “She was not a rational person.”
Christensen and other neighbors said Violet Hayhurst was also an unwelcome guest at the neighborhood’s homeowner meetings. “She was loud and rude and argumentative and irrational. She would make statements that made absolutely no sense. It was always nicer when she wasn’t there,” Christensen said.
Another neighbor, Frances Maceri, added: “She was loud and obnoxious. We didn’t mind her giving her opinion, but it was the way she did it--loud and arrogant. We’d just let her talk so when she was done we could continue the meeting.”
A neighborhood teen-age boy said that, on one occasion, Violet Hayhurst beckoned a boy riding a dirt bike to approach her--then tried to hit him with a shovel. Another time, several neighbors said, Violet Hayhurst was so angry at someone riding a motorcycle up the street that she chased him--in reverse--in her car, only to strike a retaining wall and roll her vehicle on its side.
She paid for the damage to the wall.
Ray Hayhurst said he is wary of neighborhood gossip about his family. “I’m sure there were arguments,” he said, “but I think you’re hearing quite a bit of gossip and embellishment, with maybe only a grain of truth.”
Ray Hayhurst said he did not know why his father killed himself.
“Depression is the only answer I can come up with. He didn’t leave any information behind.”
And he said he couldn’t conceive what would have set off his younger brother to have erupted in the way he is accused of doing. “I’d never seen him get provoked,” he said.
Prosecutors themselves aren’t sure what sparked the violence. Tom Hayhurst himself called 911 that morning in October. When investigators arrived, they found Violet Hayhurst’s body at the bottom of the hillside, in a dirt-pullout area alongside San Pasqual Road that had, to the woman’s anger, become a dumping ground for others’ garbage.
Tom Hayhurst told investigators his mother must have been attacked by a stranger, and her body dumped at the bottom of the hill alongside the street. But Walden, the prosecutor, said it didn’t take too long for investigators to pointed the finger at the son.
Because of the pattern of bloody footprints, it was clear that she was bludgeoned just outside her garage--the exterior wall was spattered with blood--and then put in her own Ford Bronco. The car was driven to the bottom of the hill and her body thrown onto the ground, Walden alleged.
Hayhurst told investigators he spotted the car from the yard above, ran down, discovered his mother and ran back up the hill to call for help, Walden said. But, from Hayhurst’s claimed viewpoint, the car could not have been seen. Furthermore, U.S. Border Patrol trackers detected only one set of tracks--going uphill from where the body was left.
Hayhurst has maintained his innocence, said Walden and Jimenez, the defense attorney, although both men indicated that a plea bargain may be offered today.
“She may have been hard to get along with--she may have been cantankerous--but no one deserves to die the way she died,” Walden said.