Six pairs of spit-shined cowboy boots were lined up on the floor of Douglas Ridenour's closet like soldiers standing at attention.
The office desk that Ridenour and his wife, Dana, shared at a local real estate firm was left clean and empty. And their Sunday newspaper subscription had been canceled last weekend.
According to those knew them, Douglas and Dana Ridenour planned their deaths in the same meticulous and methodical way they lived.
In interviews with relatives, co-workers and neighbors on Thursday, a picture has emerged of two people who led very private lives marked by a passionate devotion to each other and an unusually orderly lifestyle.
The bodies of Douglas, 48, and Dana Ridenour, 45, were found early Wednesday lying on separate couches in the family room of their Anaheim home. Police believe that the couple, killed by shotgun blasts to their heads, died as the result of a murder-suicide pact that they had planned for several months.
Relatives and acquaintances have been grappling for answers to why the Ridenours, by all accounts a happy and successful couple, would want to end their lives--and in such calculated fashion.
In April, the Ridenours began to put in motion their suicide plan. That month, the couple quit their jobs and made a videotape in which they explained that they feared growing old and intended to end their lives "very soon."
They subsequently purchased a 12-gauge shotgun, drew up a will, paid for cremation services and reportedly withdrew their life savings--about $50,000. They then apparently relaxed at home until they decided the time was right, said Ridenour's brother, Ronald.
Their last chore before they died was to arrange for Ronald Ridenour to receive the videotape, will and cremation instructions a day after their deaths.
"I know most people don't understand," Ronald Ridenour said Thursday. "But he was a determined individual. As a brother, I can't emotionally understand it either. But I know he believed in what he was doing."
Ronald Ridenour and his father, Floyd Ridenour, described Douglas Ridenour as a meticulous, determined man who paid attention to detail in his appearance, his work and his home.
Occasionally, Ronald Ridenour said, he would talk about life and death with the couple, who both felt strongly that a person has the right to choose the time and circumstance of death. He said the couple were not religious and their discussions never included the possibility of an afterlife.
"I can assure you that there's really not much more to it than the fact that he wanted to pick his own time and place," Ronald Ridenour said as he sat in the couple's tidy South Dickel Street home on Thursday.
Floyd Ridenour, who last visited his son in March, 1989, described Douglas Ridenour as a "strong-willed boy, and when he made up his mind, there was no turning back."
"His mother had a terrible fear of growing old," Floyd Ridenour added. "I guess he thought he was getting older too." She died in 1980 at the age of 56 of a heart problem, Ridenour said.
Ronald Ridenour learned of his brother and sister-in-law's suicide plan in a 15-minute videotape that the couple recorded on April 19 and mailed to Ronald Ridenour's Santa Barbara home on Monday morning, the day they are believed to have died.
Although the videotape has not been made public, Ronald Ridenour and police say that the couple used it as a sort of suicide note, calmly explaining that after 22 years of marital bliss, they dreaded growing old and were ready to "end it all very soon."
Floyd Ridenour said he last talked with his eldest son on July 5, when Douglas called him after receiving a birthday check in the mail.
"He bawled me out for sending the money," said Floyd Ridenour, 69, from his Troy, Ohio, home. "He told me, 'I don't need any money. I don't need anything.' "
Douglas Ridenour, his brother and his sister, Rebecca, were born in Piqua, Ohio. Floyd Ridenour said that his son was an outgoing young man who made friends easily and had no problems either in high school or college.
Douglas Ridenour enrolled at the University of Dayton in 1961, but dropped out a year later to develop his artistic talent at the Dayton Art Institute, said Floyd Ridenour.
He moved to Dallas, where he met his future wife, Floyd and Ronald Ridenour said. The two moved to California and married in Los Angeles County in 1968.
In 1975, Douglas Ridenour began working as a graphic illustrator for the Fullerton-based Industrial Publications and Graphics Inc. He quit that company last year, his father said, after he considered purchasing the firm but decided it was not feasible.
After a short-lived attempt at selling large-scale earthquake preparedness kits to hospitals, schools and businesses, Douglas Ridenour decided to try his hand at real estate.
His wife also quit her longtime job as a legal secretary at the Costa Mesa branch of the accounting firm Arthur Anderson and Co. and attended real estate school with her husband.
"They did that so they could be together more," Floyd Ridenour said.
They first landed jobs at the Anaheim branch of Coldwell Banker and moved to Lincoln Realty in Orange in November, 1989.
When they quit their jobs at Lincoln in April, they told their employer that they needed a four-month hiatus to travel. But apparently they spent their last months together at the single-story home they bought two years ago.
"They didn't go anywhere in the sense that they took a vacation," Ronald Ridenour said.
Between April and Monday, neighbors noticed nothing out of the ordinary.
They often saw the couple, always dressed impeccably, drive by in their white 1969 Corvette or 1985 yellow Cadillac. Occasionally Douglas or Dana was seen walking outside to pick a newspaper off the well-kept yard or to turn on the sprinklers.
Since moving into the central Anaheim neighborhood, the Ridenours preferred their privacy, neighbors said. Shortly after they moved in, next-door neighbor Angie Rossol said, they installed a high, blue awning around their back yard to ensure their seclusion.
"I never met more private people," Rossol said.
While the Ridenours appeared aloof to neighbors, their co-workers at Lincoln found them to be personable and hard-working, quickly establishing a track record by selling several high-priced homes.
"We are just baffled. They were an upbeat, very loving couple, and they were on target to do well," said Judy Dillavou, a real estate broker who owns Lincoln with her husband, Dean. "We had great expectations for them."