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Suspected Wife-Killer Has Long History of Criminal Activities

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A man suspected of killing his wife five years ago and burying her body in the back yard of their Canoga Park home has a long and violent criminal history that includes kidnaping his young daughter and shooting a Hollywood film producer, Los Angeles police said Monday.

Investigators also revealed that the informant who tipped police to the location of the body, leading to the arrest of Michael J. Hardy, is Hardy’s son.

Police said they will ask the district attorney’s office today to charge Hardy, 46, with the murder of Deborah Lynn Hardy. He is being held without bail at the Van Nuys Jail.

Meanwhile, authorities said, they are attempting to chart Hardy’s criminal activities, which stretch across the country, according to police and court records.

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In 1978, Hardy was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon after a shoot-out with film producer Richard Skaggs, who was wounded in the head by Hardy. Skaggs shot Hardy five times but Hardy lived.

Skaggs, president of OMSTAR Productions, told police the shooting stemmed from an extortion attempt by Hardy, said Detective Rick Swanston, who is handling the murder investigation. Skaggs said he was shot after he refused to comply with demands to pay Hardy for “protection from robbery,” he said in an interview.

Hardy claimed the matter stemmed from a business dispute.

In March, 1983, five years after the Hollywood gun battle, Michael Hardy kidnaped his 5-year-old daughter from MacLaren Hall, a county facility in El Monte for abused and neglected children, according to police and court records.

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He rammed his car into the rear of a van carrying several children placed in the home by the courts and held two attendants at gunpoint, police said.

They said he fled with his daughter and added that Deborah Hardy, the child’s mother, was with him during the kidnaping.

Michael Hardy was arrested two months later in the Sheepshead Bay area of New York after Deborah Hardy contacted authorities to turn him in, police said. He was charged with child stealing, assault with a deadly weapon and interfering with a public official, but police on Monday had not determined what the disposition of the case was. Deborah Hardy was not charged in the case.

Most recently, police said, Hardy was released from a New York prison in April after serving nearly three years for a weapons conviction. His parole was transferred to California and he had been living in La Jolla, police said.

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Hardy apparently has played a large part in generating a reputation for himself as a street hoodlum with underworld ties, police said.

In a 1977 profile of Hardy in New York magazine, he boasted of having committed 800 car thefts and 250 robberies and having connections to organized crime.

Earlier this year, Hardy appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s syndicated television show, on which the topic was purported hit men. He declined to confirm or deny his involvement in contract slayings when Rivera pointedly questioned him about 14 slayings he reportedly was involved in. The slayings were mentioned in the magazine article.

“I’m not going to sit here on national TV and confess to murders because, you know, you really aren’t paying me enough for that,” said Hardy, who used the name Michael Hardin on the show.

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Swanston said the man on the talk show is the same man arrested in Deborah Hardy’s murder.

Police said Monday they were delving into Hardy’s background and attempting to confirm or refute some of his boasts, but detectives said their first impression is that many of Hardy’s claims and the rumors about him are unfounded.

“We have no official confirmation of this,” Swanston said of Hardy’s purported duties as a contract killer. “We are finding that he is the source of most of these things that are being said. But we are still very early in our investigation into this.”

Deborah Hardy also had a criminal history that included arrests for burglary, theft, bad checks and prostitution, police said.

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Hardy was arrested Friday in La Jolla after Los Angeles police unearthed a skeleton they believe is that of Deborah Hardy behind a house in the 20600 block of Sherman Way. Medical examiners have not confirmed that the remains are those of the 31-year-old woman, who disappeared in late 1985 or early 1986 but was never reported missing.

Police said they located the body using a diagram drawn by Hardy’s 25-year-old son from an earlier marriage, Robert. The son told investigators that Hardy beat the woman to death with a flashlight during a domestic dispute. The couple lived at the house for about six months in 1985.

“It had been bothering him for years,” Swanston said. “He did not witness the killing but he took part in burying the body.”

The son is in an undisclosed prison serving time for a burglary conviction, authorities said.

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Police have not arrested the son for helping his father bury the victim’s body, but Swanston said the district attorney’s office could decide to charge him in the case. “We’re going to let the DA look at it and decide what to do,” Swanston said.

Police said Deborah Hardy was never reported missing by her family, which includes her father in Florida and an uncle in Michigan. She had not remained in close contact with them, police said. Her father, whose name was not released, told police he had contacted Michael Hardy about three years ago and was told that Deborah had left him. The father, believing his daughter was a “street person,” apparently made no further inquiries, a detective said.

According to court records, the Hardys’ marriage turned violent not long before her disappearance. Deborah Hardy sought a restraining order in March, 1985, to keep her husband away from her.

She claimed she was the victim of spousal abuse, including several altercations that left her with injuries requiring surgery, court records show. According to Deborah Hardy’s claim, her husband broke seven of her ribs in a 1983 beating and also damaged her spleen, which had to be surgically removed. He was not arrested for the alleged assaults but was ordered to move out of the Sun Valley home, according to court records.

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Michael Hardy moved to the house in Canoga Park, and his wife later moved in with him there, police said.

Cathy Kissel, an assistant manager of the La Jolla apartment where Hardy was arrested, said he and his two daughters--the one involved in the kidnaping incident, who is now 12, and a 22-year-old--had been illegally occupying the unit that his mother, Shirley Berrey, had rented until her death in July. Kissel said the family had not paid rent since Berrey’s death.

A court order evicting the family had been issued last month but the family did not vacate the unit until Sunday, two days after Hardy’s arrest, Kissel said.

Staff writers Mayerene Barker, Michael Connelly, John Glionna, Philipp Gollner, Patricia Klein Lerner and Steve Padilla contributed to this article.

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