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Unearthed Remains Belong to Navy Officer’s Wife : Probe: Leonard Eddington II is expected to be charged with murdering Vickie Eddington and burying her on their property.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than four years after he reported his wife’s disappearance to authorities, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Leonard Eddington II is expected to be charged today with murdering Vickie Eddington and burying her body in a ravine next to the home in Jamul they shared for 12 years.

The San Diego County medical examiner’s office determined Monday that Vickie Eddington’s skeletal remains were those unearthed by investigators Saturday on their 4 acres of property. Her husband was arrested Saturday and is being held without bail in County Jail.

Investigators concluded that she died from head injuries caused by a blunt instrument.

Vickie’s father, Elmer Vess of Plymouth, Ida., is convinced of his son-in-law’s guilt and said he will arrive early to get a close-up seat at today’s arraignment.

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“I want to look at him face-to-face,” said Vess, a retired Navy engine man. “I’m not mad at him. I feel sorry for him. I had a beautiful, young daughter and he cheated her out of her life.”

Ever since Leonard Eddington told San Diego County sheriff’s deputies July 31, 1987, that he found his wife’s empty Volvo station wagon 4 miles from their home, detectives have believed the maintenance officer at the North Island Air Station was their chief suspect.

Court records show that, as early as August, 1989, sheriff’s deputies were planning on filing a criminal complaint accusing the 38-year-old Eddington of murder.

One detective, who interviewed Eddington after the disappearance, said his “general demeanor as well as his extreme nervousness, hyperactivity, perspiration and evasiveness suggested his involvement in Vickie Eddington’s disappearance.”

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Leonard Eddington, who served on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, has repeatedly denied to authorities and family members that he had anything to do with his wife’s disappearance.

He spent last Christmas with Vickie’s parents in Idaho, soul-searching over what he could have done to help her, family members said Monday.

“We had decided that he was part of the family, and we had to try and support the family as best we could,” said Cheryl Taylor, one of Vickie’s three sisters, who also lives in Plymouth. “We had no hard evidence that he did anything. We had to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Leonard Eddington was granted a divorce and sole custody of his children, now aged 14, 10 and 8, in 1989. His eldest son, Michael, was removed from the scene of the excavation Saturday and was placed in Juvenile Hall after he tried to interfere with detectives questioning his father, authorities said. Vess said he picked up Michael, but that Leonard Eddington’s mother has refused to tell him the whereabouts of the other two children.

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Vickie Eddington, 29 at the time, disappeared two days after she told her mother, Alice Vess, that she was getting a divorce, Taylor said Monday. Her mother arrived in Jamul on a Friday in 1987 as part of a regular rotation to take care of the children while Vickie worked two jobs.

Leonard Eddington had told deputies that he last saw his wife the night before, when she left for her overnight job as a nurse at Grossmont Hospital.

Taylor said her mother didn’t know what had happened to Vickie until she spotted her car at the corner of California 94 and Lyons Valley Road. Police had surrounded it. Police told her mother to leave the area but Alice Vess would not leave until someone explained what was happening.

Vickie Eddington’s family members have held out some hope that she would be alive. But, as each year passed, their hope grew dimmer.

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The investigation stalled in the Sheriff’s Department after the lead detective in the case retired last year. In May, the Metropolitan Homicide Task Force, a group of detectives examining a series of prostitute murders, reignited the investigation in earnest.

Vickie’s father said neighbors told police that Leonard Eddington used some equipment to level the ground on a part of the couple’s property six months after the disappearance, but that nothing was ever done.

Last Saturday, police served a search warrant on Eddington’s home and began digging.

The body was found 8 feet below the surface, just where neighbors had seen the leveling equipment, and Eddington was arrested. Vickie was identified Monday through dental records.

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Neighbors in rural Jamul, 20 miles east of San Diego, long suspected that Leonard Eddington may have had something to do with his wife’s death. Vickie told them she felt threatened by her husband, described as a loner who was uncomfortable in crowds.

She was last seen at a convenience store after she discovered that one of her tires was flat. A store clerk remembered that she asked for change from a $20 bill and was upset that her spare was missing.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Dusek, a member of the homicide task force, said it was impossible to make a case against Leonard Eddington until Vickie’s body was found.

“We couldn’t prove she was dead or, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he killed her,” he said. “We expect to file one count of murder against (Eddington) in court (today).”

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Dick Lewis, who heads the task force, and three sheriff’s detectives also on the team, were instrumental in cracking the case, Dusek said.

Sheriff’s Homicide Lt. John Tenwolde called the Eddington case “long and complicated,” and said the Sheriff’s Department has never lost sight of the investigation.

For example, when Leonard Eddington sued the county and the Sheriff’s Department in 1988 to recover the Volvo, the Sheriff’s Department fought him vigorously, arguing that the car was evidence in a possible murder investigation.

The court ruled in the county’s favor. At the time, then-detective Tom Streed, who has since retired from the department, testified in court that even to allow Eddington a chance to inspect the Volvo “would allow him to gain access to information which would facilitate his fabrication of a defense to pending charges.”

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Both Tenwolde and Dusek said there was not a single piece of evidence that led to the excavation last Saturday. Instead, they said it was a thorough review of the entire case that finally led them to Leonard Eddington’s back yard.

The Eddingtons were married in May, 1975, and, within nine years, had three children. Court documents show they filed for divorce in October, 1985, but opted instead for a separation in March, 1987, four months before Vickie disappeared.

Under their arrangement, Vickie stayed in the couple’s two-bedroom home and Leonard in a mobile home on the property.

Vickie Eddington was the second-oldest of six children.

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Vess, her father, arrived in town Monday with two of his children. He is trying to find his two grandchildren and is planning for his daughter’s funeral.

“We are relieved that it’s over, but we have a lot still to do,” he said. “Everything is still in an uproar.”

Taylor said there is a “finality” to her older sister’s death but that she will never stop being reminded of little things that speak of Vickie.

Like lumpy Cream of Wheat.

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“She loved it, and every time I had it, I thought of Vickie,” she said. “I thought, ‘Where is she? What could have happened?’ Now we go through the fact that she’s really gone.”

Taylor and her husband visited Leonard Eddington less than a year after Vickie was reported missing.

“It’s hard to think that she was on that property that we walked on,” she said. “I wonder how many times we walked over her body. She was buried in her own back yard.”


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