Prosecutor Builds Case Against Navy Man : Justice: Witnesses testify during hearing for lieutenant commander accused of murdering and burying his estranged wife.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fearful of a divorce from his wife, Vickie, Leonard E. Eddington II told a Navy subordinate in 1985 that "he'd go up on the roof and saw the house in half and her too if she got in the way" rather than lose the property in a divorce settlement, according to court testimony Tuesday.

When her body was found buried more than five years later, it was wrapped in a quilt she had made for her husband's bed, according to testimony during the first day of Eddington's preliminary hearing.

In a murder case that took four years to begin unraveling, Eddington, a Navy lieutenant commander, is charged with killing his wife and burying her in the back yard of the Jamul home the couple had shared with their three children. He is free on $400,000 bail.

She disappeared July 30, 1987, on the way to her night nursing job at Grossmont Hospital. Her car was found the next day about 4 miles from home, the front right tire flat and the spare missing.

During the next five years, suspicious neighbors reported to police that Eddington took earth-moving equipment to the exact location where the bones would be discovered. Family members said he steered them away from the same spot when they walked the property shortly after Vickie's disappearance.

Eddington was not arrested until last December, however, when detectives with a backhoe dug three separate holes, each 10 feet wide and 8 feet deep. After pulling a portion of a chain-link fence hammered into the earth with two wooden stakes from the ground, they exposed a green blanket.

On Tuesday in San Diego Superior Court, a forensic pathologist said Vickie Eddington's remains were wrapped in a furniture-moving pad, a lime-green blanket, a patterned bedsheet and two quilts, one a patchwork yellow and the other brown with a Western design.

Vickie Eddington had made the yellow quilt herself for her husband's water bed. Her mother, Alice Vess, made the other quilt for the Eddingtons' second-oldest child.

At one point during the hearing, Alice Vess held up a piece of excess material used to make the child's quilt that she had formed to make a tie. The material was to be used as a shirt for Leonard Eddington but his wife had cautioned that the orange, yellow and brown pattern would be too bright for her husband's taste.

When forensics experts uncovered Vickie Eddington's remains, they noted that her feet had been bound with a plastic tie, her legs bent and elbows crossing her body.

She had been wearing blue jeans and a floral print blouse but no shoes or socks at the time she was killed. Dr. Mark Super, a deputy medical examiner, said she died of several "significant" blows to her skull.

For the first time Tuesday, experts testified that punctures found in the tires on Vickie Eddington's car were made from inside the tire, rather than from the outside, and that someone had to remove the tire from rim to make the tears. A sheriff's deputy said the tire had no dirt around the edges, meaning that the car traveled little or no distance.

Detectives have long speculated that Leonard Eddington, who commanded mechanics as a maintenance officer at North Island Naval Air Station, made a slight leak in the tire or may have even taken it to the spot the car was found and placed the flat tire on the car himself. Eddington and his attorney deny the theory.

Eddington has told authorities that his wife left for work the night she disappeared, and that he was unaware she was missing until he passed her abandoned car on the side of the road the next morning as he took his three children for swimming lessons at a YMCA in La Mesa.

But one of Eddington's fellow maintenance officers testified that Eddington had given him differing versions of Vickie Eddington's disappearance on separate occasions, once while the two were on a tour of duty in the Philippines and the other at the North Island Naval Air Station.

"The first time, he told me he was home baby-sitting the children, there was nothing on TV and she had disappeared," said Jerry Roseland, an aviation ground maintenance officer. "Another time, he told me he had gone out to fix the car and couldn't find her."

Roseland, who was also on his second marriage, commiserated with Eddington about marital troubles.

"We were comparing the wants and desires of women when it comes to divorce," he said. "We shared the fact that my ex-wife wanted my military retirement, and he stated Vickie wanted the same. He did say she wanted the house and child support. She wanted anything and everything. Basically, she wanted it all."

After Eddington repeatedly complained to colleagues that authorities were blaming him for his wife's death, Roseland had a suggestion.

"I told him, 'Why don't you call the Sheriff's Department and have them come out and tell them you put her in the back yard and let them dig around for a while?" he asked. "When they don't find her, we can call the pool company and have a place to swim this summer."

Eddington also discussed his marital troubles with another Navy subordinate, Ronald Brock. Brock said Eddington told him at length in May, 1985, that he suspected his wife was having an affair with a California Highway Patrol officer, and that he was having someone watch the couple's Jamul home.

Brock testified that he advised Eddington to get a divorce because the trust in their marriage seemed to be gone.

"He said before he lost his property in a divorce, he'd go up on the roof and saw the house in half and her too if she got in the way," said Brock, adding that he remembered the outburst because it was so "out of character" for Eddington.

At the time of Vickie Eddington's disappearance, she and her husband were separated. He was living in a mobile home on his mother's property a quarter of a mile from the couple's house.

At Tuesday's hearing, Eddington, who once wore a mustache, was clean-shaven and dressed in a suit, furiously writing in a composition book during the first few hours of testimony. He barely bothered to glance at photos of skeletal remains and dental records of his wife.

Later, during testimony, he stared at witnesses, mostly impassively but occasionally with a slight smile.

No member of Eddington's family appeared at his hearing Tuesday, but Vickie Eddington's parents and other relatives were in attendance, some wearing shamrocks to mark St. Patrick's Day. An aunt wore a green wig in the courtroom.

Elmer Vess, the victim's father, said he and two family members were steered from the back yard of the property four days after she disappeared.

"We split up in different directions to see what he would do and he stopped all three of us," Vess said. "Then I learned from my wife that he had asked us to leave the house."

Vess and his wife are suing to gain custody of the Eddingtons' three children, now ages 14, 10 and 8. Leonard Eddington has custody of the older boy; his sister and mother have custody of the two youngest children.

A next-door neighbor of the Eddingtons testified that, in the days after his wife's disappearance, Leonard Eddington would walk around his property, inspecting certain areas near where authorities eventually unearthed her body.

On one occasion, three weeks after his wife's disappearance, Eddington sat behind a bulldozer and moved dirt for eight hours, Reba Gayle said.

"He took all day," Gayle said. "He was filling in the ravine."

Milly Durovic, Eddington's court-appointed attorney, said her client had been cutting a pad for a mobile home, which eventually was placed on the spot he graded.

From 1987 until 1991, Eddington placed personal ads in the San Diego Union-Tribune seeking a female companion and, prosecutors said, 62 women responded.

One was Gayle Pfaff, a schoolteacher, who dated Eddington for two months beginning in February, 1989, before he asked her to marry him.

He gave her a gold wedding ring with a diamond that formed the shape of a rose, which fit the description of Vickie Eddington's wedding ring, missing from her body when her remains were found, Pfaff testified. Prosecutor Jeff Dusek said the ring, which Pfaff returned to Leonard Eddington, still has not been found. Eddington has remarried since his arrest.

Pfaff said she had been in love with Eddington, wanted to be married in the Catholic Church and sought to have his marriages to both Vickie Eddington and his first wife annulled. He had been married for two years and divorced before he met Vickie.

During testimony Tuesday, Pfaff said Eddington told her that he was divorced from Vickie Eddington, and that Eddington stopped calling her after she asked to see the divorce papers.

Confused and hurt, she went uninvited to his home, slid open a glass door and found him asleep.

"He was very upset and surprised, and got very mad," she said. "He said he'd call the police. He said, 'Get the hell out of here' or something like that, and 'I'll count to 10, and ,if you're not gone, I'll knock your head off or bash your face.' "

In Eddington's defense, Durovic suggested that Pfaff had been harassing Eddington with numerous telephone calls and then showed up unannounced. She had already returned his ring.

Superior Court Judge William Mudd is expected to rule today on Durovic's claims that affidavits in support of search warrants served on Eddington's home were filled with "omissions and misstatements" that should be kept out of court altogether.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
63°