More than 20 shots shattered the nighttime calm of a Glendale neighborhood as Los Angeles Police Officer Victor Felix Ramos emptied his handgun, reloaded and fired more shots into his estranged wife and her lover, before putting a final bullet into his own heart.
The next morning, neighbors investigating a front door left ajar found the bodies in the master bedroom. The couple's three young sons cowered in a bedroom nearby.
The murders and suicide last week shocked the victims' families and friends.
But authorities said warning signs over the last several months suggested that a marriage gone sour would ultimately end violently.
In May, a distraught Ramos told his LAPD superiors of a heated confrontation he had with his wife at the Hollywood office where she was employed as a secretary. Ramos agreed to turn in his 9-millimeter Beretta service pistol, take some time off and seek counseling from department psychologists, LAPD officials said.
Then, during an argument with his wife just a few weeks ago, Ramos--who had been returned to duty--put the gun to his head and threatened to kill himself, authorities said.
Ramos, 29, was obsessed with his wife, Melba, 26, and could not accept the fact that, after seven years of marriage, she no longer loved him, friends said.
After Melba Ramos began an affair with Gregory Rico Thomas, 39, a weightlifting trainer at the gym she frequented, her husband became increasingly violent, Glendale police said.
"There were a lot of telltale signs," Glendale Police Investigator John McKillop said. "This was building up over time."
Until Melba Ramos began her affair with Thomas about nine months ago, the Ramoses appeared to friends and neighbors to be a happy, close-knit family.
Ramos, a three-year veteran who worked nights in the LAPD's West Los Angeles Division, doted on his wife, and cared for his 3-, 5-, and 6-year-old sons while she worked days.
"He was an excellent husband and father," said Claudia Howland, 27, a close friend of Melba Ramos. "He treated her like a queen. Sometimes a person has so much and they don't even see it."
After Ramos began to suspect his wife of having an affair, his behavior changed, friends said. Often, they said, he was angry and abusive, pushing his wife around, and shouting at her so that neighbors could hear. But on other occasions, friends said, Ramos lavished attention on his wife and made emotional pleas for her to break off the affair and stay with him.
"He was obsessed with his wife," Howland said. "He didn't want to believe that she didn't love him any more."
Melba Ramos met Thomas at the Holiday Health Spa in Hollywood. Thomas, who supervised the gym's personal trainers, was described by friends as a warm, affable man with a bright smile and a twinkle in his eye. The Rancho Cucamonga resident was married and had two young sons, whom he talked about constantly.
McKillop said Ramos sometimes followed his wife. Once the officer confronted his wife's lover outside the gym. The two men had an "emotional discussion" during which Ramos begged Thomas to leave his wife alone, the Glendale investigator said.
Melba Ramos seemed to take a cavalier attitude toward her husband's anguish, friends said. She sometimes took Thomas to the apartment on East Garfield Avenue when her husband was not there, and did not seem concerned when friends warned her to be careful.
"She didn't act scared," said Pipay Dy, who lives next door and sometimes sat the Ramos children, who are now living with relatives. "She knew that Victor loved her so much. She thought he wouldn't hurt her."
Once, Thomas was barely able to slip out of the apartment before Ramos walked in. Later, Melba Ramos described the close call to Howland as exciting.
"She liked that danger," Howland said.
On May 18, Ramos "went on a rampage" in his wife's office after he saw her step out of Thomas' truck at lunchtime, Howland said.
"He destroyed the entire office, and he pushed and shoved her," Howland said.
That same day, the anguished officer contacted his supervisors, LAPD Lt. John Dunkin said.
"He was extremely upset about the incident," Dunkin said.
Dunkin declined to comment on the specifics of the office incident, which was under investigation by the department's Internal Affairs Division. The firm that Melba Ramos worked for is no longer in business.
Ramos voluntarily relinquished his gun, Dunkin said, and took time off "to work out his personal problems," voluntarily seeking counseling from LAPD psychologists. The department's actions against Ramos were not punitive, but were meant to "help him through this period of difficulties," Dunkin said.
Ramos was assigned to non-field duties--such as the jail and the front desk--until June 4, when a psychologist determined that the officer was fit to return to patrol and Ramos was given his handgun back.
"Everyone was satisfied that things were as well as could be expected" once Ramos returned to patrol, Dunkin said. "There was no indication that he exhibited any strange behavior while working."
About a month ago, Melba Ramos finally told her husband that she wanted to separate. The officer reluctantly agreed, and moved to his parents' home in Rowland Heights with the hope that she would soon realize that she truly loved him, friends said.
"He took off just to please her, so she could have time to think it over," Howland said.
After the split, Ramos was very depressed and told friends he did not want to live any more, McKillop said. The officer continued in his efforts to save his tattered marriage and regularly visited his children. Just recently Ramos offered to buy his wife a house if she would agree to reconcile, friends said.
"He just couldn't let go," Howland's husband, Joseph, said.
Finally, on the night of Aug. 12, Ramos went to a bar, had a few drinks, and called a friend from a pay phone, McKillop said. The enraged officer said he did not know what he would do if he caught his wife and her lover together. About an hour after he hung up the phone, Ramos drove to the Glendale apartment and spotted Thomas' truck parked out front. It was about 11:30 p.m. when the shots echoed through the 500 block of East Garfield Avenue.
"Something made him snap," McKillop said.