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Suspect Lived Secretive Life : Profile: John Joseph Famalaro, 37, grew up in a strict, conservative Christian home. His mother says, ‘I think he’s a good boy.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As authorities began digging up the basement of John Joseph Famalaro’s home Sunday, his neighbors in the Prescott Country Club community described the murder suspect as a troubled loner who took pains to avoid contact with them.

Famalaro, 37, was arrested Wednesday after a tip about a stolen moving truck turned up the frozen body of Denise A. Huber, 23 of Newport Beach, who disappeared without a trace in June, 1991. Her nude body was found wrapped in garbage bags and stuffed in a freezer inside the moving truck.

Huber’s apparent abduction sparked a nationwide search as her parents, Dennis and Ione Huber, refused to give up hope that they would someday find out what happened to their daughter.

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On Sunday, the pieces of the long-unsolved mystery began to fall into place as investigators focused on Famalaro, who, by all accounts, lived a secretive life.

Even the suspect’s mother, who lives next door to him, said Sunday she knows little about her son’s life and asked reporters for more information about the crime he is accused of.

“I didn’t know what he had in there,” said Anne Famalaro, who is active in local politics and is well known in the Prescott Country Club community. “I thought he was moving paint.”

As her eyes welled up with tears, she said, “I really can’t tell you much about him. I just don’t know. I think he’s a good boy. I don’t know what to make of all this. Pray for him. Please pray for him.”

Raised in a strict, conservative Christian home where education was stressed, John Famalaro attended several years of college in Southern California but never managed to get a degree. Instead, he made his living as a house painter and handyman.

But he lost his contractor’s license in Arizona early this year after unhappy customers complained that he performed shoddy work and refused to fix his mistakes, law enforcement officials said.

The complaints came from people with freshly painted homes that were peeling and newly fixed roofs that were leaking. Some employees who worked for Famalaro contended that they never got paid, law-enforcement authorities said.

According to local newspapers, Famalaro’s clients described the tall, lanky, bearded man as a silver-tongued salesman who could usually seal a deal with eloquent pitches. But one neighbor, who agreed to speak if his name were not used, said he believed Famalaro pelted his house with dozens of eggs after the man hired someone else to paint the house.

“He was a good talker, but he wasn’t happy when I found somebody cheaper,” the resident said.

Neighbors said they rarely saw much of Famalaro even during recent months when he was unemployed.

“He was just always inside with his paint cans and truck,” said one neighbor. “He never talked to anyone.”

According to law-enforcement officials and court records, Famalaro has no criminal record here or in Orange County, except for two minor traffic violations.

Since moving next to his mother at the Prescott Country Club, he has lived quietly and on occasion has complained to police about noisy neighbors.

Residents said Famalaro moved here from Orange County about a year and a half ago to help care for his parents, especially his father who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and was recently hospitalized.

While in Orange County, he was likely aware of the well-publicized quest by Denise A. Huber’s parents to learn of her whereabouts.

When taken into questioning Wednesday, he was cool and calm, agreeably answering questions about his age and background. But he invoked his right to remain silent when investigators asked him about the body, investigators said.

He has since retained high-profile defense attorney Larry Katz, regarded as one of region’s most tenacious litigators.

As his parents visited him Sunday at the Yavapai County Jail, investigators scoured his house.

Painting tools, remodeling equipment and thousands of paint cans cluttered Famalaro’s back yard and basement, slowing down investigators who methodically removed the items during a search that even involved looking into paint containers for evidence, investigators said.

Residents said they were often upset over the unsightly clutter around Famalaro’s home.

Famalaro had a yard sale earlier in the year to get rid of items left behind by the previous tenant. Included was a metal basketball stand, which he placed on his terraced, multicolored gravel-and-rock garden. It remains there, much to the chagrin of neighbors.

“It’s always been an eyesore over there, but no one would dare complain to him,” said another neighbor.

“He was just the kind of guy who kept to himself,” said neighbor Nick Kean. “We would see him come out in the morning to pick up his mail and paper, and his gaze was always down. It was a big effort to get him to say hello. I can’t say I’m surprised by all this. You just got an odd feeling from him.”


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