Arizona Home Searched for Bodies : Suspect: ‘The mystery to be solved now is: Who is Famalaro?’ says an official. His life has been filled with contradictions, according to reports.


John Joseph Famalaro’s mother was devoutly religious and a well-known political activist in Santa Ana who championed conservative causes. His older brother is a convicted felon who was once committed to a state mental hospital for sexually assaulting two patients when he was chiropractor.

Famalaro’s former neighbors in Lake Forest describe him as amiable and charming, waving regularly at them as he drove by. But when he moved out, he left behind an angry landlord concerned about property damage and a list of dissatisfied customers who had hired him to paint their homes or make repairs.

According to acquaintances, friends and law enforcement officials interviewed Monday, Famalaro’s life, both as a child and adult, is filled with contradictions which may or may not help explain his alleged involvement in the death of Denise Huber in 1991.


“The mystery to be solved now is: Who is Famalaro?” said Costa Mesa Police Lt. Ron Smith, who is investigating Huber’s death. “Denise was the mystery for three years. But he’s the mystery now. He had the body frozen and kept moving it around. Bizarre.”

Famalaro, 37, is the prime suspect in the slaying of Huber, who grew up in Northridge before moving to Newport Beach. Her disappearance three years ago sparked a frustrating nationwide search that finally ended last week with the grim discovery of her body in Arizona.

Denise A. Huber’s family, who were well known in San Fernando Valley Presbyterian church circles before moving to Orange County, said Monday they have received tremendous emotional and moral support in the days since her body was found in Arizona.

“We’ve have received a lot of calls,” said Denise Huber’s mother, Ione Huber. “It’s been amazing.”

The recent discovery of their daughter’s body and the subsequent media attention continues to take their toll on her and her husband, Dennis.

“I’m really drained,” she said. “We’re doing OK and we’re hanging on, but we’ve got a tough couple of weeks ahead of us.”

The family said they will hold a memorial service for Denise Huber 1 p.m. Saturday at Mariner’s Church, 1000 Bison Ave., in Newport Beach. Those planning to attend may call (714) 640-6010 for information.

Another memorial service, followed by the funeral, is tentatively scheduled for July 28 in South Dakota, where the family plans to move this summer. The funeral may be postponed if the Yavapai County medical examiners don’t release the body as scheduled, a family member said.

From all accounts, Famalaro was brought up on North Victoria Street in Santa Ana, an upper-middle-class area where his family moved in 1956 from Long Island, N.Y. The Famalaros were Roman Catholic, and John, as well as his brother Warren and sister Marion, eventually attended St. Joseph Elementary, a local parochial school.

Acquaintances described his mother Anne as a “righteous, very opinionated” person, who harbored strong dislikes. In contrast, neighbors said, her husband Angelo was exceptionally quiet and mild-mannered.

Except for Anne Famalaro’s involvement in Santa Ana city politics, family members generally kept to themselves, and the Famalaro children were rarely allowed to play with other youngsters in the neighborhood.

While in Santa Ana, Anne Famalaro championed conservative causes, including the “fundamental schools” movement in the city. She ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 1981, and belonged to several groups including the now-defunct Republican Women’s Club of Santa Ana, a Santa Ana beautification committee, and the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, a nonpartisan group that promotes the nation’s heritage through educational programs.

“She’s a very wonderful woman. . . . She did a lot of good community work,” said Beverly Schick, who knew Anne Famalaro.

In 1980, the eldest child, Warren J. Famalaro, an Orange County chiropractor, was convicted of sexually assaulting two of his patients, a 10-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

He was committed to Patton State Mental Hospital for 8 years, 8 months, and lost his chiropractor’s license. He was transferred to an outpatient treatment facility in 1983.

Members of the Famalaro family, who now live in Arizona, refused to comment Monday.

Times staff writers Michael Granberry, Gebe Martinez, Jeff Brazil and Doreen Carvajal contributed to this story.