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Secretary to New Supervisor Is Found Slain : Violence: Member of Silva transition team is stabbed to death in entrance of her Laguna Niguel home. Investigators say they have no motive or suspect.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 57-year-old secretary to incoming Orange County Supervisor Jim Silva was discovered stabbed to death at the entrance to her townhome, authorities said Saturday.

Arlene Michele Hoffman, who began work Dec. 1 as a member of Silva’s transition team, was found dead of a single stab wound in the chest about 7 p.m. Friday, after Silva asked Orange County sheriff’s deputies to check on her welfare.

Silva said he had become concerned about Hoffman after she failed to appear for an 8 a.m. staff meeting Friday and he could not reach her by telephone throughout the day. He said he thought it was odd because Hoffman had been excited about the meeting and told him she was planning to bring doughnuts for her co-workers.

Friday night, two deputies came to Silva’s house to break the news.

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“It is just a nightmare,” Silva said Saturday. “You read about things like this, but it happens to other people, not to anyone you know.”

Investigators know of no motive and have few leads in the case, but believe Hoffman was killed late Thursday or early Friday, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Dan Martini said. The body was fully clothed.

“It’s very slim information so far,” Martini said. “We have very little to go on.”

Several of Hoffman’s neighbors said Saturday that they had seen a man they did not recognize near her home early Thursday morning, but assumed the man might be a guest of someone in the neighborhood. One man said the stranger had thrown something in nearby trash cans but the trash was picked up by refuse workers before Hoffman’s body was discovered.

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Although the slaying coincides with the county’s unprecedented financial crisis--and follows bomb threats to two supervisors--Silva said that as far as he knew, investigators were not exploring any connection between Hoffman’s slaying and the county’s situation.

“There was not even a hint of that,” the incoming supervisor said of his discussion with deputies. “I was not even on the board when (the financial debacle) happened, so I’ve been left out of catching any of the hostility.”

Silva said Hoffman, a widow with an adult son, worked as a volunteer in his campaign office last summer, sending out mail and doing other clerical work. After Silva won the November election to replace retiring District 2 Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, he hired Hoffman to handle his scheduling. She was one of two Silva staffers who began work in Wieder’s office Dec. 1 as a transition team, he said.

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“She was a very warm, caring person,” Silva said. “She was the kind of person everyone likes to be around. She had already told me she had some ideas about how we might do things better in our office. I was just looking forward to working with her.”

As word of the killing drifted through the Hall of Administration Saturday, where Hoffman had worked for only a month, county employees who had become friendly with her stopped by Silva’s office to offer condolences and memories, he said.

“Different staff people came by and said they had been working with Arlene and said she was a very nice person,” he said.

Silva said Hoffman’s relatives were in shock over her death. Her survivors include her son, Joel, 25, and a sister, who also lives in Orange County.

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Residents of Hoffman’s quiet neighborhood also expressed sadness and shock at her death Saturday, describing her as an outgoing, friendly woman who immediately introduced herself to her neighbors when she moved in six months ago.

James Baumgartner, 60, who lived across the street from Hoffman, said she lived alone, with a small white dog to which she was very attached.

“She was very friendly and visited the people in this area,” Baumgartner said. “She would always come out and visit if I was outside, but I didn’t see her on Thursday or Friday.”

He said another neighbor noticed Friday morning that Hoffman had not picked up her newspaper, but because she was walking her own dog decided to prop the paper against the door instead of knocking.

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Times staff writers Martin Miller and Yvette Cabrera contributed to this report.


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