Shortly before midnight one night late last month, a woman returned to her single-family home on a quiet cul-de-sac here to make a grim discovery:
The bullet-riddled body of a friend and roommate, who had been sharing the home with her and her boyfriend for a few weeks.
All three tenants belonged to what its practitioners call the "neo-pagan" community of California. The victim, Duane Adam Rostoker, 37, was one of its best-known members.
The barrel-chested Rostoker was a bearded bard celebrated for his charismatic aura and a penchant for singing and songwriting that had made him a household name in neo-pagan society.
More than three weeks after the slaying, Orange County sheriff's deputies say they have neither a motive nor a suspect, only an odd set of theories--some of the same conjecture swirling through the world he inhabited, where the victim's reputation was mixed at best.
Neo-paganism, said Rostoker's friend Don Davis, is "a resurgence of Wicca--modern-day, good witchcraft--combined with Druidism, which is Celtic in origin and has to do with following the Earth, keeping in tune with the spirit of the Earth, much like Native Americans or the pre-Christian pagans of Europe."
Davis said he believes "karma" may have been the reason that Adam Walks Between Worlds--his name in pagan circles--left this world and entered another.
"Times three," Davis said, is central to the pagan philosophy--that "what you sow will come back to you threefold."
Davis says that ever-increasing foibles in Rostoker's relationships with women may have provoked his death. Sheriff's deputies say the relationships provide one of the few leads in a puzzling investigation.
In recent months, the bear-like bard had been accused of numerous episodes of sexual harassment and even rape--though never charged nor sued in civil court.
"In the pagan world," Davis said, "that's not how we settle things. We tend to keep it among ourselves. Adam did lose his membership in the Church of All Worlds, and he was increasingly estranged from fellow pagans because of his behavior."
Orion Morris, 44, president of the Laytonville-based Church of All Worlds and publisher of its magazine, the Green Egg, said Rostoker was stripped of his membership "because of multiple accusations of sexual impropriety and an unwillingness on his part to deal with it."
Board members of the church fielded 14 written complaints and nine oral complaints from women who said they had been raped or sexually harassed by Rostoker, who, in Morris' words, "wouldn't take no for an answer."
Beyond that, he declined comment, saying he would honor the request of the Orange County Sheriff's Department not to discuss details relevant to the case.
The victim's brother, Michael Rostoker, who lives in Santa Cruz, declined comment for the same reason.
"I have the highest respect for what he accomplished and what he overcame to get there," said roommate David Fawcett, 43, whose girlfriend, Mari Maher, 31, discovered the body. "I learned a lot from Adam about integrity and keeping dreams alive in the face of great adversity. He changed my life . . . and how I live."
Fawcett was co-producing Rostoker's first album, "Bard Song," which was scheduled for release in April.
Investigators for the Sheriff's Department say Rostoker was shot at least twice--once in the temple and once in the stomach--in a manner that suggested it was neither a robbery nor a "home invasion" but a capital crime committed with premeditated intent.
In the days since his body was found, sheriff's deputies say they have little to go on, only a growing pool of information about Rostoker's life. Authorities know "next to nothing" about the circumstances surrounding his death, one investigator said.
According to a number of friends who surfaced last week to tell his story, Rostoker belonged to pagan communities from one corner of the country to the other. He was, in their words, talented and charismatic but drawn to women in ways that often got him into trouble.
There was a glaring incident involving a woman in Baltimore, one Wiccan remembered. There was yet another in Los Angeles, another in Oakland and still another in Prescott, Ariz. Friends and adversaries alike agreed they were growing in number.
One pagan, who asked not to be quoted by name, said: "It was simple. The man was addicted to sex. He couldn't keep his hands off women. They said no; he took it as yes."
Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Ron Wilkerson said of the rape accusations: "We're looking into all his contacts, both social and business, and beyond that, I have no comment."
Rostoker's longtime manager and confidant, Parris McBride, 45, said that, although the slaying may have been committed by a fellow pagan, "there is still no strong evidence" to support that.
"I assure you," she said, "it was not some sort of occult sacrifice nonsense. We are not talking about Manson or other heebie-jeebie stuff."
Contrary to "misinformation and misconceptions," Davis said, Satan "is not in our vocabulary. We believe good and evil resides in each person, and it's the job of the individual to find his or her path to spirituality."
Late last year, however, Rostoker's path encountered a roadblock. Members of the Church of All Worlds confronted Rostoker and asked him to change his sexual behavior or be forced to surrender his membership. He refused and, in the words of McBride, was "excommunicated."
As the woman who may have known him better than any other, McBride said Rostoker was the product of a troubled childhood, estranged from his father and one of his two sisters for years and never able to recover from the suicide of his mother at an early age.
"That may have been part of his problem with women," said a fellow pagan, who asked not to be quoted by name. "He was always feeling abandoned by women . . . and tried to compensate by controlling the situation, by overpowering the women he wanted to sleep with."
McBride remembers him as a man who "struggled with light and dark, and the demons of his past were mighty." As evidence of the light and dark, "he gave many people great joy," she said, while others "truly felt harmed by [his] behaviors."
On July 4, for instance, Davis heard complaints from two women--one in her mid-30s, the other a teenager--who said Rostoker had been "sexually inappropriate" with them during a festival in Prescott, Ariz.
"They felt he was making overt sexual advances and wouldn't take no for an answer," Davis said.
McBride, who had managed his career from her home in Santa Fe, N.M., described Rostoker as a "provocative" person who "liked to joust intellectually." She objected to his ouster from the Church of All Worlds, saying, "There were a lot of hidden agendas going on."
Rostoker, in her opinion, was incapable of rape.
He was, however, "always very explicit--in conversation, in his writing and his feelings about sexuality," she said. "The deity he worked with the most was Pan, the god of sexuality. He was always eager to discuss his innermost feelings and desires with a prospective lover--he laid it on the line, and in that respect, he was misunderstood and miscategorized."
Even benign descriptions of Rostoker as "a ladies' man" were accurate, McBride said, noting that "many women were immensely attracted to him, me being one of them." With a laugh, she added, "He had many lovers across this country who are mourning him now, believe me."
She said that when she was depressed, "he would call me up and sing love songs from old Broadway musicals--'Some Enchanted Evening,' which he did better than Mario Lanza . . . stuff from 'Camelot,' all the stuff I grew up on. . . . It's fair to say I'm pretty shattered at the moment. None of it makes any sense to me. But it sure was a wild ride."