Officers Working 1988 Murder Get $1-Million Boost
Sheriff’s Det. Sgt. Mike Robinson often wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about the case, trying to make sure he hasn’t forgotten a clue, trying to make connections he may have overlooked.
“I go to my office and start drawing charts,” he said. “I fantasize mostly.”
Other times, he and his partner come in on their days off, as they did Monday, when they worked nine hours on the case. “I feel guilty having tasks undone,” Det. Mark Lillienfeld said.
Since taking over the 1988 murder case of racing promoter Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy, who were killed outside their home in a wealthy section of the San Gabriel Valley, the detectives have spent months reading files, sifting through 1,360 clues and making notes. Hoping to trace DNA on postage stamps and to check fingerprints, they have used technology that didn’t exist when the Thompsons were killed 10 years ago.
The detectives believe they know who hired the two men who shot Mickey Thompson outside his garage and then killed Trudy Thompson as she sat in the couple’s Toyota van, and who then pedaled away on bicycles.
But despite the detectives’ work in the past 14 months, and the work of a swarm of investigators before them, no one has ever been charged in the murders. The investigators have hit a dead end.
“A couple of heavily armed cowards execute two unarmed people in their driveway,” Robinson said. “It’s just not right.”
They are hoping that will change after Mickey Thompson’s sister, San Juan Capistrano Councilwoman Collene Campbell, announces today she is putting up one of the largest rewards ever--$1 million--for information leading to the arrest of the killers. “It’s a 10-year-old case with a lot of leads that have gone nowhere,” Robinson said. “We need someone to do the right thing and give us a call.”
A decade after the killings, Campbell still tears up when she talks about her brother, who was 59 when he died. In her living room is a portrait she painted of him as a knight. “I gave it to him for Christmas. I said, ‘This is how I feel, Mickey. You’re my knight in shining armor.’ ”
Thompson and Campbell were the children of the Alhambra Police Department’s chief of detectives, and they spoke daily. When Thompson became the first person to drive a car faster than 400 mph, Campbell was at the Bonneville salt flats in Utah assisting him.
Campbell keeps busy working with the families of crime victims, and plaques from President Bush and Gov. Wilson hang in her house praising her work. Six years before Thompson’s death, Campbell’s son was strangled and his body thrown from a small airplane off Santa Catalina Island. The killers were caught, mainly through the efforts of Campbell and her husband. The two murder cases are unrelated.
But she continues to be frustrated at the lack of progress toward arresting her brother’s killers. She speaks to the detectives about once a week, but that doesn’t seem to be enough.
“There’s something strange inside me that makes me feel guilty I haven’t been able to do what needs to be done, whatever that is,” she said. “I had a brother who could make anything happen, and if the tables were turned, he’d be doing the exact same thing--and he’d get something done.”
Which is why she and her husband decided to use their own money to offer the reward. “We’re not doing this $1-million thing because we want to give away our retirement,” Campbell said. “We want to catch the killers of Trudy and Mickey.”
Authorities have long identified the prime suspect as Michael Goodwin, who lost an $800,000 lawsuit to Thompson when their partnership dissolved in bitterness.
“Everything in this case points to him,” Robinson said. “Hundreds of clues, hundreds of statements, hundreds of reasons.”
Goodwin, just as flamboyant in his way as was Thompson, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison in 1996 for making false statements to three banks while trying to borrow nearly $400,000.
Asked where he is today, Lillienfeld answered: “He was in Ventura County. He was released from federal prison July 22 at about 8 a.m.”
Then the detectives rattle off some of the evidence.
Robinson: “Goodwin never provided information to his whereabouts or what he was doing on that time and date. He refuses to make a statement to investigators and leaves the country [a few weeks later] and is incommunicado.”
Lillienfeld: “He sold his house in Laguna [Beach] at a huge loss. Prior to leaving is when he defrauded the financial institutions.”
They are tight-lipped about other evidence. They won’t comment on the DNA, for example, or what they found when they looked at Goodwin’s financial records.
Goodwin did not return interview requests made through his attorneys. “I’m going to advise him not to talk to anyone,” said one of the attorneys, Allan Stokke.
The murder doesn’t make sense as a random crime. It took place in the exclusive Bradbury Estates. Nothing was taken from the Thompsons’ house, and the couple died carrying $70,000 in jewelry and cash. “It’s almost as if there was a message that this was not a robbery gone bad but a personal thing,” Robinson said.
The detectives’ office is at the sheriff’s homicide bureau in an industrial park in Commerce, something out of the set of “L.A. Confidential.” The 88 homicide detectives sit in rows of ancient desks, not a computer in sight. The files alone on the Thompson case take up a file cabinet and eight file boxes. The evidence is stored elsewhere.
The murder had been assigned to the unsolved crimes unit when Robinson and Lillienfeld asked their captain if they could pursue a couple of clues. They started by spending three months with the files. While they are assigned to other murder cases, the Thompson case is where their hearts are.
“Generally our victims bring the murder on themselves, with drugs or gangs or [a love triangle], but when you have a pure victim, it cries to be solved,” Robinson said.