Killer’s Behavior Had Grown More Bizarre, Authorities Say
Beverly Graham’s condo lay across a curving garden path from Jennifer Sanmarco’s back patio -- a proximity that was too close for Graham’s comfort. From time to time, Graham thought about calling the police on her unruly neighbor, but her boyfriend advised against it.
“She’s just nuts,” he’d say.
Sanmarco had not lived in Graham’s condo complex in Goleta for three years, but authorities Wednesday said it was clear that Graham was Sanmarco’s first victim in the Monday night shooting rampage that left five dead at a postal facility in Goleta. Sanmarco, 44, who used to work at the facility, then turned the gun on herself.
Postal officials identified the victims who died Monday as: Ze Fairchild, 37, of Santa Barbara; Dexter Shannon, 57, of Oxnard; Nicola Grant, 42, of Lompoc; Guadalupe Swartz, 42, of Lompoc; and Maleka Higgins, 28, of Santa Barbara.
Charlotte Colton, another victim of the shooting at the postal facility, died Wednesday.
“Jennifer was crazy,” said Graham’s boyfriend, Eddie Blomfield. “She’d stand outside and sing as loud as she could, she’d go on tirades. Bev would open the door and tell her to shut up.”
At other times, he said, the two would run into each other on the street and Sanmarco would offer a cordial hello, as if there had never been any unpleasantness between them.
The erratic behavior was in keeping with comments from Sanmarco’s former co-workers and neighbors and from officials in the New Mexico village of Milan, where Sanmarco was a regular, and unwelcome, presence at municipal offices.
According to village Manager Carlos Montoya, Sanmarco began picking on a utility clerk for no apparent reason, yelling at the employee and making bizarre accusations. Often, she would stomp out, talking to herself and gesturing wildly before driving her car back and forth in front of the office.
The problem became so acute, Montoya said, that he arranged to have the employee hide behind a security door when Sanmarco came by.
Authorities on Wednesday were still piecing together the events that triggered Sanmarco’s deadly attacks. It remained unclear, police said, whether she targeted her victims at the postal facility or whether they were targets of opportunity.
Asked at a news conference whether Sanmarco, who was white, deliberately aimed at people of color, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson said investigators had not yet sorted out her motive.
Except for one man, all of Sanmarco’s victims were women. But whether their gender played a role in the rampage remains another mystery. The last to die, Colton, 44, had been critically injured and was being treated at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
The mother of three boys, Colton, of Santa Barbara, was a supervisor who helped run training programs at the mail processing and distribution center.
“I just adored her,” said Judy Bartlein, whose 12-year-old son Jake is in a Boy Scout troop that Colton helped lead.
“She took the Scouts on a tour of the postal facility last year,” Bartlein said. “Everybody was really friendly to her and she seemed to be so well-liked. There was really a good feeling in the air.”
Colton died about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Graham’s body was discovered by Blomfield Tuesday night, a day after authorities had begun combing the postal facility for evidence.
When he let himself into his girlfriend’s condo, Blomfield thought she had fallen down the stairs. She was sprawled on the floor. Puddles of blood had soaked through the beige carpeting of the stairway behind her.
Graham, 54, had been shot once in the head with a 9-millimeter handgun -- the same kind of gun that was used to spray bullets through the postal facility. She and Sanmarco had been neighbors until Sanmarco sold her unit three years ago. She moved to New Mexico the following year.
At Graham’s apartment Wednesday, Blomfield and five stunned relatives sat in a living room still spattered with blood.
A Nordstrom gift bag -- left over from a shopping expedition Blomfield and Graham undertook for her birthday last week -- sat on the stair. Outside, guests were greeted by signs of a placid, well-tempered life -- a Buddha statue by the door, a miniature wind chime weighted with Chinese coins.
“She was such a trusting person,” said Nita Graham, 75, Beverly’s mother. “She was way too trusting. I kept telling her, ‘You live alone; have a peephole installed in your door.’ ”
Sanmarco apparently scaled a fence and gained entry to Graham’s condo through an unlocked, sliding-glass door in the rear, police said.
Neighbors told investigators that they heard what could have been gunshots between 7:15 and 8:15 p.m. Monday. Several 9-millimeter shell casings were found in the apartment.
“The police told me she couldn’t have lived long,” Blomfield said. “They said she went quick.”
At the apartment, Blomfield knelt down, held Nita Graham’s hand and reminisced, sometimes collapsing into tears. He lamented the closure of so many mental hospitals under the “de-institutionalization” policy in the 1980s, and he wondered whether pressures at the postal facility drove Sanmarco over the edge.
But mostly he remembered his girlfriend as a woman who loved John Lennon and antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, and all sorts of books and films; her nickname was Estrella, Spanish for star.
“She didn’t expect to outlive either of you,” Blomfield told Graham’s parents. “It’s a tragedy when a child dies.”
“And so violently,” sobbed Nita Graham, clutching his arm.
On Wednesday, details of Sanmarco’s interest in race, and of other disturbing tendencies, emerged in interviews with officials in Milan, a rural town of 2,200 residents where she had planned to start a newspaper called “The Racist Press.”
A few years ago, she applied for a business license for “The Racist Press,” but Montoya, the village manager, said he never saw it produced. Sanmarco did not make it clear whether the newspaper would advocate or oppose racism.
Later, she applied to renew the license, and also asked for one to manufacture cat food. It was on those subsequent visits that her behavior turned erratic.
At first, Montoya said, she had spoken intelligently, and kept herself tidy and “decent.” But over the last year and a half, “we noticed a change in her appearance gradually,” he said. “She started cutting her hair. It looked like she took a hatchet to it.... She started acting very strange and talking to herself in a very negative way.”
Sanmarco had become known for similar behavior throughout the town. She would visit other offices, and by some accounts, behaved as though she was delivering the mail, he said.
Sanmarco had been involved in two recent police incidents in the adjacent town of Grants, said Grants Police Lt. Maxine Spidle: a September traffic accident and a June episode at a gas station at which Sanmarco was reported to be taking off her shirt in public. She had to be told by officers to remain clothed, Spidle said, but was cooperative in both incidents.
“We felt she was unbalanced,” Montoya said. “Now, violent? I guess it crossed my mind. But just that she would slash a window or damage property or something. We are just kind of freaked out. It could have been us.”
Whether Sanmarco received extensive treatment for her mental health problems was still unknown Wednesday.
Anderson said deputies had to remove her from the Goleta postal facility on Feb. 5, 2001, and place her in a 72-hour involuntary mental-health hold at Vista del Mar Hospital in Ventura.
But officials were unclear Wednesday whether she returned to work after that incident. On Tuesday, a postal inspector said the incident involving the deputies had occurred in 2003, a date that gibed with the recollections of postal workers who said they saw it.
There was no doubt, though, that Sanmarco was placed on a medical leave for psychological problems and quit the Postal Service in 2003, said Oscar Villanueva, a top-ranking postal inspector whose Los Angeles region includes the Goleta facility.
During a routine safety review about six weeks ago, he said, the facility scored “higher than just about any others we’ve done.”
Asked how such a rampage could have occurred at a secure building, he said Sanmarco managed to get in after snatching an employee’s keycard at gunpoint.
“It could have happened just about anywhere,” he said.
Chawkins reported from Goleta and Leovy from Los Angeles.