Arrest is made in '87 O.C. slaying

Times Staff Writers

Jimmy Casino, once Orange County's strip club king, was like a character out of a James Ellroy novel, a slick-talking swindler who met his end with a bullet to the back of the head.

The execution-style 1987 killing at his Buena Park condominium was widely regarded as Orange County's most notorious unsolved murder. Until now, authorities say.

Richard C. Morris Jr., 54, was charged Tuesday with murder for financial gain during the commission of a robbery -- special circumstances that could lead to the death penalty. He is being held at Santa Ana City Jail.

A two-page criminal complaint offers scant details about the case or what led prosecutors to Morris, who had been living in Hawaii for a decade before being arrested last week and quietly extradited to Orange County.

The killing of Casino, whose real name was James Lee Stockwell, was among a spate of violence that punctuated a battle over control of the Mustang Topless Theater in Santa Ana during the late 1980s.

Three months after Casino was gunned down, one of the club's financial backers was blinded by a bullet to the head -- a crime for which two Mafia figures were convicted and handed long sentences. A Mustang bouncer was killed the following year in a parking lot. The club was torched in a pair of arsons just weeks apart.

At the center of it all was Casino, a high school dropout from Pomona whose criminal resume included tax evasion, mail fraud, counterfeiting, conspiracy, extortion and theft.

His business ventures and scams were as varied as his rap sheet, and included health spas and a chain of hot dog stands that never materialized after he swindled investors. He often bragged about his mob connections.

"The image of an up-and-coming gangster," a former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy once said of him.

The blond, blue-eyed Casino was flamboyant and extravagant -- and something of a contradiction.

He thought of himself as a cowboy and dressed in Western-style clothes, but drove a Rolls-Royce. He lived with topless dancers, but read the Bible to them and cautioned them to stay away from drugs. While guests partied the night away at discotheques, he drank soda but picked up the bill.

Casino's spendthrift ways contributed to his downfall, authorities have said. He owed money to a lot of people -- presumably some of them the wrong people. At the time of his death, the Mustang owed nearly $500,000 in unpaid federal payroll taxes and the bar's lease was about to expire.

On Jan. 2, 1987, two intruders broke into Casino's luxury condominium, tied up and raped his 22-year-old girlfriend and gathered up furs, jewelry and credit cards. They then shot Casino at close range and drove off in his Camaro and a Mercedes-Benz. He was 48.

A spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney's office declined to discuss the case against Morris.

His arrest may have stemmed from a DNA match following a 2005 DUI arrest in Hawaii. "He was sentenced to five years' probation and weekends in jail," said Daryl Huff, a reporter at KITV-TV, an ABC affiliate in Honolulu, who covered last week's arrest.

Huff said Morris was living in a house in Waipahu, about 10 miles west of Honolulu, with a number of animals and several people, including his fiancee and a disabled brother for whom he provided care.

Morris, he said, was unemployed but worked on and off as a tattoo artist and had been charged over the years with a number of alcohol-related offenses.

"He's really nice," fiancee Debbie Chow, 40, who has lived with Morris for three years, told The Times. "When the mail gets mixed up, he goes around to clear it all up and give the neighbors their packages. Once he found a bank card and went out of his way to track down its owner."

She said that Morris had never discussed his past and that she had never heard of Jimmy Casino.

"I'm waiting for his call so he can tell me," Chow said. "We don't know what to do now; a lot of people right now are devastated."


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