D.A.: Man killed partner over business dispute


A Costa Mesa man reportedly drank cherry vodka and took prescription pills while singing along to a Guns N Roses song before he shot and killed his business partner, prosecutors allege in court documents.

Thomas Michael Wilhelm, 48, reportedly belted out the lyrics “I used to love her but I had to kill her” from the song, “Used to Love Her,” in his bedroom before visiting his neighbor and allegedly stealing a handgun.

That gun was used to shoot Christine Murray, 45, according to a transcript of the grand jury indictment obtained by the Daily Pilot.


An earlier version of this story had the incorrect age for Christine Murray.

Murray and Wilhelm had once dated but at the time of the alleged crime were only business partners.

The transcript sheds light on the July 8 shooting of Murray, who lived with Wilhelm at a home at 2981 Redwood Ave. with her 8-year-old son, according to the transcript.

A possible motive was that Wilhelm felt Murray tried to take over the lawn sprinkler business that bore his name — a point of pride for Wilhelm, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Jim Mendelson.

“A lot of the issue had to do with the business name, the Wilhelm business name,” Mendelson told the Orange County grand jury. “Mr. Wilhelm took great pride in the Wilhelm sprinkler name — his name on the business.”

On the day Murray was killed, she and Wilhelm fought over ownership of the sprinkler company, and she told him they could talk about business when he was sober, to which he replied, “Basically, that will be never,” Mendelson said.

“The one thing that you are going to hear about Mr. Wilhelm is his business endeavors were severely hampered because he had a real substance abuse problem for multiple types of substances and alcohol,” Mendelson said.

Before Murray met Wilhelm about three years ago, Wilhelm owned the business with a former girlfriend and split the business with her when they parted ways.

Eventually, Murray and the former girlfriend would forge a bond over Wilhelm’s behavior. The former girlfriend heard from Murray minutes before she was killed, receiving a text message from her that read:

“He’s drunk, locked in his room, listening to his oldies music, singing at the top of his lungs, hammered as hell, says we will talk soon. I told him when he is sober. Says he doesn’t intend to ever be. Good then I don’t need to change your name, you won’t need it.”

Later Murray texted, “He’s playing ‘I used to love her but I had to kill her,’ over and over. He’s too chicken to try....”

Before meeting Wilhelm, Murray was homeless and on drugs, and lost custody of her three children, Mendelson told jurors.

But she changed, he said, and cleaned up, applying for her contractor’s license and renting the house on Redwood Avenue with Wilhelm.

The day of the shooting, Wilhelm drew an X on his chest to indicate where his heart was so that he could shoot himself and his family could have an open-casket funeral, according to the transcript.

The day Murray was killed, she hid in a bathroom in the home and Wilhelm allegedly fired six rounds through the door, hitting Murray in the chest, neck, arm and thigh, according to testimony.

She was pronounced dead at Santa Ana’s Western Medical Center.

At one point Murray apparently struck Wilhelm in the head with a baseball bat, and Mendelson told jurors that at first blush it could appear that Wilhelm acted in self defense.

“However, if you stop and look at the law of self defense, it becomes real clear this was not a case of self defense for a couple of reasons,” Mendelson said, adding that Wilhelm had to believe there was an imminent threat of his life. But that wasn’t the case, Mendelson said.

“He has her cornered on the floor, back up against the wall,” the prosecutor said.

Wilhelm faces one felony count of murder and is next expected in court Friday.

Twitter: @lawilliams30