Police: Costa Mesa man kills former business partner

Police arrested a Costa Mesa man Sunday after he allegedly shot his former business partner in the Redwood Avenue home they shared.

Thomas Michael Wilhelm, 48, was booked on suspicion of murder and is being held in Orange County Jail in lieu of $1-million bail.

Just before 6:30 p.m. residents reported hearing a possible episode of domestic violence at the home in the 2900 block and called police, authorities said. Neighbors reporting hearing several gunshots before officers arrived.

Just as officers arrived, authorities said they heard a final shot.

The officers immediately went inside and found the victim, 45-year-old Christian Marie Murray, lying in the bedroom with several gunshot wounds to the chest. She was later pronounced dead at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.

Wilhelm was found alone in the backyard, police said, and may have tried to shoot himself with a shotgun before they arrived.

According to police, Wilhelm's relationship with Murray — neighbors said they were a couple — had deteriorated over the past two years, and Sunday's shooting may have been about the business they once shared.

A website the Better Business Bureau attributes to Wilhelm's company, Tom Wilhelm Sprinkler Co., suggests he has been separated from and is no longer associated with the company. A notice under the "about us" section of Wilhelm Sprinkler's site, http://www.wilhelmsprinkler.com, says that Wilhelm is an unlicensed contractor.

Murray, who's listed with Costa Mesa as the company's chief financial officer, on June 30 incorporated the business and did not list Wilhelm anywhere on the application, state licensing board officials said.

As recently as June 6, Wilhelm Sprinkler's customers were praising him and his staff on Angie's List, a subscriber-based website where customers review services they've received.

Rick Lopes of the state licensing board said the state was unaware that Wilhelm was associated with Wilhelm Sprinkler when it granted Murray her license because Wilhelm was not on the application.

If he had been, Lopes said, the state would have first required Wilhelm pay off a $10,700 judgment against him in Marin County from 2008.

On its surface, Murray's application looked just like any other fictitious business name, Lopes said.

The license number and phone number on Wilhelm Sprinkler's website belong to Murray. A listing with the Better Business Bureau lists Murray's website but Wilhelm's phone number.

If comments on the company's website are an indication, the disagreement between Wilhelm and Murray had recently escalated.

Several entries under the "about us" section claim Wilhelm's business was being stolen from him, then they urge people to call Wilhelm's number instead of Murray's that's listed on the site.

Since receiving his contracting license in 1991, Wilhelm has had two civil judgments against him, and his license was suspended twice.

He lost a $30,400 judgment in 1993 in Orange County, which the state learned of in 1999 and promptly suspended his license. In 2000, he declared bankruptcy and his license was later reinstated.

In 2007, Wilhelm changed his contractor status to inactive. His contracting license expired in 2011.

Wilhelm is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. Anyone with information regarding the case is encouraged to call Costa Mesa police detectives at (714) 754-5205.


Twitter: @JosephSerna

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