Friday, 10 July 2020

The Barbara LaForge murder: Unsolved murder haunts friends, family, police

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Barbara LaForge. Photo courtesy of Lakeport Police.

 

LAKEPORT – Five years later, what happened on the morning of Oct. 8, 2002, is still a mystery.


That fall Tuesday morning was Barbara LaForge's first day back at her frame shop since Thursday of the previous week. She and her niece had gone away for the weekend to show LaForge's prized whippet, Carmen, at a Sacramento dog show.


LaForge got home Sunday in time to attend church at the Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall on Ackley Road in Lakeport, and took the following day off to recharge. Gail Salituri, the painter and art dealer whose gallery had shared space with LaForge's frame shop for five years, covered for her on Friday and Monday.


Now, it was back to the shop, where LaForge was known as a gifted framer, with an eye for color and composition.


The month before, she had started coming into the shop earlier, usually getting there about 9 a.m. in time to open by 9:30 a.m.


Each morning, LaForge left her home on Piner Court in Kelseyville, which she shared with husband, Dan Hamblin, and made her way to Lakeport, always accompanied by Carmen.


She took North Forbes Street and turned into the parking lot behind her Main Street shop, parked in her corner spot, and then made her way the 50 yards down the sloping cement pathway into the back of the shop, Carmen trotting along by her side.


That day, there was a lot of activity in the area. Roofers were working on the buildings, which had been undergoing some other renovations as well.


Once inside the shop, LaForge normally would turn on the lights, set down her things and take Carmen off the leash to play before opening up the shop to customers.


But on that day all of those plans and routines were interrupted.


Four shots – shots which only LaForge and her killer heard – were fired from a .22 caliber weapon, striking her in the chest.


She spun around, falling back against a table and stacks of cardboard and framing glass.


When a customer found her nearly three hours later, she was collapsed into a sitting position, facing the back of the gallery and the small back storage room.


The back door was open, no lights were on and Carmen huddled, still leashed, in the front window.


Her assailant had walked out of the shop's open back door unseen, leaving few clues behind save the .22 caliber rounds used to kill LaForge and, possibly, a footprint discovered at the scene.


REMEMBERING THE VICTIM, REEXAMINING THE CASE


Five years later, family, friends and community member continue asking questions about the circumstances surrounding LaForge's death, and who could have committed such a violent crime.


At the same time, police have launched an in-depth reexamination of LaForge's mysterious murder, calling on the skills of an experienced out-of-state homicide expert and considering the possibility of sending the case to a criminal profiler.


Beginning this summer, Lake County News began an in-depth investigation into LaForge's unsolved murder in an attempt to answer the question of who could have killed her.


This week Lake County News presents a series of articles looking at the Barbara LaForge murder, the status of the case and the people at the heart of the mystery.


Lake County News spoke with more than a dozen people – from officials to family members and longtime friends – in order to not only reconstruct the events leading to LaForge's death but, also, to recapture her life.


From those interviews emerged a picture of a woman with a kind and generous nature; a loving wife; a devoted Jehovah's Witness; a talented artist, singer and writer; a fan of Monty Python, the Miami Dolphins and Celtic music. With her naturally curly red hair and big smile, she touched the lives of many people who have tried to keep her memory alive and her case remembered.


But LaForge's life wasn't untouched by sadness or trouble. Abandoned by her biological mother at a young age, witness to her father's suicide, placed in an orphanage as a young teenager, she would go through her life carefully guarding her emotions and her struggles, even from those who became loving friends.


Yet in Barbara LaForge's last year there appeared to be clear signs of trouble in her personal life.


A year before her death, she received an anonymous death threat which was reported to police. She told friends that she was trying not to let it worry her, yet many believe it is connected with her murder.


LaForge's closest friends also say that in the last year of her life she seemed touched by a particular sadness, troubled by something she didn't share, which was magnified in the days before she died.


In part two: LaForge is discovered, the fight to save her life and the investigation begins.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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