Friday, 10 July 2020

The Barbara LaForge murder: The final years

This is the fourth installment of a series on the unsolved October 2002 murder of Barbara LaForge.


LAKEPORT – In the last years of her life, Barbara LaForge – who had survived a rough childhood, overcoming loneliness and abandonment – was able to achieve the American dream: she and husband Dan Hamblin bought their first home. {sidebar id=14}


“She was so thrilled,” said friend Nancy Enos, who met LaForge through their membership in the Lakeport English Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.


Enos visited the home at 5232 Piner Court often. She remembered walking through the house with LaForge, who was proud and excited to have her own home.


In one area of the yard Enos said LaForge had planned to plant a vegetable garden. Nearby was a small bridge that crossed Kelsey Creek. LaForge loved that the big garage had a work bench for her husband.


Enos said LaForge fell in love with a large screened-in porch and made it the master bedroom. LaForge's artistic skills were put to good use in the home, said Enos, who added that LaForge was having a great time with her new space.


While LaForge enjoyed her life and her own activities – especially music and art – she also was devoted to caring for others.


A main focus for her was her mother and stepfather, Donna and Tom Gilliam.


Stepbrother Tommy Gilliam said that his elderly father was living on a large property outside of Lakeport that became too much for him, so he and Donna purchased the house next door to LaForge and Hamblin on Piner Court.


Friends say LaForge took the couple meals every night, becoming their primary caregiver.


Gilliam said his stepsister was the love of his father's life.


CARMEN AND BARBARA


Enos, who had known LaForge for 12 years, said she also was like a daughter to her and her husband, Norm, who died last year.


LaForge, said Enos, was extremely creative and even happy-go-lucky despite her sad upbringing.


And she loved people. LaForge would make a point to come and watch football with Norm Enos, especially when LaForge's team, the Miami Dolphins, played.


“Boy, the two of them, they were noisy,” said Enos, remembering the two football fans cheering in her living room.


Enos said LaForge was a talented artist and singer, and a loyal wife.


“She had so many things she liked to do,” said Enos, adding that LaForge wanted to do so much more. “If she'd had enough time, she probably would have.”


Enos said LaForge was a devoted dog lover, who for years had a beautiful mixed breed, red-eyed dog named Kelly.


It was dogs that brought together LaForge and Genevieve Day, a former Lake County resident who now lives in Klamath Falls, Ore.


Day, who previously lived in Scotts Valley, went into LaForge's shop one day and mentioned that her purebred whippet was about to have puppies. LaForge would purchase one of the pups from her, and named her Carmen, an appropriate name since LaForge loved opera.


While she still lived in Lake County, Day said she saw LaForge and Carmen at least three times a week. When Carmen was 6 months old, LaForge started taking her to dog shows, said Day. “She very much enjoyed the dog showing.”


In the fall of 2001, Day moved to Klamath Falls. The following May, LaForge and Carmen made the rip to Oregon for a dog show, where Carmen won her first and only point on the show circuit.


“I'm glad she was able to do that,” said Day.


Enos said she received a call from LaForge announcing Carmen's win. “She was so thrilled,” said Enos, who said LaForge was very enthused about showing the dog, and planned to spend more time pursuing it.


Day said she and LaForge became good friends over the years. LaForge was a tremendously thoughtful person, giving Day several antique boxes for her collection. In return, Day said she gifted LaForge with spoons, which she enjoyed collecting.


TROUBLED TIMES


But LaForge's last years weren't free of trouble.


In the fall of 2001, LaForge received a death threat. It came via mail, in – of all things – a Christmas card.


Gail Salituri, who saw the card, said the Christmas greeting inside had been crossed out and someone had written in the card, “You will be dead in 2002.”


Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke said police have followed up on the threat, but did not disclose more, saying the threat is part of the protected information contained in the homicide investigation.


In addition to the card, Salituri said there other events that caused concerns.


"I recall Barbara had received disturbing telephone calls at the frame shop the same week she received the mailed death threat,” Salituri recalled. “The phone calls stopped when she installed caller ID.


"When I questioned Barbara about who was calling her, she said it was a female and she had no idea whose voice it was,” Salituri added.


Stepbrother Tommy Gilliam said he believed something was definitely amiss with LaForge during the last year of her life. He said he felt she was having a psychic breakdown. The frame shop appeared out of order, he said, with unused supplies and cardboard stacked everywhere.


Tommy Gilliam said both LaForge's biological mother, Donna Gilliam, and grandmother had psychological problems. “She was convinced it was happening to her, too.”


LaForge also had had a major confrontation with her younger sister, Leilani Prueitt, who lives in Kelseyville, said Gilliam.


At a family reunion on July 4, 2002, Tommy Gilliam said Barbara and Prueitt had a serious argument, in which Barbara LaForge told her sister to stay away from their stepfather, Tom Gilliam, because she didn't like the way Prueitt treated him.


Salituri said she also noticed a change in LaForge, but couldn't put her finger on just what was different.


Shortly before LaForge died, Enos said she sensed a change in her friend.


“I could tell she was upset for the week before her death,” said Enos.


Adopted sisters Lisa Hatcher and Janeen Hawkins agreed with the assessments of LaForge.


“You could tell things just weren't right in her life with her husband,” said Hawkins.


Hatcher said the last year of her sister's life, “there was something different,” although Hatcher believes it was not spiritual but emotional, and based on her husband's other relationships.


Stepbrother Tommy Gilliam said LaForge was doing a lot of online shopping in her last months, especially on eBay.


Hawkins concurred, saying her sister had run up some debt because of the shopping – a statement corroborated by a bill from Chase credit cards submitted to her estate that totaled just under $10,000.


For LaForge, shopping was a means of escape when she was depressed, Hawkins explained.


Hawkins surmises that her sister may have found out that her husband was having another affair.


After leaving LaForge in January 2001 for his first wife, Hamblin had returned to LaForge. But later he began a relationship with then-Lakeport resident Linda Mafrice, a fact that was generally known at the time, said family and friends, as well as retired Lakeport Police Chief Tom Engstrom.


Hawkins said that, according to Jehovah's Witnesses teachings, adultery is one of the few true grounds for divorce.


“The only reason she would have left him was for adultery,” Hawkins explained, noting that her sister was extremely trusting of Hamblin. “That's the one thing she would not have tolerated from him.”


Although LaForge and Prueitt had had a strained relationship in light of the July 2002 argument, they eventually worked out a deal, said stepbrother Tommy Gilliam.


Prueitt had reportedly borrowed money from their stepfather, Tom Gilliam. LaForge and Prueitt agreed that on the morning of Oct. 8, 2002, Prueitt would be at the frame shop to help do some clean up in order to pay back the money she owed to Tom Gilliam.


On that morning, as LaForge walked into her gallery for the last time, she likely was expecting her sister to join her that day.


Who was waiting for her in the gallery, however, remains the critical mystery.


In part five, friends and family receive the news of LaForge's death and struggle with its unsolved nature.


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


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