Friday, 10 July 2020

The Barbara LaForge murder: Terrible news, disturbing secrets

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


LAKEPORT – On Oct. 10, 2002, Janeen Hawkins, Barbara LaForge's adopted sister who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., received a phone call from Nancy Enos, a friend of LaForge's from the Lakeport English Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. {sidebar id=14}


Enos gave her unimaginable news: That two days earlier, LaForge had been found fatally shot in her Main Street frame shop.


Hawkins got her family together, including sister Lisa Hatcher and mother Christine Jones, to share the news.


It was amazing to the family that LaForge – a woman who loved life, who had overcome so much in her 43 years, who was devoted to her family and friends and to her church – could have died in such a violent manner.


Hawkins said it took her a year to come to terms with the violence of her adopted sister's death. “You can't even grieve the loss until you get past the violence.”


On the night of the murder, Enos went to the crime scene, where then-Sgt. Brad Rasmussen of Lakeport Police delivered LaForge's whippet dog, Carmen, to her. The dog had been kept at the scene throughout the day. “She just leaped into my arms,” said Enos.


The trembling dog sat in the lap of Nancy Enos' husband, Norm, all the way to LaForge's house at 5232 Piner Court in Kelseyville. There, LaForge's husband, Dan Hamblin, and his family were gathered.


Enos said she reached out to comfort Hamblin, and later in the week brought over food for him.


LaForge – who loved to cook – had a weekend routine, said Enos, which included fixing food for the coming week. When Enos opened up the refrigerator, she found it fully stocked, with three casseroles LaForge had made after getting back from the Sacramento dog show over the weekend.


Hatcher said her family also tried to reach out to Hamblin, to offer support and comfort.


“From day one he would not talk to us,” she said.


Hawkins added that her mother and sisters all took turns calling Hamblin, never receiving calls back. She spoke to Hamblin's sister shortly after LaForge's murder, and had been told he was having a hard time.


LaForge's friend Genevieve Day, who left Scotts Valley for Klamath Falls, Ore., had sold LaForge Carmen, but retained a partial ownerships. She said she and LaForge were planning to attend a dog show together in Pleasanton later in October.


On Oct. 7, 2002, Day said she spoke to LaForge. “She was really upbeat and looking forward to getting to Pleasanton.”


A day or so after the murder, another friend of Day's from Lake County called to tell her the news. Day said she spoke with Dale Stoebe of Lakeport Police shortly after the murder to try to find out more about what happened.


A PAINFUL TRIP


Day said Hamblin had never liked Carmen, making LaForge keep the dog in a crate at night rather than letting her sleep on the bed with the couple. So when LaForge died, Day said she decided to try to get the dog back, since she and LaForge had reached an agreement in which Day retained part ownership of Carmen.


She said she called Hamblin to ask if he wanted her to come and take the dog. Day said Hamblin told her no, that it was one of the last things he had that still connected him to LaForge.


But Day said a few days later, Hamblin called her back, saying the dog was upset and that Day could come and get her.


LaForge's memorial service was held on Oct. 13, 2002, at the Lakeport English Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, according to her obituary.


Day said she made the trip down to pick up Carmen on the day of the memorial service so she also could attend.


Enos said Hamblin sat in a separate part of the hall, called the library, during the service. It's an area with a glass wall where the service is piped into the room, where mothers frequently take babies.


Day, Tommy Gilliam and Enos said Hamblin sobbed openly through the service. Gilliam and Day said they felt his tears were staged.


Later, after the service, Day met Hamblin at 5232 Piner Court, the home he had shared with LaForge, to pick up Carmen.


Day said she walked into the front of the home where Hamblin and his family were. She stood speaking with Hamblin when, from the back of the house, came Carmen, who Day said always was overjoyed to see her.


Day said Hamblin turned around toward the dog and Carmen flinched away, a reaction Day said she didn't know how to interpret, considering Hamblin never liked the dog.


Hamblin and Day went out into the garage to gather Carmen's things, including beds and toys, which Day offered to pay for; Hamblin, however, refused her offer.


As they talked for an estimated 20 minutes, Day said Hamblin began a strange confessional, telling her that he was with another woman, that he had not found LaForge sexually attractive and had wanted to be with someone else.


“It was like he had this load of guilt and he had to dump it,” said Day.


Stunned by the conversation, Day said she took the dog and left.


WAITING IN THE WINGS


Within weeks, possibly days, of LaForge's memorial service, life at 5232 Piner Court moved on.


On the day of the memorial, a woman was seen packing LaForge's clothes and belongings into black garbage bags, according to former Lakeport Police Chief Tom Engstrom.


That woman was 47-year-old Linda Ann Mafrice, that “someone else” the 41-year-old Hamblin had desired.


LaForge's family in Jacksonville said they were told that Mafrice moved in with Hamblin within a few weeks of LaForge's death.


Two months before the murder, in August of 2002, Mafrice was charged with 90 counts of forgery, theft from an elder adult and theft, according to court documents. The theft charge and 89 of the forgery charges were dismissed.


The charges stemmed from her theft of about $180,000 from residents at the Royal Shores condominiums. District Attorney Jon Hopkins, who personally prosecuted Mafrice, said she had done some bookkeeping at the complex, which gave her access to an elderly couple, who were the source of much of the stolen money.


Court documents show that a search of Mafrice's condominium at Royal Shores revealed copies of the couple's financial documents throughout her residence.


Mafrice eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 300 days in jail, which she finished serving in 2004 before being released on probation, court records show.


The court also ordered her to pay back restitution to totaling $113,116.07, with credit for $65,000 that she had already paid back. In addition, Mafrice was required to pay 10 percent in administrative costs, 10 percent per year to the victim and more than $1,000 in other fees and penalties.


“She has not paid full restitution at this point,” said Hopkins in an interview Oct. 5.


Court records from 2005 state that Mafrice suffers from serious unspecified health problems, besides mental health issues. She had taken a doctor's note to court asking for her probation – which she is still under – to be modified. Hopkins said she forged the doctor's note.


A SILENT HUSBAND


When it comes to important players in the drama that surrounds Barbara LaForge's death, few are as key as her husband, Dan Hamblin.


And few are as silent.


Unlike some family members of murder victims, Hamblin has never approached the local media to ask for help in finding his wife's murderer. Nor did he place an obituary for his wife in local newspapers. Instead, her Jacksonville family placed an obituary in the newspapers in that city.


When Lake County News approached him to request an interview for this investigation, his employer, Charlie Tanti of Henry Repairs, promised to pass on the request but said he doubted Hamblin would agree.


“He doesn't like to talk about it,” said Tanti.


And, indeed, he never contacted Lake County News in response to the request.


Nor has he worked with Lakeport Police to solve the murder, say police.


Tom Engstrom, Lakeport's former police chief, said he found Hamblin neither candid nor sincere during interviews following his wife's death.


Engstrom said he has given death notifications and seen people so distraught that he had to hold them in his arms. Yet, when, at the Lakeport Police station, police informed Hamblin of the murder on Oct. 8, 2002, Engstrom said he received the news matter-of-factly.


Current Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke said Hamblin has retained an attorney and refuses to speak with police any further about LaForge's murder.


Engstrom said Mafrice had been cooperative “to a certain extent” with the investigation, and agreed to speak to police. He said he wasn't able to form an opinion of her sincerity.


Eventually Mafrice retained an attorney and also quit talking to police, he said.


PICKING UP THE PIECES


Hatcher, Hawkins and their mother, Christine Jones, had requested pictures and mementos of LaForge's, but their requests of Hamblin were never acknowledged or honored.


Instead, LaForge's family also was told that a box of her belongings, with her name and date of death, was left in the driveway of a woman who she had attended church with at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall in Lakeport. A similar box with her religious books was left at the church itself.


Enos added that Hamblin gave her many of LaForge's belongings to pass on to other church members.


After police were done with the crime scene, Tommy Gilliam said he went into LaForge's frame shop to help clean it up.


He said there were small drug vials that rescuers had used to try to save LaForge littered across the floor.


Gilliam said from looking at the scene it appeared that his sister must have spun around as she was shot, leaving a trail of her blood on the wall.


He could see where her body had fallen into what he called a “nest” of matte board and glass, where she remained until she was found hours later, bleeding out on the floor.


“If they had found her sooner, she may have lived,” he said.


A terrified Gail Salituri, the artist whose gallery shared space with LaForge's framing shop, kept the shop shut for months because she felt frightened and unsafe in the building.


When she did reopen early the next year, she sealed off the back door through which LaForge had last entered the building.

 

In part six, Lakeport Police investigators share the latest developments in the case.


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


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