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Man Kills Self Over Probe of Wife's Death

August 29, 1986|GARY GORMAN | Times Staff Writer

Everett Stumbaugh told police that he managed to jump out of his car when a truck forced him toward a 150-foot cliff in Palos Verdes Estates on Aug. 12, but his 66-year-old wife didn't make it and plunged to her death.

Police were suspicious. They thought Stumbaugh might have killed his wife. And when they went to his home in Redondo Beach on Thursday with a search warrant, he killed himself with a hunting rifle.

Lt. Mike Tracy of the Palos Verdes Estates police said investigators consider the case closed but will continue to look for insurance papers or other documents that might establish a motive for Stumbaugh to kill Betty Stumbaugh, his wife of more than 20 years.

Tracy said several things made investigators suspect Stumbaugh.

First, there were the conflicting stories. Stumbaugh told one investigator that the truck came at him head-on; he told another officer that he was hit from behind.

Then there was the physical evidence, or lack of it.

Stumbaugh's tire tracks on Paseo del Mar indicated that he was not going as fast as he claimed before the car plunged off the bluff early that morning, California Highway Patrol investigators said. Police also were unable to find the black pickup truck he blamed for the crash.

The wrecked car's gas cap also was missing. Tracy said it may have been removed in the hope of starting a fire. The wrecked car did not burn, however.

An autopsy came up with two possible causes of Betty Stumbaugh's death--a broken neck or internal injuries. Tracy said it could not be determined whether the injuries were caused by the crash or occurred earlier.

Thursday morning, when city police and Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators knocked on Stumbaugh's door, he did not answer for nearly an hour. Finally, he came out on a balcony, learned that the investigators wanted to search for evidence and said he would let them in.

Then they heard the shot.

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