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Studio Shooting Blamed on Business Deal

July 20, 1989|TRACY WILKINSON and LOUIS SAHAGUN | Times Staff Writers

The man who burst through a Lorimar Studios gate and emptied a shotgun into a sound stage before taking his own life had gone to the Culver City lot to confront "Dallas" television star Ken Kercheval, his foil in a bitter dispute over a popcorn business, police said Wednesday.

Edward P. Phillips, 43, formerly of Corydon, Ind., apparently blamed Kercheval, who acquired full ownership of the popcorn company last year, for cheating him out of the business and causing his marriage to fail, investigators and associates said.

Hoping to confront Kercheval, Phillips came to Los Angeles on Monday and drove to the Culver City lot in a rented truck Tuesday evening, police said. Unable to talk his way past a guard, he rammed through the gate, set fire to the truck and opened fire on the sound stage where "Dallas" is filmed.

When police closed in, Phillips turned the gun on himself. He died from a single blast to the chest. The sound stage was empty and no other injuries were reported.

Neither Kercheval, who plays oil tycoon Cliff Barnes, nor other "Dallas" actors were on the lot that day. Police later found a practice hand grenade and canisters of a poisonous insecticide on the front seat of Phillips' truck.

Detectives and acquaintances of Phillips who were interviewed Wednesday presented a picture of a bitter, distraught man who was disturbed by a string of personal and financial losses over recent years: his business, his wife, and, ultimately, the legal battles he had mounted to win compensation for his lost company.

"I think he was angry over being Xed out of the business and was intending to see Kercheval," said Culver City Police Sgt. Hank Davies. "His marriage broke up (and) he had lost his business."

By several accounts, Phillips blamed much of his ill fortune on Kercheval.

Kercheval, in a statement issued through a publicist, said he was "shocked and astonished" by the suicide incident. The 54-year-old actor said that after he bought out Phillips' popcorn business, Phillips "on several occasions exhibited irrational behavior that frightened my family and associates."

However, Kercheval added: "I had no idea this would be the result."

According to Culver City police, information from former business associates and news reports, Kercheval in 1985 bought a third of the Old Capital Popcorn Co. from Phillips and his wife at the time, Linda Phillips, for nearly $1 million. The Phillipses helped Kercheval finance the loan and paid him a monthly stipend from company earnings.

The partnership appeared to go well at first, with Kercheval's presence--his picture was used on cartons of the popcorn--attracting publicity. They were even featured in a segment of TV's "Life Styles of the Rich and Famous."

But the partnership began to sour. Several bad marketing decisions cut into profits and there was friction over hiring. Finally, in April of last year, Kercheval and Linda Phillips joined forces to oust Edward Phillips from the business. She sued for divorce shortly thereafter.

Kercheval then agreed to pay the Phillipses $309,000 for their two-thirds share in the business--ultimately obtaining for $1.3 million a company that the Phillipses had bought for $2.01 million in 1983.

"At that time, I didn't care if I lived or died," Phillips told the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper. Phillips later admitted himself to an Ohio hospital for three days to recover from depression, the Courier-Journal reported in an April 9 chronicle of Old Capital Popcorn's plight.

Kercheval said all parties agreed to the sale of the firm after "management problems" arose. He said he had not seen or spoken to Phillips in at least a year.

Multiple Legal Actions

Phillips sued Kercheval, Old Capital countersued Phillips and the popcorn firm has also been sued by at least two suppliers who claim they were not paid for services.

A former business associate said the relationship between Kercheval and Phillips was mismatched and tense from the start. "One was debonair and polished, and one was off a farm," said Allan Simmons, hired by Kercheval in 1987 as sales vice president for the popcorn company. "Can you imagine two guys like this as roommates? Wouldn't work."

Before the popcorn venture, Phillips, who held a degree in farm economics, owned a farm equipment dealership.

Simmons, whom Kercheval fired a year after hiring him, said that although his position with the company was in marketing, he wound up "spending as much time dealing with their problems as I did getting out there and selling their product."

Simmons said that Kercheval was a "gentle, charitable" man who seemed to change at times "into the role of a ruthless businessman. I think he (Kercheval) plays the role in real life that he plays on TV sometimes," said Simmons of Aptos, Calif.

The Phillipses, who have three children, made their divorce final in January.

'It's Just Too Much'

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