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Investigation Finds Suspect in 1986 Slaying

August 24, 1990|CAROL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four years ago, the body of Jean Ellen Eubanks was discovered buried in a crude grave beneath a thin layer of rocks in Matilija Canyon near Ojai.

Detectives suspected from the beginning that the 34-year-old mother of three was shot to death by her traveling companion, who had promised to show her Southern California.

But the man, a suspected interstate drug smuggler, disappeared, and the investigation stalled until he surfaced in Utah in 1988, arrested on suspicion of selling cocaine.

It took almost two more years of investigation, but Thursday afternoon, four years to the day after Eubanks' body was found, Thomas Gottschalk finally was arraigned for murder in Ventura.

Gottschalk, who is being held on $500,000 bail in the Ventura County Jail, pleaded not guilty to murder with the use of a firearm in connection with the August, 1986, slaying.

The 48-year-old man--who allegedly uses six aliases--is also the suspect in another Ventura County homicide, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard E. Holmes during Gottschalk's first court appearance.

Further details are not available because the investigation into that homicide is continuing, Holmes said.

But the preliminary hearing to determine whether Gottschalk will stand trial for Eubanks' murder will begin Oct. 29.

"They suspected it was him right away," Holmes said. "Then we had to look for him."

Eubanks met Gottschalk, who was then going by the name of Gavern, in Middletown--a rural Northern California town in Lake County, said Sgt. Tom Odle, one of the original Sheriff's Department detectives who investigated the murder.

Eubanks was a construction worker but she had injured her back in a work-related accident. Interested in moving, she took Gottschalk up on his offer to show her Southern California, Odle said.

Living off workers' compensation for her back injury, Eubanks and her 15-year-old daughter began traveling with Gottschalk, officials said. They visited Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Ventura, Odle said.

Gottschalk knew the area because he had lived in Ventura County, working for an oil exploration firm, in 1982, Holmes said. The prosecutor added that Gottschalk moved to Middletown sometime around 1983 or 1984.

Gottschalk, Eubanks and Eubanks' daughter made a second trip to Ventura on July 30, 1986, to pick up Eubanks' car, which they had left with an auto mechanic on a trip to the area two weeks before, Odle said.

The daughter stayed in the motel the next day while Gottschalk and Eubanks went to retrieve her car.

Gottschalk returned alone and told the girl that her mother had gone off with the mechanic, Odle said.

He and the daughter returned to Middletown the following day, where the daughter still lives. Eubanks' daughter filed a missing persons report on Aug. 4, 1986. Eubanks' badly decomposed body was not found until Aug. 23.

Eubanks had died from two gunshot wounds to the head, Odle said.

Dental records and a fingerprint taken from the body confirmed Eubanks' identity.

Two weeks later, detectives found many of Eubanks' belongings scattered in the desert, 80 miles east of Provo, Utah. Her car was found in Oxnard.

Gottschalk had disappeared.

His whereabouts remained a mystery until 1988, when he was arrested in Utah, Odle said.

The investigation, which had come to a standstill, was begun again.

But before Ventura County could file charges, Gottschalk was taken from Utah to Massachusetts, where he had been a fugitive on a rape charge for 10 years, Holmes said.

Odle brought Gottschalk back from Cedar Junction Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Walpole on Aug. 8.

"He has been diligently pursued by Odle," Holmes said. "He has tracked the man to the ends of the earth."

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