SANTA ANA — Italian-born and educated in the culinary arts, Fausto Grimaldi was once a successful restaurateur who showcased his cooking ability for years from New Orleans to Mission Viejo. Always at his side was his girlfriend, Barbara Blakely, a waitress at the restaurants where they worked during a decade of togetherness.
But their relationship eventually ended, and so did Grimaldi's life.
The 47-year-old chef, distraught over financial, physical and emotional problems, killed himself Tuesday morning after a deadly obsession drove him to shoot the woman he loved, acquaintances said.
As Blakely, 27, continued to cling to life Wednesday in the intensive care unit at UCI Medical Center in Orange, Grimaldi's friends struggled to tell what led to the violence.
"Fausto was considered a family friend," said Blakely's father, John, who recalled that he had talked with Grimaldi recently and did not get the impression that anything was wrong.
"I've been wondering how this can happen for two days now," he said.
In retrospect, however, those closest to Grimaldi say they have come to realize that he was falling into a deep depression and planning something ever since Blakely became engaged to another man almost a year ago.
On Wednesday, his rented room in Orange was almost empty--the contents removed by him earlier. All that remained were two boxes of ammunition for his .357 magnum revolver, several cookbooks, some clothes and three ashtrays filled to the brim with cigarette butts.
At the restaurant where he worked as head chef, Grimaldi took down a picture of his latest girlfriend from the wall of the office. His favorite pasta machine and other kitchen utensils were discarded over the weekend.
"I thought that there was something strange," said his business partner, who spoke on the condition that his name not be used. "He threw everything away."
Last week, Grimaldi told his landlady, Julia Hall, and his business partner that he was going to take a trip on Tuesday to his hometown of Cosenza in southern Italy.
"He said he got to clear his mind," his partner said tearfully with a thick Italian accent. "I know he did a stupid thing, but he was very intelligent."
Eight months ago, Grimaldi was penniless and still troubled by his breakup with Blakely. But he was determined to make a new start in the restaurant business, his friends said.
In November, he met his partner, who put up the money to buy a small Italian restaurant in Yorba Linda. By February, the two had opened for business in a strip mall.
Blakely went to their open house but did not pay much attention to Grimaldi, according to those who went to the party.
"She was all over the place, talking to everyone but him," said David Hall, the son of Grimaldi's landlady.
Eventually, Grimaldi found a new girlfriend and appeared to be getting over his breakup, friends said. But, according to his business partner, it became apparent that he could not shake his attraction to Blakely.
"He told me she was getting married to a monster," his partner said. "He said he didn't know what she saw in him."
Over the last few months, Grimaldi became morose, Julia Hall said, and once tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills. She recalled that he was discovered in time and revived.
"Sometimes he'd burst into tears like a baby and kneel in front of me and put his head in my lap," she said.
Last week, Grimaldi apparently began stalking Blakely, driving his white Nissan pickup truck back and forth in front of the Santa Ana house she had moved into a month ago.
On Tuesday, the day he was scheduled to go to Italy, Grimaldi told his landlady that he would rather go to Laughlin, Nev. Hall said Grimaldi had recently received a $15,000 disability settlement for a back injury and was going to spend a relaxing week gambling and touring the desert.
"I joked with him," she recalled. "I said if he was going to win, to split it with me."
Grimaldi left his room about 7:45 a.m. that day, carrying a small overnight bag and a backpack. He indicated that he would return home June 10, she said.
Instead, he drove to Barbara Blakely's house in the 2100 block of North Pacific Avenue and parked several houses away.
She let him in, then the two began screaming, police said. Blakely triggered a silent alarm before Grimaldi forced her out of the house, down the street and onto the ground.
He shot her twice in the head before putting the gun into his own mouth and pulling the trigger, Santa Ana Police Lt. Bob Helton said.
At the scene, detectives found a passport and $12,000 in cash stuffed into Grimaldi's shoes, socks and pockets. No airline ticket to Nevada or Italy was found.