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Arrest Might Lead to Break in Murder Case : Crime: A former business associate of car racing pioneer Mickey Thompson and his wife, who were gunned down in 1988, has been charged with bankruptcy fraud. Detectives downplay significance in solving the notorious slayings.

July 16, 1993|ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — The case files were so thick they could reach the ceiling of the police office, encompassing more than 1,100 leads that have led nowhere, detectives said.

Pleas for help went out on TV's "Unsolved Mysteries." Psychics rushed forth to offer visions of the people who gunned down millionaire car-racing pioneer Mickey Thompson and his wife in front of their 13-car garage in the San Gabriel Valley in 1988.

But still, no arrests. Now, however, associates of Thompson say they hope the arrest this week of Michael F. Goodwin, Thompson's estranged business partner, in Santa Ana on bankruptcy fraud charges will somehow lead to a break in the case.

Almost from the time the Thompsons' bodies were discovered, Goodwin was named by homicide investigators as a possible suspect in the case. On Thursday, however, detectives said Goodwin's arrest would have no bearing on their murder investigation.

Goodwin, who lived in Laguna Beach before he reportedly fled to the Caribbean in a 57-foot yacht just two weeks after the 1988 murders, was taken into custody Wednesday by federal authorities on charges that he concealed and transferred bankruptcy assets, among other allegations.

Goodwin, 48, being held in federal custody without bail, is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana today.

Goodwin's declaration of bankruptcy was spurred in part by a 1986 judgment ordering him to pay Thompson $768,733.40 as a result of a business dispute that grew out of their joint promotion of motor sport races.

Thompson was the first American to break the 400-m.p.h. land-speed barrier, and the company that bears his name continues to hold off-road racing events at stadiums around the country.

After the arrest of Goodwin, Bob Russo, a friend of the Thompsons, said: "We think this is a step in the right direction, and the family's pretty pleased about it. There's always been some question as to why (Goodwin) suddenly disappeared right after the murders and a number of other things that cast suspicion."

"There's reason for hope," said real estate agent Lance Johnson, a friend of the Thompsons who donated his commission from the sale of their home in late 1988 to the family's $250,000 reward fund.

Thompson and his wife and business partner, Trudy, were leaving for work on March 16, 1988, when, police say, two young men lurking outside their home shot them to death and fled on 10-speed bicycles. The assailants did not take any of the $70,000 in jewelry that Trudy Thompson was wearing or the $4,000 in cash the couple was carrying, leading to investigators to conclude that the couple were professionally executed.

After the murders, sheriff's investigators spoke several times to Goodwin, who repeatedly denied any involvement. The investigators alleged in court affidavits that Goodwin may have threatened his old business partner.

But no charges were brought, and two weeks after the murders, Goodwin reportedly left the area to live on a yacht called "Believe."

Although federal agents taking Goodwin into custody this week were executing a warrant issued on the strength of an indictment handed down in May, Thompson's bankruptcy attorney, Donald S. Honig, said the arrest came as a surprise. "We had no knowledge of that (indictment) until he was arrested," he said.

Honig said he could not discuss the Thompson murder case, and Goodwin's criminal lawyer could not be reached for comment.

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