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Papers Depict Slaying Suspect as Despairing : Courts: Douglas Stanley, accused of killing sister-in-law and employee in her embroidery shop, lamented a life in which 'nothing ever works out.'

September 10, 1993|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WESTMINSTER — Those who knew Douglas Stanley describe him as a tough-talking "survivalist type" who collected weapons and routinely threatened to kill anyone who angered him, even his relatives.

But court documents unsealed Thursday depict another side of the 57-year-old Stanley, who faces charges that he killed his sister-in-law and another woman at a Fountain Valley embroidery shop: that of a desperate and despairing man, living at home with his mother and brother, upset and apologetic over his failure to do a better job of running his life.

"I'm really sorry for all I've said and done," Stanley wrote in a letter to his brother dated April 19. "Nothing ever work(s) out for me. always the same. I'm sorry for all and thanks again," concludes the one-page, handwritten letter.

The letter was among several dozen documents--including bank records, notes and correspondence--that police seized from Stanley's home in Westminster in the days following the July 8 slayings. Also found in his car in Orange County were a shotgun and a rifle. Authorities released the documents after Stanley's scheduled arraignment Thursday in Municipal Court in Westminster was postponed until Sept. 23.

Stanley was bearded and appeared subdued as he made his first court appearance in Orange County after being extradited this week from Colorado, where he was arrested at a small roadside rest stop July 11 after a nationwide manhunt.

Stanley is charged with fatally shooting his sister-in-law, Joyce Stanley, 52, and Terry Vasquez, 41, as they worked in the shop that was owned by Joyce Stanley and her husband, Charles.

Deputy Public Defender Denise Gragg, who has just begun to review the mass of court documents in the case, said she finds it difficult to reconcile the charges with the man she is now representing.

"He just doesn't seem like the murderous type," Gragg said, adding that she plans to seek a mental health evaluation of her client.

Prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek the death penalty against Stanley.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Molko declined Thursday to discuss a possible motive in the double murder. But the newly released documents suggest one possibility: According to police interviews with employees, Joyce Stanley considered her brother-in-law to be a troublemaker and planned to relocate the embroidery shop to be rid of him.

Tuan Anh Pham, 24, of Tustin, who worked at the shop, told police that two days before the shooting Joyce Stanley asked Pham to relocate with the business.

"Joyce told Pham that the main reason they were going to relocate was Doug was always screwing up and fighting with the employees, and they were going to leave him behind," according to the police report.

But Charles Stanley, the brother of the suspect, denied the report in a telephone interview Thursday from Arkansas, where he moved his business after the killings. Charles Stanley said he is still in shock over the incident and does not know why his brother would want to kill his wife. "I think something in him just snapped," he said.

"We would never have abandoned him, ever, that's just misinformation," he said.

Indeed, one letter believed to be written by Joyce Stanley to her brother-in-law when he was living in a remote, unidentified area paints a picture of a caring family atmosphere.

Found among Douglas Stanley's possessions during a police search of his room, the letter chides him to take his medication and maintain a healthy diet. And it announces that a box of clothing and other items is on the way, including some family photos and goodies that would have served as an Easter basket.

"Missed you yesterday, had the ham dinner you wanted for Easter, but there was no you," Joyce Stanley wrote in the chatty, undated letter. "I hope I was able to get through to you that I am available to listen if you want to talk with someone and that I do care."

In his April 19 letter to his brother, Stanley lamented the troubled path his life had taken and repeatedly asked his brother's forgiveness. He thanked his brother for helping him in times of need and vowed to leave the area and not return until his mother passed away. She was living with the family in Westminster at the time.

"I'm sorry for all the trouble I've caused, thanks for taking care of mom," the letter says. "I won't be coming back, only for mom's funeral, if I can so please let me know when please."

The somber letter ends with Douglas Stanley telling Charles Stanley that he has been a "great brother" and it holds a ray of hope for their future together.

"If you get a chance," Douglas Stanley wrote, "I'd really like you to come up so we could go (deer) hunting once together."

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