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Huber Suspect Threats Related : Testimony: Investigator says Famalaro has history of assaulting women. Orange County police say they found vehicle possibly used in Denise Huber's abduction.

July 21, 1994|RENE LYNCH and KEVIN JOHNSON and JEFF BRAZIL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Appearing in court for the first time since Denise Huber's body was found last week in a freezer at his country club home, murder suspect John J. Famalaro listened impassively Wednesday as an investigator testified that the house painter had a history of threatening and assaulting women.

Yavapai County Sheriff's Lt. Scott Mascher told a packed courtroom that several of Famalaro's former girlfriends had described being threatened or feeling threatened by him, Mascher said.

One woman, Mascher testified, told investigators she once was "forced down and handcuffed from behind" by Famalaro, 37. When investigators last week found the body of the Newport Beach woman--missing for three years--she, too, had been handcuffed.

Immediately following the hearing, Justice of the Peace Robert W. Kuebler Jr. denied Famalaro's request for bail. A grand jury was expected to indict Famalaro by today. If not, a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday.

In a day punctuated by multiple developments in the case:

* Famalaro fired his attorney because of his religious beliefs.

* Investigators said they have quizzed Famalaro's brother, Warren, a convicted child molester who lives in Lake Forest, several times, and described him as "being anywhere from a witness to a suspect" in the Huber case.

* Arizona authorities revealed deputies had visited Famalaro's house in March when the handyman reported a burglary, but the freezer containing Huber's body went undetected.

* Detectives in Orange County said they have identified a vehicle they think was used in Huber's abduction but declined to elaborate.

* Investigators still had not located at least one woman whose name was found in Famalaro's home.

Adding to the grisly details of last week's discovery, Mascher told the judge Wednesday that Huber's body had been crammed into the freezer chest, her eyes and mouth covered by cotton wads and then sealed with duct tape.

Mascher also testified that two witnesses had come forward with additional information: a man who said he once helped Famalaro measure the 23-foot-long freezer to see if it would fit in the Prescott Country Club home where the suspect lived; and a woman who said she once found an 18-inch bone while digging at Famalaro's house but thought nothing of it. Since the arrest, investigators have unearthed portions of Famalaro's house and yard in a search for more bodies but turned up nothing.

In Orange County, authorities said Wednesday that they have homed in on Famalaro's whereabouts during the week of Huber's disappearance three years ago and believe they can show he was in the area at the time.

Relying on Famalaro's business records, receipts and interviews with people who saw him, investigators have confirmed that Famalaro was in the Orange County area on June 3, 1991, the night that 23-year-old Huber vanished after her car blew a tire on the Corona del Mar Freeway. Investigators also have collected receipts, job work orders and sworn declarations from people who encountered Famalaro around the time of Huber's abduction.

"We're getting a very good timeline put together," said Costa Mesa Police Sgt. Jerry Holloway, who is coordinating the Orange County portion of the murder probe.

Additional court records filed Wednesday indicated authorities also seized from Famalaro's house a wood-handled claw hammer and metal nail puller apparently stained with blood. A weeklong search of Famalaro's house has already turned up a crowbar that appears to be bloodied and some of Huber's belongings, including clothing, a purse and jewelry.

Investigators said they believe Huber was bludgeoned to death shortly after her kidnaping and then carted around in a freezer for more than three years. Costa Mesa Police Lt. Ron Smith said a crowbar would be consistent with Huber's wounds, which police have described as inflicted with a blunt but not rounded object.

Following up on a list of women's names garnered from items found during a search of Famalaro's home--including identification, credit cards and clothing, some with crimson stains--investigators have successfully located all but two.

Lt. Mascher testified that the two women were considered missing, but a relative of one of the women disputed that claim late Wednesday night, saying she is fine.

Jack Wattier III, the stepbrother of Melody Mendick, told The Times that investigators found Mendick's food stamps inside Famalaro's home. "I don't know how they got there. I don't know what the relationship is. But I understand she's OK," Wattier said.

Reached by telephone, Mendick's mother, Doris Wattier, told a reporter "everything's fine" before hanging up.

Investigators said they still want to speak with Mendick.

"Because of the nature of this crime, we still have the possibility of other victims," Costa Mesa's Lt. Smith said. "If somebody can do this once, what would stop you from doing that again, once you cross that threshold?"

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