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Clues Scarce in Slaying of Neo-Pagan

Crime: Authorities say their only leads come from the sex life of victim Duane Adam Rostoker, a charismatic bard who was said to have trouble with women.

March 16, 1997|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSION VIEJO — Shortly before midnight one night late last month, a woman returned to her single-family home on a quiet cul-de-sac here to make a grim discovery:

The bullet-riddled body of a friend and roommate, who had been sharing the home with her and her boyfriend for a few weeks.

All three tenants belonged to what its practitioners call the "neo-pagan" community of California. The victim, Duane Adam Rostoker, 37, was one of its best-known members.

The barrel-chested Rostoker was a bearded bard celebrated for his charismatic aura and a penchant for singing and songwriting that had made him a household name in neo-pagan society.

More than three weeks after the slaying, Orange County sheriff's deputies say they have neither a motive nor a suspect, only an odd set of theories--some of the same conjecture swirling through the world he inhabited, where the victim's reputation was mixed at best.

Neo-paganism, said Rostoker's friend Don Davis, is "a resurgence of Wicca--modern-day, good witchcraft--combined with Druidism, which is Celtic in origin and has to do with following the Earth, keeping in tune with the spirit of the Earth, much like Native Americans or the pre-Christian pagans of Europe."

Davis said he believes "karma" may have been the reason that Adam Walks Between Worlds--his name in pagan circles--left this world and entered another.

"Times three," Davis said, is central to the pagan philosophy--that "what you sow will come back to you threefold."

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Davis says that ever-increasing foibles in Rostoker's relationships with women may have provoked his death. Sheriff's deputies say the relationships provide one of the few leads in a puzzling investigation.

In recent months, the bear-like bard had been accused of numerous episodes of sexual harassment and even rape--though never charged nor sued in civil court.

"In the pagan world," Davis said, "that's not how we settle things. We tend to keep it among ourselves. Adam did lose his membership in the Church of All Worlds, and he was increasingly estranged from fellow pagans because of his behavior."

Orion Morris, 44, president of the Laytonville-based Church of All Worlds and publisher of its magazine, the Green Egg, said Rostoker was stripped of his membership "because of multiple accusations of sexual impropriety and an unwillingness on his part to deal with it."

Board members of the church fielded 14 written complaints and nine oral complaints from women who said they had been raped or sexually harassed by Rostoker, who, in Morris' words, "wouldn't take no for an answer."

Beyond that, he declined comment, saying he would honor the request of the Orange County Sheriff's Department not to discuss details relevant to the case.

The victim's brother, Michael Rostoker, who lives in Santa Cruz, declined comment for the same reason.

"I have the highest respect for what he accomplished and what he overcame to get there," said roommate David Fawcett, 43, whose girlfriend, Mari Maher, 31, discovered the body. "I learned a lot from Adam about integrity and keeping dreams alive in the face of great adversity. He changed my life . . . and how I live."

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Fawcett was co-producing Rostoker's first album, "Bard Song," which was scheduled for release in April.

Investigators for the Sheriff's Department say Rostoker was shot at least twice--once in the temple and once in the stomach--in a manner that suggested it was neither a robbery nor a "home invasion" but a capital crime committed with premeditated intent.

In the days since his body was found, sheriff's deputies say they have little to go on, only a growing pool of information about Rostoker's life. Authorities know "next to nothing" about the circumstances surrounding his death, one investigator said.

According to a number of friends who surfaced last week to tell his story, Rostoker belonged to pagan communities from one corner of the country to the other. He was, in their words, talented and charismatic but drawn to women in ways that often got him into trouble.

There was a glaring incident involving a woman in Baltimore, one Wiccan remembered. There was yet another in Los Angeles, another in Oakland and still another in Prescott, Ariz. Friends and adversaries alike agreed they were growing in number.

One pagan, who asked not to be quoted by name, said: "It was simple. The man was addicted to sex. He couldn't keep his hands off women. They said no; he took it as yes."

Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Ron Wilkerson said of the rape accusations: "We're looking into all his contacts, both social and business, and beyond that, I have no comment."

Rostoker's longtime manager and confidant, Parris McBride, 45, said that, although the slaying may have been committed by a fellow pagan, "there is still no strong evidence" to support that.

"I assure you," she said, "it was not some sort of occult sacrifice nonsense. We are not talking about Manson or other heebie-jeebie stuff."

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