Ford has said he was not close to his father, Calvin E. Ford, who served 13 years in the Army and was a staff sergeant when he left in 1969. Now 60, he lives in Napa.
Anonymous relatives told the San Jose Mercury News that Ford blamed some of his problems on his mother, who reportedly divorced his father when Ford was 12, then disappeared from her sons' lives. Ford responded with sarcasm to that report. "This all started with my mom. It always does, doesn't it?" Ford told one investigator.
Ford's family moved often as he was growing up, living in Eureka, Sonoma County, Okinawa. He attended Eureka High School in 1977, but didn't graduate there.
In 1979, Ford joined the Marines. He told investigators he had hoped to be a career soldier. Trained as a chemical weapons specialist, he worked his way up to sergeant, but was demoted to corporal at one point, according to military records.
Ford, then 19, married Karen Kelly Dick in May 1981. He has told investigators that he had a mental and physical breakdown after the marriage disintegrated in 1984. Ford's military records say he was admitted to the Naval Hospital in San Diego in September 1984 and honorably discharged from the service in January 1985.
After his discharge, Ford drifted from job to job in Southern California. In January 1986, he was arrested on suspicion of beating, raping and robbing a prostitute in Garden Grove, according to police records. But he was never convicted of that attack, and there is no record of court action in the case, which officers say they can't remember.
In 1990, Ford got a job as a bus driver for the Capistrano Unified School District, driving children to and from the R.H. Dana Exceptional Needs facility in Dana Point.
"To the drivers, he was a quiet guy," says Daniel Crawford, assistant superintendent for the district. "He showed up every day and was conscientious and wanted to do a good job."
Ford Shoots a Dog to Death
James Fleming, the district superintendent, says he and Crawford were shocked to learn what Ford has allegedly confessed.
"When I see what he's accused of doing, and I realize he was anywhere near schoolchildren, I'm mortified," Fleming says.
Sometime between 1990 and 1995, Ford took a night job driving a tow truck for B&M Towing in San Clemente. In another scrape with the law, he was questioned by police for shooting the company's guard dog to death, an act he said was in self-defense. But the towing company manager didn't buy Ford's version of the story.
"He was upset because the dog was barking," says the man, who declined to give his name. "He kept firing rounds in the dog after it was dead."
In 1994, Ford married Ault in Las Vegas. She was 21 and he was 32. In December 1995, their son was born in Mission Viejo.
Shortly after that, the marriage apparently began to crumble and in 1996, Ford moved by himself into Arcata's Town and Country Mobile Home Village. It is next to the Mad River, sandwiched between two concrete companies. Ford went to work for one, Arcata ReadiMix, as a truck driver.
The nerve-jangling rat-a-tat of gravel mixers can be heard all day at the trailer park. Gigantic mounds of gravel scooped from the riverbed rise above the fence that separates the park from ReadiMix.
Ford moved into the space next to Dan Ames, a concrete pourer who has been living there 19 years. A religious man, Ames found his new neighbor to be quiet, friendly, and troubled.
"I could tell that he was wrestling with something bigger than himself," Ames says. "He talked about his wife and how he was angry with her. He talked about how much he missed his son. That's why I started talking about the Bible with him, about the hope contained in the Bible."
'I Want to . . . Blow My Brains Out'
Sometime within the last year, Ford was laid off by ReadiMix, but quickly landed a new job, driving a long-haul truck for nearby Edeline Enterprises. Investigators say the truck had a large cab with two beds, a refrigerator and other amenities.
On Oct. 14, Ford had a minor brush with the law. A Vallejo, Calif., officer cited him for driving his big rig on a non-trucking route. Authorities say Ford was issued a traffic ticket in an area known to be frequented by prostitutes.
Then, on Nov. 2, the day before he turned himself in, Ford walked into the Ocean Grove Lodge, a bar, motel and restaurant just off U.S. 101 in the small northern Humboldt County town of Trinidad.
Marco Ibarra, who owns the lodge, says the trucker started drinking heavily--rum and Cokes, beers, Irish coffees. In a rough bar with a clientele of mostly fishermen and loggers, Ibarra says he had seen Ford once before.
"He drank a lot," Ibarra says. "I asked him if he was OK. He said: 'I want to get drunk and go up to my room and blow my brains out.' "