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Killer May Have Had Kidnapping Plans

Crime: Richard Willsey brought handcuffs to La Habra shooting scene and had speculated about torturing his victims, police say.

February 03, 1999|NANCY WRIDE and PHIL WILLON and NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Richard W. Willsey may have planned to kidnap his estranged wife and her boyfriend from their La Habra rental home and take them to the desert to torture and kill them, authorities said Tuesday.

Instead, the 60-year-old trucker ambushed them after dawn Monday and gunned them down before he shot himself in their living room, police said.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 4, 1999 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 5 Metro Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
La Habra shootings--The last name of a victim in the La Habra double murder-suicide was misspelled in Wednesday's Times. His name was Dennis Hoefs.

Willsey, who died at the scene with his victims, Nancy Willsey and Dennis Loefs, had brought duct tape and handcuffs in addition to two assault rifles, a semiautomatic pistol and more than 150 rounds of ammunition, said acting La Habra Police Chief John Rees.

And Willsey had made that and other threats before, police said.

Whittier police "learned that he had told the victims and others that he was going to kidnap these people, handcuff them or tie them up, and take them out to the desert and [torture] them," said one police official who asked not to be identified. He said Willsey had shared this plan with "people he knew."

"Because the handcuffs and the tape were there [at the scene], there appear to be those consistencies there that, if the plan had not gone awry, we probably would have gotten a call later in the day saying, 'Hey, these two people didn't show up for work today. Can you go by the house?' "

For reasons that will probably haunt both family and friends, the man they knew as Dick Willsey armed himself with high-powered weaponry that police believe was illegal, and drove a rented red Buick to the small home shared by the woman who had left him in 1996 for another man.

Nancy Willsey and boyfriend Dennis Loefs, co-workers at a Santa Fe Springs tool manufacturer, were inside as her estranged husband hid.

About 6 a.m., La Habra police said, Loefs, 59, stepped out the back door to go to work. Willsey started firing.

Wounded, Loefs crawled back into the kitchen, where Willsey shot him again and killed him. Police said Nancy Willsey, 51, heard the gunfire and bolted for the front of the small home as her estranged husband fired at her. A neighbor watched the gunman drag her back into the living room, where he shot himself in the head and collapsed.

The ongoing police investigation focused Tuesday on the legality and origin of Willsey's arsenal and how a man already convicted of felony threats toward the couple could obtain them.

One of the assault rifles and a semiautomatic Taurus 9mm pistol had the serial numbers ground off, suggesting they were stolen or illegal, La Habra Police Capt. Terry Rammell said.

The FBI and Department of Justice were helping trace the ownership of the guns, he said, particularly the assault rifles, which as foreign-made weapons were subject to federal import bans issued in 1998 by President Clinton. But without knowing when Willsey acquired the guns, authorities could not be certain.

"There are so many variables that make these things legal or illegal," Rammell said.

"He could have bought them legally and modified them. With a $15 part and a bit of skill, the guns could be converted to fully automatic," thus rendering them illegal.

The weapons that Willsey took to the La Habra home were among numerous guns he had owned in recent years. After Nancy Willsey told Whittier police that he had threatened to kill Loefs in June 1997, officers arrested him and searched his home.

Court records show that they seized three handguns, ammunition, gun and survivalist magazines, a book on shotgun combat techniques, a laser device that illuminates a target, and a cassette for a secret telephone taping device. Perhaps most chilling, police found an electric device similar to a cattle prod.

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Willsey pleaded guilty in July 1997 to a charge of felony terrorist threats. Rammell gave this account of how that case had developed:

Nancy Willsey left her husband in mid-1996. In June 1997, she went to his home to discuss their finances. Richard Willsey said he wanted her to move back in and give their marriage another try, but she was already living with Loefs at his Whittier apartment and told her estranged husband that was not going to happen. Willsey then went to his bedroom and returned with what she thought was an Uzi assault gun and told her, "Dennis is history."

She left and told her boyfriend about the threats. Loefs called Willsey to ask why he was making threats. The response: "This is not a threat, it's a promise. I'm going to blow you away."

Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lynch said Tuesday that he was alarmed by the allegations of the case, to such a degree that he told deputies, "This guy could be for real." But of the three felony counts against Willsey, only the least serious--making threats--held up in court.

Willsey agreed to plead guilty in return for a suspended 16-month prison sentence and three years' probation. He would go to prison only if he violated the conditions of his probation, which included leaving the couple alone and not having weapons, authorities said.

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