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Orange County | Dana Parsons

Network Turns Its Eye on O.C.'s Celebrity Murder Trial

April 24, 2002|Dana Parsons

It's a celebrity murder case that has proved irresistible to TV's legal experts. And why not? It took police awhile--a year, in fact--to make their case. They have a theory as to who did it but no witness. Proving it in court is far from a sure thing.

By now, much of America knows the outlines of the Robert Blake case, in which the former TV star is accused of killing his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, while she sat in their car.

But Orange County has its own celebrity murder--one with the same dark themes, a delayed arrest, no witnesses--but much richer in intrigue. Last week, Michael Goodwin was ordered to stand trial for the 1988 murders of former business partner Mickey Thompson and Thompson's wife, Trudy.

Thompson was the first American racer to break the 400-mph land speed barrier. He and Goodwin had a tumultuous business partnership that ended in acrimony and a court ruling against Goodwin that forced him to declare bankruptcy.

Long suspected by Thompson family members, Goodwin wasn't arrested until last year, 131/2 years after the killings. He has adamantly protested his innocence.

But while the national media zeroes in on Blake, little has been said about Goodwin. That might change next month when CBS airs an installment of "48 Hours" that promises to take a close look at the pending drama of the Goodwin trial.

"We were attracted because we see it as a fascinating cold case," CBS producer Katie Boyle says. "And we were able to get exclusive, intimate access to Collene Campbell and Michael Goodwin, the two sides in a fascinating murder."

Campbell, a longtime south Orange County political figure and Thompson's sister, made it clear early on that she believed Goodwin arranged the murders. She is believed to have led the drive to have authorities investigate his role.

"She has been a force of nature and has been instrumental in keeping attention focused on the unsolved murder of her brother and sister-in-law," Boyle says.

"48 Hours" has conducted extensive interviews with Campbell and Goodwin, Boyle says. The yearlong research for the program, scheduled to air May 20, included interviews with a number of other friends and business associates of Thompson and Goodwin, as well as Goodwin's lawyer and Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

"We're not trying to solve this case," Boyle says. "We're just trying to tell the story of a sister who believes she knows who killed her brother and his wife since the day they were gunned down. On the other side is a man who says he's been unfairly hunted and persecuted for 14 years."

Boyle, a senior CBS producer who supervised the Goodwin segment, says the Goodwin case is a first-rate drama. "I think it became more fascinating the deeper we dug into the story," she says. "We discovered all kinds of twists and turns that make it very compelling drama."

Calling Thompson a "real American hero," Boyle says, "it's incredible that 13 years went by before someone was arrested."

She's happy to have the show publicized, but it doesn't need my hyping. For all the reasons Boyle cites, it's a story inherently more compelling than the Blake case. "I think it's among the most interesting mysteries we've ever investigated," she says.

I ask Boyle if, after a year in putting the story together, the "48 Hours" team reached any conclusions about whether Goodwin ordered the hit on the Thompsons.

"I'd rather not say what we found," she says. "I'm not trying to be coy. But we haven't written the last act yet."

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Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He may be reached by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to

dana.parsons@latimes.com.

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