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Two-Day Rampage Leaves Trail of Death and Questions

The attacker knew one victim but also killed a bystander and a stranger. The fury ended in suicide at the Wal-Mart in Simi Valley.

June 01, 2005|Fred Alvarez, Daryl Kelley and Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writers

A 38-year-old man with a violent past went on a 16-hour rampage in Ventura County, killing three people -- including a mother who was pistol-whipped in front of her children -- and injuring five others before taking his own life Tuesday morning inside a Wal-Mart store, police said.

The deadly spree began Monday afternoon in an upscale neighborhood of Thousand Oaks when Toby Whelchel ran up the driveway of attorney Steve Mazin's home and opened fire, killing Mazin, 52, wounding the attorney's best friend and killing the friend's wife.

A motive for the attack is uncertain, but Mazin and Whelchel had a bitter history. Mazin was granted a temporary restraining order against Whelchel three years ago after telling a judge he was "dangerous and violent." In court papers, Mazin had described Whelchel as the boyfriend of his estranged wife, Joanne -- a statement she denied last year.

But what may have begun as private vengeance on Monday spiraled into highly public violence Tuesday as Whelchel eluded capture overnight and then attacked several strangers.

By the end of the rampage, Whelchel had fired at at least five people, including a sheriff's deputy; beaten five others; stolen two trucks; and had broken into a home in a gated community. There, he beat Carole Nordella, 48, who later died of her wounds, and then attacked her two youngest children, Jamie, 14, and Jeffrey, 10, as they tried to hide in a bathroom.

" 'Satan came into our home today. Let's pray he doesn't visit anyone else,' " Nordella's husband, Jeff, told a neighbor, Leslie Baker.

Whelchel fled, and less than half an hour later, shortly before 8:30 a.m., drove a pickup truck stolen from outside the Nordella home to the Wal-Mart in Simi Valley, with police in pursuit. As customers ran out of the store, Whelchel shot himself.

Records show that Whelchel, whose last formal address was in Indiana, had a history of violent charges in three states, including making terrorist threats, assaulting a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest. An Air Force captain, Whelchel was forced out of the military after a court-martial in 1999 on charges of failing to report for duty on time, records show. Police said he had worked in the Thousand Oaks area for a few years.

Mazin filed for the restraining order in October 2002 -- the same day he filed for divorce. Mazin told a Ventura County Superior Court judge that "in October of 2000, Mr. Whelchel assaulted me in my house, leaving a permanent scar on my body." Mazin said in the declaration that Whelchel and his estranged wife were living in the family home. A judge granted the restraining order late that year saying he found "clear and convincing evidence that there was a credible threat of violence committed by Mr. Whelchel against Mr. Mazin."

Court records show the two men first crossed paths after Whelchel met Joanne Mazin, 53, in 2000 at a festival at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. In a legal declaration on file in the Simi Valley courthouse, Whelchel said he had developed a festival game as a business venture, and became partners with Joanne Mazin to promote the amusement locally.

Joanne Mazin was not at her home in Thousand Oaks on Tuesday, and neighbors said she was with her son.

Whelchel also said in the declaration, a response to the request for the restraining order, that Steve Mazin had represented him in proceedings related to his court-martial and two other matters, but at some point he said he came to believe Mazin was not doing a good job.

Authorities and witnesses said Whelchel appeared at Mazin's home Monday about 4 p.m. and attacked without warning. Mazin was standing in his driveway as two longtime friends, Jan Heyne, 50, and her husband, Tim Heyne, a 51-year-old manager of rock bands, returned a boat that they had borrowed for a weekend trip to Big Bear.

Tim Heyne "was in the driveway, and some guy came running up the driveway and Tim thought it was a prank," said Heyne's brother-in-law, Mike Baumann. "It just didn't register; he thought this guy was going to give Steve a big bear hug."

Instead, the man "pulled something out from under his arm and he shot Steve point-blank, and then turned it on Tim and shot him in the chest. Tim said it spun him all the way around," Baumann said. "He heard two more shots and managed to get back to his vehicle and call 911. Then he started to go back and saw Jan face down."

Heyne described the shooting to Baumann at Los Robles Regional Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, where he was listed in serious but stable condition. Heyne works at Union Entertainment Group, which manages rock bands such as Nickleback, Cinderella, Oleander and Default.

"This bad marriage ended the best marriage I've ever seen in my entire life," Baumann said. "There was absolutely no reason for them to die," he added, referring to the Heynes. "They were just literally in the wrong place at the wrong time."

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