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Killer's Behavior Had Grown More Bizarre, Authorities Say

Officials say Jennifer Sanmarco harassed a clerk, talked loudly to herself, chopped her hair and acted as though she was delivering mail.

February 02, 2006|Steve Chawkins and Jill Leovy | Times Staff Writers

GOLETA, Calif. — Beverly Graham's condo lay across a curving garden path from Jennifer Sanmarco's back patio -- a proximity that was too close for Graham's comfort. From time to time, Graham thought about calling the police on her unruly neighbor, but her boyfriend advised against it.

"She's just nuts," he'd say.

Sanmarco had not lived in Graham's condo complex in Goleta for three years, but authorities Wednesday said it was clear that Graham was Sanmarco's first victim in the Monday night shooting rampage that left five dead at a postal facility in Goleta. Sanmarco, 44, who used to work at the facility, then turned the gun on herself.

Postal officials identified the victims who died Monday as: Ze Fairchild, 37, of Santa Barbara; Dexter Shannon, 57, of Oxnard; Nicola Grant, 42, of Lompoc; Guadalupe Swartz, 42, of Lompoc; and Maleka Higgins, 28, of Santa Barbara.

Charlotte Colton, another victim of the shooting at the postal facility, died Wednesday.

"Jennifer was crazy," said Graham's boyfriend, Eddie Blomfield. "She'd stand outside and sing as loud as she could, she'd go on tirades. Bev would open the door and tell her to shut up."

At other times, he said, the two would run into each other on the street and Sanmarco would offer a cordial hello, as if there had never been any unpleasantness between them.

The erratic behavior was in keeping with comments from Sanmarco's former co-workers and neighbors and from officials in the New Mexico village of Milan, where Sanmarco was a regular, and unwelcome, presence at municipal offices.

According to village Manager Carlos Montoya, Sanmarco began picking on a utility clerk for no apparent reason, yelling at the employee and making bizarre accusations. Often, she would stomp out, talking to herself and gesturing wildly before driving her car back and forth in front of the office.

The problem became so acute, Montoya said, that he arranged to have the employee hide behind a security door when Sanmarco came by.

Authorities on Wednesday were still piecing together the events that triggered Sanmarco's deadly attacks. It remained unclear, police said, whether she targeted her victims at the postal facility or whether they were targets of opportunity.

Asked at a news conference whether Sanmarco, who was white, deliberately aimed at people of color, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson said investigators had not yet sorted out her motive.

Except for one man, all of Sanmarco's victims were women. But whether their gender played a role in the rampage remains another mystery. The last to die, Colton, 44, had been critically injured and was being treated at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

The mother of three boys, Colton, of Santa Barbara, was a supervisor who helped run training programs at the mail processing and distribution center.

"I just adored her," said Judy Bartlein, whose 12-year-old son Jake is in a Boy Scout troop that Colton helped lead.

"She took the Scouts on a tour of the postal facility last year," Bartlein said. "Everybody was really friendly to her and she seemed to be so well-liked. There was really a good feeling in the air."

Colton died about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. Graham's body was discovered by Blomfield Tuesday night, a day after authorities had begun combing the postal facility for evidence.

When he let himself into his girlfriend's condo, Blomfield thought she had fallen down the stairs. She was sprawled on the floor. Puddles of blood had soaked through the beige carpeting of the stairway behind her.

Graham, 54, had been shot once in the head with a 9-millimeter handgun -- the same kind of gun that was used to spray bullets through the postal facility. She and Sanmarco had been neighbors until Sanmarco sold her unit three years ago. She moved to New Mexico the following year.

At Graham's apartment Wednesday, Blomfield and five stunned relatives sat in a living room still spattered with blood.

A Nordstrom gift bag -- left over from a shopping expedition Blomfield and Graham undertook for her birthday last week -- sat on the stair. Outside, guests were greeted by signs of a placid, well-tempered life -- a Buddha statue by the door, a miniature wind chime weighted with Chinese coins.

"She was such a trusting person," said Nita Graham, 75, Beverly's mother. "She was way too trusting. I kept telling her, 'You live alone; have a peephole installed in your door.' "

Sanmarco apparently scaled a fence and gained entry to Graham's condo through an unlocked, sliding-glass door in the rear, police said.

Neighbors told investigators that they heard what could have been gunshots between 7:15 and 8:15 p.m. Monday. Several 9-millimeter shell casings were found in the apartment.

"The police told me she couldn't have lived long," Blomfield said. "They said she went quick."

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