The sailboats bobbing at backyard docks, the ocean breezes rippling the bougainvillea, the walkers greeting each other on their morning rounds: Ventura Keys was the picture of tranquillity until an unexplained stabbing took the life of a 61-year-old woman as she lay in bed. The death of Wendy DiRodio came two weeks after the slayings of Brock and Davina Husted, both 42, who encountered an intruder in their beach home just nine miles up the coast. They too were stabbed.
On Friday, two days after DiRodio's death, friends and neighbors mourned her loss.
A psychotherapist and avid swing dancer, DiRodio had written a book about the joy of having pets and had just completed another called "Relationships Illuminated: Choosing Your Way to Love."
Her death cast a pall over a community of swing-dance fans in Santa Barbara as well as the Ventura neighborhood where she shared a house with her aging parents, David and Florence Silver.
"Everyone's on guard," said a neighbor who, like many others, asked that her name not be used. "Everyone's wondering what will happen next."
She said one of her friends felt a lash of anxiety when she discovered an unfamiliar shirt in her home. Then she remembered that a workman had left it behind.
Near Ventura Harbor, the Keys neighborhood sits amid channels that allow many homes, though not DiRodio's, their own docks. The home page for the Keys' website features a tide table, announcements of community barbecues and a city number to call for removal of storm-downed palm fronds.
Will Hoag, a retired Ventura County personnel manager who has lived in the Keys for 36 years, said he was determined not to overreact to the tragedy just down the street.
"I don't want to sit in fear with the doors closed," he said.
Police said Friday they were trying to determine whether links exist between DiRodio's death and the May 20 slaying of the Husteds at their home in the gated community of Faria Beach. The couple were killed by a helmet-wearing intruder while their two children, ages 9 and 11, were home. DiRodio was killed while her elderly parents were home, police said.
Investigators recovered a knife in the Husted home. They have not found the weapon that killed DiRodio, said Sgt. Jack Richards, a spokesman for the Ventura Police Department.
Investigators in both cases met Friday afternoon.
"Victims with multiple stab wounds in beachfront-type residences: Those are obvious similarities that cause us concern," said Capt. Ross Bonfiglio of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating the Faria Beach killings.
DiRodio was divorced several years ago and had moved in with her parents to help care for her father, now 91, who is in poor health, according to friends. The family also employed a caretaker, who was not in the house when DiRodio's body was found, police said.
In Santa Barbara, friends recalled DiRodio as a fun-loving woman who gave swing classes at a city recreation center.
"She loved to laugh," said Rick Harmon, her dance partner for the last several years. "We taught a beginners' class before the Friday night dances, and I asked her to help me keep it light and make it a relaxing place to be. She was a playful dance partner who always liked to do things to throw me off."
DiRodio had a new boyfriend and recently purchased a home in Goleta, he said.
Her funeral will be Sunday in Camarillo.