Jeff Smith 8 p.m., Aug. 30
- Community Blog
- Postcards From the Purple Buddha
A Cold Wind Blows in Rancho Bernardo
My parents moved to the Westwood area of Rancho Bernardo in 1984. I was against the move from the beginning. For one thing, I hated the thought that I wouldn't have a home to come home to anymore; and for another, I thought those two-story houses built on the ridge above the lake represented a paradise for burglars.
"Too much money too close to the freeway," I said.
As it turned out, burglary was the least of their troubles. They did lose two cars in the first few years due to theft. My mom's Acura, which my son called "Granny's rice rocket," disappeared overnight never to be seen again.
And then his car was stolen and he was really pissed. Not only did the crooks get his textbooks from Rancho Bernardo High, they got his electric guitar too. When the car was finally found alongside the road, my parents had to pay $300 to get it out of impound in Ramona. As always, my parents took the matter in stride, but my son was ready to kill. He rigged the driveway with lights and alarms. When they went off late one night, he grabbed a gun and ran outside.
"I was so scared," my mother later said. "I wasn't worried about what the thieves would do to him; I was worried about what he'd do to the thieves."
I don't know what it is about Rancho Bernardo, but a cold wind seems to blow there. Several years later, my mom became acquainted with a woman who worked in the nursery at St. Michael's Church. She was so good with kids my mom suggested that my sister hire her to care for her spoiled brats. She urged me to hire her for my daughter as well, but being a single mom I had little money to spare for luxuries. It was the only time I can think of when being poor worked to my advantage.
My sister's two daughters were dropped off frequently at the single-story apartment complex near the corner of Rancho Bernardo Road and Bernardo Center Drive. There, the lady whose name was Marianne, allowed the girls to lounge on her son's bed while he was at work across the street. His bedroom was the only one with a television.
I remember seeing the son stocking items at the Thrifty store. He was wearing a white shirt with a black tie, was extremely polite, and had a megawatt smile that could light a stadium. Mom introduced him as Andrew. I wouldn't know until he made front page news that his last name was Cunanan. Yep. He was the guy that went on a killing spree, shot Gianni Versace in the head and then killed himself on a houseboat.
And no, I don't believe that he and Versace were ever lovers; in fact, that's probably why Andrew shot him.
I was most likely picking weeds or washing a few dishes when John Garner III was arrested in the parking lot of Hernandez Hideaway. I'd had drinks there a few weeks earlier with a friend. The restaurant is only five or so miles away from my home.
Two weeks before Chelsea King went jogging on the dirt path at Rancho Bernardo Community Park, my own daughter disappeared. My mother and I were frantic. It was after dark and Amy had gone for a walk. When she didn't come home, my mother drove off to look for her while I paced and rung my hands.
The minutes were as long as hours as I began to bargain with God. When they finally pulled up in the driveway an hour later, I breathed a massive sigh of relief. I warned Amy that she shouldn't be out at night, particularly near the park, but she rolled her eyes and scoffed. It wasn't until Chelsea's body was found near the lake a few days later that she took my warning seriously.
"I hung out down there," she said with her eyes open wide. "Chelsea could have been me."
"That's why I told you not to go out walking," I replied. "If not for the grace of God, I'd be Mrs. King."
Whenever I go to the dermatologist, I'm reminded of that horrible tragedy. Kelly worked as a receptionist for Dr. V. and sometimes waited on me. After all this time--two years to be exact--a picture of the lovely girl with the reddest hair and bright blue eyes still sits on the countertop. I know that those close to her are desperate to keep her memory alive, but those of us who didn't know her would rather forget. I think it would be best to take the picture down and let Chelsea rest in peace.
So what is it about the upscale, master-planned community that attracts monsters like Andrew and John? I may never know. But I did meet a reporter who interviewed Chelsea's coach and she too had warned the girls not to go to the park alone.