Not So Boring

Mission Viejo: The California promise?

Mission Viejo residents may have felt like celebrating last week when Kansas-based research firm Morgan Quinto Press released its annual list of America's safest cities. Basing their work on FBI crime statistics, the firm ranked Mission Viejo the nation's third-safest city—just slightly less safe than Brick Township, New Jersey, and Amherst, New York. The No. 3 slot was an improvement over last year, when Mission Viejo was America's fourth-safest city, and it marked the ninth consecutive year the city cracked the Top 10.

Given Mission Viejo's reputation as a nice, boring suburb where all the houses look the same and nothing interesting ever happens, we figured it was a good time to review some highlights of Mission Viejo's dark journey through Orange County history. For a town with such a short history, it's been home to a healthy number of victims, perpetrators and events pertaining to some truly sensational crimes.

1972: Mission Viejo won't officially become a city until 1988, but it is in this year that the O'Neill/Avery/Moiso family, which began developing Mission Viejo in 1966, sells most of the remaining acreage to tobacco company Philip Morris, whose products have killed millions of people. The city's name is itself a crime, albeit a linguistic one—it should be Mission Vieja, since the Spanish word Misin is feminine.

The Mission in question, of course, is the one at San Juan Capistrano built by hundreds of enslaved native Californians pressed into labor gangs by the Spanish. And the land where Mission Viejo now stands was once owned by Don Juan Forster, who purchased both the mission and much of the surrounding territory for a pittance from his father-in-law, Spanish Governor Pio Pico, in 1864.

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1983: On May 14, a California highway patrolman pulls over Long Beach salesman Randy Kraft for a traffic stop on a stretch of Interstate 5 running through Mission Viejo and discovers a dead Marine in Kraft's car. Kraft is later sentenced to death for murdering 16 boys and young men—many of them hitchhikers serving in the military.

1985: On Aug. 24, in the midst of a statewide murder spree that terrorized Californians, Richard "Night Stalker" Ramirez shoots 29-year-old Bill Carns three times in the head, then rapes his fiancee at their Mission Viejo home. (Amazingly, unlike most of Ramirez's victims, both survive—although they never marry and Carns is left with permanent brain damage.) A local teenager notices a suspicious vehicle parked nearby and writes down the license plate number, eventually leading to Ramirez's arrest.

1986: On Jan. 18, Andrew Urdiales, a Camp Pendleton Marine, stabs Robbin Brandley, a 23-year-old Saddleback Community College student, in the school parking lot. Urdiales goes on to commit several more murders in the next 10 years before being arrested after trying to kidnap a Chicago-area prostitute. During his trial, Urdiales argues that the CIA was giving him orders through a transmitter in his head.

On Oct. 27, a multi-agency narcotics task force raids the Mission Viejo home of ex-Laguna Beach police detective and Republican Party fundraiser Ronald Lister—a house he purchased for more than $300,000 in cash. During the raid, agents recover boxes of ammunition, police scanners, documents pertaining to Lister's international security work for right-wing regimes in Latin America—but no drugs. Lister says he knew his house was being watched and claims he worked for the CIA. He later serves prison time for unrelated cocaine trafficking.

1997: Steven J. Frogue, a high school history teacher and member of the local school district board of trustees, tries to get his colleagues to sign off on his proposed Saddleback Community College course on the greatest "unsolved" crime in U.S. history—the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Frogue's hypothesis: Jews killed Kennedy. Frogue draws additional controversy by speaking favorably of the Orange County-based Institute for Historical Review, which denies that the greatest crime in history—the Nazi Holocaust—ever took place. Amid cries of anti-Semitism, Frogue never gets to teach his class.

2001: In July, two gang members brutally rape a pair of teenage girls in Black Star Canyon and severely beat their boyfriends, both of whom were from Mission Viejo.

2002: Lori Fischer, a mentally disturbed Mission Viejo resident, surreptitiously places razor blades, nails, and broken glass in the sand at several Orange County parks. Fischer first comes to the attention of police when she offers help in solving the crime and then is caught with razor blades at a Mission Viejo park. The next year, a judge sentences her to five years in state prison for violating her probation by not taking her medication and possessing boxes of nails.

2003: On July 3, a stark-naked Tamara Bohler slices the throat of her boyfriend Jean-Marc Weber while he's asleep in his Mission Viejo condominium. When Weber runs to get help, Bohler stabs his 13-year-old son to death. Prosecutors later argue Bohler was angry because Weber had caused her to be arrested for drunk driving. A jury rejects her insanity plea, convicting her of murder and attempted murder. She awaits sentencing.

2004: On Jan. 8, a mountain lion attacks Mission Viejo resident Anne Hjelle while she rides her bike in nearby Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Hjelle survives thanks to other cyclists who throw rocks at the beast, and recovers from her injuries after receiving cosmetic surgery to her neck and face.

2005:In February, Douglas Bates, an off-duty Homeland Security officer, shoots 18-year-old Bassim Chmait in the head during a late-night argument at a Mission Viejo apartment complex. Chmait and his friends are on their way to a party when Bates confronts them about noise. Bates has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and awaits trial.

In May, Michael Kirby Rice of Ladera Ranch commits suicide after murdering William James Fulco at his Mission Viejo home. According to suicide notes he left behind, Rice thought Fulco had molested his son and blamed police for failing to stop the abuse, although police say there's no evidence Fulco did the crime.

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