The Weekly now has an eighth example of Orange County strip club-related mayhem.
But it happened way back in 1987.
The addition to our "From the Vaults" list comes courtesy of a 59-year-old man being convicted Tuesday of slaying the owner of the Mustang Topless Theater and raping his girlfriend in their Buena Park condo in January of '87.
Here's our list before Nos. 8 and 9 are added:
The case also turns up in this Weekly cover story:
That piece includes what will be our new No. 8 mayhem entry. On May 1, 1987, just a week before Avila of Orange County's Avila Mexican food restaurant chain family was murdered in a cocaine-related case, local mobsters Joseph Angelo Grosso and Michael Anthony Rizzitello forced Bill Carroll, one of the Mustang club's investors, to a Costa Mesa parking garage. The two men were angry because Carroll had barred them from the club for selling coke. They shot him through the face, blinding him, but he survived, and both men were convicted of attempted murder and sent to prison, where Rizzitello later died.
As reporter Nick Schou observes in his piece, the attempted murder of Carroll and murders of Avila and Mustang owner Jimmy Casino (real name James Lee Stockwell) were part of a string of assassinations, professional and otherwise, that occurred over a short period in the '80s, "spotlighting the city's status as a playground (and killing field) for shady businessmen, drug kingpins and organized crime figures affiliated with what cops dubbed the 'Mickey Mouse Mafia,' who reveled in Newport Beach's glamorous lifestyle and coke-fueled nightlife scene."
Here's how Schou described the hit on Casino, who possessed a three-decades-long rap sheet and heavy debts to the Mickey Mouse Mafia:
On Jan. 1, 1987, 48-year-old Jimmy Lee Casino, the owner of the Mustang Topless Theater, a Santa Ana strip club, returned to his Buena Park home after attending a New Year's Eve party with his 22-year-old girlfriend. As the LA Times later reported, two "masked and armed intruders were waiting. The intruders tied up and raped his girlfriend and dragged Casino downstairs. They ransacked the condo, taking jewelry, furs, credit cards and two cars." Then they shot Casino three times in the head.
The case went cold for decades. Then, in May 2008, Richard C. Morris Jr. was arrested in Hawaii for drunken driving and DNA evidence was taken from him. A crime database found a match to evidence collected in the Casino murder. Morris was arrested at his home in Oahu in 2008 and extradited to Orange County in connection with the shooting.
A DNA match also linked Morris to the killing of a Pasadena grocery store owner in May 1987, a crime he was charged with in April 2010. But an Orange County judge dismissed that case for lack of jurisdiction. Los Angeles County prosecutors have not filed charges against Morris in the slaying that happened during a robbery.
In the Casino case, Morris tried to blame the murder on a man who used one of the strip club owner's credit cards after his death. Initially a suspect, the credit-card thief was never charged with Casino's murder.
Investigators also considered three-striker Frank Randazzo a suspect while he was serving life sentences for crimes in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. He tried to cut a deal to reveal Casino's murderer in exchange for a reduced sentence and needed heart surgery, but the deal fell through when his statements could not be tied to what the DNA evidence was showing. Randazzo later admitted to lying and died in prison. But his taped statements were played to jurors in the Morris case.
Martin Schwarz of the Orange County Public Defender's Office told jurors that Randazzo admitted to authorities he orchestrated Casino's killing, which was ordered by someone who held one of the strip-club owner's debts. Randazzo had claimed he hired three men for the job paying $25,000.
Theories abound as to the identity of who put out the hit and was with Morris in the Buena Park condo in '87. Believe it or not, investigators are still actively trying to figure out those identities, Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray told City News Service.
The prosecutor called the pursuit of justice in the case "a testimony to the investigators who continue to investigate cold cases years after most people would think the case was forgotten." He singled out for praise investigators Rick Morton and Nick Volz of the Orange County District Attorney's Organized Crime unit, who doggedly pursued the case since 1987.
Murray added he "felt very good" about jurors finding Morris guilty after nearly a day of deliberations of first-degree murder and finding true special circumstance allegations of murder for financial gain and murder during a rape and robbery. The statute of limitations prevented a rape charge.
Morris could get life in prison without the possibility of parole at his scheduled June 14 sentencing in Santa Ana.
As for that diverse town's Mustang Topless Theater on Harbor Boulevard, it is long gone. After surviving many arson attempts over the years, it mysteriously burned to the ground in 1988. So I guess that gives us a round number of 10 examples of Orange County strip club mayhem.