"Obsession is a dangerous possession."
- Tina Bridget
It was the 27th of July 1999. A Tuesday. Sixty year old Guy Thomas Tom Whitney had arranged to give a piano lesson to one of his students at his condominium in Irvine, California, United States. He taught voice and piano. The student and her father arrived at the condominium but immediately left. Her father believed he saw a body. He called 911.
When police arrived at the condominium, they encountered a violent scene. There was blood everywhere. It was all over the condominium, on the floors, smeared across the walls, on the banisters and even on the ceiling. There was a strong smell of gas and they discovered that the stove burners had been turned on but there was no flame.
Police found two men inside the condominium, Tom and his fifty one year old partner Lawrence Wong, and they were both dead. Tom and Lawrence had been in a relationship for just six months and it was an exciting time for the couple. Lawrence had recently moved in to Tom's condominium which overlooked the Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course. Lawrence was a classical musician so they shared a love of music and were a great match. Those who knew them described them as mild mannered, kind and gentlemen. So who would murder them in such a vicious and violent manner?
Both Tom and Lawrence had been stabbed to death. The evidence indicated they were both initially attacked while they lay asleep in bed together in the master bedroom and the attack continued throughout the condominium. Tom was found at the bottom of the stairs and had been stabbed thirty six times and seven of the stab wounds were to his face. Lawrence was found at the side of the bed in the master bedroom and had been stabbed twenty five times.
Police searched the condominium. There was no sign that anything was missing and there was no evidence of forced entry. They found two knives in the kitchen that were covered in blood. There were bloody footprints throughout the condominium and police believed the two men were attacked by one person who used two knives. It appeared that the attacker was already inside the home or let themselves in either by having access to a key or via an unlocked door. Did Tom and Lawrence know their killer?
Due to the number of stab wounds and the severity of the attack, police did not believe it was a random killing. They believed it was a crime of passion and looked at a former long term partner of Lawrence. But, when they spoke to him, he provided an alibi and they were able to confirm and corroborate it. He also had bigger feet than the bloody footprints left at the scene.
A search of the condominium confirmed that Tom seemed to know someone who was obsessed with him. A man, named Vincent Choy Cheung, sent almost one hundred cards and love letters to Tom. They met when Tom sold his car to Vincent and they dated briefly before Tom ended the relationship and began a new one with Lawrence. Police discovered that Vincent was a convicted thief and there was a warrant out for his arrest on a parole violation. They arrested him at a hotel he was staying in on foot of that warrant on the 29th of July and asked him questions about Tom's death. Police observed that he had a superficial laceration on the center of his chest less than an inch long.
Vincent told police that he had no idea who killed Tom and Lawrence. But police had already been made aware through the course of their investigation that Vincent was obsessed with Tom. They discovered that when Tom ended his relationship with Vincent, Vincent didn't just send cards and love letters to him, he also called to Tom's home uninvited and left gifts at the door. There were occasions when he pounded on the door asking to be let inside, he also entered the condominium before when nobody was home and he was seen multiple times standing outside the condominium.
When police questioned him on his behavior towards Tom, Vincent told them that he last saw Tom on the 15th of April and he acknowledged that he waited for Tom to return home for his Birthday and he followed him into the garage that day and pounded on the door. He further acknowledged some of his behavior was indicative of stalking. But he claimed that he was nowhere near Tom's home the night he was murdered and was at home asleep. He told police that he was shocked Tom was dead. When police spoke to Vincent's mother, who he lived with at the time, she told them that she had not seen her son for two to three weeks.
Police discovered that Vincent had checked into a hotel on the 27th of July, the same day the bodies were found. On a calendar at his home, the 27th of July was marked and the word Goodbye was written on it. Police asked him what that meant and he told them that he planned to kill himself that day. But police didn't believe him. One of Vincent's friends told police that on the 27th of July, Vincent sent him a text message which read:
“I did it.”
Police asked Vincent about the cards and letters he sent to Tom. He told police that Tom had rejected them.
Police searched his house and the car he purchased from Tom. His blood was found in the car along with Tom's blood and Lawrence's blood.
When police told Vincent they would take impressions of his footprints using ink and rolls of butcher paper to compare them with the bloody footprints found in Tom's home, they observed that he appeared to crinkle up his toes to make his feet smaller as he walked. He was told to straighten them out.
Vincent was charged with two counts of first degree murder.
It was the Prosecution case that Vincent killed both Tom and Lawrence because Vincent was obsessed with Tom and wanted to be in a relationship with him. He didn't want him to be in a relationship with Lawrence. The Court heard that Tom and Vincent met sometime between late December 1998 and early January 1999 when Tom sold Vincent a car. They began dating but their relationship only lasted a few months. Tom ended the relationship and entered into a new one with Lawrence. And that was when the obsessive and dangerous incidents began.
The Court heard that in April 1999, Vincent told his friends about the breakup and that he was upset about it. His friends described him as heartbroken.
The Court heard testimony from one of Tom's friends, a man named Bolen High. He testified that on the 15th of April, he called Tom to wish him a Happy Birthday and during that conversation, Tom told Bolen that he saw Vincent outside his home. According to Bolen, Tom said:
"Oh my god, he's back again. I think he's trying to get into the house."
Bolen testified that Tom was hysterical and said that Vincent had become obsessive and had gotten into the house twice already and was there again pounding on the door.
Bolen advised him to report the matter to the police but Tom declined as he felt it was an embarrassing situation.
The Prosecution called another friend, a man named Delton Schilling, to testify. Delton testified that he would often visit Tom at his home but he recalled on one occasion Tom asked him to get out of the car as he drove into the garage. Tom told him that he wanted to make sure no one followed them inside. Delton told the Court that when he was inside the garage, he saw a number of boxes that Tom told him were from Vincent.
The Court heard further testimony in relation to those boxes from Nina Rasmussen. Nina testified that she helped Tom clear out his garage and that "half the garage was filled with delivery boxes, Fed-Ex, mail, pouches, all different sizes."
She testified that they opened around sixty boxes the day that she was there. She told the Court that Tom used to keep a spare key to the condominium outside but he stopped doing that in June as he was worried.
The Court heard that Vincent had several petty theft convictions, and in June an order was made that he should be deported. He was due in Court on the 15th of July but didn't show up so a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. At that time, he was still in California and a number of his friends testified that they heard from him around that time. Vincent sent a letter to his sister in July which said goodbye.
On the 26th of July, Vincent sent a package to Phanthong Mesomsub. The package included his green card and an envelope marked "top secret" and "my final words and instructions." Vincent was supposed to meet Phanthong that night but didn't show up. Phanthong wasn't concerned as it was not out of character for Vincent to just not show up. Another friend, Alex Varden, saw Vincent the next day at around 11am. According to Alex, Vincent told him he was moving to Hong Kong and would not be back. That same day, the 27th of July, Vincent met a friend, Robert Furman, for lunch and told him that:
"I won't be here tomorrow. This is the last time you may ever see me."
At 6pm that evening, he checked into the hotel where he was later found by police. The next morning, he called Phanthong and said that he was outside Tom's condominium when Tom was murdered. He said:
"I know who did it but I didn't do it."
Phanthong asked Vincent who did it and Vincent replied:
The Court heard that bloody footprints were found throughout the condominium and about the footprint impressions that the police took from Vincent. An expert on footprint impressions testified and told the Court that it appeared the bloody footprints at the condominium were made by someone wearing socks. The expert compared them with the impressions police took from Vincent, who was wearing socks at the time, and testified that there were no inconsistencies with the bloody footprints found at Tom's house and it was their opinion that Vincent's footprints could have been the footprints found in Tom's home.
The Court heard that blood was found in Vincent's car and the Prosecution called Forensic Scientist Mary Hong to testify. She found that the sample obtained from the car contained a mixture of DNA from three people; Vincent, Tom and Lawrence. Even though Tom sold Vincent the car and they dated and Tom would have been in the car several times, there was no evidence that Lawrence had ever been in the car. The car was sold to Vincent prior to Tom entering into a relationship with Lawrence.
The Court also heard that the blood found on the knives in Tom's kitchen belonged to Tom and Lawrence but that DNA had also been obtained from the handle of one of the knives and it seemed consistent with Vincent's DNA. However, that could not be stated with any degree of certainty as the DNA that was found on the handle was a low amount.
It was the Defense case that Vincent was innocent and somebody else killed Tom and Lawrence. They argued that as Vincent and Tom dated, it was inevitable that his DNA would be found at Tom's home. They queried the tests that were carried out on the blood found in the car and questioned whether it was reliable or not due to the method used for testing the DNA. They also argued that the DNA found on the handle of the knife should be completely disregarded due to inconclusive results.
The Defense told the Court that Vincent did meet with friends and said goodbye to them in July but that was due to Vincent's plan to take his own life and had nothing to do with the murder.
The Jury deliberated for four days and found Vincent guilty of both counts of first degree murder. The Jury also found true the enhancement allegations that Vincent personally used a dangerous or deadly weapon to commit the murders and the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders.
He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus one year for count one and the related enhancement and twenty five years to life for count two.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
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