But the killer didn't stick to the plan. When the shooting was over, both Stahl and Oppy were dead. Then the killer left--no witnesses, no clues, not even an empty shell casing on the ground. Just a middle-aged doctor and his optometrist wife lying in their car for more than an hour before a local security guard found them in their big sleep.
The double cross has a certain logic in its treachery--bad turns on bad; injustice eats its own offspring; nobody gets off free. But it was to be almost a year before detectives from the sheriff's department worked out what happened that Saturday night, Nov. 20, 1999, on Ortega Highway in Orange County. Along the way a lot was discovered about Ken Stahl's secretive life, Carolyn's Good Samaritan reputation with her patients and the long criminal history of a man called "the Weasel."
Initially, the case seemed unsolvable. Nobody saw the killer; nobody heard any shots; there were no leads and no obvious motives. The Orange County police closed the road from Saturday night until Sunday afternoon for a search of the area but found little to go on. Was it a random killing? That would be almost impossible to solve. A contract hit? Neither of the victims had any known enemies. A robbery attempt? Nothing was missing from the car.
After going unsolved for 10 months, the case was handed over to a new team: Detectives Brian Meaney and Felipe Villalobos. Meaney had been on the force for 23 years, seven of those in narcotics. He has the tough, dour demeanor of someone who knows how bad it can get out there. Villalobos, 14 years with the police, worked gangs and sex crimes before coming to homicide but has a more empathetic, sunnier approach to life. "Brian is very intense, I do the softer approach. We feed off each other real well," says Villalobos.
The partners read over the old files, talked to more people, discussed theories--and then made a breakthrough. In a routine check of Ken Stahl's cell-phone log, the two found a large number of calls to Adriana Vasco, a receptionist at a hospital where Stahl worked. The detectives went to talk to her, and suddenly the lights went on. It turned out Vasco had been having a relationship with Stahl for a number of years, and the doctor had been supporting her with regular money payments. His 14-year marriage to Carolyn Oppy had gone stale. Sometime early in 1999, Stahl allegedly asked Vasco to find someone to kill his wife.
Stahl could have divorced his wife--they had a prenuptial agreement--but he decided to kill her. He was a lonely man in a big hurry--mortality was staring him in the face. Stahl was 57 years old, 5 ft. 11 in. and 180 lbs.; he exercised daily and ate a healthy diet. But he had had triple-bypass surgery at 37, numerous angioplasty treatments since then and, in July 1999, a quadruple-bypass operation that doctors had given him only a 20% chance of surviving. His heart was more congested than the Los Angeles freeway system. "Ken Stahl was going to die very soon. He wanted things to happen quickly," says Villalobos.
Divorced twice already, Stahl had had a string of affairs. Carolyn Oppy's sister, Linda Dubay, says Stahl, with a middling career as an anesthesiologist, was unable to live up to his family's high expectations for him. His father was a respected surgeon and CEO of a hospital. "Ken needed the ego boosts of his affairs--usually with divorced nurses, single mothers, needy individuals." Vasco fit the profile. Oppy was in the way.
Villalobos and Meaney say Vasco introduced Stahl to a man she called Tony Satton, who lived in her condominium complex in Anaheim. The two men allegedly made a deal: some $30,000 for Satton to pull the trigger, feign a robbery attempt or create another diversion and disappear. What Stahl didn't know was that Satton as well was having an affair with Vasco. What Vasco didn't know was that Satton's real name was Dennis Earl Godley of Bellarthur, N.C., that he had a criminal record longer than her arm, that he was on the run from police in two states already and that he had a history of being obsessively jealous of his women. The deceptions were piling on thick and fast.
The night of the murders, Carolyn Oppy was looking forward to dinner with her husband to celebrate her 44th birthday. "She called that day and told us Ken had a big surprise for her. She sounded hopeful," says Dubay. Oppy loved her work as an optometrist, was popular with the patients, even getting the cranky ones to loosen up and laugh with her. The one person she couldn't get through to was her husband, whose affairs saddened and angered her at the same time. She had considered divorce, but in the end, she held on, hoping Stahl would change. She had even taken several weeks off that summer to care for her husband after his quadruple-bypass surgery. "She had put up with so much and got used to it," says Dubay. "Somehow the unknown is more scary than the known."