High School Confidential

With 800 people about to be laid off at Salt River Project, Marlene Dibble of Gilbert is updating her resume. She enjoys her work as a customer service representative who negotiates the electric needs of small businesses, but Marlene is afraid that because Arizona's economy is disintegrating, she may be forced to move on. Although she has been with the utility company for twenty years, Dibble does not expect preferential consideration; she suffers no illusions about the nature of the relationship with her employer. Not that she's cynical, not at all. It's just that Marlene Dibble is a woman who has her feet on the ground.

Despite her brisk, no-nonsense demeanor, you'd be mistaken if you guessed that Marlene lacks a sense of adventure or romance.

In a life as commonsensical as the knitted afghan upon her double bed, Marlene Dibble grasps at the spirited gesture. She has taken Jesus Christ into her heart and joined the billboard-

promoted Grace Community Church in Tempe. "It's very alive and not at all like the Lutheran church of my childhood, which was not very active."

Marlene Dibble has also, in the past year, struck up a relationship with convicted double-murderer Gordon Grilz, who is locked up for life plus 21 years in the state prison in Florence, Arizona.

Two days before Christmas of 1980, Gordon Grilz, then a professor of humanities at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, filed for divorce from Linda Marie who worked as a checker at the local Safeway.

Less than two weeks later, on January 5, 1981, at approximately 9:15 p.m., he walked in the back door of his estranged wife's trailer. Linda Marie, 26, and a friend, Kim Collier Hopfinger, 25, were sitting in the kitchen.

Armed with a .30-30 rifle and a .22-caliber automatic pistol, Grilz began shooting.

Hopfinger ran out the front door toward his truck and was shot three times. Grilz then walked up behind the fallen man and fired a shell from his rifle into Hopfinger's skull.

Returning to the trailer, Grilz found his wife calling for sheriff's deputies. He fired four times and blew her away.

The couple's two children, Derek Snow, four, and Margeaux Athena, eighteen months, were in a bedroom in the trailer during the shooting.

A tape recorder at the Sheriff's Department of Coconino County picked up a message from Grilz exactly two minutes after his wife's aborted call. "Oh, God, help me, please help me. I've killed them both."

Hopfinger had been something of a jock, playing on the nationally ranked Arizona State baseball teams of Jim Brock. He was employed at Bradshaw Mountain High School as athletic director and coach of the football, basketball and baseball teams. At Hopfinger's eulogy his old teammate, Seattle Mariners pitcher Floyd Bannister, declared, "Hop wouldn't want frills said about him. He was a simple guy. But he would want one thing said--he's a Christian."

It would take confinement to prison, but eventually Hopfinger's murderer, Gordon Grilz, would become a Christian, too. Born again, Grilz counsels cons about to leave the prison, edits the state pen's Christian newsletter and plays in a religious rock band behind the walls of Florence.

Last year Gordon Grilz received a "Thinking of You" greeting from Marlene Dibble. Her card was the first effort to round up almost 300 people in the Chandler High School class of '68 for their twentieth-year reunion, which Dibble and the committee she chaired were organizing at the Sheraton San Marcos on November 25, 1988.

After the initial contact, Grilz and Dibble began to correspond. Then she was added to his list of approved visitors. The face-to-face meetings went well, and today Marlene thinks the prison system ought to be reformed so that Gordon might be paroled.

"He's not a threat to society. He's not running around robbing Circle K's. . . . I have an empathy for people who've gotten themselves in trouble and I have a different outlook on repentance. At what point do you stop punishing and allow that person to be forgiven? I'm a Christian. I think if a person really and truly is heartfelt sorry . . . ."

Dibble feels that Grilz's tragedy resulted when he was unable to control his abuse of liquor and drugs.

Marlene gained this insight when she attended Al-Anon meetings, which are organized as instructional support groups for the families of substance abusers. She went to the meetings when a twenty-year-old nephew wouldn't "accept responsibility and carried on like he was fifteen" with booze. In an effort to understand her nephew, oddly enough, she also learned to relate to double-murderer Gordon Grilz.

"I wasn't afraid of the idea he'd committed a crime," said Dibble. "Anybody could freak out and do what he'd done. Anybody could do that. He goes to see his children, she wouldn't let him. The boyfriend piped up, getting involved where he shouldn't have.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey

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