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'Til Death Do Us Part

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"Yes, I went out more than I should have," Brian concedes. "But I was at home with the kids more than people think I was. Me and Judi had an arrangement, a deal between us. We didn't cheat unless we cheated together. I thought that meant in drugs, too, like doing something together or maybe with other adults on a holiday or special occasion."

Brian says "cheating together" meant an occasional sexual threesome with another woman. Judi's friends insist she went along with the arrangement to keep the fragile peace with her husband.

Says best friend Tamra Coalwell: "People do things sometimes to make it through the day. Their whole relationship put me in a bad spot, because Judi knew I didn't like Brian, even though our friendship was forever."

Another friend, Joellen Wick, describes Judi as "a sweet North Dakota girl who had met this big-city wanna-be who had a lot of plans and was a schemer. All kinds of guys had fallen for her, though she liked the bad boys -- she really did. She wanted it all, he promised it to her, and she bought it."

Brian was a bad boy, who sneered and leered at the world around him. A native of Valparaiso, Indiana, he was the oldest of three children born into a middle-class family. His father was an alcoholic who died at 41. His parents divorced when Brian was a teenager, and his mother died of cancer at the age of 40.

"My mom was never home, and that meant a lot of freedom for us kids," he says. "I smoked so much pot by the time I was 17 that I got sick of it and just stopped."

Brian says his mother sent him to Chicago in the late 1970s to live with an uncle. He says he worked menial jobs there until a buddy convinced him in December 1979 to move to San Francisco. There, Brian says he delivered dental supplies by day and worked in a bar at night.

"Brian always took a lot more risks than the average person around here, such as leaving here for good," says his sister, Charlisa Eftenoff-Fox, who still lives in her hometown. (She and her husband have been serving as surrogate parents to Rikki and Nickolas Eftenoff since Brian's arrest.) "I always said that he'd either end up on Skid Row or become a millionaire."

Brian says he embraced his new West Coast lifestyle, including the illegal drugs that abundantly came his way. "I got into cocaine, way into it, and that led me into some real bad things," he says.

Those bad things include a felony criminal record. Asked about it by New Times, Brian summarized that part of his life tersely: "I ended up in jail for two years for buying stolen property when I was a kid. What's that have to do with whether I killed my wife, anyway?"

Eftenoff did serve prison time in the 1980s on the receiving stolen property charge, though his criminal escapades went much farther than that.

For example, Los Angeles County records show that, on May 17, 1983, Brian and another man broke into a Beverly Hills home and stole more than $100,000 in rare coins and other items. During the heist, they happened upon a maid who was alone inside the house.

"I screamed and my mouth was covered," she later told police. One of the men pointed a gun at her, while the other stashed the booty into a satchel. "In English, they said, 'Stay here. Don't leave. If you leave, I will hurt you.' I was never so scared in my life."

Someone ratted on Brian and his partner, and police recovered the stolen property in a storage locker rented in Brian's name. Later in 1983, Brian allegedly assaulted another man with a baseball bat, L.A. court records say, "to stop [the victim] from testifying at his trial [on burglary charges unrelated to the Beverly Hills coin robbery]."

Still a detective with the Beverly Hills department, Leslie Zoeller has been the lead investigator in many high-profile homicides -- including the Menendez brothers and Billionaire Boys Club cases. But he counts Brian Eftenoff as one of the more memorable characters of his career.

"Brian's up for murder?" Zoeller told New Times a few months ago. "Brian Thomas Eftenoff. Let's say this -- I remember Brian and his case well. He's a personality you don't forget. We had a lot of strong-arm robberies happening in town, and copycats in the area. The victim in the baseball bat case had been receiving the stolen property, and sang against Brian and others. Brian got convicted on our case after they plea-bargained the case down, and he went away for a while."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin