'Til Death Do Us Part

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By "away," Zoeller is referring to Brian's stint in the California prison system from 1984-87, on the reduced charge of receiving stolen property.

Brian had married his girlfriend, Constance, before he went to prison. She filed for divorce in 1989. Brian will say little about his ex-wife, other than the union was a youthful mistake. Now remarried and living in Southern California, Constance was stunned to learn from New Times of Brian's arrest on murder charges. "He's not a good person," she said, before hanging up.

Brian says he took college classes in prison, and resolved to go straight after he won parole. He proved to be a natural salesman, and by 1990 -- just after he turned 30 -- Brian was driving a Porsche and living the life of an upwardly mobile divorcé.

That March, however, L.A. police arrested him on charges of misdemeanor battery and another of disturbing the peace, after a run-in with two women in a restaurant parking lot. Mike Qualls, a spokesman for the L.A. City Attorney's Office, says Brian apparently clashed with the women after they rejected his advances.

"Mr. Eftenoff revved his motor as he drove past them to leave, and it stalled," says Qualls. "The women laughed at him. He got out of the car, and had physical contact with them. Battery means you have to touch them."

Brian pleaded "no contest" to disturbing the peace, and was put on probation. But a judge in March 1991 sentenced him to 45 days in jail for not completing the weekend work detail ordered as part of his probation. (With the exception of a 1997 DUI arrest in Las Vegas, Brian steered clear of the law until after Judi died.)

By early 1991, Brian's job was bringing him to the Valley, where he cultivated new friendships and hung out at the Scottsdale nightclubs. At Jetz one evening, he met a dark-haired beauty with a magnetic smile, a beguiling naiveté, and "legs that went on for days," as Brian recalls.

Her name was Judi Lynn Harding.

Judi Harding's middle-class upbringing was as idyllic as Brian Eftenoff's had been difficult. She was raised in Mandan, North Dakota, adjacent to the capital city of Bismarck, one of Wally and Sharon Harding's four children.

Judi was a healthy girl who loved sports -- volleyball was a favorite -- and attracted people from all walks of life with her vibrant personality and open smile. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at North Dakota State University in August 1987.

There, she joined a sorority, and met Tamra Coalwell, a kindred spirit from a small town in Minnesota. The two became inseparable, and moved into an apartment in Fargo after their freshman year. That winter, they resolved to follow the sun, to Florida or Arizona. "We got accepted at ASU first, so that's where we went," recalls Coalwell, who now works as a financial analyst for a major accounting firm. The friends moved to Tempe in August 1989.

Judi majored in Spanish at ASU, and was a decent student who always supported herself by working various jobs. She left school a few credits short of graduation.

As for the opposite sex, Coalwell says, "Guys really liked Judi, and she had some serious boyfriends, but she wasn't planning on getting married anytime soon. She was a strong and loyal person, but she also was innocent and very trusting. Then she met Brian."

Brian still was based in California when he and Judi started to date. "He was on his best behavior at first," Coalwell says, "and Judi definitely was gaga over him. I didn't like him, and I'm not saying that because of what happened. But you don't want to burst your best friend's bubble, so I didn't say much then about how I was feeling."

Judi moved into Brian's condo on South Mountain; then the couple rented a home in Paradise Valley. In the summer of 1993, she got pregnant with Rikki. "There was no question about what we were going to do," Brian says. "We loved each other, and we moved up the process of getting married."

They wed September 4, 1993, at a Paradise Valley church, a day memorialized in dazzling photos of the radiant bride and her proud new husband.

"She was a very beautiful, vibrant, outspoken gal," says Charlisa Eftenoff-Fox. "It was a real emotional wedding, 'cause I was thinking that Brian was finally really growing up -- all of us kids were. As time went on, I thought of her as my sister just as I think of my real sister as my sister. I loved her."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin