Longform

'Til Death Do Us Part

Page 6 of 9

By the late 1990s, Brian was spending a lot of time in Las Vegas, where he says he had lucrative accounts and a full plate of temptation. Home base was the Hard Rock Hotel, where many employees knew him on a first-name basis.

"Opening up the Vegas market was the worst thing I ever did," Brian says. "That town has everything for a weak-minded person like myself -- drugs, gambling, women. Meanwhile, my wife was getting hooked on cocaine, and I didn't even know it."

Brian says he occasionally would invite Judi to join him in Vegas. "If I was going to play around, I was going to play around with my wife there," he says, referring to the couple's extramarital sexual activity. "That was our deal. I can't honestly say that I was perfect, but I tried to be most of the time."

In December 1998, Tamra Coalwell says, she saw her friend for the last time. She and some of Judi's other close friends say they felt compelled to distance themselves from Brian's overbearing personality and incessant sexual advances.

"Brian didn't like me because I could make Judi feel good about herself," Coalwell says. "But he wasn't around that day [in December]. She broke down when she was talking about how screwed up things were. She said, 'Tam, I need to get a divorce.' She was thin, but not as skinny as a picture I saw of her from months later -- she was just bones by then. She asked me to watch the kids while she pulled herself together. Then the phone rang, and she ran to it. She tells me, 'You gotta go now! Brian's coming home!' What clicked in my mind was, 'Yeah, yeah, okay -- I don't think I can help her anymore.'"

Judi also had confided in her sister Janell Harding around that time, Harding later told Petrosino:

"She told me, 'Next time I get married it will be for money. Love didn't work out.'"


Judi Eftenoff went on part-time status at Neiman Marcus in April 1999. Her supervisor, Peg Franklin, later told police that Judi's performance had slipped, possibly because of a deteriorating marriage that she sometimes complained about.

Brian says that's nonsense. However, it was a curious time for Judi to go on part-time status, which cost the Eftenoffs her life insurance and other benefits. Concurrently, Brian had reduced his presence in Vegas, but not necessarily because he wanted to be closer to home and hearth.

He admits he'd lost significant accounts in Nevada and in Arizona, and wasn't as flush financially as he'd been in recent years. Brian closed his downtown Phoenix office, and set up shop in a small room off his garage with his assistant, Sheila Garcia. Even with the reduced overhead, Brian's business continued to struggle in 1998-99.

"We lost those accounts because Brian wasn't servicing them," Garcia tells New Times. "He was out partying all the time, and I was trying to hold things together. It wasn't as if he was home being a father to those kids. If he was home, he was watching TV or whatever."

Brian responds, "It wasn't as bad as you might think. I did have a lot less gross income coming in, and September [1999] had been a tight month. But a lot more profit was coming our way."

Natalie Lemmon, the nanny who was hired in early 1999, later told detectives that the Eftenoffs argued often, with Judi giving as good as she got. She, too, said she'd never seen Brian hit Judi, though she had overheard Brian berate his wife about her alleged cocaine abuse. Lemmon also said little Rikki told her in early September that her daddy had hit her mommy -- where and when was uncertain.

Others say Judi spoke of an increasingly volatile situation. Tana Harding told Petrosino that her sister recently had rented a safe-deposit box in her own name, and had asked her to open it if something bad happened to her. (A September 29, 1999, search of the box elicited only jewelry, birth certificates, a handwritten note that listed some of Brian's shortcomings, and other items.)

One evening around Memorial Day 1999, Judi phoned next-door neighbors Rick and Sherrie Keylash. Rick Keylash -- an engaging guy who owns a custom furniture business -- tells New Times that the couple was having a doozie of a fight.

"We ran over there, but didn't see any hitting, just a lot of verbal language," says Keylash. "I had to step in front of Brian, he was so mad at her, and yelled at them both to calm down. He was threatening to take Rikki and run. He was screaming, 'She's a goddamn coke whore,' which sent Judi through the roof."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin