The deaths of last month and Ruth Quinn 36 years ago have a few things in common. Both involved people of apparent means and both shocked the community.
Then, as now, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department was involved in the investigations. Wealth also has added a layer of allure to each mystery. For Zahau, the money is her boyfriend's, ; Quinn, though she was an heiress, lived modestly in a rented home.
One major difference: , Quinn’s generated a few stories in local papers before fading from public view.
No one was ever convicted of Quinn's shooting. Zahau's death, , remains under investigation.
A 74-year-old retired librarian and war widow, Quinn was found late on March 16, 1975 in her Pomona Avenue home fully clothed, in bed, with gunshot wounds to her head and collarbone. The shots had been fired at close range.
There was no sign of a break-in or a struggle. Police concluded Quinn's death was a premeditated murder, and questioned a handful of suspects.
Her son, Chuck Quinn and younger brother, Henry “Hank” Leyendecker, were interviewed, as were two people convicted of robbing her several years before.
“Half the town thought the son did it,” said Paul Dodson, the retired detective who handled the case. “The other half thought the brother did it.”
Chuck Quinn admits that he and his mother had a rocky relationship, but that they repaired it after he became sober, 14 years before her death.
“We were both high strung and it didn’t take much to get us screaming at each other,” he said. “All the neighbors heard us. Those same neighbors went to the police. They told them that her son is a drunken bum that has never given his mother anything but grief. And they were right.”
Leyendecker, who found his sister's body and called police, died in 1985.
The case remains unsolved, one of hundreds of cold-case homicide files stored by the county District Attorney’s Office.
Quinn's adult life was filled with tragedies, culminating in her murder.
In 1939, her 3-year-old son Michael was killed by a dump truck near Pomona and 5th Street, outside the home where Quinn was shot.
A few years later, Quinn was in Coronado waiting for husband's return after World War II, her son said, when the fighter pilot died of pneumonia in New York.
He was the son of police officer; she the granddaughter of Henry Heide, a manufacturer of sweets, best known for making the popular candy Jujubes. People assumed the Quinns were wealthy.
Not so, said her son: “The myth of our wealth is exactly that, a myth.”
For a while, all Quinn had was a widow’s pension and money from a private life insurance policy. She didn’t receive a share of the Heide trust until her mother, who lived at the , died in 1957.
So Quinn worked. At 48, she became a librarian, first at the main library in San Diego and later at the .
The library was the last place she was seen alive.
Quinn was a devoted Roman Catholic, who attended mass daily at , just over five blocks from her home. She also gave back to the community by helping set up a library associated with the University of San Diego and supporting music and arts programs for the church and for children.
Quinn did not seem to have enemies, said Russell Elwell, a friend of Chuck Quinn's.
“She was generous and kind to everyone, especially her son,” Elwell said. “He never wanted for anything.”
An earlier version of this story contained a misspelling of Elwell's name.