Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Murder in Redondo Beach

Being a creative writer, I wish that the title of this post was some fictional mystery that I was working on. Sadly, that's not the case.

Yesterday, February 22 2012, seemed like a pretty normal day here in Redondo Beach, CA. I've lived here since 1995, but my association with this city goes back much further than the 16+ years I've resided here. As a small child growing up in nearby Palos Verdes, it was a regular weekend activity in the mid '70s for my family to pack up a wicker basket full of snacks and drinks along with a blanket, and pile into the car to head to the broad sands of Redondo. In my teen years of the '80s, there were summers where damn near every day, I'd grab my surfboard and head down to The Avenues. If there were decent waves, I'd spend most of the time in the water trying to catch them. If there weren't, I'd be on my towel, catching rays and chatting up girls instead. For over 35 years, I've been well acquainted with this place, and it's no wonder that I chose this to be my permanent home.

The view of Redondo Beach, CA, as seen from Palos Verdes. Top photo: the crime scene on Agate Street near Harkness (photo by Daily Breeze).

Redondo is often described as idyllic, and in many ways, it truly is. The city is bordered by a huge expanse of the Pacific Ocean. We have beautiful weather and lovely scenery. We have a great school district. And, for the grand majority of the time, we have residents who are friendly and peaceful, and who comprise a pretty wide range of racial and economic backgrounds. I've traveled around the world quite a bit and have seen some wonderful places, but no place offers everything I seem to enjoy so much about my little beach town I call home.

Hearing the News
I spent most of my day as I usually do: working. Since 2003, I've run my own small marketing services firm from my townhouse. I do a little of everything that pertains to marketing: copywriting, graphic design, public/media relations, web development, and so on. So that Wednesday was like most of them; I woke up, made sure my son was up and getting ready, had coffee, and drove him to his middle school down the street. Then I came back and dug into my list of duties for my clients that day.

This was the official hand-out photo of Russell Goldberg and his vehicle when he was identified as a "person of interest" in the killing. I'd seen him and his car around this neighborhood often.

So, it was like any other day. I worked; time went by. My ex-wife had the job of picking up my son from school that afternoon, so at about 2:30, they walked in and dropped some news on me: there had been some kind of serious crime about two blocks up the street, right here in my little neighborhood. They'd heard from the lady at the gas station mini-mart that someone around here had been shot. That, in and of itself, was pretty shocking. The crime statistics for Redondo Beach show that any kind of violence is a big anomaly. For a city with over 66,000 residents (and one that's adjacent to Los Angeles), Redondo still has a bit of a small-town vibe. According to the statistics at, there have been only four murders here in the last ten years (and only one since 2004). These stats include the slightly rougher north part of the city; in the area where I reside, those stats would be quite a bit lower. Despite that, Redondo's crime index is way under the national average for the USA as a whole.

This chart (click to enlarge) shows that Redondo Beach has much lower crime statistics compared to the USA's averages. Chart courtesy of

Since this happened so closely, I walked out of my home and through the alley, and looked up Harkness Street. Indeed, the entire road was blocked by police vehicles, and there seemed to be some news crews there as well. Since I was already out (and Kat was at a work meeting up in Santa Monica), I decided to go across the street to the Bean Counter, our local coffee house, and see if anyone knew what was going on. It soon became apparent that the situation was worse than I originally believed; someone had been murdered within a few hundred yards of where I live.

Finding Out More
I got my coffee and walked home. By then, it was 3:00, and the local news was beginning to give coverage to the story. It seemed as if this was a case of domestic violence; a woman had been killed by her husband, Russell Scott Goldberg, with whom she'd been going through a bitter divorce. At first they called him a "person of interest", but it wasn't long before they switched his description to "prime suspect". Worse, he was still at large. I looked at his picture, as well as the photo of the car he'd been driving, and recognized him right away. It's a small neighborhood, and all the long-term residents tend to see each other around at the grocery store, the coffee shop, and other spots in the area. I also know I'd driven behind his green Saturn on many occasions. It had a yellow radio station bumper sticker placed at an odd diagonal angle, and I'd often seen him on the road or parked in the street next to my home.

The day went on, and more and more information was breaking on the news. Her name was Margaret Ann Goldberg, and went by the name Peggy Duffy. It seemed that the couple was well known for having explosive arguments, and police had been summoned many times to their home during screaming matches. This morning, the Redondo Beach police got a call from someone in New York, who had apparently been concerned for Peggy and had RBPD do a "welfare check" on her home. They discovered her body. I also learned that they had two kids, and the older one went to school with my son. It was all very, very sad. At about 4PM, we got a call from my son's school with a pre-recorded message from the principal, who explained how they were aware of the situation and were taking measures to help ensure the students' safety, as well as to provide counseling to kids as needed.

It wasn't long before my neighborhood was packed with local media reporting on the crime. Top: KCAL. Bottom: KTLA.

On the Run
While I wasn't terribly concerned about it, the police had made it clear that Goldberg was considered to be armed and dangerous, and asked for residents to keep an eye out for him. Because this was a domestic violence situation, I didn't feel as if there was a crazed killer out in our streets who would attack randomly. But still, I told my son to stay inside that afternoon (not a problem for him; he tends to spend a little too much time inside on his computer and video games for my liking, as many kids these days do). Throughout the late afternoon and evening, I would periodically check the news online to see if any new information was coming out.

It was about 7PM when I got some surprising news, courtesy of the Twitter feed of reporter Janelle Stecklein from the Salt Lake Tribune. It seemed that in a little place called Beaver, Utah, Goldberg had been stopped by the Utah Highway Patrol. At first, I assumed he'd been arrested, but a few minutes later, I realized that he was in an armed standoff right there on the I-15 freeway. He'd refused to pull over when they first found him, and his car had been stopped by blowing out all of the tires with a spike strip after a brief pursuit. I knew it wouldn't end well from that moment on. Sure enough, within a half hour, news was breaking that he'd killed himself via a self-inflicted gunshot while surrounded by a SWAT team there in the middle of a freeway.

Top: murder victim Peggy Duffy. Bottom: Another shot of Russell Goldberg. Photos from KCAL.

During these kind of horrifying events, my brain tends to get very analytical. Perhaps it's a defense mechanism of some kind. But for whatever reason, all I could think about was the timeline of events. Goldberg had murdered his ex-wife sometime around 8:30AM after she'd dropped the kids at school a short while earlier, and was over 500 miles away less than eight hours later. He literally, I thought to myself, must have killed her and gotten into his car and left immediately. I don't think he had a plan; I imagine that he realized what he had done and panicked, and just... left. Hit the road, with no destination in mind, and ended up on the northbound 15. Made it past Vegas and kept going. What I can't imagine is what was going through his head during that final journey. The killing of his ex-wife had to be at least somewhat premeditated; he had the gun with him when he went to her apartment. Still, it seemed that it may have been some sort of crazed fit of anger; according to news reports, they'd had several very contentious court sessions recently. But after he killed her, perhaps he realized the severity of what he'd done, and left in a panic. I don't think he'd put together a plan beyond that moment.

Moving On
Life will go on for me and the other folks around our still-friendly, still-peaceful neighborhood. It's hard, though, not to get caught up in the emotions surrounding the welfare and the future of their children, currently aged 10 and 13 respectively. Losing a parent through any means is a terrible thing to happen to a young kid; losing both your parents in a single day through such a horrible act is beyond my ability to comprehend. For the rest of us, life will get back to normal around here, but I can tell you: from my perspective, it's going to take a long time before I can walk around near the corner of Agate and Harkness without feeling this deep sorrow.


Shari said...

Hi, Zak: I don't know you, but I think you know my friend, Amy Barber. I also think you must live near me. I'm two doors down from Peggy, who was murdered this week. Thanks for your blog post. Just an fyi, we're having a candlelight vigil for her tonight at 7, outside her building on Agate. You're more than welcome to join us. Peggy was a really neat woman with two great kids. What Russ did was horrific, and we'd like to remember Peggy for the true gem she was. Hope to see you there.

moboerl said...

Hi Zak.

I grew up in the house across the street from Peggy in Williston Park, Long Island NY. She is and always will be part of a wonderful family. Though many many people came out last weekend to support her & her family here in NY, the dark cloud remained; the unspeakable sin against humanity somebody committed. It was not her time. Her family and also the rest of us here who knew Peggy or the Duffy's will never be the same, and that's a lot of people. I really feel for the kids. It's good that they made it to NY to see the outpouring of love & support for their Mom. Joe Watts

Zak Claxton said...

Thanks for commenting, folks. It's still difficult to accept what happened just a block away from my home, and to a person who, from all accounts, seemed quite wonderful. I wish you the best in the process of grieving and healing after this tragedy.