Six weeks after Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, half a world away Stefan Emilian Decebal Matasareanu, or Emil as we will come to know him, came into the world.
Born to forty-eight year old father, Viorel Dominic Matasareanu and twenty six year old mother Valeria Nicolescu, Emil, an only child as far as can be ascertained would spend the first ten years of his life living pretty much in the dead centre of Timisoara, Romania.
To understand the people we must acknowledge the environment they operated within, and Romania's history is a long and turbulent one to get to grips with.
Most people if asked to give a kneejerk response to 'What is Romania?' would respond with 'It was a Soviet satellite state'.
They would not be wrong (regarding the years from 1948 thro' 1989) but the understanding should be a little more nuanced.
Romania, since the time of the First World War, had been grasping toward a western philosophy, especially when it came to trade. Post Second World War the country fell behind the Iron Curtain and to most westerners became assimilated into the USSR. However, whilst true to some regard Romania attempted to be somewhat different to other satellite states. Its internal politics followed the Moscow mold, yet their foreign policy leaned toward one of increased trade to further greater economic development.
The story of the Matasareanu's staggered journey to America is commonly believed to be as follows.
The family's accommodation was here. Strada Buftea 1 (Now Strada Vasile Goldis, since 1990), apartment #9 as shall be later evidenced from letters exchanged between Valerie and a member of the US Senate Finance Committee.
The common story tells us that Valerie (Valeria) absconded during a tour of Italy with the opera house with whom she was a vocalist.
It is here that we ran into our first problem.
The Romanian National Opera is divided into four 'houses', one each sited in Timisoara, Cluj, Iasi, and Bucharest. It is a dangerous thing to assume but 'live in Timisoara, good chance she sang for the Timisoara opera house too no?'
The problem arises in that the Timisoara opera house did not tour Italy, officially, between 1970 & 1980.
During some late night internet trawling some months ago I came across the following report, and inside it was a series of letters, spanning some six or seven months from Valerie to various organizations around the world. Here, for what we believe is the first time, we shall attempt to publically choreograph the letters.
The first letter, although undated we believe to be the instigation letter; sent to Michael Stern of the Committee of Finance.
Valerie's address when this letter was sent; a minute or so drive from the Hollywood walk of fame.
Much to pore over in that letter I'm sure you will agree, but the two biggest points that struck myself was:
Viorel had been a political prisoner for five years.
Emil had congenital heart disease (a fact verified twenty years later at his autopsy).
Valerie it seemed was attempting to throw a wide net over all bases in an attempt to get her family out of Romania.
Not only was she pushing the angle that her son could not receive adequate care in his home country but it also appears to be implied that Viorel lost his job because of his incarceration. Understanding what little I do of the Romanian Securitate Division and just how entrenched they were in everyday life I would not find this beyond the bounds of possibility.
Next up came a letter dated May 26th, 1976 from the Consul Anthony Perkins in Bucharest to Augustus Hawkins in Washington, promising assistance in the Matasareanu case.
Followed on June 2nd, 1976 by a letter from Jakob Moller from the United Nations to Valerie, acknowledging her case.
Finally on August 16th, 1976 came the letter that Valerie and the family must have been waiting for all those long months, finally they had confirmation that the US Embassy in Bucharest was going to assist them in getting Viorel and young Emil out of the country. It's hard to imagine the happiness and relief this must have bought, the elation, the trepidation and anticipation of starting a new life in another country.
Their case was not complete quite just yet though, on September 8th, 1976 the subcommittee to the MFN deal sat in session, and one order of business came from a New York priest, Florian M. Galdau.
He would stand before the subcommittee and raise questions regarding the free movement of people wishing to emigrate from Romania, it had after all been part of the original trade deal right?
It seemed that Romanian officials were being deliberately obstructive in allowing people to leave.
Mr Galdau showed that he alone had over one hundred cases of people trying to emigrate who were being obstructed by the Romanian Securitate in one form or another. The Matasareanu's were case number 52.
Note: Between her initial letter to Michael Stern and the subcommittee hearing Valerie had changed address, moving this time to a similar premises sited just south east of Downtown L.A and nestled next to a vast belt of commercial premises.
An exact date or port of entry cannot, at this time, be confirmed for Viorel and Emil. It is widely believed that they entered the US when Emil was ten years old, 1978. Between the flurry of activity in mid/late 1976 and their coming to America, at least another year had passed.
Movements of any of the family within that year are hard to track down, so let us for a moment look at the medical issue with Emil.
Emil had been diagnosed, at a young age, with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
In layman's terms this is a thickening of the heart walls, in Emil's case the left side of the heart, this results in less blood being able to be pumped effectively, and can result in chest pain, light-headedness, shortness of breath, fainting and in some cases cardiac arrest.
This condition is often hereditary and can be managed with anything from beta-blockers to heart replacement surgery.
This piece of information by itself holds only a small value but will become important several times during the coming dive into Emil's history.
The common story has Emil described as a child who had issues with his weight who was bullied, withdrew from the world, formed an antisocial mindset and thus turned into the 'crazed gunman' that we all saw in February '97.
There have been various acquaintances of Emil who have over the years attempted to quietly dispute that particular theory, saying that the young man they knew did not fit the picture that is commonly painted.
Here we will combine all their information in a chronological order and attempt to give a larger voice to their concerns at the founding story of this man they once called a friend.
Emil was diagnosed at an early age with this congenitive heart disease, so it brings to question how prevalent his symptoms must have been as this often goes undiagnosed for years in many people.
Was he fainting at school? Complaining of chest pains? Dizzy after mild exertion? It would stand to reason.
It can only be guessed at that his childhood levels of exercise were then reduced in an attempt to contain the heart issue, and the pounds started to pile on.
The story of him being bullied about his weight; it is critical to the common story, a lynchpin to his perceived antisocial personality. Yet not one of his Stateside friends who have spoken to us can ever recall a single episode of this occurring; in a moment where it would be easy to point and say 'Yes! His peers bullied him relentlessly, and maybe that explains his actions', nobody stepped up and confirmed it happening. It would have been an easy justification and yet not a single person was prepared to use it.
So was the bullying happening before he came to America? It is certainly possible, but unfortunately impossible to prove.
Before we jump back into Emil's early journey we must first lay down some further family background.
In the late 1970's Valerie went to work for a real estate agent named Tom Joyce in Altadena. After the storefront had closed Valerie would clean the offices, emptying bins, cleaning desks etc. A quiet time in the early evening, alone and away from the hustle and bustle of the day.
During this time Valerie would often sing to herself, and during one of these impromptu recitals she was to discover that she was not alone. Tom had stayed late to finish some paperwork and had heard her sing; he was by all accounts enthralled by her voice.
The pair struck up a fast friendship, to the point that he helped her study for the real estate exam and in 1980 she had passed her exam and was now licensed to sell real estate. She would keep her licence active until 1994.
The story of Tom Joyce is not finished there for very soon after Valerie was issued her salesperson licence Tom's office, not Tom himself though, would assist Valerie in the purchase of a beautiful home at 2026 North Sinaloa Avenue, Altadena.
The property is framed by open and tidy gardens with several large trees on the neighbour properties providing shade from the relentless LA sun; its red Mediterranean tiled roof sits atop white stucco walls that are pierced with shaded and arched windows. Its architecture, definitely Spanish in theme, would not look out of place in Italy, France, Spain or Morocco. The selling point for young Emil was the large pool in the rear yard.
Valerie had a plan for the house, it wasn't just to be a home but also a business premises, and in 1982 she became licensed to use the premises as a board and care home, thus the soon-to-be troubled 'Valerie's Villa' was born; but that we shall explore a little further down the page.
1983 saw Emil attending Pasadena High School.
His cadre of friends was small but quite close. Enter 'Terry', these two fifteen year olds would hang out together, not as ultra close friends but close enough and they would cross paths again some years later.
'Terry' remembers meeting Emil in the spring of '83 when they would share a science class together.
"He was very friendly, kind of a smartass like me, and very overweight (350). We used to giggle at the way Mr. Fox couldn't pronounce Emil's last name.
I don't think he had a lot of friends because of his weight and because he was a foreigner."
Emil had himself a best friend; let us call him 'Dan'.
As soon as was humanly possible Emil and Dan got their licences to ride, Emil had an old beat-up 1970's bike and from then on his life seemed to revolve around two things, motorbikes and the dream of working with computers.
'I never noticed anything about his personality that indicated that someone might be able to manipulate him or convince him to do something that wasn't in his nature. He seemed to me to be confident and able to decide for himself what was right and wrong.
He never told me any stories of being picked on, and I never saw anyone giving him a hard time. He always seemed to be jovial and confident. He never gave me the impression that he was a target of any bullying at school, and the subject never arose.'
'Later that school year, in '83, Emil and his buddy at the time, 'Dan', both bought Kawasaki GPz 550s. Pasadena Kawasaki was located at 2084 E. Foothill Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107, at the southeast corner of Oak Ave. It is now a branch of Hollywood Piano Co.'
'From 1981 through 1984, the GPz was the Holy Grail of sport bikes, at least in Pasadena and surrounding areas. The 550 was the smallest, and least expensive, but at a price tag of $2,599 it wasn't terribly expensive. Yeah, Emil had a need for speed. We all did.'
Emil and I would go out and talk about bikes with 'Dan' and my friend Eric.
So as soon as school was out, and we were done chatting at the motorcycle parking area, we would head off with 'Dan' and Emil on their GPz's and Eric and I on Eric's Suzuki.
I don't remember ever seeing Emil ride without a helmet.
Sometimes we went to Emil's house, or "Dan's", or the arcade, before I got a job after school. Emil and I were friends, but 'Dan' was Emil's BEST friend from at least 1982 until at least 1985.'
Terry, 'Dan' and Eric were not the only people Emil would share his passion for motorcycles with. Remember Tom Joyce, the real estate broker who had employed his mom? Valerie had left Tom's employ but the young Emil and Tom had formed a bond and Emil became a regular visitor.
He remembered Emil as an 'ordinary, happy teenager'. A determined kid who understood how mechanical objects worked and who handled repairs with ease. Tom recalled him during interview as "a genuine nice kid".
Their friendship would last a good number of years with Tom also recalling that Emil would bring motorcycles over to his house, around the backyard and yell "Hey, Tom, you there?! Come and look at my new motorcycle."
Emil would brag about his new motorcycles. Both Tom and Emil loved bikes so they'd spend time talking about their bikes (mpg, how fast they'd go, stuff like that). Over the years Emil brought several bikes at a time from Honda 150, 350 to 750 up to Honda Goldwing.
Emil it would appear had no problem with making or keeping friends, and he attempted to cast his net far and wide.
He would take his bike to a local dealer, Ken Perez, and have some modifications done. A new exhaust, some carburettor work, little things to eek out further performance from a bike that was already no slouch. Slowly he ingratiated himself into Kenny's group and would ride with them several times.
'He wanted a real fast bike but his skills were not there so he always would be left in the dust when we went into the canyons. He was the type of guy that did not want to wait for his skills to improve, he just wanted to be fast and have the best bike.'
As he neared the end of his schooling he had to decide on what he wanted for a career. Bikes were fun and all but it's tough for a 350lb guy to ride MotoGP. His second love was electronics, specifically computers. The home computing market was really only under a decade old and had not yet gone supernova, the Commodore64 was flavour of the day; but arcades? They were everywhere! Helping remove quarters from teenager's pockets at an unprecedented rate.
Gaming or business, as long as it was connected to computing seemed an assured way toward money.
As such in 1985 Emil and 'Dan' decided to enrol at DeVry University in Pomona for an Electronics Engineering degree each.
Terry would lose touch with Emil later in 1983, but would come back into his life not too far down the road.
Back at N.Sinaloa Avenue 'Valerie's Villa' was now fully operational. Valerie would take into her care anywhere up to six developmentally disabled adults, the state paying between $1000 and $4000 a month each for their care. We shall revisit this set up in a few years when another person who had interaction with Emil comes into play.
In 1987 Emil graduated from DeVry, degree in hand. There is a well known story attached to this event that is puzzling. Allegedly Valerie threw a graduation party for her son at the house, and nobody except a seventy-four year old neighbour, Walter Kennedy, showed up.
This could very well be the case, but where was his friends? 'Dan' especially.
Nobody knows, and there is no-one left to shed any light on this curiosity.
Retired postal worker Kennedy, when interviewed in 1997, would call Emil 'A pretty good guy'. Whilst Walter called him 'pretty good guy' other neighbours remember the household as being unsettled. 'They always had trouble over there'.
1987 saw tensions within the household rise, specifically between Emil and his father, Viorel. Emil wanted to get out in the world and start earning; Viorel wanted him to continue his education and pursue a Masters Degree. Emil reportedly resisted.
Whether in an act of defiance against his father or if he genuinely believed his business plan had a chance for success, in 1987 the nineteen year old Emil opened his own business.
Information on this business is extraordinarily difficult to source, only vague comments of how he struggled to raise a clientele base seem to exist.
On the April 21st 1988 Emil would sign his Naturalization paperwork; he was now an American citizen. The ironic thing to me is how after the North Hollywood event much was made, when describing him, of his heritage; phrases such as 'immigrant', 'came to America' etc litter the press reports and whilst true it must not be forgotten that he was, as was the folks that signed the register on Ellis Island, an American citizen.
Whilst on the surface Valerie's Villa would appear to have all the elements of a successful business and family home there was something much darker swimming beneath the surface.
Tensions within the house, between all parties, were at an all time high.
Viorel was feuding with Emil about his education, and with Valerie about an unknown number of complaints. It would come to such a boiling point that Emil once had to jump between his parents with a chair, akin to a lion tamer, to prevent them causing injury to each other.
Emil's stress relief, computers and firearms, only went so far and he could often be found on the front step of the house cleaning firearms. This was witnessed firsthand by Walter Kennedy and would be the earliest known point in the timeline that Emil Matasareanu and firearms can be placed in the same space.
Something rarely reported on was Emil's considerable weight loss during this period. From 350lb during his high school years he would eventually come down to 220lb. A weight that looked much healthier on his six foot tall frame.
So a question must be asked. How does a young man who would have appeared to have dodged exercise since he was eight years old and ballooned to a substantial weight all of a sudden drop that mass by 1/3?
It is known that Emil had applied to Jenny Craig, the popular Australian weight loss and management business. Something about that regime appealed to Emil, but eventually he chose not to take it up.
What is known is that he was using the Gold's Gym in Pasadena, the very same one we postulate that Larry Phillips was using. Herein lies the belief that the meeting between Larry and Emil took place at least a year earlier than the common story tells (and does not substantiate).
Had Emil found a medication in the US that enabled him to work out without collapsing? Had the symptoms of the heart disease miraculously lessened as he grew older? Unfortunately there is no way to ever know now; but we have two unconnected witnesses who both attested to his substantial change in body type in the late 1980's/early 1990's.
1988 would see the first of the public troubles surrounding Valerie's Villa surface when a citation would be issued for having unguarded firearms open to access. Valerie would hit the paranoia switch hard over this citation, claiming that 'the system' had it out for her and her family and did not want to see them succeed.
In August '88 Emil would open multiple lines of credit.
The first, for $1140 at the E. Colorado Boulevard of Radio Shack in Pasadena. The account would be slowly repaid but would eventually fall into delinquency in 1994 with $384 remaining.
He would also take a $1500 credit line from CitiBank, which was repaid in full.
In September '88 a third credit line would be opened for the amount of $395 from NationsCredit, again, repaid in full.
1989, the year the common story would have us believe that Larry and Emil became friends. There exists no point in this common story that is traceable that proves this, the common link is said to be Gold's Gym on Rose St, Venice Beach but as already stated on the Phillips bio page this cannot be proven.
All signs point to the meeting happening much earlier.
1989 saw several other occurrences happening.
Sharon Santos, Larry's girlfriend for the past three years, would meet Emil when all parties met at the address that appears to have been rented by Larry's half brother Denis Franks. Phillips himself may have stayed here for a period of time, he certainly used it as a postal address; in fact this would be the only address the LAPD would have on file for him all the way up to 1997.
Emil, despite the common misconception that once he met Larry he dropped everyone else in his life, still maintained with those he knew.
'I do remember running into Emil and Don three or four times in '88 and '89 at Pak-Mann Arcade on the northwest corner of Colorado and Allen...'
'...or at the arcade where I spent a lot of time with friends in '88 on Colorado Blvd across the street from Pasadena City College between Harkness and Marion Avenues.'
The situation back at Valerie's Villa was far from improved.
Due to multiple and continued visits from local law enforcement relating to the escalating tensions something had to change, and change it did. Viorel was told that unless he left the home that no more clients would be placed, this cutting off Valerie's revenue stream.
Viorel would move out and take up residence in an apartment less than a mile and a half away. He would over the years move between several addresses but never, it appears, returned to live at the Sinaloa Avenue address.
Whether Viorel was the instigator in the household unrest is unknown, yet he certainly appears to have taken the hit for it. A curious thing to note though is that even after he moved out, the unrest did not seem to cease.
May I introduce you to Andrea, a young lady who would attend the Sinaloa Avenue address five days a week for roughly three years. Here is her story, in her own words:
'I first met Emil in 1989. I used to work with developmentally disabled adults and children at a community-based day program called Social Vocational Services. I worked at the one in Alhambra. One of my jobs was to pick up six high functioning adult male clients, from Valerie's Villa.
We would employ them in gardening. So we would drive around in a van all day and do various gardening jobs around the area.
The adult clients were very high functioning and would be like a friend with low intelligence.
I would see Emil everyday when I picked up the clients. We started talking a little, and became friends from there.
When I met Emil he was actually "dead fit" as you would say, he worked out constantly at Gold's Gym in Pasadena. He was childlike in many ways. Emil was very nice when I came to the house. Sometimes a little flirty, but never mean.
Emil's behavior amongst friends was by and large, normal. I however saw a different side of him through a professional aspect.
The clients frequently told me horrible stories of abuse. Mostly verbal abuse, threatening, that type of thing, but they also said that he had a bad temper and hit them sometimes, or would deprive them of such things as dinner, etc.
If his mental health was in bad shape by 96-97, I'd have to say it had been a long time coming. He already had some issues mentally in 1989! It just got worse over time, or he was able to conceal it better back then.
I worked there from 1989-1992-ish, but still saw him around from time to time.'
Infer what you will, if anything, from Andrea's statement.
Does it speak of Emil acting out frustrations and resentment toward his father on the residents of Valerie's Villa, or was he just, at core level, a nasty person? Nobody has previously spoken of Emil displaying anger issues, in fact rather the opposite. Had something changed in him and how he saw the world? Was he now acting out in a manner that nobody had been privy to previously? It would seem so.
The frustrating black hole in this small portion of the story is that there is no definitive frame of reference for the first meeting of Larry and Emil.
IF, and it is a big IF they met in 1989 (and you already know that we do not believe this to be the case) then the fledgling friendship would not explain Emil's behaviour and would instead point back toward dysfunction within the family.
However, IF Larry and Emil had met in 1988 or maybe as far back as 1987 and Larry had had his time to work his usual toxic manipulation on Emil then the quiet change in Emil's behaviour could be pointed at a different source.
It remains, and will always remain, one of the great unknowns with this story.
The Christmas Revolution 1989:
On November 9th 1989, the most visible segregation between western and eastern Europe, the Berlin Wall, was toppled to gigantic media coverage and overwhelming public celebration.
For two generations, since the end of the Second World War, Europe had been divided and although the famous images of sections of 'The Wall' being torn apart will be the iconography usually associated with the fall of communism in Europe the actual demise of such started a little earlier, in Poland.
Once the dominoes start to fall it became impossible to stop, in 1989 alone Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and finally Romania would see changes to their regimes. Post-1989 several more countries would follow including: Yugoslavia and Albania.
Romania's political story is a long and divisive one; it all depends on which side of the financial wall you stood on I guess. The 'Revolution' as it is known would claim somewhere between 94 and 1000 lives (incorrectly reported in the French media as over 4,000), would start in Emil's home town of Timisoara and conclude nine days later in a small town 80km from Bucharest called Targoviste. Nicolae and Elaina Ceausescu had ruled Romania for many years, building an empire based on sacrificing the average person's rights for alleged national gain, implementing a harsh and totalitarian regime. It does not take long at all to find accounts of the brutal conditions they imposed on the Romanian people.
Any dissention toward the system, either on an individual or an organised level, was met with brutal repression.
Timisoara would prove to be the touch-paper for the whole of Romania.
After the order had been given that a respected Hungarian priest, Laszlo Tokes, was to be evicted from his church owned apartment members of the local parish rallied around him, and blocked the Securitate from entering the property. The crowd soon swelled and developed a very public anti-government sentiment. The mayor appeared and promised that Tokes would not be evicted, when asked to put it in writing he never got around to it, instead ordering the dispersal of the crowd or water cannons would be used.
The heavy handed approach to suppressing an uprising failed to work and in Timisoara, Romania's second largest city, tens of thousands of industrial workers formed for a peaceful protest on the 18th December. Two days later the city would be in full on riot mode, the army had been allowed to fire into the crowds killing up to seventy people. The more the regime tried to suppress the demonstrations, the more demonstrations popped up across the country. No longer could this be seen as an isolated incident, change was indeed coming.
On the 21st December Ceausescu took to the balcony of the Communist Party headquarters in Bucharest, to address the crowd and condemn the uprising in Timisoara. The mood of the crowd, seen in the widespread video, started off sullen and soon graduated into open hostility. As he stood on that balcony, looking out at over 100,000 people the penny dropped that he was not in a good place. He immediately offered a raise of 100 lei a month to workers salaries. The crowd, unmoved, chanted on. The very public look of confusion on Ceausescu's face was something to behold. The video feed was cut shortly afterwards.
On the 22nd of December the Security forces and army suddenly swapped sides, joining the protestors after it was announced that the defence minister Vasile Milea had committed suicide. The rank and file did suspected foul play and almost entirely and immediately switched sides.
Milea's replacement, sent any remaining troops back to their quarters, unknown by Ceausescu. What came next meant that apart from a small cadre of personal protection officers Ceausescu was now alone, cut adrift in the face of a tidal wave of anger and resentment from the Romanian people. As Ceausescu sat in a meeting where he assumed command of the army and was implementing measures to ban the congregation of more than five people in one place, the army's tanks returned from downtown where they had been ordered to that morning and joined with the crowd. Nikolae Ceausescu again tried to address the crowd, but by now the crowd was incensed and stormed the building, eventually breaking their way in and searching for the dictator. They would miss capturing him by mere feet.
At 11:44am the disgraced Ceausescu's were airlifted from the terrace of the headquarters. After a flight of around 80km, dropping two members of the travelling party off, and several car-jackings they would eventually be persuaded by a bicycle repairman that they could hide out in the Agricultural Institute in Targoviste. As soon as the Ceausescu's had entered the repairman locked them inside and called the local police.
They would be transported to the local military barracks where three days later and after an hour long trial they were unceremoniously put to death by a three man firing squad.
This whole sequence (which I hopefully have in the correct order) is somewhat easy to choreograph. In the moment, with conflicting and rehashed media reports it must have been chaos to try and make sense of what was happening over 6000 miles away. The televisions in a certain Sinaloa Avenue address, I am willing to bet, burned long and bright during those seven days and nights.