Motive remains unclear in year-old Simi Valley homicide [Ventura County Star, Calif.]
(Ventura County Star (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 24--A GPS device, a backpack full of evidence and a composite sketch from witness descriptions led Simi Valley police to their prime suspect in a brutal homicide more than a year ago.
But there was one problem: Their suspect, Paul Porter, died of a heart attack after killing Janice Somple, 65. Today, a key question -- the motive -- remains unanswered.
Although Simi Valley police were able to piece together the crime, authorities withheld many details. After several inquiries from The Star, authorities recently revealed more details.
Investigators said holding back specifics of the bizarre string of events was necessary for their attempts to piece together a motive. It's an effort they continue to work on.
"It's really frustrating, not so much for us, but for Janice's family. If anyone knows why this happened, we'd like to be able to find that out," said police Cmdr. Joseph May, who was in charge of the unit that investigated the crime.
"At this point with all the info we have, anything that we would come up with as to what had happened would just be speculation."
(Follow the timeline.)
Porter, 66, a former Moorpark city and Ventura County planner who lived in Oregon at the time, was in Southern California that week for his grandson's graduation and was planning on staying with friends in Westlake Village. Instead, he showed up at the house of an old girlfriend -- Somple -- on May 31, 2012.
No one knows why Porter, after years of not seeing Somple, drove to her Simi Valley home in the 1500 block of Carmen Drive, or whether the crime was planned. There was no sign of forced entry, and after examining phone and email records, no sign that the two had been in contact before he showed up.
"In talking to Porter's family, everything he did matched everything he was going to do -- until coming here (to Simi Valley)," May said. "That's why it is still a mystery."
Simi Valley police believe Somple, who taught at Newbury Park and Westlake high schools before she retired, was killed between noon and 1 p.m. May 31, 2012.
Somple's boyfriend, who was planning on visiting that day, found her body about 8 p.m.
An autopsy revealed Somple had been beaten and stabbed and died of multiple traumatic injuries. Police, however, refuse to describe the condition of her body, what kind of weapon was used or where in the house she was found.
About 1 p.m., Somple's neighbors saw a white Dodge pickup in front of her house and described a man leaving with a backpack, May said.
Shortly after 1:15 p.m., about three miles away, Porter lost control of his vehicle after running a red light at Madera Road and Country Club Drive. He was seen slumped over the steering wheel when he went through the intersection. His vehicle hit a light pole and another vehicle before hitting a wall and stopping. He was taken to Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks and later declared dead.
There were no traces of alcohol or drugs in his system, police said.
Porter was taking several medications and had acknowledged overusing prescription sedatives. He had several health issues, including cirrhosis and hypertension, and suffered a heart attack just before the crash, authorities said.
The night Somple's body was found, an officer who investigated the traffic collision noticed Porter's truck was similar to the description given of the vehicle seen at Somple's home that afternoon. An artist put together a composite sketch of the man seen leaving there, and the traffic investigator said it looked like Porter.
The next morning, detectives went to the towing yard where Porter's car was taken and matched his vehicle to the description. They also found a backpack. Investigators obtained a search warrant and found evidence that put Porter at the scene of the crime.
- May 31, 2012, noon-1 p.m.: Simi Valley police believe Somple was stabbed and beaten to death in her home.
- 1 p.m.: Neighbors see a white pickup in front of Somple's house and describe a man leaving the home carrying a backpack.
- 1:15 p.m.: Paul Porter loses control of his vehicle after running a red light at Madera Road and Country Club Drive in Simi Valley. His vehicle hits a light pole and another vehicle before hitting a wall and stopping. He is taken to Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.
- 2:02 p.m.: Porter dies at the hospital.
- 8 p.m.: Somple's boyfriend, who was planning on visiting her that day, finds her body.
- 8 p.m.-midnight: An officer who worked on the traffic collision case notices that Porter's car is similar to the description of the vehicle seen at Somple's home. Police also notice a composite sketch of the man seen leaving the home looks like Porter.
- June 1, 2012, 7 a.m.: Detectives go to the towing yard and match Porter's car to the description. They also find a backpack. Investigators obtain a search warrant and find evidence that Porter was at Somple's house.
- June 2, 2012: Investigators decide Porter is the killer but tell neighbors and the media only that Somple's slaying was not random. Investigators travel to Oregon to interview Porter's wife and try to determine a motive.
- June 5, 2012: Investigators return and notify Somple family members that Porter is the killer.
- June 6, 2012: Police hold a news conference to announce the connection between Somple and Porter and say Porter killed Somple. The motive remains unclear.
Using his GPS device, police were able to track where Porter had been that day.
"We have the time of the reported accident, we have forensic data we were able to extract that showed us the whole time of when Porter arrived and when he left," May said. "The GPS puts him at the house at the right time."
Investigators went to Oregon to interview Porter's wife and determine a motive but did not have any luck. Porter's wife, Lesli, said she did not know he was going to Simi Valley during his trip.
Investigators said Porter and Somple had dated more than 15 years earlier but parted ways amicably.
His wife told The Star after the killing that she was not aware of any ill will between the two. In fact, Somple introduced her to Porter in 1998, she said. While the Porters lived in Ventura County, they saw Somple regularly and even traveled with her to the Grand Canyon. After the couple moved to Oregon, they continued exchanging Christmas letters with Somple every year until 2010, Lesli said.
She said Porter talked about Somple often but never seemed angry.
Porter left their home at 5:40 a.m. May 28 for the trip to California, Lesli said. She heard from him the next day, and something seemed off, she said.
She said he was mumbling, and she could not really understand him. He told her he had double vision, she said.
Simi Valley police discovered a previous incident that indicated Porter might have had violent tendencies. In August 1982, while working as a planner for Ventura County, he allegedly attacked a girlfriend. She alleged Porter beat her with a rubber mallet and fractured her skull.
There was insufficient evidence, however, to show Porter intended to kill her. Porter, 37 at the time, pleaded not guilty to an attempted murder charge and no contest to assault with a deadly weapon. He faced up to four years in prison but continued to work for the county through a work furlough program, despite the victim's plea to have him jailed.
"It painted a picture for us of what he was capable of doing," May said.
Lynn Casella, Somple's friend of 15 years, said she spoke to her the night before she was killed and she seemed excited about an upcoming trip to Las Vegas with her current boyfriend.
She said Somple never spoke about Porter.
"The haunting part of it is that she did not know she was in any danger," said Casella, of LaVerne.
She will mostly remember Somple as being full of life and exciting to be around. Casella said she sometimes finds photos of her outings with Somple and is filled with fond memories.
"I'm always reminded of the great times we had together," she said. "I miss her."
May said that even if investigators figure out the motive, he is not sure it would bring family and friends any relief. "Even if we had all the answers for the family, it doesn't bring back their lost loved one," he said.
Still, he struggles with not knowing. "I still shake my head at this whole thing," May said.
"The question would still be there for family members: But why?"
It's a question that may never be answered. "The best person to tell us what happened is Porter himself. Unfortunately, we don't get to talk to Janice Somple, either."
(c)2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)
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