They found him on the sidewalk, a block from his boyhood home, with a shotgun blast to his handsome face and a ghastly bullet wound through his chest.

Townsfolk skipped a breath hearing that he’d been killed, let alone in execution-style butchery that terrified the neighborhood. Stephen Ballreich was hardly your ordinary murder victim, because his history had been so extraordinary in the concrete suburbia normally ruled by stiff, paunchy men from older generations. When he assumed Alhambra’s mayoral seat in 1977 at the age of 26 in post-Watergate America, it slingshot him to instant celebrity as America ’s youngest mayor and Golden Boy of the San Gabriel Valley.

Charismatic and hard charging, a natural before any crowd, the blond-haired, blue-haired Ballreich had a seemingly limitless future. Congress, a run at governor: Republican pundits believed it was all his for the asking. Carelessness, however, would cost him his chance to shine on a bigger stage. 

Shortly after his landside re-election in 1978, the electricity that’d once distinguished him curdled into scathing headlines against him, as activists accused him of misspending about $2,700 of city travel funds on a trip to Washington, D.C. the previous year. The District Attorney’s office declined to press charges, but the scandal punctured Ballreich’s confidence, if not his mystique as a prodigy that others better seeing coming. He abruptly resigned his post, relocating for ten years to Arkansas, where he’d later brag about hobnobbing with Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Ballreich returned to Southern California in 1988 as a political consultant and a single dad, still dynamic as ever, though no prodigal son. Savagely killed at 41, he was never able to do what he confided to his girlfriend: seek office again to fulfill the promise so many saw in him.

A COLD RED SCENT

If all this seems like a distant memory about a once-famous person, it is. Stephen (Steve) Lynn Ballreich was mowed down across the street from the leafy grounds of the Ramona Convent where he once played as an outgoing kid around 8 P.M. on Nov. 14, 1991 months after the American military ousted Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait. 

Some 14 years later, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. remains stumped about who murdered him in such a public fashion. It is officially a cold case with no active suspects and no motive ever established. Several veteran homicide detectives assigned to investigate it have come and gone. One drifted into a retirement on the East Coast feeling “haunted” by its unresolved status, a source said. “All the leads have been exhausted,” acknowledged Sheriff’s homicide detective Susan Coleman. “We’ve been hindered by a lack of witnesses and evidence.”

So much time has elapsed that a jaded sense exists today the case is practically unsolvable. Even Ballreich’s own mother has stopped calling officials for updates. Adding to the cynicism is the virtual information blackout imposed by authorities. Neither the Alhambra Police Dept., which first responded to the shooting, nor the Sheriff’s Dept. that took over the investigation will release the crime report. They say publicizing it could jeopardize what leads they have, including clues lifted from the murder site, a modest, tree-lined block between Valley Boulevard and the San Bernardino (10) Freeway.

At the top of the missing evidence is the murder weapon itself: a 12-gauge shotgun that cannoned two or three close-range pellet-salvos into Ballreich as he walked or jogged in the 1700 block Marguerita Ave. in the primetime-TV hour. Another crucial item that authorities failed to locate, at least initially, was an address book kept at his apartment. 

“I ask some of the police chiefs once in a while when I am trying to be funny how the Ballreich case is coming,” said former Councilman Parker Williams, who served with him at City Hall in the 1970s and was later prosecuted in a bribery scandal. “You know without asking that nobody has any information … I think it’s just tragic.”

While several of Ballreich’s longtime friends question whether the Sheriff’s Dept. pursued the case as tenaciously or competently as it could have — especially in light of a newly disclosed 1989 death threat he allegedly received and his entanglement with possessive women – it’s never been a slam-dunk whodunit. Ballreich’s habit of infuriating people he once impressed, gambling fever and oft-murky doings made him a jigsaw-like personality excruciating for police to piece together. 

Hence, the more you dig into his existence, the more you appreciate detectives’ quandary. It wasn’t so much who wanted Stephen Ballreich dead but, at times, who didn’t?

Williams, like others, said authorities told him that Ballreich’s killer probably first shot him in the back from a slowing car, and then stood over him as he lay supine on the sidewalk to bury a second round into his face. The point-blank force from it penetrated his skull, blowing off the back, according to the autopsy report, a copy of which the Pasadena Weekly obtained.

In the days following the bloodshed, wild theories circulated around town that a hit man commissioned by an obsessed woman, jealous husband, or incensed father had masterminded it, or that it’d tumbled from a snowballing bookmaking debt. Fringe scenarios envisioned the ex-mayor with a slightly receding hairline and a trademark blond moustache was targeted because of politics. Had someone put out a contract on Ballreich (pronounced Ball-ridge) because he’d learned something sinister or switched allegiances? “Obviously, because of his political activity, we’re having to check that out,” Curt Royer, a Sheriff’s sergeant who’d become one of the lead investigators, told the Los Angeles Times.

For many, the fact that he perished where he did was more than gut-wrenching coincidence. People close to him knew that he was so fond of his childhood block that he often drove from his sparsely furnished South Pasadena apartment, where he’d been living upon his from Arkansas, to jog there after work. Someone out to knock him off who appreciated Ballreich’s sentimental attachment there could easily have exploited it. Authorities tried tempering the rabid speculation about that and similar theories by suggesting it might’ve been a more mundane robbery or a gang assault responsible.  

Again, those acquainted with Ballreich’s background doubt it was a crime of opportunity. Besides, he was an athletic 6’1,” 239-pound Caucasian outfitted in a red jacket, sweatpants, and sneakers when he took his last stride. He didn’t fit the profile of someone a gang would hurt, even for a suburb a short hop from East L.A.’s deadliest barrios.

Ballreich’s behavior in the months leading up to his demise, on the other hand, paint a man frantic for cash and eager to commit to paper where his assets would go should he perish. Shortly before he did, Ballreich evidently spread $5,000 cash on the floor of his apartment. On the Wednesday he was murdered, one source said, an occupant from his apartment complex saw him peel “rubber” in his car in a rush to get a meeting spot. 

Overall, if you polled those in Ballreich’s inner-circle, the way he died seemed to them to holler the motive in capital letters— VENGEANCE!

The local Baptist church that hosted his funeral drew 150 mourners, many of them numb. Eulogies by dignitaries and officials from this gray, cliquish city where mercurial rock producer Phil Spector murdered a date in 2003 and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s mother grew up lamented what was lost, what could have been. His landlady, who seemed to have an abiding fondness for him, praised his uniqueness. Talmadge Burke, a pillar of Alhambra’s political Establishment and one of California’s longest serving politicians, was devastated, though he was as different as could be from the victim. “He loved beauty and the aesthetics of Alhambra,” Burke quipped to a local newspaper. “He always helpful. He liked people of all ages. It’s difficult to say goodbye.”

Less mentioned amid the black suits and sodden tissues was the deceased’s compulsion for illicit romances and fast living, a “thrill junkie” who cleaned up beautifully in a suit and tie. Those proclivities slid with him into the grave or, perhaps, dispatched him there.

A ‘HORRIBLE VOID’

Jo Hartman, a special education teacher in Santa Maria, remembered the heartbreak of 1991, when she breezed into her apartment to notice her answering machine blinking crazily. Played back, the messages had an awful theme — the local news was all over the story of her boyfriend’s death.

Ballreich and her got to know each other in tenth-grade algebra. Mischievous humor and chemistry kept them close but Hartman wouldn’t let it go further, aware of the girls who swooned for Ballreich without him even trying. One buddy compared him to actor Tom Selleck with a “Marlboro Man” swagger. You needed a calculator to keep up with his conquests. It was in March 1991, after a fundraiser for a Pasadena candidate that Ballreich was guiding, when romance sparked between them. There was inevitability to it. Once involved, they laughed they were the real life version of the movie “When Harry Met Sally.”

Ballreich, twice divorced by now, talked marriage, Hartman said. She wavered. They’d quarreled over money she owed him and his devil-may-care style. Hartman also recognized that Ballreich sometimes drank excessively, and had other weakness going way back. She was not the first to come to that conclusion. Binges and reckless abandon fueled the paradox about him, as if periodic self-destruction was programmed in his genes. Ballreich could be tender and fun loving, the star of the room, just as he could be deceitful, slippery or a flake that stood up friends within the course of the same week.

Steven Born learned this about him in the early-1970s. They’d met as volunteers for the Young Republicans doing grunt work on a San Fernando Valley congressional campaign. Born watched his friend alienate peers with sordid behavior that undercut what he said was Ballreich’s uncanny “power of persuasion.” Born and others from that era perceived a guy with an outsized personality with difficulty taping the brakes of self-control when it came to laying wagers, hitting on attractive females or barroom brawling. 

“That was part of the problem: (Steve) could manipulate people so well,” said Born, a science teacher. “He remembered everybody’s name. He could get people to do things and work hard on campaign, even for inferior candidates. He was a wonderful salesman There was that a part of him that did really care about people. Then he’d switch on the selfish part and regret it later. It was like he was telling himself he had to do that to be a good person.”

In July 1991, the last time Hartman saw him alive, Ballreich unexpectedly — and for reasons still unexplained — asked her to witness a legal will that he’d had drafted. It was strange, foreboding and uncharacteristic. “Here was someone who didn’t plan things out,” she said. “Common sense would make you question why he was concerned about not being around.”

By fall of ‘91, the pair had started to warm up again romantically. He was sanguine about his future, telling Hartman that he wanted to “toss his hat in the political ring” a final time without specifying which race. Simultaneously, he prodded her to repay the $1,000 that he’d lent her that summer, phrasing the money “imperative” for him to recoup. His last communication with her was contained in an amusing Halloween card that he mailed. Her final words to him were a phone message that went unreturned. She left it on Nov. 14 at 6:51 p.m., roughly 90 minutes before his murderer aimed that shotgun at him. “I was in despair, beyond despair with the news,” Hartman said. “At first I didn’t believe it. At the reception after the funeral is when it hit me. He was really gone! It was that horrible void. ”

Hartman said she spoke to the police several times trying to help them apprehend the killer. Another longtime friend, who asked that their name be withheld out of safety concerns, joined the effort to winnow down suspects. This friend sent detectives a detailed, nine-page memo listing Ballreich’s friends, associates, and lovers, theorizing who might have wanted get payback on him and why. The memo, a copy of which the Weekly has obtained, points most strongly at two women with whom he’d been involved. (The Weekly does not divulge the names of people if they have not been arrested or sentenced for a crime.)

Ballreich had met one of the women when he was a twenty-something mayor and she was a petite, attractive teenager from a local high school. They dated periodically and often brazenly. The illicit relationship ignited doubts about Ballreich’s character among his older Council peers. “He screwed himself up at an early age with drinking, gambling, liking young girls,” said Barbara Messina, a former councilwoman and current Alhambra School Board member. “He had too much too soon and could ’t handle it. (But) he’d brought the community together and started Project Pride. He could’ve charmed a snake out of a tree.”

RED FLAGS

Or, alternatively, invited vipers into his nest after he’d come home from Arkansas. According to his friend’s memo, this younger woman later studied the cello at USC, but never finished there because of drug problems. She eventually married someone else and moved to the New York area. Despite that separation, she and Ballreich continued their love affair when she visited the West Coast. Their favored hook-up spot was at a Best Western motel in Arcadia near the Santa Anita racetrack, the memo said.

In Jan. 1989, this woman’s husband allegedly threatened to kill Ballreich if he persisted with the tryst, the memo said. Ballreich, worried enough to interview bodyguards, told the friend who penned that memo that the woman was in town at the beginning of Nov. 1991 and that he had seen her. “Obsessed with Steve, extremely possessive, constantly looking for Steve’s suspected infidelities despite (the) fact that she, herself, continued to be married,” the memo read. “Violently jealous … (Steve) described his continuing concern for her welfare as his ‘weakness …’”

Ballreich, Hartman said, never confided in her about any threat, but she knew about the “obsessed” cellist. A few years earlier, when she and Ballreich were still on a platonic terms, she’d called him about playing tennis. He abruptly told her he couldn’t and hung up. Hartman’s phone soon rang and Ballreich put the woman on the line. “She said, ‘This is so and so and I’d like you never to call Steve again,’” Hartman recalled. “She said, ‘He’s my fiancé and I want you out of my life.’ It was almost like Steve was intimidated. I said Steve’s happiness is important to me and if I’m upsetting that, I won’t call again. She slammed the phone in my ear. Steve called the next night to say he was ‘horribly sorry.’ I told him, ‘Steve, what are you doing? This was a red flag. ’”

When detectives questioned this woman about her whereabouts and activities the day Ballreich died, she warned them that the next time they contacted her she’d have a lawyer represent her, Hartman was told. “As soon as she said that, they stopped. To me that would’ve been pay dirt,” Hartman said. “They should have been running this down. I’m not blaming the police. I thought it was one of those hard-to-solve cases. But there was a real suspect and the Sheriff’s Department didn’t follow through.”

She and the friend who authored the memo said they queried the Sheriff’s Dept. if a crime show like “America’s Most Wanted” might consider airing a segment about the case to generate leads and publicity. The idea went nowhere, they said, because detectives told them that producers of those shows wouldn’t feel Ballreich’s rogue personality made him a sympathetic-enough victim.

The comings-and-goings into his apartment during the immediate search for his slayer was another area where Ballreich’s friends butted heads with investigators. Hartman, for instance, had used her own key to enter his place on Nov. 16 to retrieve his will, finding that it’d gone missing. When she came back the next day, it’d magically appeared. Hartman said she informed detectives about it with little effect. Ballreich’s other friend experienced the same thing. She reported 10 items that’d been lifted from his place. Among them were a gold watch, two rings, a bible with his daughter’s name in it, a pair of negligees, and, curiously, his address book. “His apartment wasn’t taped off,” Hartman said. “There was no yellow (police) tape.”

The Sheriff’s Dept. Coleman disagreed, contending that Ballreich’s apartment was secured by all the “appropriate” measures. She declined to elaborate on the items allegedly taken. Other sensitive areas – what tips authorities explored and whether a volatile, older woman from the political world that Ballreich had slept with passed their polygraph test under interrogation – have drawn official silence, too. 

“There were several friends, several associates and several acquaintances who were interviewed by us, but no one has been identified as the suspect,” Coleman said. “There are many things that could have happened, and maybe even the thing you expected least. You just can’t have guesses. You have to have facts.” As with all unsolved murders, she said, detectives have reviewed Ballreich’s case within the last five years. Coleman said they failed to uncover any disregarded clues.

Over at Alhambra City Hall, the enduring mystery that has flummoxed police and demoralized his loved ones has elicited paltry attention. Nobody there can cite regular contact with the Sheriff’s Dept. asking to be briefed about the investigation or expressing alarm about its dwindling scent. It’s almost as if the city’s leadership would prefer the issue fade away because Ballreich’s personal failings were a municipal embarrassment best forgotten. If not for his toothy photograph on the wall or yellowing newspaper stories about him, an outsider never would’ve known that Alhambra’s onetime favorite son had ever banged the council gavel. 

 “I don’t mean to sound cavalier, but there are probably thousands of unsolved murders in L.A. County over 15 years,” said Alhambra mayor Paul Talbot. “Stephen Ballreich’s murder, though more sensational, is just as tragic as thousand of others. I’m more interested in the more current types of crimes.” The Sheriff’s Dept. has about 1,200 cold cases it’s working, including Ballreich’s, officials estimated.

 

Councilman Daniel Arguello, who split with Talbot in a juicy power struggle in the last few years, disagrees that his colleague should be so passive about the taking down of one their own. “This isn’t Los Angeles, where you have 4 million people living there – it’s Alhambra!” said Arguello. “It was a very serious crime and nobody knows who did it, even the Alhambra spin doctors who say Ballreich was an evil guy.” 

PROJECT PRIDE AND THE KID

Ballreich’s mother, Jean, said she’s lost track of the probe. For the three years after it happened, she said she stayed in touch with authorities from her home in Prescott, Arizona. A highly devout Christian, now twice widowed, she moved to the Southwest in 1980 to ease her asthma. “At first, I really, really wanted to know,” she said. “I would keep calling the Sheriff’s Dept., and the detective said, ‘As long as I’m here,’ they would pursue it. There are many things about it that are hard to understand. “But it won’t bring (Steve) back. God knows all things, and he knows what happened. If I could talk to whoever did this, I would just say. ‘I forgive you,’ not because I because I didn’t love my son, but because God will.”

She and Stephen’s father, Barney, had once foreseen exquisite things for him. From an early age, he schmoozed neighbors on his paper route, had terrific writing and speaking abilities, and possessed an allure everybody recognized. Shackling those talents, his mother said, was a manic-depressive streak and pigheadedness from an early age that he was destined for life in politics and only politics.

The family’s Beverly Hills-based jewelry business disinterested him as an occupation. Ballreich’s father then died suddenly when he was in his early-twenties. “From the time he was born, a lot of (Stephen’s) problem was being too high or too low,” in a possible sign of bipolar syndrome. “I couldn’t convince a lot of people about that,” Jean Ballreich said. “Emotionally, he was unstable. If he hadn’t been that way, he might’ve been the governor of California. I would’ve loved it if he’d gone into TV.”

One matronly Republican Party volunteer recalled meeting Ballreich when he was a gung-ho teenager with a cast on his leg stuffing mailers for a conservative candidate. Ronald Reagan and former Sen. Barry Goldwater were his icons. He quoted Thomas Jefferson the way some teenagers quote rock lyrics, though Stephen was a Beatles fan entranced with the White Album. He collected vintage political pins, assembling an impressive collection.

Despite obvious brains, his grades were average, his mother said. After graduating from Alhambra High School, he attended various colleges without earning a degree. To earn money – and he always seemed to scrambling for it — he acquired a Burbank restaurant named the Pizza Pantry. He did seasonal campaign work for local Republicans, as well, and may have taken odd jobs under the alias “Richard Aldridge,” sources said.

He married young, but the union was tumultuous and he and his first wife, Cindy, subsequently divorced. She did not respond to requests for comment. “He wasn’t a follow-througher unless it was something he wanted to do,” Jean Ballreich said. “Politics ruined his marriage. He gave Cindy a bad time. He did so many contradictory things.” 

But he achieved some landmark ones, too. In 1974, in the midst of Watergate and Vietnam, Ballreich blindsided the Alhambra status quo by unseating incumbent Councilman T. D’Arcy Quinn. Though it made for a magical storyline, he’d used hustle and chutzpah to win, staying up to 4 a.m. election-day dropping campaign fliers on doorsteps while his opponent slept. When he rotated in as mayor three years later, after winning re-election in 1978 with a record 75 percent of the vote, laurels were thrown at his feet. 

Parker Williams said that he introduced Ballreich about this time to renowned political consultant Stuart Spencer, who’d later counsel Reagan as President. Spencer, Williams said, believed that Ballreich had a sparkling career ahead if pushed aside the distractions and focused. Certainly, someone with his zippy charisma was bound for bigger things than a city whose most provocative issue was getting the Long Beach (710) Freeway extension completed so local streets were less bottlenecked. The local Jaycee’s named Ballreich, who seemed to have a little John McCain in him, one of California’s “five most successful young men.” 

His signature initiative was “Project Pride” a community cleanup regimen. Local TV stations did segments showing the Baby Boomer mayor painting over graffiti with ex-gang members. He also pushed for the opening of a boxing club.

Yet only three months after his re-election victory party, a citizen’s group called “All We Can Afford” accused him of misusing and failing to report $2,650 in travel expenses following a March 1978 trip to Washington, D.C. for the National League of Cities. Questions swirled around whether he had receipts for his time at the Mayflower Hotel or whether he’d even stayed there.

A District Attorney probe netted no formal charges. Prosecutors never turned up any proof that Ballreich had intentionally broken Alhambra’s then-vague travel rules. Ballreich reacted defensively, all the same, bitterly resigning from the council where he’d been its telegenic star – a decision he said he later regretted. “I will not subject the city or any member of this City Council to the continual meaningless harassment, such as it has had to endure during the last 55 days,” he said publicly at the time. His adversaries, he added, had contorted an innocent incident into something “criminal.” 

From there, the city’s chastened prince did the unexpected. He boxed up his things and hotfooted it 1,700 miles or so to Arkansas.

DREAMING GRANDLY

He was there during most of the 1980s, doing what nobody is quite certain. Everybody he spoke to from Arkansas heard different stories, the truth either, grafted, nuanced or fabricated whole cloth. Maybe he was just airbrushing over his shame about tripping himself up just as new doors were about to open for him. What is known is that he stayed in a house that his mother purchased in a lakeside resort town called Heber Springs in Arkansas’ north-central Ozark Mountains. He also spent time in Little Rock, apparently doing campaign work for state Democrats. Interspersing his political work was a stint as a radio talk show host for a station whose call letters or format nobody can pinpoint all these years later.

Longtime friend Born visited him in Heber Springs in 1988. As usual, Ballreich didn’t show up to their agreed meeting place. Perplexed, Born asked a local where he could find the town’s big radio personality. “The guy laughed,” Born recalled. “He said Steve fries fish for a living.’ I thought typical Steve.”

Wherever his paycheck was signed, Ballreich spoke constantly about associating with then-Gov. Clinton and his wife, Hillary. Depending on whom you ask, he worked for Clinton, advised him, socialized with him, or some combination thereof. There were conspicuous similarities between the two. Both were political junkies and bubbly ambitious during the workweek, Good-Time Charlies hooked to pathological libidos after hours, and magnetic one-on-one around the clock.

“If you were in a crowded room with Bill Clinton, he’d talk to you like you were the only one there, and Steve was the same way,” quipped Glenn Thornhill, who knew Ballreich from his Young Republicans days. “Steve said he knew Bill and Hillary, and hung around in the same circles. Who knows? It could’ve been bull. But I can see why Steve liked him: Clinton was a successful Steve Ballreich.”

While in Arkansas, Ballreich fathered a daughter, Noelle. One source said he wed the mother in a shotgun marriage that did not last long. Before he died, he admitted he’d been an absentee father, and at least Noelle wouldn’t be influenced by his poor decision-making. 

Unfortunately, there wasn’t always so much clarity. Ballreich, for instance, tried convincing folks he was part Irish in spite of the imposing, blond appearance that confirmed his German heritage. Whether that blarney was a symptom of a delusional personality or a fanciful one, it helped him compartmentalize his life with slick divisions. Even longtime family friends had little inkling of his wild side, or the fact that he’d done semi-pro boxing or battled health problems. 

One characteristic he was unable to deflect from public consumption was the sexual appetite that incessantly put him in hot. He acknowledged to a family friend that he had little restraint over his urges around a pretty face, and that when his “hormones percolated” he was a slave to them. “Light and dark,” this friend used to describe him. “Light and dark.”

Arkansas’ weather and backward climate helped propel him West back to Southern California. He returned almost broke, but with his love of politics and patriotism intact. At first, he stayed with friends until he’d saved enough money to rent in South Pasadena, the quaint city of Craftsmen homes that’d been Alhambra’s arch-enemy for decades over the Long Beach Freeway controversy. 

If he lived cheaply, he dreamed expansively. Ballreich in early 1989 hooked arms with failed Alhambra Council candidate Allen Co in a novel bid to boost voting rates and political participation within the city’s Asian American community. It was a prescient move by a wily tactician; Asian Americans today comprise 60 percent of the town’s population. Ballreich told the media at the time that he was shocked at the level of prejudice towards them among whites and the surge of Asian businesses since he’d left in 1979. Someone, he said, had to prepare the city of about 90,000 for a multi-ethnic future once its white bread past slipped away. Co, who later served on the South El Monte Council, did not return phone calls.

Ballreich’s interests crackled beyond the coming minority-majority. In 1988, he and Merrill Francis, a longtime Alhambra lawyer and civic leader, launched a political consulting business called Pegasus after the mythical flying horse. Their gimmick: Francis, the Democrat and Ballreich, the centrist Republican, would bring a spectrum of campaign experience to their clients. Together only a few years, they mostly ran local council and school board races, generally with little success, branching out to manage then-Councilman Michael Blanco’s losing bid for California insurance commissioner.

Though creeping towards middle age, Ballreich was devoted to outdoor exercise, either running or playing tennis practically daily, Francis said. But there were issues. Though few knew it, Ballreich had gone back to Arkansas to have laser heart surgery performed. His autopsy report did reveal coronary blockages. 

Francis said he has difficulty recollecting Ballreich’s murder because it coincided with the death of his first wife and his mother. Some memories remained un-dimmed.  “Steve was very approachable and there was an excitement about him – a sex appeal. He made a strong impression.” At the time of his murder, Francis said, his partner was still a “lady’s man with a pretty active social life.” Among other women he was dating was a youngish one who worked in the court system, Francis added. He did not know if detectives interviewed her. Authorities did disclose to Francis that Ballreich’s answering machine tape had given them promising leads. They said the murder had the earmarks of a “professional job,” what with shots to his face and heart area.

During their years together, Francis said Ballreich’s spent part of it traveling around the country promoting a patriotic cause for a man who later refused to pay him. Though angry about being stiffed on that job, Ballreich routinely took chances that almost no one else would, be it with spec assignments, pranks, or women half his age. It was as if he required the adrenaline kick to keep him interested. “Steve was a natural risk-taker,” Francis said. “He’d bet beyond his paying capability. One time he put up the pink slip on his car on a prize fight … What I’m seeing (today) is that he was a like a piece of quartz shining through many facets.”

Francis, now 72, spoke at the funeral and tried assisting police. He doesn’t subscribe to conspiracy theories that others whisper suggesting that Ballreich’s murder was politically motivated. “That scuttlebutt didn’t mean anything,” he said. “But there is disappointment there hasn’t been retribution for whoever killed him.”

Ballreich’s allegiance to Clinton was as strong as ever after he re-migrated from the South. He told many in 1991, including Francis, that he would not only support the Arkansan for President but would raise money for him. If Ballreich was on the Clinton team, it’s news to some of the ex-presidents key advisers. Los Angeles lawyer John Emerson, who was involved with Clinton’s 1992 campaign to win the California primary, said he didn’t know who Ballreich was. Linda Dixon, assistant manager for volunteer and visitor services for the Clinton Foundation, parroted the same line. “I’ve been with President Clinton 23 years and I’ve never heard his name before,” Dixon said. “I’m only speaking for myself.”

Ballreich’s Young Republicans chums kept in contact with him to the end. Over drinks, they razzed him about how a died-in-the-wool conservative could champion a liberal-tilting Southern Democrat. When the needling stopped, these same longtime acquaintances noticed that while Ballreich was still the impulsive, flirtatious guy he’d always been, he had a more serious bent to him, a sort of “world-weariness.”

DIFFERENT MASKS

His death was quick, brutish, and well orchestrated. Residents who heard the shots summoned Alhambra police. Witnesses relayed they’d seen a dark, 1970s-era Camaro flee the scene. Fear clenched Marguerita Avenue in the following days. The nearby elementary school — the same one Ballreich attended in the 1960s — went into lockdown after someone reported a prowler lurking. It was not the last suspicious sighting, not with a cunning murderer running free.

Police discovered Ballreich lying face up with what the coroner’s office described as “massive open head trauma.” The second wound came from a gunshot that struck him in the upper, left side of his back and exited through his chest, leaving behind a grisly, seven-inch gash. Either blast was lethal. Police extracted gunshot residue from the scene.

The coroner’s office reported three salvos were fired, but only described two of them. Ballreich, it said, appeared to have been “walking on the sidewalk” when the gunman pulled up. This may be critical. While he was an avid runner, he was wearing underpants, not an athletic supporter, at the time he died. Some have speculated whether that meant he was meeting somebody under the pretext of exercise. No drugs were detected in his system. Overall, the autopsy determined that Ballreich had been healthy except for coronary occlusions. Still in his wallet was his old Arkansas driver’s license.

Detectives mulled the possibility street gangs were involved. Four days before the murder, a 20-year-old gang member had been killed about a mile away. They also interviewed members of the Lincoln Club, a Republican political action committee that Ballreich volunteered at and advised. Before he’d died, he’d counseled the PAC about its donations and involvement with various campaigns.

The Sheriff’s Dept. interviewed Lincoln Club employees at the PAC’s El Monte offices, a former worker there confirmed. Nerves were already on edge at the small organization after employees complained about a bizarre series of petty crimes directed at them. Staffers had reported a slashed tire, a tampered car gas tank, a stolen purse and signs of an intruder at one of their houses, among other unexplained events. Suspicion fell on a recently fired employee – a woman who’d known Ballreich well.

Bill Ukropina, a volunteer with the Lincoln Club and former chairman of its Pasadena branch, said he was unaware that the homicide investigation touched the group. Nor, he said, did he know of Ballreich’s personal issues. “I never saw any side of Steve other than a cordial, professional one,” Ukropina said. “He was such a talented guy. He made excellent presentations. He brought a lot to the world, a lot to the community. I miss him.”

Ultimately, the Sheriff’s Dept. decided both the Lincoln Club and roving gang violence probably had nothing to do with what happened to him. It was not clear why detectives ruled them out. Perhaps other avenues were more fruitful. Ballreich’s landlady, a longtime friend said detectives told her, had watched him rush out of his South Pasadena apartment on the November 1991 afternoon that he was shot. “The day Stephen died, he’d come home, and all of a sudden left in great haste,” said this source. “He peeled rubber out, like it was some big emergency. If he was upset and in a hurry, somebody must’ve called him.” 

Born, the friend from their days together in the Young Republicans, said police were curious in learning about Ballreich’s gambling habits. For years, Ballreich had wagered on football games and prizefights. Williams, the former councilman, acknowledged remembering one of Ballreich’s bookies from the 1970s. So, could’ve a new debt from a lingering vice precipitated what transpired on Marguerita Ave.? There are tantalizing aspects to the idea. The Sheriff’s Dept., Born said, located somebody who remembered seeing $5,000 in cash in Ballreich’s apartment not long before he left it a final time. “The Sheriff’s Department thought he was meeting someone the night” said Born. “Why (else) would he have $5,000 on the floor of his apartment? Why not keep it in the bank?”

Which leads us back to the beginning — November 1991. If it wasn’t an indiscriminate drive-by, and it wasn’t something else random, then why was a once high-profile person drawn to his old neighborhood and effectively assassinated? Was it a violent exclamation point about an unforgivable sin or a warning to others?  “(Sheriff detectives) had a particular interest in who might know he was running in that area on that street on that day at that time,” said Francis, his ex-business partner. “Who knew him well enough to know that? It narrows the circle of people who would be of primary interest.”

The question may be unanswerable. When you sweep everything else aside, you realize that Stephen Ballreich died the same way he’d lived — spectacularly, disturbingly. It’s symmetry not lost on longtime buddy Glenn Thornhill. “One of my friends ran into an Alhambra policeman, and the cop said, ‘We don’t know who did it. Steve Ballreich told so many different stories to so many different people we could be talking to the responsible person and we wouldn’t even have a clue.’”