|Cotati’s day of infamy lives on in new book
Sole survivor details 1989 Salcido murders, including three in Cotati
Twenty years ago, early on April 14, 1989 an event occurred on a quiet street just a few blocks from Cotati’s hub that would shake the small town more deeply than the Loma Prieta earthquake would only six months later. Before the day was over, three Cotati residents would be dead, brutally murdered by enraged family member Ramon Salcido.
Cotati Police Chief Robert Stewart, a Lieutenant at the time, described the scene as “pretty horrific... You can never forget it, especially if you have kids yourself.”
It would be hard to find anyone who lived in Sonoma County in 1989 who doesn’t remember that day, but, as Stewart points out, “The community was very shocked by the event.”
Indeed the entire nation was stunned by the unthinkable act of a father slitting the throats of his three daughters, 4-year-old Sophia, 2-year-old Carmina, and 1-year-old Teresa, and leaving their bodies like discarded dolls in the weeds at the dump station on Stage Gulch Road. It would be the next day before everyone collectively, unbelievingly, held their breath when Carmina was found alive.
But the killing did not stop with his daughters.
The home on Cotati’s Lakewood Drive turned out to be Salcido’s second stop on his bloody rampage through Sonoma County, killing seven people before his day was over. Delivery driver Bob Richards lived there with his wife, Marian (“Louise”) and their two daughters, Maria, 8, and Ruth, 12. Salcido was married to their oldest daughter, Angela, but he rarely accompanied Angela and their three girls when they visited their grandparents and young aunts.
“Not many people knew or could identify Ramon Salcido,” Stewart said. Once the better-equipped and staffed Sonoma County Sheriff’s department took over the crime scene, it was up to the Cotati police to provide security for the scene and interview the neighbors.
Cotati Police had been dispatched to the Richards home on a “welfare check.” With two crime scenes on their hands already and a growing concern about the missing daughters of their prime suspect, the sheriff’s department made the connection between Salcido and the Richards family. Could Salcido, or his missing daughters, be with them? Perhaps they could offer some information about Salcido’s whereabouts, or perhaps they, too, were in danger. But it was too late and the police were left with yet another crime scene on their hands and a lot of puzzle pieces to fit together.
After Salcido left his daughters to die he arrived at his in-laws’ home, waiting until Richards left for work. He attacked Louise, knocking her unconscious. It is believed he then raped both young girls before cutting their throats, then killing Louise when she regained consciousness and tried to defend her daughters.
Salcido left the home, stealing a handgun from a back room. It was the gun he would subsequently use to kill his wife in their Boyes Hot Springs home and Tracy Toovey, an assistant winemaker at Grand Cru winery in Glen Ellen, whom he suspected of having an affair with his wife. He also used it in the attempted murder of Ken Butti, Salcido’s supervisor at Grand Cru, at Butti’s Kenwood home.
Today Carmina, the only eye-witness to Ramon Salcido’s crime appears strong and confident as she tells her story. She was featured on ABC’s 20/20 Oct. 16, and is currently on a book tour with her newly released autobiography, “Not Lost Forever,” which was sold out across Sonoma County on Saturday. It recounts both the crime and her life since. It is a heartbreaking story, but she tells it with charm and grace.
On the television program she recounted her one and only visit to Ramon (she refers to him by his first name) on death row at San Quentin prison. But she was disappointed by his failure to accept responsibility for what he has done.
“I don’t think I could have done it,” says Stewart, referring to the San Quentin visit.
At a book-signing held at Copperfield’s Books’ Petaluma store on Saturday, the audience clearly hungered to know what had become of her, where she had gone, and even more, how had she managed to overcome it all. The book, she said, was one more “part of a long healing process.”
When asked about Richards, her grandfather, she said that he visited her every year during her childhood. He is now remarried and living in Montana. “He wants to move back to California, now that I’m here and so are his sons, but he’s having a hard time selling his house,” says Carmina.
It’s not likely that Bob Richards will return to live in Cotati, where so much of his life was ripped away from him. Today’s residents on Lakewood Drive may never remember - or even know - about the tragedy that took place there, but Cotati will always bear the sorrow of that one ugly scar and remember with affection the little girl who survived.
Carmina Salcido will be featured at an event at the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma, at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25.