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For Californians seeking to get out of the big city, the remote Camp Nelson in Tulare County offered a great escape.
Bonnie and Jim Hood bought the place in the late 1980s. The rustic retreat became her main residence and business focus, while her husband, a developer, stayed in Newport Beach.
But on August 19, 1990, following a lavish wedding party held at the lodge, Bonnie, 46, was shot and killed in her cabin at around 3 in the morning.
Rudy Manual, the lodge groundskeeper, was also in the room. He had been wounded but was able to phone for help and said the shooter was driving a red Jeep.
Investigators combed through the crime scene, collecting blood evidence and fingerprints. They had numerous questions: Who would shoot Bonnie? And why was Manuel, who was also married, in the room?
“Bonnie was wearing a light brown negligee with a lace inset [at the time of her murder],” Helen Erb, a local businesswoman, told “Murdered By Morning,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
Manuel admitted to police he and Bonnie were having an affair. By his account, he was seeking a divorce. His close relationship with his boss “was not a secret up there,” said Juan Morales, former detective with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office.
Manuel retraced the events of the evening for detectives. He claimed that shortly hearing a noise outside, the door to Bonnie’s cabin burst open. An unknown white male intruder around 30 years old rushed in and demanded money, presumably referring to tips from the wedding party. When Manuel said there was no money, he was shot. He then heard the gunman tell Bonnie, “I know you, bitch,” before shooting her point blank, Camp Nelson resident Tinker Lindsay told producers.
That detail indicated to investigators that the motive maybe wasn’t a robbery, but could be a premeditated hit.
When Jim Hood arrived at the lodge, he told authorities he and Bonnie had a strong marriage and that he was unaware of the affair. He had a theory that the perpetrator was someone Bonnie had crossed who had a grudge against her.
Could someone have held a vendetta against Bonnie? Investigators considered and eventually cleared a local livestock rancher who reportedly had a running feud with Rudy Manuel as a possible suspect.
Scott Wallen, a friend of Bonnie’s, told authorities that he observed a man who’d stayed late after the wedding party who he didn’t know. He recalled that the stranger was missing a tooth and was drinking a Budweiser. The lodge bartender also said that the stranger had been dining alone, according to Morales. After the individual left, the bartender placed the beer bottle behind the bar. It was collected and sent to be tested for latent fingerprints.
The fingerprint on the beer bottle turned out to belong to Bruce Beauchamp, who lived in Fontana, California and had a criminal history.
Through a photo array, Manuel identified Beauchamp as the man who shot him and Bonnie, according to investigators.
Detectives questioned Beauchamp, who admitted that he had gone to Camp Nelson for some rest and relaxation on the night of the big wedding party. He was asked specifically if he knew Bonnie Hood, and he said he didn't really know her. He denied seeing her the night she was shot, and his account of the evening matched what other witnesses had told detectives.
A search of Beauchamp’s residence turned up a receipt for a pair of shoes whose prints matched ones found at the crime scene. Beauchamp was arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder, said Morales.
But as investigators dug deeper, they turned up a shocking direct connection to the victim. Beauchamp worked construction for Jim Hood. Had this been a contract murder? Was Bonnie’s husband involved in some way? Investigators considered the many possibilities.
However, the evidence was only circumstantial. Jim Hood was never charged in connection with Bonnie's death.
Prosecutors faced a difficult case against Beauchamp. There was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, so they relied heavily on Manuel’s testimony. But at the trial in January 1991, Manuel denied his relationship with Bonnie.
“That meant that everything he said after that was suspect,” said Lindsay.
After a short trial, Beauchamp was acquitted of murder and attempted murder.
On March 22, 1992, the case took a bizarre twist. Bruce Beauchamp was shot to death by Jim Hood in his office.
Jim claimed that he shot his former employee in self-defense, but evidence at the scene including the position of the victim’s body and his gun as well as blood spatter indicated otherwise.
Beauchamp “had been shot seven times,” said Brian English, former supervising homicide detective with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. “That’s not a self-defense, that’s a murder.”
Jim Hood was arrested for first-degree murder. Prosecutors’ unproven theory was that Jim was behind his wife’s hit-for-hire because she appeared to be ready to leave the marriage and he faced financial issues, and he killed Hood to avoid the secret being revealed.
After Beauchamp’s death, his widow claimed that he told her he was paid $50,000 by James Hood to commit the crime, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In October 1992, Jim Hood’s trial resulted in a hung jury. In June 1993, his second trial began. When he took the stand he changed his story about his deadly encounter with Beauchamp — allegedly because he’d heard testimony at his first trial stating that his original version of the events were impossible.
Jurors from the first trial were brought in to testify that Jim changed his account. In February 1994 he was found guilty of murder and was eventually sentenced to 27 years to life for murder and two additional years for use of a firearm.
He served 23 years before being paroled on April 23, 2017, according to “Murdered By Morning.” He’s never been prosecuted for Bonnie’s death and the hit-for-hire plot has never been proven.
To learn more about the case, watch “Murdered By Morning,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
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