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The savage July 27, 1999 stabbing murders of Tom Whitney, 60, and Lawrence Wong, 51, in lovely, sun-soaked Irvine, California is a grim reminder that horrible things happen in pretty places.
The victims were about six months into their relationship and shared a love of music. Whitney taught voice and piano, while Wong was a classical musician. They were known as caring gentlemen by their loved ones.
The two were found dead after a man and his daughter came to Whitney’s condo for a piano lesson. The girl’s father saw what he thought was a dead body and called the police.
Outside and inside the house, investigators found a trail of bloody footprints, Mike Hamel, Chief of Police, Irvine Police Department told “The Real Murders of Orange County,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
The slayings bore the distinct print of overkill. Whitney suffered 36 stab wounds, including seven in his face, reported the Los Angeles Times. Wong was stabbed 25 times. “This was one of the most graphic crime scenes I’ve ever been to,” said Hamel.
Sam Allevato, retired lieutenant with the Irvine Police Department, echoed that sentiment. “There was blood everywhere,” he said. “Along the handrails, on the stairwell, on the walls, on the floor.”
Investigators found two blood-covered knives in the kitchen. The single set of footprints led police to believe they were on the hunt for one killer who wielded two weapons and stabbed the victims over and over and over.
The fact that there were no signs of forced entry led detectives to believe that the killer was not a stranger who committed a random attack. The barbarity of the homicides suggested a crime of passion, and investigators focused on the victims’ previous relationships.
After looking into a former long-term partner of Wong, the man was found to have a solid alibi. Moreover, his feet were much larger than the bloody prints left at the scene. He was cleared as a suspect.
Investigators turned their focus to Whitney. Detectives found nearly 100 cards and love letters addressed to him and signed from someone named Choy. Whitney’s sister informed officials that he had sold a car to a man with that name. The new owner of the vehicle: Vincent Choy Cheung.
Detectives dug into Cheung’s background and found that he was a convicted thief and that there was a warrant out for his arrest on a parole violation. Officials learned from witnesses that Whitney began dating Wong at the same time he broke things off with Cheung.
When it came to Whitney, Cheung “seemed to be obsessed,” said Larry Montgomery, a retired investigator for the Irvine Police Department. “He’s seen coming to the house when he’s not supposed to be there, knocking on the door, leaving presents.”
Investigators had enough evidence to consider Cheung a suspect and obtained warrants to search his home and the car he bought from Whitney.
After staking out Cheung’s house, they found him at a nearby hotel he’d checked into on July 27, the same day the bodies were found. Cheung was arrested on the parole violation. Police got a warrant to search his hotel room.
Searches of Cheung’s home and car yielded valuable evidence. The date of July 27 was eerily marked “Goodbye” on a calendar in his home.
Cheung told police that he’d written “Goodbye” on July 27 because he planned to kill himself. Investigators regarded that as a convenient excuse, they told producers.
As the interview went on, Cheung told authorities that Whitney had rejected the cards and letters he presented to him. He eventually owned up to behavior that could be described as stalking.
As part of the interrogation, investigators got impressions of Cheung’s sock-covered footprints with ink and rolls of butcher paper. “I watched him crinkle up his toes to make his foot smaller as he walked,” said Montgomery. “I called him on it and told him to straighten them out.”
Beyond the footprints, more evidence against Cheung grew thanks to two pivotal turns of events. Investigators found blood inside Cheung’s car that matched his and the victims’ blood. And a friend of Cheung’s shared a phone message with authorities dated July 27 in which Cheung said, “I did it.”
Cheung was formally charged with murder. At Cheung’s 2003 trial, the Orange County jury deliberated for four days before they returned with a guilty verdict on two counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
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