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O.C. Millionaire Medical Innovator Fatal Victim of His Girlfriend and Her Secret Lover
The number of gunshots indicated “a lot of emotion” and a personal motive behind the slaying, according to investigators.
On December 15, 1994, the Newport Beach Police Department in California responded to a garbled report of shots being fired in the coastal enclave of Balboa Coves.
Officers were met by the caller, Kevin McLaughlin, whose speech impediment due to an earlier traffic accident had made it difficult to understand what had happened. Kevin identified the victim as his father, William “Bill” McLaughlin, 55, who had been shot several times, according to The Real Murders of Orange County, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.
While investigators couldn't find any footprints in the bloody crime scene, six 9mm bullet casings were spread across the kitchen floor and nothing appeared to be stolen. The number of gunshots indicated “a lot of emotion” and a personal motive behind the slaying, said David Byington, a retired investigator with the Newport Beach Sheriff’s Office.
Kevin lived with his father as he recovered from the traumatic car accident, but told investigators that he’d gone upstairs to his room after he and his dad had dinner. When he heard the shots, he rushed downstairs, found his father, and called 911.
Who is William McLaughlin?
Detectives learned that Bill had come from humble Illinois roots, served in the military, and earned his bachelor’s degree and an MBA. He went on to invent a device that separated blood and plasma, making him a millionaire. At the time of his death, Bill had amassed a $55 million fortune.
By the time Bill was murdered, he had divorced his first wife Sue, with whom he shared three grown children, Kevin, Jenny, who lived in San Diego, and Kim, who was teaching in Tokyo. He was known to be a loving dad, with friend Ken Baumgardner telling producers that the children were "the hallmarks of his married life... He'd do anything for them."
But there were family conflicts. Following his accident, Kevin fell into drug and alcohol use to manage his pain, and Bill had recently told Kevin that he needed to seek help or leave the house.
The fact that Kevin had skipped an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on December 15, the night of the murder, raised suspicion. Another red flag went up when Kevin shared that Bill was an avid gun collector. In Bill’s gun safe, investigators found a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, prompting crime scene investigators to conduct a gunshot residue test on Kevin’s hands.
As the crime scene was processed, Bill’s fiance, Nanette Johnston, pulled into the driveway, having gone shopping and attended her son's soccer game earlier in the day. Her ex-husband, identified as Kevin, confirmed Nanette was at the soccer match, while store recipes and merchandise confirmed that she’d been at the shopping mall.
Nanette told police that she and her two young children lived with Bill, who had recently proposed to her after two years of dating, but the kids were staying with their father that evening. Claiming that she was fearful for her own safety, Nanette was escorted to Bill’s other residence.
Bill’s adult daughters were both out of town at the time of the murder, but upon hearing of the father’s death, Jenny and Kim immediately headed home to Orange County, arriving on December 16. They described Bill as a gentle and loving parent, though they mentioned that his divorce from his wife, Susan, had been litigious.
However, detectives determined that Susan was in Hawaii at the time of the murder and that her divorce settlement entitled her to $300,000 annually and a residence in Hawaii. “She had no clear motive to want him dead,” said Byington.
At this point, the gunshot residue test showed that Kevin had no residue on his hands. He was cleared as a suspect.
Detectives widened their investigation and looked into Bill’s business colleagues. In business, detectives learned that Bill took a “take no prisoners” stance and had named himself “as the single patent owner” on the blood-plasma device, which he had devised with another man, identified only as Hal, according to Byington.
Hal had recently sued, seeking a fair share of the royalties from the device but lost the multimillion dollar lawsuit against Bill shortly before the murder. According to Bill’s brother, Patrick, Bill felt that his life might be in danger because Hal had also been ordered to pay Bill about $9 million as part of the judgement.
But after a thorough investigation, Bill’s former business partner was found to have an airtight alibi and was cleared as a suspect.
Focus of the investigation turns to Nanette Johnston
A search of Bill’s home shifted the focus of the investigation. A singles ad for “wealthy men only” from 1991 showed that Nanette had advertised that she’d take care of rich men if they cared for her. Bill’s daughter’s regarded Nanette as a “gold digger,” while his friend, Baumgardner, said she wasn't friendly and came off as a "Newport Beach brat."
"Nanette had a pretty good expense account. She had a lot to gain by this relationship," Baumgardner added.
On December 20, police began covertly surveilling Nanette at the beach house. A week after Bill’s death they observed her passionately kissing another man, later identified as Eric Naposki, a former NFL linebacker.
Detectives learned that Naposki had an outstanding traffic warrant. He was arrested for that warrant and questioned at the Newport Beach Police Department, where he told investigators that he believed Bill and Nanette shared a platonic business partnership and that he allowed them to stay at his home.
But Naposki had no solid alibi for the night Bill was murdered. Police wondered if Naposki “was trying to play us,” according to former L.A. Times reporter Geoff Boucher.
Suspicions increased when they questioned Naposki about firearms. He initially claimed he had no guns, but over the course of the questioning he changed his story, admitting that he had a 9mm semi-automatic handgun that he’d given to a friend — but his friend refuted that story.
Detectives interviewed Nanette’s ex-husband, who’d confirmed that she was at her son’s soccer game. But this time he added that Naposki was with her, a detail that Nanette hadn't mentioned when she spoke to investigators.
In January 1995, police got a warrant to search Naposki’s home. When they arrived, Nanette answered the door.
Questioned separately, Naposki claimed that Bill had raped Nanette, whom he sought to protect, according to Boucher. Additionally, he insisted that he didn’t know where his 9mm gun was.
Meanwhile, in another room, Nanette admitted that she and Naposki “were friends with benefits,” an arrangement Bill was aware of, according to Byington. Her statements didn’t ring true to investigators.
While both Nanette and Naposki were potential suspects, there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest them.
A break in the case came a short time later, when it was determined that Nanette had forged checks and drained close to $500,000 from Bill’s account. A check made out to her for $250,000 was dated one day before Bill’s murder, according to Byington.
Nanette was charged with fraud and found guilty. She was sentenced to one year behind bars, later being released on December 23, 1996. She and Naposki, who had relocated to the East Coast, eventually split up.
William McLaughlin's Cold Case Reopened
Bill’s case went cold for more than a decade. But in 2008, Larry Montgomery, a now retired as an investigator with the OC District Attorney’s Office, took a fresh look at the case. He reviewed recorded interviews linked to the case, including a 1998 anonymous phone call from a woman to the police, in which the woman suggested that her neighbor, Naposki, wanted to kill Bill.
Montgomery tracked this woman down. Previous fears she had about coming forward had faded over the years and she was now willing to confirm what she’d said in the call.
In another recording reviewed by Montgomery, Nanette had told a business owner she was coming into money and wanted to invest in his company, despite her being unemployed. She made that statement shortly before Bill was killed. She knew she would receive $1 million upon his death, investigators said.
“Unless she’s got a crystal ball, she knows he’s gonna die because she’s gonna kill him,” said Matt Murphy, now retired as a senior deputy D.A. with the O.C. District Attorney’s Office.
In 2009, Nanette Johnston and Eric Naposki were arrested for first degree murder. They were tried separately.
In 2011, Naposki was found guilty. A year later, Johnston was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder following a trial in which Bill's daughters gave victim impact statements. In her statement, Kim said to Nanette, "The fact that you, Nanette, have destroyed so many lives, including my dad's, along the way, is vile. Your web of lies has caught up with you, finally."
They were both sentenced to life in prison.
Where is Nanette Johnston now?
Eric Naposki is currently incarcerated at the Ironwood State Prison in Blythe California. Nanette Johnston is serving her time behind bars at the Central California Women's Facility.
To learn more about the case, watch The Real Murders of Orange County, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.