Aug. 7, 1980. A man's bloated body is found, bound with chains, covered with plastic and caught up in the gate of the California aqueduct.
It would be more than two decades before this crime was cracked — not by teams of detectives, and forensic investigators, but by a divorced hairdresser in Colorado — Kathi Spiars.
Spiars' remarkable tale begins after years of what she calls violent relationships with bad men. She says she was swept off her feet by the quiet charm of a caring but mysterious stranger named Steve Marcum.
"I had been through so much in my life that this was my blessing from God," Spiars said.
Not Your Average Busboy
Though Wright was a busboy at the time, he showered Spiars with lavish gifts — exotic vacations, even a Porsche. But this was no average busboy, as Spiars would learn. He had a strange and dangerous past that captivated her.
For starters, the money he so freely spent came not from your ordinary greenbacks but from seven glittering bars of gold Marcum said he had inherited from his father and kept hidden in the toilet tank.
Then there was his name, Steve Marcum. As fate would have it, Marcum was no blessing in Spiars' life, he was a man on the run, whose real name was Eric Wright.
Spiars says Wright told her that he was a former assassin for the Central Intelligence Agency, being hunted by CIA-backed killers because he knew too much.
Spiars was able to believe these tales, she said, because his stories were so detailed, and because he was kind to her. "This was the first man who never hurt me and abused me. And he encouraged me … the friendship was so deep," she said.
They married six months after they met and were happy, for a while at least, living a quiet life in rural Colorado. Spiars raised horses and cut hair. Wright took odd jobs at the local ski area and hot springs. However, over the years Spiars' blissful ignorance began to fade.
She never met any of his old friends or family and knew practically nothing about his past. Finally, Spiars demanded some answers.
She says she demanded that he to take her to his hometown. She wanted to know the truth.
Spiars thought a trip with Wright to his hometown of Exeter, Calif., would bring them closer together, solidify their relationship. She was wrong.
Right off the bat, Spiars says, she caught him in a lie. A trip to his high school revealed his real name was Eric Wright — not Eric Stone as he had told her. Wright's behavior wasn't exactly what you'd expect from someone who was student body president and voted "most dependable" in his senior class. Spiars said she was looking for an answer, and, of course, she got one — and an emotional one at that.
He broke down and began sobbing, telling Spiars it was just too painful for him to talk about, because he lost everything due to the CIA.
He said that he never told her his real name because it was too dangerous for her to know. And that he'd be straight with her from now on.
He took her to the house where he said he grew up. But when they got to the spot, there was no house — only an open orange field. Wright appeared devastated and started cursing the CIA, saying they burned down his home. Wright then rushed with Spiars to the cemetery to show her his mother's grave, seemingly desperate to provide proof of his background.