Honor Thy Mother

Can Ciaran Redmond ever rob enough banks to avenge his mother's death?

The marriage was rocky and, in retrospect, doomed from the start, due almost entirely to Ciaran's conduct. He drank heavily, and when he drank, he was transformed from funny and kind and charming to loud and mean and occasionally violent. Police records show that he committed his first crime in Colorado on July 27, 1987 (assault and disturbing the peace), and from there his record of misdemeanor crimes expanded at an astonishing rate: three more convictions that year; four in 1988; six in 1990; fifteen in 1991; two in 1992; five in 1993; eleven in 1994; seven in 1995; two in 1996; six in 1997; five in 1998. Sixty-six in all. In fact, the only time he seemed able to stay out of trouble was when he was in jail for his previous crimes.

(Later, when a federal judge stared hard at Ciaran, preparing to punish him for the bank robberies, the judge seemed flabbergasted, awestruck almost: "I've never seen such an extensive criminal history without a felony," he said, then added as he conferred the eight-year sentence: "Mr. Redmond, you have gone from the frying pan directly into the fire.")

Once, several years into the marriage, Ciaran promised to stop all the nonsense, go straight, live up to his responsibilities--no drinking, a steady job hanging garage doors, bringing the checks home instead of to the liquor store, a real father to his family, now two sons. "It was nice," his ex-wife recalls. "We ate dinner together, went to concerts, Little League games, camping--all the things that families do. But then the holidays came around and he started drinking again."

Ciaran started leaving home for longer and longer periods, sleeping in parks, on the streets, in shelters. The calm had lasted all of nine months. The Redmonds were divorced soon after. Later, others would come into his life--girlfriends and their families, counselors, probation officers--falling for his charm, recognizing his intelligence and promise. They all tried to help, giving him advice, a place to stay, money.

All of them failed, and looking back on the debris he left as he passed, it's difficult to imagine that Ciaran Redmond could ever have ended up anyplace other than a prison or a cemetery. (In 1991 he attempted suicide for the second time, this time by hanging.) Yet throughout the mistakes, the misjudgments and the apologies--first familiar, then constant, finally endless--the single thing that was to alter Ciaran's life, the one moment from which the strand unspooled to that April morning as he moved from bank to bank to bank to bank, occurred on a single night: July 23, 1993.

"My mom was 64 years old when she was killed," he says.

We're not sure who did it, or even whether it was intended to be a murder or an interrupted burglary," concedes Lieutenant Ron Smith of the Costa Mesa Police Department. "There's certainly no motive; there's nothing that would make Elsie Redmond a high-risk or even a moderate-risk target. For the life of us, we can't figure that out. We have hit a dead-end."

A sprawling concrete complex of 384 duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes, the Harbor Green Apartments are bordered on one side by Orange Coast Community College, one of California's largest, and busy Harbor Boulevard on the other. Elsie and her eldest son, Neal, had moved into their two-bedroom apartment in February 1993. "To call it middle-class would be generous," Smith says.

Five months later, on a Friday evening in July, Neal had gone out for a few hours, returning at about 10:30 and going directly to bed. Elsie had popped in a video (Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows, a Catholic comedy) and was watching it on the couch. When Neal woke up the following morning and walked into the living room, he discovered his mother there still, a pillow over her face and dead of a stab wound to the heart.

The police investigation naturally began with Neal Redmond, 42 at the time, who was in the apartment when his mother was murdered. But Neal, who'd had polio as a child and still bore deep physical and mental scars from the disease, was judged to be lacking sufficient motivation to kill his own mother. Police soon discarded him as a suspect. Later, caught up in grief, uncertain of his own memory, he was of only marginal help as a witness.

"We could never establish what was normal in the apartment," Smith explains. "We'd ask Neal, 'Was there anything missing?' But he was always very vague or unclear."

Police found out this much: There was no forced entry to the apartment, which Elsie and Neal were obsessive about keeping locked. A kitchen butcher knife was missing. Some cash appeared to have been taken from Elsie--about $80 was missing--but not much else in the vicinity had been disturbed. Although four single women had been murdered in Costa Mesa in a five-year period and their killers never found, police say they were soon able to rule out a serial killer in Elsie Redmond's case, which differed from the others in the victim's age and location.

"I took the Greyhound out from Denver the night I heard," recalls Ciaran. "They had sealed the place off real good; it was, like, two days after that they finally opened up the house and I was able to go in. I had this sense of death and terror."

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