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Although Rare, Edmond Killings Attention-Getters

Bobby Ross Jr. Published: August 29, 1993

EDMOND - This city's latest murder mystery has all the makings of a good movie: A sleeping husband beaten, stabbed and strangled. His decomposed body dumped in a ditch. His wife and a family acquaintance jailed. An alleged offer for a hit man. Life insurance policies left on a countertop.

But the shocking details of Dennis Spunaugle's death would face stiff competition for top billing here, where high-profile killings have become the rule, not the exception, in recent years.

No, this thriving, affluent suburb with an estimated 59,000 residents has not become the murder capital of the world - or even of Oklahoma.

The brutal, extraordinary nature of recent homicides just makes it seem that way.

From the mutilation and shooting of a mother and baby in July 1991 to the lighter-fluid ignited burning of a professor in April 1992 to - now - screen-printing shop owner Spunaugle's gory slaying, Edmond homicide cases have produced mysteries thick enough for the Book of the Month Club.

Mix those crimes in a city that many still remember for the Edmond post office massacre in August 1986 - postal worker Patrick Sherrill gunned down 14 postal employees, wounded six others, then killed himself - and misperception might begin to cloud reality.

"My elderly aunts that live in Shawnee are terrified that I live in Edmond because they hear of these terrible crimes," said Norma Thomas, a 15-year resident who works in the public relations office at Oklahoma Christian University of Science and Arts. "I feel like Edmond is completely safe.

"I go other places and feel unsafe, but I feel safe in Edmond," she said.

This might surprise Thomas' aunts: The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation's annual crime report shows the overall crime rate in Shawnee - a city of 26,000 - averaged 62 percent higher than Edmond's between 1990 and 1992.

The truth is, homicides remain rare in Edmond.

"I think because they were unusual instances and spectacular stories ... it wasn't just somebody getting killed in a parking lot ... reporters focused on it," five-year Edmond resident Barbara Zajac said of the recent killings.

"I also think there's as much of this kind of thing going on in the larger cities, but it's no longer newsworthy. But here it is. " Edmond had gone nearly 16 months without a slaying until Aug. 15. That's when police say Delpha J. Spunaugle and a co-worker beat her 40-year-old husband with baseball bats, stabbed him with a knife and strangled him with a rope, "We don't have homicides that frequently, which we're very thankful and grateful for," said Capt. Ron Cavin, Edmond police spokesman. "But when we do have one, they often have unusual circumstances. " Roger Mannschreck, who has lived in Edmond for seven years, noted that each of the recent high-profile killings allegedly involved people who knew each other.

"I see it as more of what is happening all over the country, as far as the rise in domestic violence," he said.

Debbie Kirksey, who moved to Edmond in 1978, echoed his viewpoint.

"I just feel like it's been fairly random, and, to me, not any more unusual than the crimes you hear about in other cities. I'm not too concerned about it yet. " But Wanda Cantrell, executive vice president of the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce, does worry about the swarm of media attention on Edmond - negative attention, in her view.

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