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.
"This community is so growing and alive and progressive, and those are the perceptions that are appropriate and we want people to have," Cantrell said.
"I'm not downplaying this latest incident at all. But when you look at it in terms of the community as a whole, it's not representative of the community. " In recent years, Edmond police have investigated a couple of "smoking-gun" homicides in which someone got mad and pulled the trigger.
But the other cases have stolen the spotlight, starting with the torture slaying of Melody Sue Wuertz, 29, and the shooting death of her 11-month-old daughter, Jessica Wuertz.
On July 2, 1991, Melody Wuertz's body was mutilated with knife slashings to her sexual organs and unusual carvings on her stomach.
Both victims were shot twice in the head with a small-caliber weapon.
Prosecutors have linked the suspect, a former lover of Melody Wuertz's, with satanism and witchcraft. Police allege Jimmie Ray Slaughter was angered by a paternity suit filed by the mother involving the child. He is awaiting trial in the killings, after being indicted in early 1992 by a grand jury called to investigate the slayings.
In the case of Gerhard Kallienke, the University of Central Oklahoma German professor was burned beyond recognition early April 21, 1992. Prosecutors alleged two teen-age girls traded the professor sexual favors for money, then plotted to kill him after he threatened to report them for stealing from him. Both teens were acquitted.
The girls allegedly told investigators they derided a drunken Kallienke the night before his death by pouring flour, sugar, coffee and shaving cream on his naked body as he lay passed out on the floor in his Edmond duplex.
Kallienke's killing was Edmond's last until the Spunaugle case.
That case began when the dead man's wife filed a missing-person report with Edmond police, telling officers she was worried because he had left their residence at 3104 Kelsey Drive during an argument and not returned.
Two days later, his decomposed body was found dumped half a mile north of NW 164 on County Line Road. Delpha Spunaugle and a co-worker at Dennis Spunaugle's Blossom Productions, Edwin Davis Woodward, were charged in Oklahoma County District Court with one count each of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
She also was charged with one count of solicitation to commit murder. Prosecutors allege she offered Charles Holycross $1,000 to kill her husband in mid-March.
In Edmond, real-life killings appear ready-made for Hollywood.
Police Capt. Cavin can't explain that.
"There's no way to theorize why some of our homicides are unusual," he said. "I don't think there is a reason. " BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 549565