A longtime Yolo County attorney and his wife were the victims of a brutal double homicide over the weekend in their South Davis home, relatives confirmed Monday.
Police discovered the bodies of Oliver “Chip” Northup Jr., 87 — also well known as the lead singer and guitarist for the local folk band Putah Creek Crawdads — and Claudia Maupin, 76, at about 9:20 p.m. Sunday in their Cowell Boulevard condominium, according to Mary and Robert Northup, the two youngest of Oliver Northup’s six children.
Davis police Lt. Paul Doroshov said “it was clear both victims suffered stab wounds,” but their causes of death would be determined by the Yolo County coroner’s office. Autopsies were still under way as of Monday evening.
“It’s tragic that such generous and beautiful people would die violently, especially since they would have given the shirts off their backs to anyone who needed it,” Robert Northup, 54, said in an interview with The Enterprise.
The incident marks Davis’ first homicide since October 2011, sending shock waves through a community where the victims were known in religious, artistic and legal circles.
“While Davis achieves a high degree of safety through our police and the watchful eyes of all, we are not immune from terrible acts,” Mayor Joe Krovoza said in a statement offering condolences to Northup and Maupin’s families. “Let us all redouble our efforts to protect our fellow citizens and give support to those who have suffered this irreversible loss.”
According to police and relatives, it was one of Maupin’s three daughters who contacted the Davis Police Department to request a welfare check after not hearing from the couple all day Sunday, even though their car was parked at the 4006 Cowell Blvd. condo and lights appeared to be on.
Doroshov said there were signs of forced entry at the home, but wouldn’t elaborate.
He said investigators were pursuing numerous leads Monday night, with assistance from the FBI, state Department of Justice, Yolo County District Attorney and coroner’s offices, and the West Sacramento Police Department. Anyone with information is urged to call police at 530-747-5400.
No motive known
Relatives, meanwhile, say they know of no apparent motive for attacking the elderly couple inside their own home.
“Right now there’s no clue, and it’s really disconcerting. We have no idea,” said Mary Northup, 56.
Neighbors said the streets to the south of the condominiums had recently been hit with a series of residential burglaries, with thieves hopping the fence behind the condos to gain access to the homes’ back yards. Whether there’s any connection between those crimes and the murders, police aren’t saying.
However, Doroshov said the Police Department planned to deploy extra patrols throughout the city as a “preventative measure.”
“It’s just a disturbing thing,” said Greg Gibbs, a next-door neighbor whose home shares a wall with that of the slain couple. While Davis is not immune to violent crime, “to have one right next door, with people we know, it’s very concerning.”
Gibbs said he and his wife Pam “heard quite a bit of noise around 9:00 or so” on Sunday, but later learned it was likely caused by police officers who had arrived to check on the couple. Other than that, they heard nothing unusual coming from inside their neighbors’ house.
“They were very, very lovely people,” Gibbs said of Northup and Maupin, who according to online real-estate records had purchased the condo in August 2004.
A happy couple
The couple had been married since 1998 after meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, of which Northup was a charter member, Mary Northup said. The thrice-married Northup was a widower at the time, and he and Maupin were wed within a year. Both were proud parents and grandparents.
“They were very happy together,” Mary Northup said of the pair, who enjoyed good books and classic movies. “I was very happy he was able to find somebody like her.”
When they were with friends, “they just sort of enveloped you in their warmth,” said Wayne Ginsburg, a retired educator from Woodland who played with Northup in the Putah Creek Crawdads since the late 1990s. “They were the kindest, gentlest people — you just wanted to be around them.”
Maupin was a retired phone-company technician who raised three daughters, moving from Solano County to Davis upon her marriage to Northup, relatives said.
“Chip” Northup (his father dubbed him a “chip off the old block,” family said) served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and later developed an interest in the law, graduating from Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley. He started out as an appellate court clerk, but later took on the role of prosecutor — first in Sacramento, and later for the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.
He left county employment to join with three other attorneys in forming Rodegerdts, Means, Northup & Estey, a civil law firm in downtown Woodland. According to his daughter, Northup specialized in “country lawyer” work such as drawing up land agreements for local farmers.
Even after retiring from the practice in the early 1990s, Northup continued taking on criminal appellate defense work for the California Appellate Project, representing prison inmates who believed their cases deserved a second look.
“He was a person who really believed in people getting their legal rights,” Mary Northup said. “He felt like he was doing good work, that he was helping. It was his way.”
In 2011, Northup represented a teacher’s assistant at UC Davis who was arrested on suspicion of terrorist threats after using the word “bomb” in an undergraduate drama class. The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office declined to pursue the case, and Northup successfully petitioned to get the arrest record sealed and destroyed.
Northup had met the teaching assistant through Maupin, who in 2009 had appeared with him in a UCD production of “The Elephant’s Graveyard” at the Mondavi Center, where she played the role of aging mother Esme.
Enterprise theater critic Bev Sykes praised Maupin’s performance in an October 2009 review.
“(O)ur attention is riveted on Esme, and Maupin gives her total heart and soul: We understand her bouts of depression, her moments of confusion and fear, and her delight over the time she spends with her daughter. Ultimately, we learn the most from Esme,” Sykes wrote.
Northup also was active in the arts, becoming a founding member of the Putah Creek Crawdads in 1965 after he and three fellow church members — Captane Thomson, Marc Faye and Ray Coppock — brought their instruments to a church potluck dinner.
“Pretty soon we found we all liked to play the same old-timey folk music,” said Thomson, the group’s banjoist and a longtime Davis psychiatrist. The Crawdads have been together ever since, adding new members over the years as they took their family-friendly bluegrass, gospel and Celtic music to a variety of venues.
Northup “has this magical quality of remembering lyrics to songs that he knew years ago. They would just pour out of him,” Thomson said. And although he didn’t read music, “once he learned a tune, it came right out.”
Bandmates said they last saw Northup on Saturday, when they entertained at the Davis Farmers Market. When he failed to show for two gigs on Sunday — a memorial service for former City Councilman Jerry Kaneko, and later a benefit concert in Woodland — friends and family knew something was amiss.
“It’s not like him to not show up without telling anybody,” said Robert Northup, who went by the home Sunday to find the newspapers still in the driveway. No one answered the door.
Repeated calls to both their home and cell phones also went unanswered, and that’s when Maupin’s daughter called in the police.
Mary Northup said she learned of the deaths on the news, turning on the television Monday morning to see footage of the light-brown condominium surrounded in yellow crime-scene tape.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “So I just got in my car and drove over there.”
The couple’s deaths mark Davis’ first homicide case since Oct. 1, 2011, when police say James Elron Mings fatally strangled Kevin Gerard Seery in the victim’s J Street apartment in what was an apparent case of assisted suicide. Mings, who has been charged with murder, is slated to go to trial later this month.
And Monday’s scene is just half a block from the Clearwater Apartments — formerly the Tennis Club Apartments — where 35-year-old Dennis Edward Thrower was gunned down in the doorway of his second-floor apartment on Nov. 18, 2004.
Thrower, who also was armed, fired off his own shots before he died and struck one of his assailants, who left a blood trail through the apartment complex as he fled the scene. Eric Steven Chase Jr. is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for the crime.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene