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The Ketchup Kaper

“It was all over a bottle of ketchup — this alleged shooting — along with some missing cheese and beer,” Public Defender Linda Thompson told the jury.


“Now, my client, Kathleen Woolsey, has had some tragedies in her life. Her boyfriend has been hospitalized by a stroke, and her brother recently passed away…”

This incidental and abbreviated obituary, calculated to stimulate the juror’s sympathies, was incomplete. It omitted any mention of the late brother’s involvement in the events now being rehashed in court.

It was prosecution’s contention that the late brother had prevented Ms. Woolsey from shooting the alleged victim, Richard Lowrie, at pointblank range, with a .22 revolver.

“She [Ms. Woolsey] lived for a time on some property owned by Mr. Lowrie,” Ms. Thompson continued. “But last March, she had a falling out with Mr. Lowrie and moved to another property nearby. Then one day shortly thereafter, Mr. Lowrie was missing some ketchup, some cheese, some beer… and, supposedly, a 20-foot chain.”

The 20-foot chain, as we shall presently see, had a magical quality. At times it would turn into two chains, then three chains, hanging from tree branches in plain view. Then it would disappear only to reappear as a 100-footer, too massive to be lifted, let alone stored in a toolbox as a wide as a truckbed. The ketchup was merely ketchup. It had no magical properties, and it was hardly mentioned again. But there was a changeling gun. It turned into a cellphone, then two cellphones, finally several cellphones.

“So Mr. Lowrie,” Public Defender Thompson continued, “concluded that my client had taken these things, and he went looking for them. Ms. Woolsey came out and found Dick Lowrie going through a toolbox and some storage containers. She asked him to leave. He refused. She said she would make him leave, and went inside and came back out with a cellphone — not a .22 as prosecution alleges — and said if he didn’t leave, she would call law enforcement. Then she went back in to get another cellphone, and when she came back out she saw Dick Lowrie dragging her dog away by the collar.”

Thompson's defense lurched to the specter of water theft in the middle of a drought. From a bottle of ketchup to statewide disaster. Lowrie, she suggested, was a water thief.

“Mr. Dick Lowrie has a prior conviction for marijuana cultivation as it turns out,” Thompson said, “and was stealing his neighbors’ water to grow another marijuana crop.”

“Yes, ladies and gentlemen,” Thompson said with a gotcha! flourish, that’s what this case finally boils down to: Water; water for marijuana cultivation. He’s [the prosecuting attorney] going to say it’s about a gun, but the truth is he put in an illegal irrigation system to water his marijuana plants.” Ms. Thompson, pleased with her concluding zinger, chuckled and returned to her seat next to her “client,” Ms. Woolsey.

The newly hired Mr. Jon Hopkins of the District Attorney’s office called his witness, Richard Lowrie, of 17870 Van Arsdale Road in bucolic Potter Valley. Lowrie's action-packed address isn't far from the famous Potter Valley Diversion, where the Eel River does a left turn to flow through a mile-long tunnel to become the Russian River and Lake Mendocino.

“Do you know Kathleen Woolsey, Mr. Lowrie?”

“Oh, yes. I’ve known her for years. She used to live on my property, as a matter of fact. And she still lives nearby on neighboring property.”

“So there are several properties in that area, as I take it. But tell me, what’s the water situation like?”

“Well, there’s a community spring and all seven of the properties share the water from that spring. I happen to be the closest, but I’m not in charge of the spring. That distinction belongs to my closest neighbor, whom we call ‘the Water Nazi’.”

“Do you remember what you were doing on March 23rd of this year?”

“Yes. I had taken a walk up a trail to check on an overflow pond, which belongs to me, and after that I proceeded to Duane Moorhead’s property — Kathleen Woolsey’s boyfriend — to look around because I thought some things were missing from my house.”

“What sort of things were you missing?”

“A battery charger, some gloves, wire cutters, a chain… I later found the chain on the way home. But I was looking around and had opened a cooler when Kathleen came out of her motor home and confronted me.”

“How far from you was she?”

“About six feet.”

“Did she say anything?”

“I don’t remember what she said, but she definitely wasn’t happy I was there.”

“Were either of you raising your voices?”

“Slightly. But shortly, she disappeared inside and came back out, raised a revolver, pulled the hammer back, and put her finger inside the trigger guard, all in one motion. It was pointed at my chest.”

“Did you do or say anything?”

“No. But her brother did. I was speechless.”

“What did her brother say?”

“He said, ‘I think she means it’ — he was standing to one side — then he grabbed the gun and shoved it up and it went off. It happened very quickly.”

“What did you do next?”

“I started to walk home, and got about 30 feet when her little blue heeler dog did a glancing blow and tore my leg open.”

Lowrie's testimony was well-rehearsed. 'Glancing blow' and 'That distinction belongs to....' The guy was ready.

“The dog bit you?”

“Yes! I — uh, I thought we were friends.”

“So you knew this dog?”

“Yes. His name’s ‘Little Man’.”

Apparently Little Man only had one true friend — Kathleen Woolsey — because Little Man also bit Kathleen's brother. Photos of the dog bites were distributed to the jurors. Also, some photos of a piece of wood, with a pair of shorts fixed to it were brandished for the edification of the jury. The mounted underwear was described as the target Ms. Woolsey's brother used to work on his knife and hatchet-throwing skills. The target area included a metal box that a whiskey bottle had come in. The whiskey box had bullet holes in it.

“Mr. Lowrie, when you left the property, what did you do?”

“I went home and called the sheriff. They came out and talked to me, and then went up to the motor home.”

Ms. Thompson asked, “How long did it take before the deputies came?”

“It was pretty quick. I’d say 15 or 20 minutes.”

“And you gave them the same version of events as today?”


“Now, with respect to the spring water, do you each have different responsibilities?”

“We sometimes take turns.”

“And if there’s a dispute?”

“We work it out. I one time lost several hundred gallons through a leak, but I fixed it.”

“Do you have a written agreement?”

“I’m not sure. Nothing that I’ve seen, anyway.”

“This property— where the alleged incident took place — is in probate, and Duane had authorization to live there?”


“Now, three weeks prior to this incident, Ms. Woolsey left your property, is that correct?”


“And then, three weeks after Kathleen left your property, you started finding items were missing, such as some beer, cheese, and ketchup?”

“Yes, I remember some missing ketchup.”

“Did you tell law enforcement about the missing gloves?”

“It was a lot of little things.”

“You told law enforcement there were three 20-foot chains?”


“You don’t recall loaning them out and that they were returned?”

“Yes, but I looked around for them and only found one.”

“And this happened on your way back from the spring?”


“So you didn’t tell law enforcement that you went there specifically to look for the chains?”

“Right. I didn’t go there specifically to look for the missing things.”

“And you looked in a cooler, but nothing else?”


“Did you think you were making a lot of noise or a ruckus?”


“So you’re not sure whether you saw Kathleen or her brother Mike first?”


“But she asked you to leave and you told her you had just as much right there as she did. Did you approach her?”


“Did she indicate to you that you were trespassing?”


“So you don’t recall her making any threat about going to get a gun?”


“Did you notice the dog when she came back out of the RV?”


“But you noticed the gun?”


“And your recollection is that the gun went off when Michael grabbed her arm?”


“Did he use one hand or two?”

“I’m not sure, but I think it was two.”

“Was she near the RV when the gun went off?”


“And you told law enforcement there should be some evidence of the shooting in the overhang?”


“And you didn’t notice the dog?”


“So you just left?”


“At some point you noticed the dog, Little Man?”

“Yes, when he grabbed my leg.”

“Do you get your water from the spring or the pond?”

“From the pond. It’s my pond.”

“And you fill it with the spring water?”


“And you haven’t put in an irrigation system to take water from your neighbors?”


“Nothing further.”

After some confirming testimony from the deputies who responded to the incident, the prosecution rested and Ms. Thompson put her client on the stand.

“How long have you known Dick Lowrie?”

“For about 15 years.”

“And you and Duane now live in an RV about a quarter mile from Mr. Lowrie’s property?”

“Yes. I was there to clean up his motor home and yard.”

“So it belonged to Duane?”

“Me and Duane bought it.”

“Did you take anything when you left Dick Lowrie’s?”

“Just my clothes and some personal items. And my dog.”

“Anything else?”

“No, but Duane may have borrowed some tools.”


“We were going to, but ended up using straps instead.”

“What for?”

“To secure some scrap metal from a dismantled van.”

“Well, what about a battery charger?”

“That would have been on his property, where we used it to charge up the motor home.”

“Was Duane there?”

“No. He had a stroke and went to the hospital in San Francisco.”

“Before this incident happened, did Dick Lowrie ever ask you for any missing items?”


“So on March 23rd, you were at the RV?”

“Yes. I was in the back washing dishes. My dog started growling, and when I looked up I saw Dick Lowrie.”

“Did you say anything?”

“Yeah. I asked him what he was doing. He hurried up and said he was looking for cheese and beer.”

“Did you observe him doing anything?”

“Yes. He opened Duane’s toolbox, one of those big ones, that fits in a truckbed. Then he started looking through some plastic storage containers. I told him there was no cheese and beer in there, so he said he was looking for two chains. I told him the chains were in his yard, hanging from a tree. I then asked him to leave and he approached me saying he didn’t have to. My brother came between us at that point and I told him I would make him leave. Then I went inside for my cellphone, saying I’d call the cops.”

“Did you call the cops?”

“I couldn’t get service, so I went back in to get the other cellphone, and when I came out he was dragging my dog away by the collar.”

“Did you see the dog bite him?”

“I didn’t actually see the dog bite him — I’d gone back in to get another cellphone, and when I came out Dick was gone.”

“What did you do then?”

“I put my dog inside the motor home and went for a walk.”

“Do you have a vehicle?”

“Yes, a truck.”

“Where was it?”

“It was down the road.”

“Did you drive it there?”

“Yes, the night before.”

“So you went for a walk?”

“Yes. There’s a nice trail that goes up to a dry pond — but it had water in it — and then up to a ridge where my old dog is buried.”

“Why did you go for a walk?”

“I was upset, so I walked up to the dry pond that has water in it and then to the ridge where my old dog is buried, and on the way I ran into an old girlfriend. She picked me up and we went to another friend’s house until about 9pm. The next day my brother gave me a card from Deputy Denton. I called him the next day and later that night. On the following day, I went to see him.”

“Did he ask you if you owned a firearm?”


“Do you own a firearm?”


“Did you ever point a .22 at Mr. Lowrie?”

“No, I did not.”

“Are there any firearms in the RV?”

“There’s a pellet gun, or a BB gun, something like that.”

“Did you ever own a firearm?”

“Not for years.”

“Why not?”

“I was involved in a murder and another lady saved my life. It was 10, maybe 12 years ago.”

“When you returned from your friend’s house, after the walk, was your dog gone?”

“Yes, Michael, my brother, told me they [law enforcement] took the dog to the pound for quarantine.”

“Had you consumed any alcohol or narcotics?”


“Nothing further.”

Mr. Hopkins began his cross-examination: “You indicated that you had poor reception on your cellphone. How many cell phones do you have?”

“Between Duane and I, maybe five.”

“So reception is rare?”

“Yes. There’s only a few spots where I can get the signal, one inside the motor home, and another on the property.”

“Why didn’t you call from inside?”

“I was upset.”

“Why did you go back out there with Dick?”

“My brother has mental problems and I was concerned about him.”

“So you went to protect him?”


“So where did you go to get reception?”

“Right here,” she said, pointing to a spot near the motor home (on a picture which had been put up on a screen). “And over here.”

“You are pointing at two different spots on the photograph?”

“Yes. I heard Dick and my brother talking, so I went back around to here, then inside again to get another phone, because I only had one bar of power on that one. When I came out, I saw Dick dragging my dog by the collar.”

“Why didn’t you go to the spot where you got good reception?”

“Because the phone was dying, there was only one bar left. That’s why I went to get the other phone.”

“Wait, you’re getting ahead of me.”

“But that’s when I saw him dragging my dog and yelled at him to let my dog go.”

“So instead of calling, you went to check on Michael?”



“Dick was being aggressive. He had black stuff on his face and I’ve seen him go off before.”

“Why were you calling?”

“To make Dick leave.”

“Did you call the sheriff’s number?”



“Dick was leaving.”

“You said, Leave the dog alone, and he did?”


“Why did you put the dog in the motor home?”

“It was upset.”

“What were you concerned he would do?”

“I just didn’t want him to be around any more commotion.”

“Why not take him with you on your walk?”

“Ticks. There’s ticks in the brush. He could get ticks. My dog goes everywhere with me, in the truck, but he gets ticks in the brush.”

“Why did you put the truck down there at the end of the road?”

“To load wood.”

“Why didn’t you drive it back?”

“It was a short walk.”

“Was the dog with you?”


“And you walked back with the dog?”


“What about the ticks?”

“They’re not so bad right there.”

“Okay. So Dick was looking for chains?”

“I thought he knew where the chains were.”

“So you didn’t actually borrow the chains?”


“What made you so mad?”

“He was going through Duane’s stuff. Dick has his moments, when he’s out there.”

“Had you used any meth?”


“Any alcohol?”


“So you went to a dry pond that has water in it?”



“I was upset with my brother. He hadn’t filled some jugs I’d asked him to fill.”

“How long of a walk did you go on?”

“Probably about 15 minutes.”

“How long did you stay?”

“About an hour, a good hour, I’d say. Then my friend drove by. She lives on Van Arsdale.”

“Did you stay away because you were upset?”

“No. She was moving and I stayed to help her pack, then we went to another friend’s house.”

“When you got to your friend’s house did you use her phone to make your call?”

“No. Her phone wasn’t hooked up. She was moving.”

“So you don’t know how those bullet holes got in that tin box?”


“Did it upset you that Dick was looking for property of his?”

“Yeah. It upset me that he was thinking like that, like maybe his meds weren’t working or he’d forgot to take them. I’ve seen him go off in the past and it wasn’t good.”

“So you went to the pond and the place where the dog is buried because you were upset?”

“I just wanted to get away from the whole situation. I wasn’t that upset.”

“Nothing further.”

Public Defender Thompson, perhaps sensing her first trial win ever, approached for a final examination of her client-defendant, Ms. Woolsey:

“So, the tow chains, were they ever taken?”

“No, they were not.”

“But you saw Dick looking through things for them?”

“Yes. A toolbox and some plastic containers.”

“How big was the chain?”

“About 100 feet.”

“Could you lift it?”

“No, never.”

“Would it even fit in the toolbox or any of the containers?”


“And you asked him to leave?”

“Yes, probably three times.”

“Did Deputy Denton ask to come and look for a gun?”


“And Duane has permission to be on the property?”


“Nothing further.”

In closing arguments, Prosecutor Hopkins told the jury that he believed Ms. Woolsey had hidden her truck and then went on “a walk” to dispose of the gun in the woods. He said the firing of the gun had upset the dog and caused it to bite Lowrie and Ms. Woolsey's brother.

But the jury didn’t agree, and the following day they came back with a not guilty verdict. Perhaps Ms. Thompson’s ploy of introducing the specter of water theft in the middle of a serious drought had some bearing on the jury’s decision, because her client, Ms. Woolsey, didn’t appear the least bit credible to this observer. Or perhaps prosecutor Hopkins’ disjointed cross-examination confused matters more than clarified them. Or maybe it was the absence of the gun as evidence. The brother of the defendant — whom Ms. Woolsey said had mental problems — was the only eyewitness, but having died recently, he wasn’t available to testify.


(From the Ukiah Daily Journal of October 23, 2005):

Mendocino County Sheriff's Sgt. Rusty Noe said the County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team continued to battle the illegal cultivation of marijuana locally by seizing some 358 plants near Potter Valley Tuesday and another 21 plants from an operation in Talmage.

COMMET agents were assisted by the Major Crimes Task Force and Mendocino County Sheriff's Office to serve a search warrant on three parcels of property at the end of Van Arsdale Road near Potter Valley.

With the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Agency, agents located an additional 100 pounds of marijuana buds both packaged and in the trimming process, some $10,000 in cash and several bags of methamphetamine.

Richard Russell Lowrie, 53, of Potter Valley, was arrested on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sale and possession of methamphetamine. Kathleen Elizabeth Woolsey, 47, a transient, was also arrested on suspicion of possession of methamphetamine, and other suspects were identified and charges will be filed with the District attorney, According to Noe.

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