The Murder at Fagiani's Bar

Suspect comparison by Tom Voigt for

Napa Valley Register

June 17, 2001
By Jay Goetting
Register Staff Writer

A partially consumed bottle of Jack Daniel's languishes on a dusty shelf behind the bar. The bar stools would need a good cleaning before anyone would consider sitting a brand new pair of Dockers on them. A copy of a 1973 Napa Register lays open to columns by then-Assemblyman John Dunlap and State Senator Peter Behr. The deer heads on the wall are trophies brought back from a hunting expedition by "Uncle Andy" -- Andrew Fagiani, a Napa County supervisor from 1953 to 1964. He was just one member of a family devastated in 1974 when 51-year-old Anita Andrews was found slain in the family's Main Street bar.

Andrews' sister and the bar's co-owner, Muriel Fagiani, made the grim discovery of her murdered sister's body on the morning of July 11. Fagiani -- who inherited the bar, along with her sister, from her father, Nick -- operated the bar on her own for two years, then padlocked the front door. Today, the building remains almost exactly as it was more than a quarter century ago.

An intense homicide investigation ensued following Andrews' murder, but the case remained unsolved and over the years, the pace of the probe slowed. Now, more than 25 years later, police have dusted off the case of Andrews' murder.

Napa Police Commander Bill Jabin considers the case open with, "the only possible suspect now deceased." Oklahoman Liston Beal, the case's one true suspect, died in 1997 at the age of 63. That made him 40 years old at the time of the crime, fitting the description of a possible suspect in the bar. Witnesses told police a man around 40 was in the bar with the victim that night. Beal was in the area.

For now, the case, though open, fades until some new piece of information comes in or a Napa police detective finds some time to devote to serious re-investigation. The bar itself is on Main Street across from Veterans Memorial Park. Its red and blue tiled facade and padlocked doors generate all sorts of questions from passers-by. "There is a lot of interest (in the bar)," said Muriel Fagiani. "Every week I have someone who wants to see it, and I show it to them," although she clarified, "I don't just show it to anyone."

The news that someone may buy and renovate the structure makes officials of the Napa County Landmarks preservation group happy. In 2000, and again in 2001, they placed the Fagiani building on the group's list of endangered historical structures. "In disuse for a quarter of a century, it is an eyesore to the revitalization of Napa's downtown as well as an unsafe structure," a 2001 press release from Landmarks states. "It is still the only stone building in downtown which has not planned for earthquake retrofitting."

Robin Klingsbeil of Napa's Redevelopment Agency said there are a number of unreinforced masonry buildings in the downtown area, most of which have either been retrofitted or are in the planning process. She noted Muriel Fagiani had been apprised of the options available but so far has not taken any action. "I think Landmarks is slipping. I don't know what the heck they're doing," said Fagiani of the building's listing as an endangered historical structure.

Fagiani has never revealed her reasons for leaving the building unchanged all these years, but Jane Smith, who covered Anita's murder for the Vallejo Times-Herald and knew both sisters as children, sees the still vacant building as a kind of memorial that Fagiani has kept to her sister. "I think there's a relationship between Anita's death and the status of the building," said Smith.

The following is a RECONSTRUCTION of the July 10, 1974 murder of Anita Andrews. Using police reports, interviews, news accounts and his own experience, reporter Jay Goetting composed the following narrative.

(Goetting was news editor at KVON radio at the time, covered the homicide and has a unique perspective on the case. The names of the witnesses are real, as are descriptions of the evidence and the crime scene. But keep in mind that the what actually happened that night had to be theorized from these facts.)

It had been mild for a July day in Napa: in the low 70s at the height of the day, cooling down to around 50 that Wednesday evening... Still, it was a good night for a cold beer or two.

Just the week before, Napans had celebrated the Fourth of July and were already talking about the Bicentennial that was just two years away, in 1976. Three friends walked east from the Happy Hours Bar on their way to Catania's, another watering hole on the Silverado Trail. Along the way, they decided to stop downtown at Fagiani's Bar and Liquors at 813 Main Street.

They entered the blue and red tiled building and sat on the three stools closest to the door. Two of the friends carried the moniker, Al -- Al Mufich and Al MacKenzie. Mufich was a local musician and knew many of the people in the downtown area, although there were always new faces. The third friend in the trio was David Luce. Luce was a bit more subdued than his fellow drinkers. Since his father had been the district attorney in Lake County and he had a master's degree, he wore a mantle of respectability.

As Anita Andrews, Fagiani's co-owner and bartender approached the three men, she gave them a friendly greeting. After all, they had been in the bar before.

A couple of stools away sat Doris Montesani. She had arrived about 7:30 and worked with Anita at her second job at Napa State Hospital (NSH). Anita had worked in the NSH office for nearly fifteen years and since their father Nicola Fagiani's death five years earlier, she had also taken on serving patrons at the bar inherited from her father after a full day at the hospital.

In 1974, Napa's downtown was dotted with watering holes catering to varying clientele. Fagiani's was "a working man's bar" to use Muriel Fagiani's term. Employees would come from Kaiser Steel and Mare Island to cash their checks there. Anita Andrews knew many of them and would chat with the customers while her sister Muriel would take the checks to the corner bank to deposit them.

The downtown area had seen better days and elements of seediness were crowding in. The old Conner Hotel across the street had become home to transients and some of the outpatients from Napa State Hospital. The revitalization of Napa's downtown was soon to come and the Conner would soon be razed to make way for a riverfront park. But at the time, the state hospital was Napa's claim to fame. Certainly the wine industry was beginning to come into its own as a tourist magnet, but "Napa" was still synonymous with the mental hospital for most Californians.

Rounding out the bar crowd that night in July was Mary Norton, who lived across the street at the Conner and a sandy-haired man sitting about two-thirds of the way down the bar, drinking Budweiser from a glass and smoking cigarettes. The three newcomers ordered beers and talked among themselves. They noted Anita making small talk with the sandy-haired man as he flipped playing cards. "Hey, Anita," teased Al Mufich, "Is that guy your new boyfriend?" When she surprisingly answered, "Yes," Al apologized. The sandy-haired man kept his gaze away from the three men at the end of the bar but he had an attractive smile despite his ruddy complexion and he appeared to be about 40 years old, Anita's junior by more than a decade.

As they sat at the bar, Doris passed the time by playing a little seven-card stud with the sandy-haired man for match sticks. The three friends could hear only a smattering of the conversation between Anita and the man, but they heard something about his tools that were in the trunk of Anita's Cadillac. They gathered that the man worked as a mechanic or construction worker picking up odd jobs. And he was gallant. When Anita had trouble opening a bottle of rum, he offered to assist.

Customers often offered to buy Anita a drink as she tended bar at Fagiani's, but she rarely accepted. That night, she drank nothing. She hadn't had anything to eat since lunch and was looking forward to a late dinner with her friend Joe Silva. But at about 8 p.m., Anita called Silva and said she would have to take a raincheck without giving a reason.

Anita Andrews had grown up in Napa and was very familiar with the state hospital. She had worked there as a typist-clerk in Program 9 for the past 15 years. Some of the hospital patients ended up in the flophouses nearby such as the Conner and Plaza Hotels. This meant they also frequented the bars in the lower Main Street area.

Doris left about 9:15. Several other locals had come and gone, and around 9:30, the rough sandy-haired man with the tan and a nice smile was the only one remaining in the bar, so Anita decided to start closing shop. Normally, Anita and Muriel agreed to close the bar at about 9 p.m. on week nights, but closing time had become later, at 10:30 or even 11. Muriel had told Anita more than once to "close it up" when Anita let customers lounge in the bar late at night. They had received offers to buy the bar and its on and off sale liquor licenses, but so far had turned them down even though neither of the sisters seemed very comfortable in the bar business. Anita nearly always followed the same sequence of tasks at closing and didn't lock the front door until she left.

That night, true to form, she let the sandy-haired man stay at the bar and left the door unlocked. She decided against changing out of her work shoes since there was still a patron inside, but she did pull the cash drawer and put the bills inside a paper bag, which she then placed on top of the cash register.

Anita may have been thinking of meeting friends at the nearby Gilt Edge or perhaps seeing if her friend Doris wanted to go to the Plaza for a bite to eat when she noticed the man had moved to a stool farther away from the door. This made her nervous. She decided to take the small amount of cash upstairs so it wouldn't tempt her late-staying guest. As Anita walked to the end of the bar toward the stairs, he moved with her. She told him, "Finish your beer. I'll be right back down." She hurried up the stairs and placed the cash in its usual place by the office desk. . He did not go up the stairs but waited until she had put the cash in its usual place on the desk upstairs. The change box was never closed, and a little statuette of a dog sat nearby watching the money.

She was coming back down the stairs when the man lunged at her from the end of bar. He pinned her to the wall, and Anita defended herself, vigorously striking and scratching at her assailant to the point that his flesh became embedded beneath her finger nails. As the physical violence escalated the man grabbed for Anita's throat. Her defenses slowed and he flung her into the back room through the open swinging doors. She landed hard against a trash can. She was still alive when he stabbed her repeatedly with a ten-and-a-half inch screwdriver that had been nearby and struck her on the head several times with a Seven-Up bottle. After all this, the man sexually assaulted the still-breathing Anita, then struck and stabbed her again. After a valiant fight, Anita finally succumbed to the abuse and died. The cause of death was officially listed as, "shock due to hemorrhage from multiple stab wounds."

The man bounded up the stairs and took what money he could find, leaving a bloody footprint on every other step and hand prints on the bannister. He was now nervous and agitated and wanted to get out of there, but decided that to throw off any suspicious passers-by, the bar should look orderly despite the gruesome scene he was leaving behind in the back room. So he tidied the bar, rinsed the screwdriver and neatly placed it on the left side of the bar sink. But the man left a few loose ends untied. The jukebox plug, which Anita pulled every night, was never unplugged and the padlock remained on the end of the bar until the next morning.

The man gathered his things and took Anita's purse, which was the source of more cash, credit cards and her car keys and also offered a hiding spot for the cash and change he had taken from upstairs. He also discovered her car keys. Since he had checked out of his cheap hotel room around the corner and needed to leave town, Anita's tan 1967 Cadillac outside beckoned. He would use it to go to see friends and relatives in the Sacramento area. He left the neon bar light ablaze and the door unlocked, jumped in the seven-year-old luxury car and headed for I-80.

When he neared Sacramento, he noticed the gas gauge was moving down rapidly. He made it to Highway 99 and pulled in to Cristoni's Phillip's 66 Truck Stop on Stockton Boulevard and asked for ten dollars worth of premium grade gas which was selling for what seemed like a reasonable 61.9 cents per gallon.

By this time, after nearly an hour's drive, the sandy-haired stranger was composed once again. Attendant Paul Griener thought he appeared calm but wondered why there was a woman's name on the credit card he offered. "It's my wife's," the man answered. And why, Griener asked, was there a stained towel on his lap? "I spilled coffee," the man said. Why the woman's purse on the back seat? Griener, not eager to get into a personal discussion so late in the evening, didn't question the man further as he drove off into the summer night.
That question and others went unasked and unanswered.