PASADENA, Calif. – The 1988 murder of racing legend Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy, is a classic Southern California whodunit, involving the glamorous world of big time auto racing and a daredevil driver allegedly caught in a feud over money.
It may also be the ultimate cold case, having remained unsolved for nearly 19 years, a time during which Thompson's sister refused to let it drop off investigators' radar.
On Monday it will finally come to trial with Thompson's estranged business partner accused of killing the racing superstar and his glamorous wife.
"This has been a long endurance race for justice," Thompson's sister, Colleen Campbell, said. "We don't plan to drop out till we get to the finish line."
Thompson's former business partner, Michael Frank Goodwin, is charged with two counts of murder with the special circumstances of lying in wait and committing multiple murders. Prosecutors, however, have decided not to seek the death penalty.
Goodwin's lawyer maintains there is no physical evidence or witness putting her 61-year-old client at the crime scene or linking him to arranging the killings of the Thompsons.
"We've always maintained this case is based on baseless suspicion," said defense attorney Elena Saris. "The whole defense team feels that if the jury is allowed to hear the truth, Michael will be acquitted."
But prosecutors contend circumstantial evidence leads directly to the former concert promoter who merged his motocross racing business with Thompson's before the pair had a bitter falling out. They say Goodwin became so consumed with anger after losing a $750,000 judgment to Thompson that he set out to kill him.
The racer, who was 59 when he died, was inducted posthumously into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1990. He set hundreds of speed and endurance records and was the first person to travel more than 400 mph on land. He also built and drove racing's first slingshot dragster.
He and his 41-year-old wife were leaving for work in March 1988 when they were ambushed outside their home in the gated Los Angeles suburb of Bradbury.
The two men who shot the couple before fleeing on bicycles were never caught, and prosecutors are expected to argue they were hired by Goodwin.
Authorities say the former promoter had talked of killing Thompson rather than pay him the court judgment the racing champion had won.
At a preliminary hearing three years ago, Gregory Keay said Goodwin, his cousin, told him that before Thompson could collect his money he would "have him wasted." Goodwin's former girlfriend testified that he boasted to her that he "got away with it" after showing her a tape of the television show "Unsolved Mysteries" that focused on the case.
After Thompson's death, Goodwin and his former wife left the country and cruised the Caribbean on their $400,000 luxury boat for three years.
He quickly ran into legal trouble after their return and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for lying on a loan application.
All the while, Campbell was pressing authorities to reopen the murder case and look at Goodwin as a suspect. Campbell, a former mayor of San Juan Capistrano with wide political connections, also became an outspoken, nationally known victims' rights advocate as she pursued her brother's case.
Goodwin was arrested in 2001 and has remained in jail since, his case delayed numerous times by legal wrangling. Since then, Campbell has issued press releases to keep the case in the news and has attended every one of the 70 court appearances Goodwin has made.
She plans to be in court again on Monday when Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson and defense attorney Saris present their opening statements to the jury.
Until then, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has declined to comment on the weight of the prosecution's case.
"We have a jury seated and will be giving opening statements," district attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said recently. "We are very happy that this case is finally going to trial."