Last Updated: Friday, May 12, 2000, 11:30 a.m.

Burglary ruled out in homicide investigation

Palo Alto police investigating the death of music teacher Kristine Fitzhugh have ruled out the possibility that the homicide last week occurred in connection with a burglary of her Southgate neighborhood home.

Detectives also appear to have concluded that the crime was not a random event, although when pressed, police refused to confirm that interpretation.

Police Agent Jim Coffman said Friday that the evidence gathered by investigators at the Escobita Avenue house is not consistent with a burglary. Coffman would not characterize what information or evidence had led police to their conclusion.

While Coffman said that police, in attempting to confirm a burglary, look for evidence such as broken windows or missing items, he declined to say there was no such evidence in the Fitzhugh home.

Coffman did say the assumptions that ruled out a burglary also could, in theory, apply to other crimes.

"If it were a rapist or an ax murderer, if you'd want to get that specific, I guess you could say it's all-inclusive in that burglary term," Coffman said. However, when asked if that meant police had concluded that the homicide was not a random crime, Coffman said, "If you remove the burglary (as a possibility), you still have a host of other possibilities."

Police said they were announcing their conclusion to ease fears in the Southgate neighborhood that the killing was connected to a string of burglaries in the area last year. Six burglaries--two of them auto burglaries--one petty theft and a few incidents of vandalism had been reported in the neighborhood.

"What people in the neighborhood were concerned with was the series of burglaries that began in September. I think we've eliminated a connection to that," Coffman said.

Investigators and technicians were continuing to gather evidence at the Fitzhugh home on Friday. Police said the evidence collection will be concluded by Saturday.

Fitzhugh's body was found by her husband on May 5 at the foot of the basement stairs in their Southgate neighborhood house. Her death was originally classified as an accident but was reclassified Saturday after the coroner found that her head injuries could not have been suffered in a fall.

Fitzhugh's husband, Kenneth, who has been in seclusion since May 5, has been cooperating with the police investigation, police said.

Thursday evening, about 20 residents attended a community meeting at Palo Alto school district offices, which police called to discuss crime prevention in light of the Fitzhugh killing. Police would not discuss specifics of the case, but they attempted to ease concerns of residents who were being visited by police at random times of the day to ask for information that could aid their investigation.

Lt. Torin Fischer also said at the meeting that a private investigator was apparently working on the case. Fischer didn't identify--and said he didn't know who had hired--the investigator, but he added that residents have no obligation to talk to the investigator.

Services for Fitzhugh, who taught music at six Palo Alto elementary schools, will be held Saturday at 3 p.m. at the chapel of Roller, Hapgood & Tinney at 980 Middlefield Road. Memorial contributions may be made to the Palo Alto/Ravenswood Music Collaborative, c/o Dr. Kay Remsen, 85 D Churchill Ave., Palo Alto 94306.

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