Last Updated: Friday, May 19, 2000, 6:30 p.m.

Husband charged with murder in wife's death

Palo Alto police Agent Jim Coffman briefed reporters Friday on the arrest of Kenneth Fitzhugh (below), who has been charged with murdering his wife, music teacher Kristine Fitzhugh.
Weekly Photos by Kate Robertson

Kenneth Fitzhugh, 56, was arrested today and charged with murder in the May 5 death of his wife, Palo Alto teacher Kristine Fitzhugh, police announced.

Fitzhugh, a real estate developer, was to be booked without bail today in Santa Clara County jail and will be arraigned Tuesday at the North County Courthouse in Palo Alto.

Thomas J. Nolan, a well-known Palo Alto criminal defense attorney who Fitzhugh retained to represent him four days into the investigation, did not return calls Friday requesting comment.

According to an affidavit filed today in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Kristine Fitzhugh, 53, was the victim of a vicious attack that included impact and puncture wounds to the skull, strangle marks on the neck and slap marks on the face.

Kenneth Fitzhugh

She was last seen May 5 buying muffins at a Peet's coffee shop in Palo Alto, police said. She had apparently gone there after her class at Duveneck Elementary School, where she taught music, ended at 11 a.m.

A Federal Express courier attempted to make a delivery to the family's Escobita Avenue home at 12:08 p.m., but there was no answer at the door, police said.

When Kristine missed her 12:50 p.m. class at Addison, school district staff notified Kenneth by cell phone. He and two of her colleagues went to the Southgate neighborhood home, where they found the front door ajar and Kristine lying at the bottom of the basement stairs, according to the affidavit.

Saying the scene revealed no signs of foul play, police initially attributed Kristine's death to an accidental fall down the stairs. But a day later, the coroner determined that a fall could not have caused the type of head-trauma injuries Kristine suffered.

According to the affidavit, Kenneth staged the fall.

Kristine was killed in the kitchen, police said, apparently interrupted in the midst of a snack: Investigators found a muffin that was partially eaten, a coffee cup half filled and classwork and markers on the kitchen table.

Kenneth then allegedly dragged the body down the basement stairs and arranged some dry cleaning around her as well as a decorative ship's bell with blood on it. Kenneth later told officers that Kristine must have fallen while bringing dry cleaning down the stairs, police said.

Kristine had been struck with a blunt object and showed signs of strangulation, according to the affidavit. Tests revealed that she had lost a substantial amount of blood, police said. In addition to the injuries to her head and neck, she had a wound on her finger, apparently a defense wound to block a blow, police said.

A bloody towel and bloody running shoes belonging to Kenneth were found in his car, police said. According to the affidavit, Kenneth said the blood on the towel came from a cut that Kristine had suffered in a gardening accident earlier in the week. But the coroner did not find any injuries that matched the gardening accident, police said, and Kenneth could not explain the bloody shoes.

Police said they also found a bloody Brooks Brothers shirt in Kenneth's car that apparently belonged to him.

According to the affidavit, Kenneth left the house on May 5 at about 10 a.m. and was driving on Highway 101 near Woodside Road when he received the call from the school district. He allegedly told police that he then attempted to call Kristine but could not reach her. According to phone records, however, he never called the house from his cell phone, police said.

Fitzhugh was arrested without incident Friday at 2 p.m. while driving on Interstate 880 in Hayward, police said. He had been under surveillance since 8 a.m. while police awaited certain lab tests. Once the results were obtained, he was pulled over at the Hesperian Boulevard exit, police said.

Police will hold a community meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at the school district offices at 25 Churchill Ave. to brief residents on the arrest.

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