Jul 15, 2007

Kaye 'probes' Strunk's death

KAYE Torres, daughter of slain actress Nida Blanca, is personally investigating the reported suicide of her mom’s suspected killer, Rod Strunk, Wednesday in California.
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Torres confided this to a highly-reliable source as she said that she will first gather details about the supposedly shocking twist in her mother’s murder case, before issuing any statement to the media.

Blanca’s daughter has opted to refrain from making statements pending confirmation of Strunk’s alleged suicide with the Interpol Division of the National Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice.

Chief Public Attorney Persida Rueda-Acosta said the Public Attorney’s Office still has to receive official reports on the incident.

The PAO head is closely coordinating with Torres and her relatives regarding the case of Elena dela Paz, who has been tagged as an accomplice in Blanca’s murder.

Dela Paz , who was Blanca’s Girl Friday, has sought PAO assistance in order that she be dropped from the charge sheet as accomplice to the crime.

The PAO head said she is leaving it up to Torres on what action to take, expressing confidence that Strunk’s supposed death would not affect Blanca’s murder case as well as the charges against Dela Paz.

Dela Paz indicated that other suspects in Blanca’s death are still alive. The PAO chief categorically hinted that probers should dig deeper for the possibility of foul play behind Strunk’s death.

Blanca’s case is pending trial at the sala of Branch 106 Judge Amelia A. Fabros of the Pasig Regional Trial Court.

According to an article written in the Tracy Press by Bob Brownne and Sam Mathers, police in Tracy City, California, confirmed on Friday that Rod Strunk, 68, husband of slain actress Nida Blanca, committed suicide.

The article added that on Wednesday, Strunk jumped from the second floor balcony of a room at the Tracy Inn. He fell to the parking lot 20 feet below. A woman found the body and alerted the police. The local coroner’s office established that the victim died from the impact after hitting the ground first.

Three-and-a-half years ago, Strunk avoided extradition to the Philippines on charges that he hired someone to kill Blanca. Reports to the Tracy Police Department indicate Strunk killed himself. “It appears to be a suicide at this point,” said Sgt. Steve Beukelman.

Beukelman said police didn’t find anyone who saw Strunk jump. Lawmen, however, found evidence indicating Strunk took his own life.

Police responded to the Tracy Inn, 24 W. 11th St., at 11:36 a.m. Wednesday after a woman reported that she found a man bleeding from the head and nose on the parking lot near the breezeway that leads to Central Avenue.

The woman told police the man was not breathing and did not have a pulse. Police arrived and called the San Joaquin County coroner shortly afterward.

Strunk, who had a brief singing career in the late ’50s and early ’60s as Rod Lauren, was an artist and actor who recently worked as a camera operator for Tracy’s public access station, Channel 26.

Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert said the city manager informed her and other council members of Strunk’s death Thursday morning, because he had been a city employee and regularly recorded city council meetings for Channel 26.

“I really liked him. I found him to be a pleasant gentleman,” she said. “I was always pleased to see him at council meetings.”

Strunk had lived in the Philippines for 23 years beginning in 1979, when he married Nida Blanca.

On Nov. 7, 2001, Blanca was found stabbed to death in a car parked in a Manila parking garage, and a man known as Philip Medel wrote a confession that stated Strunk had hired him to kill Blanca. The murder of the popular film and TV personality became the No. 1 news story in the Philippines, filling the front pages of newspapers and leading television newscasts.

Strunk was interrogated about the murder but was not charged immediately. In the meantime, Philippine authorities allowed him to return to the U.S. to visit his mother, Helen Strunk of Tracy, who was dying of cancer. She died Jan. 20, 2002, two days before Strunk arrived.

After his mother’s death, Strunk remained in Tracy. When he did not return to the Philippines, murder charges were filed against him. While living here in the family home on Whittier Avenue, he worked for a time as sales clerk at the Sears store in West Valley Mall.

In May 2003, however, federal agents, acting on an extradition request from the Philippine government, arrested Strunk at his home and placed him in the Sacramento County Jail pending an extradition hearing.

At the hearing held Oct. 17, 2003 in the federal courthouse in Sacramento, Strunk’s lawyer, Jeffrey Kravitz, pointed out that the person who pointed to Strunk as hiring the killer later recanted his testimony.

After the Philippine prosecutors failed to provide additional evidence contradicting the recantation, on Nov. 12, 2003, U.S. Magistrate Gregory Hollows denied extradition and ordered Strunk released from jail. The denial brought cheers from Strunk’s family and U.S. friends and cries for a new hearing from a number of people in the Philippines.

After his release, Strunk returned to Tracy and held a press conference in Good Shepherd Church at Parker and Eaton avenues, where he had become a member. He said Blanca’s daughter by a previous marriage had pushed for his extradition, using her political influence to seek his return to the Philippines.

“The only thing the Philippine government had implicated me was the written confession of this person, Philip Medel, who I had never met. He recanted it, dramatically, in open court five days later,” Strunk had said.

Strunk, who continued to live in Tracy since his release, said last year he was writing a book about his experiences in the Philippines. In December, he told friends he was going to Redding to be married, but they learned later the marriage did not work out.

A native of Fresno, Strunk moved to Tracy in 1943 with his parents. His father, Larry Strunk, taught at West Park School and later became a switchman for the Southern Pacific. His mother was a church organist and teacher at Jefferson School.

Strunk attended Tracy schools, was a carrier for the Tracy Press and graduated in 1957 from Tracy High School, where he appeared in school plays and played trombone in the school band.

In 1959, he began singing in clubs in Fresno. A recording executive liked his easy-listening style that contrasted with the increasingly popular rock ’n roll genre and offered him an audition. He received an RCA recording contract and took on the professional name of Rod Lauren.

Strunk cut several records that had some success, but his recording career never climbed to hoped-for heights. He continued his career by singing in clubs in Southern California and Las Vegas lounges while appearing in several action movies.

In 1964, to film a movie, during which he met Blanca, then a rising Philippine film star, Strunk shuttled between the Philippines and Southern California before he and Blanca were married in 1979. He then became a permanent resident of Manila and an often-photographed companion for his wife, who appeared in films and in TV serials and as a talk-show host.

Kravitz, his Sacramento attorney, on hearing of Strunk’s death Thursday, said news of the apparent suicide will receive major coverage in the Philippines, where the unsolved murder of his wife remains a major public issue.

Strunk is survived by a sister, Sharolyn Grove, who has lived in LaSelva Beach, Santa Cruz County. Another sister, Tammy Sedillo, died three years ago in Stockton.
Efren Montano
People's Tonight

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