When Ginger Bass filed for divorce from her husband Frank in November 2007, she hoped he would not contest the dissolution. She offered to buy out his interest in their Lakeside home so both could move on. For months, Frank stayed in their home. It wasn’t until the following April that he left and roomed with a buddy, who, after three days, asked him to go. Frank moved into a cheap motel, but he said it was “killing” him. Soon he was back, pleading with Ginger not to divorce him. He broke down and cried like a baby. He said he’d change. He said he was depressed and couldn’t live without her. He told her he wanted to return to their first love, trapshooting, which had brought them into marriage eight years before. And he said he was sorry about the other women. He promised that phase was over.
But if there was one thing that stuck in Ginger’s craw, it was the women. She was so embarrassed by his cheating — and his roughing her up when she complained about it — that very few friends or family members knew. Into the first several months of 2008, while their divorce proceeded, Frank was still in the Lakeside house, forcing her to have sex with him and believing this would win her back. As often as he got his way, Ginger got hers, which was to fight him off and flee the house.
Friends and family of Ginger Bass, who was 51 in 2008, describe her as a talented and independent woman. (No family members I contacted agreed to be interviewed, though some of their comments have appeared in other publications; several friends of Ginger’s and Frank’s did speak to me but on condition of anonymity.) One friend said Ginger could “do anything.” For 20 years, she lived in Alaska with her first husband. They adopted three siblings from Bogotá, Colombia. Ginger was a truck driver in Alaska during the construction of the pipeline. Her father, Kenneth “Rusty” Wolbers, who owned a large trucking company in California, had taught her to drive an 18-wheeler. Later, she designed and built two log cabins and worked with stained glass in her own business.
In 1996, after a divorce, Ginger moved to San Diego, and she became a real estate broker. Ten years later she was managing the Re/Max Associates branch in La Mesa.
In her business-card photo, Ginger exudes the sanguine vitality of a woman in love with the outdoors. She has medium-length straight brown hair showing a few traces of gray, a Cheshire grin, and smoky eyes (the blue eyeliner was tattooed on). She had one tattoo on her thigh, a multicolored flair of flowers. Ginger, who was 5 feet 8 and weighed 160 pounds, was “very fit, worked out a lot,” said a friend. Another called her “beautiful-model material.”
Frank Bass, a year older than Ginger, was 6 feet 6 and about 185 pounds, with hazel eyes and brown hair. He was a machinist and handyman. A fellow machinist wrote on a website, “I used to work with Frank and he was a really nice guy. He was even tempered and always great to be around.” Frank was “a lot of fun,” said another pal. He shot a “mean horseshoe.” One friend recalled him as “a normal-looking guy, a typical machinist, really kind of quiet.” His personality, though, could be “dark and standoffish. Like a lot of machinists, he was a perfectionist.” Other buddies noted Frank’s “short fuse. We all knew Frank was a little off.” Everybody liked Frank, said another, but he wasn’t “very warm with people.”
From 1982 to 1998, Frank was married to a woman named Vanessa. They had two children, Frank Jr., who works locally in corrections, and Erica, a La Mesa real estate agent. The divorce, on grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” was uncontested. But according to friends, Frank’s threats forced Vanessa to flee. She gave Frank the house and the kids. Still, Frank didn’t like being left: on the day their divorce was final, he allegedly told her that he was “going to get her.” The woman disappeared for a couple of years.
In 1999, Frank met Ginger when he was buying a home in Lakeside at 14038 Cheryl Lee Court, a quarter mile from the I-8 exit at Lake Jennings Park Road. As his agent, she brokered the deal. They discovered a love for the outdoors, biking, hiking, and trapshooting. Taught by her father Rusty, an Amateur Trapshooting Association senior champion, Ginger was an expert shot. She got Frank interested in the sport, and soon the couple had matching 12-gauge shotguns. They married not long after they met.
“They seemed like a strange pair,” said a man who shot with them and with Ginger’s father. “Ginger was outgoing, a people person. Frank wasn’t. It struck me as funny that they even got together because they were kind of opposite personalities.” Another friend disagreed, saying that early on, “They were pretty much happy, pretty much taken with each other.” They looked like the “ideal couple. They were fairly young, attractive, successful in their careers. They both liked shooting, going to the desert.” And it was clear that Frank’s kids “loved Ginger and she liked them.”
Since his early 20s, Frank had worked at Chem-tronics, an aerospace company in El Cajon. One work pal said he was always “professional and took his work very seriously.” He rose to the position of floor supervisor. But then, in 2006, he was laid off. Rather than mope, Frank decided to take it easy for a year and not work. Eventually, he and Ginger started a home-refurbishing business that used her resources at Re/Max. Bass Homes and Estates specialized in fixing up foreclosures and selling them for profit.
Behind the business front, their marriage was deteriorating. As early as 2004, Frank was sneaking off with women, one, a floor supervisor at Chem-tronics. Sometime in 2007, while Frank was tending to foreclosed properties, he met a woman, a renter in a home he intended to flip, and began a new affair. What’s more, Frank was picked up by police while soliciting a prostitute on El Cajon Boulevard.
He was also beating up on Ginger. The abuse happened when he was drinking. Friends who came over to the Basses to throw horseshoes noticed Frank’s volatility and Ginger’s bruises. Said one friend, Ginger periodically gave Frank an ultimatum: stop drinking and stop roughing her up or else she’d end the marriage. For a while, he would. And Ginger would tell concerned friends “he’s changed.” Divorced once, she’d say, “I really want to make it work.” But nothing, not even Ginger’s forgiveness, could alter his nature.
Said a longtime buddy, Frank was into three things: “Frank, making money, and getting laid.” And more and more, a fourth — getting blind drunk.
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Frank’s son, Frank Jr., was living in the spare room at Cheryl Lee Court. Frank told a buddy in a January 2008 email that Ginger “asked me years ago to have him move out and move on.” He was still there after Ginger filed for divorce. Frank told his son that it “just might be a little bit better if he had his own place, soon — like real soon.”
Ginger wanted Frank Jr. out so her daughter Carolina, Carolina’s husband Charles Carstensen, and their child could stay with them. Frank described Carolina and her husband as “developmentally delayed,” a fact confirmed by several of the Basses’ friends. With Frank Jr. gone, Frank and Ginger bought a small motor home and moved it onto the property for the Carstensens to live in. Then Erica Bass moved into the spare bedroom in the house.
In November 2007, Ginger got busy harnessing the court system. She retained a lawyer, J.R. Givens of San Diego. The papers served, Frank got his own lawyer, James J. Albert of El Cajon. They were told to list their assets and concentrate on a fair division, so they could avoid a court battle.
In late 2007, the value of their Lakeside home was estimated at $650,000 with the mortgage at $445,000. They also owned another property in Lakeside as well as properties in Chandler, Arizona, and Austin, Texas. Subtracting the mortgages, their combined equity in these three places was about $200,000. The motor home on their lot was worth $15,000. Frank’s 2004 Toyota Tundra was valued at $16,000; he owed $6600 on it. Ginger’s 2004 Lexus was valued at $21,500; she owed $16,400 on it. They had individual retirement accounts worth almost $120,000 each. And they had about $10,000 in savings. The assets they would need to divide totaled $337,000, and Ginger proposed a settlement: she would write Frank a check for half of that. He would sign a quitclaim deed for the house, take the money and his tools, and move out.
Frank agreed. But he didn’t move out. He said that Ginger was allowing him to “continue living” at their Lakeside home until the fateful day, May 28. In a court document, Frank stated that “the reason for this agreement is that I work out of the home and it will take me time to find a new place to live and move my business.” He had “a large quantity of tools, spare parts and equipment in the home.… I need a residence with room for storage and room for a trailer.”
To friends, Frank was full of misgivings about Ginger’s decision. One email pal recalls that he and his buddies would exchange pictures of “scantily clad women,” with Frank lamenting “how much he loved Ginger and how much better looking she was than” the women in the photos. Evenings, he would drink. “He would come back the next day and apologize for being drunk the night before and ask us to forget his comments.” At one of Ginger’s Re/Max Christmas parties that December, Frank was so drunk he started dancing lewdly. Ginger asked a friend to drive her home.
A close friend of Frank’s described to me their many problems. The first misery, detailed by Ginger and Frank in separate emails, was Frank’s womanizing. Ginger said that each time Frank was caught having an affair, he would apologize and promise that was the last. Frank wrote that “I still love Ginger more than I will ever love another woman, and I know she still loves me but probably not as much anymore. But since I have betrayed her I cannot expect her to stay with me.”
The second misery was that a drunken Frank would, according to the friend, “force himself upon her against her will.” He asked Ginger several times, “ ‘Why do you allow that?’ Ginger said, ‘When he is drunk and he gets that look in his eye, he scares me to death and I dare not tell him no.’ ” The friend couldn’t believe it: “This is not the Frank I know,” he told her. “And she said, ‘I know. He’s a completely different person when he’s drinking.’ ”
According to Ginger, the bottom fell out on March 2, 2008. That Sunday, she and Frank “went out together for the evening,” she wrote in a chilling statement to the court. “Frank was intoxicated. My sister and her husband were staying with Frank and I and they were sleeping in the guest bedroom. I went to sleep on the couch. Frank got angry at me and began to yell at me. I went into the bedroom and shut the door. Frank pushed the door open and threw me up against a wall.
“A few days later I was getting out of the shower when Frank grabbed me and threw me on the bed. I told Frank no several times and asked him not to touch me. He took off my clothes and raped me. The following morning I asked Frank not to rape me ever again, and he said, ‘It’s not rape. You enjoyed it.’
“Frank threatened to rape me several times after that. When I would ask Frank when we were going to discuss the divorce he would tell me that we could discuss it in bed. Frank went so far as to send me an email saying, ‘The covers are pulled back.’
“Frank also threatened to kill himself. He has said to me on several occasions, ‘Till death do us part and it is the only way that we will [part].’ I do not know if Frank means that he is going to kill me or himself.
“I am afraid that Frank will rape me again. I am also afraid that Frank will hurt or kill me. The terms of our divorce state that I am to get possession of the house and that Frank must leave. Frank has refused to do so. He has stated that he has no intention of leaving the house alive and that it would take a bomb to get him out.”
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Through his lawyer, Frank denied raping Ginger. He said that on March 15 she moved out of their Lakeside home, renting an apartment in Tierrasanta. She said, Frank wrote, that “she was leaving so that she could move on with her life and ‘get over’ me.” And, he noted, she was coming back periodically to the house for personal items or to see her daughter Carolina and her family. Then, the situation reversed.
According to a court document, Ginger was awarded the house around the first of April in exchange for a cash payment to Frank. She moved back in, and Frank was ordered to leave. Frank again complained that he needed his tools; he refused to sign the quitclaim deed or take money from Ginger. Frank was mad because, as he said, the day she asked the court “for a kick-out order,” she was not living in the house. He was. He was also irked that the work he was doing for Ginger through Re/Max Associates had stopped, so he was out of a job as well.
On April 15, Ginger was trying to fix her computer at home when Frank showed up. She wrote in another statement that “Frank grabbed me and said, ‘Let’s go to the bedroom.’ I struggled to get away and hit the panic alarm on my car’s remote. Frank held on to me and started to drag me to the bedroom. I pulled away and tried to go to the living room. I continued to struggle to try and get away.
“Frank’s behavior was scaring me and I was afraid that he was going to beat me or kill me. Frank started yelling at me and said, ‘Take off your clothes.’ I refused and Frank forcibly took off my clothes. Frank then pushed me off the couch onto the floor. Frank took off his clothes and forced me to give him oral sex. I tried to turn my head and get away from him. Frank then began to rape me. While he was raping me, Frank said, ‘You probably want this to be over quick, but I am going to make it last.’… He also said, ‘I love you, Ginger. I would never hurt you.’ I cried the entire time.
“After Frank finished he began to put my clothes back on. He put my socks on my feet and then tried to put my pants on. He stopped, told me to wait, then went into the bathroom and grabbed a paper towel and tried to wipe me clean. After he was done, Frank dressed me and then began to comb my hair with his fingers.
“I was confused, upset and in shock, so I went out to the garage. Frank followed me to the garage. I stood by the garage door for a while because I was shaking badly and in shock. While I was standing there Frank’s daughter [Erica] came home. After she went into the house Frank threatened to kill himself. He walked over to an electrical socket in the garage and said, ‘Come here. Do you want to see how easy it would be for me to kill myself?’ I refused and left the house.
“I got in my car and tried to call a friend who is a former deputy sheriff but I was unable to get a hold of him, so I called 911. The police met me and escorted me to a SART [sexual assault response team] examin[ation], where I met with a detective. The detective issued me an emergency protective order.”
The court served a restraining order on Frank. It stipulated that he had to stay 100 yards away from Ginger, whether at her home, her job, or in her vehicle, for the next six months. He must not “harass, attack, strike, threaten, assault (sexually or otherwise), hit, follow, stalk, molest, destroy personal property, disturb the peace, keep under surveillance, or block movements.” He was forbidden to have any direct or indirect contact with her via phone, mail, or email. And he could not contact any of Ginger’s “family members, caretakers, or guardians” to get information about her. Frank “must go to and pay for a 52-week batterer intervention program and show written proof of completion to the court.”
Rusty Wolbers, retired from the trucking business and living in Reno, Nevada, had heard from Ginger about the alleged rape. He learned that Frank had attempted to clean up the marks of his assault, dressing her to “appear as if it were consensual sex.” Wolbers said that his daughter told him, “Dad, he would have killed me.”
Frank’s lawyer, James Albert, disputed one element of the restraining order. He said that Frank was “losing money” because, as his “application to rescind the move-out order” states, “I cannot get all the equipment and supplies” from the Lakeside home “necessary to perform my job for my clients.” His lawyer further argued that Ginger should “stay away from the residence until such time as the restraining order action is resolved.”
Ginger did not move out. She did agree that Frank could retrieve “personal items with law enforcement or with a mutually agreed-upon third party or may send third party to retrieve them.” She wanted it done “in one pick-up.” She also admitted to the court that “I let the respondent [Frank] live with me” during the six-month dissolution. He “will have to find another place to live. It is my home. I do not have another place to go.”
For much of their marriage, Ginger and Frank were members of the Lemon Grove Rod and Gun Club. Shooting together, they scored quite high, often side by side, in interclub tournaments. In 2004, Frank finished 24th and Ginger 29th. In 2006, Frank was 1st and Ginger 2nd.
One friend recalls shooting regularly with the Basses. They were part of a league of shooters at P2K, a shooting range in El Cajon. He says the two were “inseparable,” “an admirably complete couple.” They shot matching guns and owned the same equipment. “Frank reloaded all their shells for them to use.” One of Ginger’s friends remembers, “She was pretty dang good herself, put many men to the bleachers during shoot-offs.”
What may have been tougher for Frank than Ginger was the requirement in the restraining order that both had to give up their guns. Ginger’s lawyer, J.R. Givens, told me that “when the police came” to serve the order on May 12, “they confiscated all the guns.” Frank signed the document “Firearms Turned In or Sold.” He wrote, “I do not possess any firearms.”
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The end date — May 28, 2008 — was fast approaching. Unable to speak directly with Ginger, Frank got messages to her through a pal at Chem-tronics. His buddy relayed an email in which Frank wrote, “The cheap motel stuff is killing me.” In addition, Frank, who apparently couldn’t stand the thought of being alone, made plans with Frank Jr. to buy a house after the divorce. By May, father and son had been preapproved for a loan.
Sometime that spring, Frank was hired back at Chem-tronics. One machinist friend let Frank move into his apartment, near Escondido. But just for a few days, he said. Frank was a mess, he told me. He broke down crying, saying, “There’s no hope for me. I can’t live without her.” He was haunted by his “failure” and thought about it obsessively, even while trapshooting. After a few days of sleeping on the couch, Frank was told that he had to go. That night, the friend said, “To tell you the truth, I slept with a loaded gun beside my bed. It wasn’t anything Frank said. It was a feeling I got that he was not in control of himself.” He said that he thought Frank “might snap.”
At this time, Ginger confided again to a friend in an email that Frank “is still implying that he will give up and kill himself to his daughter [Erica]. This is very stressful to her, he just doesn’t seem to understand how his actions wear on his family.”
Fearing Frank’s return, Ginger had a silent panic alarm, monitored 24/7 by a private company, installed on her bedroom wall, near the door. If alerted, the company would call the sheriff’s department.
She told her mother, Patty Collins, who lives in Mill Valley, California, where Ginger attended Tamalpais High School for two years, that she believed Frank was going to shoot her. On more than one occasion, Collins told her daughter to leave the house.
Ginger was also having trouble with her daughter Carolina. According to court documents, Carolina and her husband, who were living in the motor home, were not taking proper care of their child. Ginger’s mother called Carolina “abusive.” Ginger contacted social services, who “assumed care of the child.” Ginger also initiated procedures to evict her daughter and son-in-law. Ginger believed that Carolina was “spying” on her and reporting to Frank “when she was home, who she was seeing, and what she was doing.” Not only was Carolina, according to Collins, “very angry” about this allegation, claiming it wasn’t true, but she was also angry that Ginger had called social services. Part of Carolina’s anger may have been occasioned by Ginger’s choice of Teal Collins-Zee, her sister, to be the executor of her trust. (Collins-Zee is a member of the Mother Truckers rock band.) Apparently, Carolina was excluded from any assets in Ginger’s estate.
Around the middle of May, Ginger’s father, Rusty Wolbers, and his wife arrived on the day Frank showed up to remove his tools and equipment. Wolbers kept Frank from taking things in the garage that belonged to Ginger.
Ginger’s growing dread was corroborated by Erica, Frank’s daughter, who worked with Ginger at Re/Max and was living at the Lakeside house. The two, read one court document, had a “very close relationship…despite the failed marriage.” Erica told Ginger’s mother that Frank had been harassing Ginger “relentlessly since the rape and the restraining order.”
Ginger then did something extraordinary, according to her lawyer, Givens. In the week before the divorce was final, she asked him to get her guns back. “I said to her, ‘I don’t like guns. I’m not a big gun fan. And I’m not comfortable doing this. If you want me to do it, I’ll do it. But I’m concerned.’
“She said, ‘No, no. He’s been pretty good lately. I’ll be fine. I’ll keep them locked up.’ ”
Against his better judgment, Givens said he got the guns released. Among them were Ginger’s guns, at least one gun a gift from her father, and Frank’s guns, which the restraining order prohibited Frank from possessing. Givens remembered that the guns came back into her home “either the Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday” of the last week of May. That Wednesday was the divorce date. Givens told Ginger to call him when she had the guns in her home and they were secured. She did, he said. “She said they were safe.”
According to a trapshooter who knew Ginger’s gun habits, the Basses had many shotguns, several 12-gauge and at least one .410 Beretta. They kept their guns locked either in their carrying cases, where they were stored disassembled, or in a glass long-gun cabinet in the bedroom closet.
During all this May chaos, guns removed and guns returned, and while Ginger was trying to quit smoking — she was taking Bupropion, a prescription medication for smoking cessation and for treating depression — Wednesday, May 28, came and went, and the Basses were at last divorced.
The split final, Ginger, who had borrowed a loaded handgun and kept it in a drawer beside her bed, gave the weapon back to its owner. In its place she had her guns in the house, which may have given her some peace of mind. She allowed herself a feminine touch — a French manicure for her toes and for her fingers, the latter with acrylic nails.
On the Friday after the Wednesday divorce date, one of Frank’s cohorts at Chem-tronics noted that he was almost unrecognizable. “He was always the picture of health,” he recalled. “But that day I couldn’t believe how bad he looked. Skinny and drawn.”
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The home on Cheryl Lee Court — which, postdivorce, belonged to Ginger Wolbers — is a single-family house with a curved driveway at the top of a hill. According to an investigator with the medical examiner’s office, the house was “neat, clean, and orderly.” Through the front door and to the right was a dining room and beyond that a kitchen. Off the kitchen was a door leading to a multivehicle garage. Behind the kitchen and outside was a patio, a patio table, and a swimming pool. Beside the kitchen was a living room with a sliding-glass door onto the patio, and on the far side of the living room, a hallway led to a bedroom, a bathroom, and Ginger’s master bedroom.
At 8:00 p.m., Saturday, May 31, Erica went out for the evening. She later said that she “did not see anyone around the house. All seemed well.”
Sometime after Erica left, Frank parked his truck a quarter mile from the home. He made his way to the house and the unlocked back patio door.
Inside the house, Ginger was wearing black stretch pants and a blue long-sleeved button-up shirt. Beneath that she had on a black camisole and a black brassiere with purple trim. She wore bracelets on both wrists, two rings on her right hand, and one ring on her left.
Earlier, she’d used a broiler pan to cook a chicken and, after eating, left the bones on a plate. On the living room table was a beer bottle, a drinking glass, a pen, paper, and other items scattered on the carpet around a soft chair.
On the kitchen table sat a bowl of popcorn and a measuring cup holding melted butter.
At some point, Frank entered the house, and at some later point Ginger punched the newly installed panic button. The dispatcher at the security company called Ginger’s phone number. There was no answer. The dispatcher called the sheriff’s department. The sheriff’s dispatcher contacted a deputy sheriff at 9:48, and ten minutes later he arrived at Cheryl Lee Court.
In the two hours between Erica’s leaving and deputies’ arriving, Frank attacked Ginger in her bedroom. He hit her with his fists or with a blunt object. He punched her in the chest and stomach. He caused abrasions to her scalp and neck. He scratched her chin. He pummeled her hands and arms, her legs and feet, where multiple contusions attest to Ginger’s defensive wounds, hitting and kicking back at him.
He pulled a Buck knife out of its sheath on his belt. He cut her near her right ear, on the right side of her nose, on her upper and lower lips. He stuck her 7 times in her shoulder, back, and flanks, 27 times in her right hand, and 21 times in her left hand, the musculature and bones of both hands receiving injuries. Her blue shirt, camisole, and brassiere were torn and cut.
The deepest stab wounds sank into her neck, her hands, and her face. There were punctures and incisions to her facial muscles. He gouged at the right side of her face, the slash one inch long and two and three-eighths inches deep, severing her retromandibular vein; on the right side of her neck, the knife cut one and three-eighths inches long and went in one and three-quarter inches deep, tearing into her thyroid gland. The front, sides, and back of her neck and areas on her scalp had multiple incised injuries and stab wounds. Her extremities had multiple cuts and stabs.
What seems clear is that Frank targeted her face and head.
The documented number of sharp-force injuries was 86 — 22 stab wounds and 64 incised injuries.
For most of the attack, Ginger was in her bedroom. Next to the bed, the wall was smeared and the carpet stained with blood. On the bedroom wall were the panic alarm and an intercom unit. Blood covered both devices. At one point, Ginger may have fled the bedroom and gotten as far as the bathroom. Streaks of blood ran on the carpet and walls between the two rooms.
Frank may or may not have known that the guns had been returned to her, but he knew where they were kept. Incredibly, the key to the gun cabinet was in the locking mechanism. Frank pulled out a 12-gauge shotgun. It was unloaded. He headed for the garage, where, in a locked cabinet, the ammunition was kept. Frank bent the key in the process of unlocking the cabinet. He grabbed a box of Federal ammunition, labeled “game load,” “lead,” and “25 shot shells/cartouches.” He took the box into the kitchen, placed it on the kitchen counter, and loaded the shotgun. Blood dripped from the bedroom through the living room and into the garage. Blood smeared the ammunition cabinet, the box of shells, and the kitchen counter.
It may have been while Frank was getting shells and loading the shotgun that Ginger pressed the panic button.
In the bedroom, Frank stood above Ginger. At close range, he shot her in her upper chest. The lead buckshot made a tight one-and-one-eighth-inch entrance wound, with pellets and wadding going in above her left breast. Some of the buckshot and wadding exited through her back. The gun blast caused “marked injury,” wrote a deputy medical examiner, “of her left lung and vascular, nerve, and skeletal structures of her left upper pleural cavity and shoulder.”
After shooting Ginger, Frank turned the gun on himself.
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When the deputy arrived, he looked through the front window and saw a drinking glass and bottle lying on the floor. He checked with the sheriff’s dispatcher, who told him that the resident had a restraining order out on her ex-husband, whom she had accused of rape. He called for backup, and ten minutes later he and another deputy found a sliding-glass door open at the rear of the house. Inside, they heard moaning.
Ginger and Frank were on the bedroom floor. Ginger was covered with blood and not moving. Frank was nearby with a 12-gauge shotgun wound to his upper abdomen. The gun was beside him, and he was moaning. The deputies called for an ambulance from Lakeside Fire Station No. 3. Within a half hour, the ambulance transported Frank to Sharp Memorial Hospital.
On the floor, Ginger was semiprone, her left leg under the bed. Her right arm and wrist were bent near her face. A deputy moved Ginger’s arm, which was draped over her face. No response. At 10:30 p.m., Ginger was confirmed dead. Beneath her body was the Buck knife, missing its tip.
During the investigation of the crime scene, from which the foregoing details come, police detectives and medical examiners concluded that after Frank had beaten, slashed, stabbed, and shot his ex-wife, he pressed the muzzle of the shotgun just below his breastbone and fired. Still, before he could be charged with murder, authorities needed to talk to Frank. As soon as he came around.
On Monday, June 2, the medical examiner completed the investigative report, concluding that Ginger had died of “multiple stab wounds and shotgun wound of the chest.”
Meanwhile, friends and family were shocked. Ginger’s lawyer, J.R. Givens, said that he had had a “kind of premonition” about Frank’s growing instability, which is why he worried about retrieving the guns. One friend said that though Ginger was afraid, he never thought Frank would kill her. And yet Ginger told a select few that Frank had changed “completely.” Ginger’s cousin, Sheryl Parsons, who lives in Utah, told the Union-Tribune: “I think more than anything we want to make sure [that] if he lives that he never sees daylight. She did not deserve this.” Erica expressed no interest in visiting her father in the hospital. She even refused to tell Frank’s friends where he was.
Ginger’s mother, Patty Collins, said that “we were all trying to get Ginger away from him. He got her anyhow. There’s only so much you can do.”
At Sharp, the night of the shooting, Frank was taken to surgery. He underwent exploratory laparotomy. This procedure found that the xiphoid (the lowest part of the sternum), the lower portion of his ribcage, his stomach, the left lower portion of his liver, his transverse colon, and loops of small bowel were “all obliterated,” according to medical records. “Portions of his stomach, bowels and liver were removed.” The abdomen was “peppered with buckshot.” During that first month in the hospital, he was often returned to the operating room to drain fistulas that were inflamed or infected. Tubes running into his body resembled a freeway interchange.
Because of a blood infection and “multiple episodes of sepsis,” he developed gangrene in his lower legs and knees. Months after his suicide attempt, his legs were amputated, five to six inches below the knee. When gangrene developed in his fingers, nine of ten were cut off. For much of the time, Frank was in a drug-induced coma. He did speak to detectives, but he was never charged, a fact that perplexed many of Frank’s and Ginger’s friends.
Into 2009, Frank developed “severe cachexia,” a loss of body mass in which one’s muscles atrophy. He was wasting away. On top of that, according to medical records, Frank had a “scarred penis with urethral stricture from a pressor infection, recent Staphylococcus capitis bacteremia, chronic anemia, chronic pain, major depression and psychosis, and hypertension.”
Incredibly, despite these agonal events, Frank kept breathing throughout 2009. None of his friends had visited him in the hospital. Carolina hired a lawyer to represent her in a wrongful death suit against Frank.
Frank Jr. went to see his father infrequently, and the two spoke. Frank signed papers, apparently with an X.
On January 25 of this year, he was moved from Sharp Memorial Hospital to Edgemoor Hospital, where he continued to decline. About two hours after midnight, on February 13, Frank was “discovered unresponsive” in his bed. The nursing staff pronounced him dead.
The medical examiner’s description of a lifeless, friendless, shriveled, and wasted Frank Bass is grimly revealing: “On 2/13/10, the decedent was viewed lying supine on a hospital bed at Edgemoor Geriatric Hospital. He was dressed in a hospital gown and was noted to have multiple fistula drains coming from wounds in his abdomen. He was extremely cachectic and was noted to have healed bilateral BKA [below knee amputation] and amputation of all of his fingers except for a thumb. He was flaccid, warm to the touch and had forming posterior lividity present.” Two aides “placed the decedent in a new white vinyl pouch and blue seal #1175108 was affixed.”
The autopsy report said that Frank, who once weighed 185 pounds, had dropped to 97. A final X-ray showed that there were still “multiple small round pellets concentrated in the upper abdomen.” He was cremated. No memorial service was held. One of his shooter friends told me through tears that of the group of 30, not one “wanted to remember him.”
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One mystery that remained after the shooting was why Frank had shot himself in the abdomen. Several friends wondered whether he’d targeted his abdomen so that he wouldn’t die, at least, not right away.
A few weeks after the shooting, sheriff’s department detectives talked to Frank. Spokesman Dennis Brugos described their interview to me. He said Frank remembered little of that night’s mayhem. He didn’t remember their arguing or his beating, stabbing, and shooting Ginger. But he did recall taking her shotgun out of the cabinet in the closet and shooting himself. How? Frank put the shotgun on his shoulder. He grabbed the barrel with his left hand and, holding the butt with his right hand, aimed the muzzle at himself and pressed the trigger. The shot entered his upper abdomen and went down into his stomach at a steep angle. The detective on the case confirmed that “the shot pattern matches his statement.” The detectives wondered if Frank had intended to shoot himself in the gut; Frank told them he’d aimed for his heart.
During Frank’s hospitalization, friends and fellow shooters speculated about what had happened.
On a website, Alpine Forum, where people have commented about the death of Ginger and the attempted suicide of Frank, Dr. Julius Hempstead of La Jolla wrote, “To those of you who are wondering, this is exactly why there are ‘how-to’ suicide websites. Never shoot yourself in the abdomen of all places. The pain is probably as bad as it gets, and it often fails to get the job done. Those sites are meant to minimize pain and the embarrassment of failing at suicide. He must have not really wanted to die. I mean nobody is that dumb to shoot themselves in the stomach for a suicide.”
One of Frank’s gun pals thinks that the barrel of a 12-gauge is so long that Frank couldn’t have reached the trigger.
“If he wanted to kill himself, he would put the gun under his chin. That way he could at least reach the trigger and do a proper job of killing himself.”
“Would he have known that?”
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah.”
But he didn’t do a “proper job.”
Another friend echoed the sentiment: “He should have had the balls to do it right. Besides, if you put a load of lead in your belly, you’ve got to know that’s going to poison your system.”
Still another pal believes Frank didn’t want to die: Why did he go back to work when Chem-tronics called? Why did he start the process of buying a house with his son? Such are not the plans of an irrational man. Because he imagined a future for himself, this man believes Ginger shot Frank before Frank shot her. The barrel of the shotgun, he told me, was too long for Frank to reach the trigger and shoot himself in the abdomen.
Detectives found no evidence that Ginger shot Frank. Brugos told me that the sheriff’s department is satisfied this was a murder-suicide with 20 months separating the two deaths.
Brugos said there’s no mystery to why Frank wasn’t charged. When a murder suspect is severely wounded, homicide detectives typically wait to see “how his condition plays out.” The sheriff’s department had no way to care for him, nor was he able to go to court, let alone stand trial. Brugos noted, Frank “wasn’t going anywhere.”
As traumatic as the knife assault was for Ginger, it’s possible that she never felt the gunshot blast. In the interim of the knife attack and Frank’s getting and loading the gun, she may have expired.