The latest Merced County homicide victim was a globe-trotting history buff and advertising agency owner who was passionate about boogie boarding, writing screenplays, dancing and spending time with family.
That's how those who knew Thomas L. Higgins remembered him Tuesday, three days after the 65-year-old Mercedian was found dead on a rural bridge off Bear Creek Drive and Kibby Road -- about 3.7 miles away from his home.
Higgins' loved ones said they're in a state of shock and disbelief, and have no idea who killed him or why.
As of Tuesday, no suspects have been arrested and Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said no motive has been determined.
An autopsy conducted Tuesday on Higgins' body revealed he was shot to death.
Pazin said the victim's car had been left in the driveway of his Merced home, and there were no signs that anything inside the home had been disturbed or indication of a struggle there.
Pazin said Higgins was an "atypical" homicide victim who had no known enemies and was a law-abiding citizen.
"We are reverse engineering every part of his life in hopes of finding someone that may have seen him or someone who remembers something," Pazin said.
A passerby found Higgins' body around 4:50 a.m. and detectives believe he was probably killed at the Bear Creek-North Kibby location. Pazin said the victim may have been walking when the crime occurred.
Elise Higgins, the victim's wife of 42 years, said Tuesday that the couple divided their time between their Merced home and a residence in Emeryville.
She said the last time she saw her husband alive was midnight Friday in Merced, about five hours before his body was found. Higgins said she drove back to Emeryville because she had left medication there, and her husband was planning on joining her in the Bay Area on Saturday.
A 70-year-old building contractor, Elise Higgins was in Emeryville when law enforcement informed her of the homicide.
"It doesn't make sense," Elise Higgins said. "He was truly loved, charming, gracious and highly respected."
The couple's daughter, Jennifer Higgins Dunn, said the family is still trying to figure out what happened and how he ended up at Bear Creek Drive and Kibby Road.
"There's a whole chunk of hours where we have no clue about what happened. And it doesn't make sense to us either," Higgins Dunn said.
A 1964 graduate of Merced High, Higgins met his wife in 1967 during the "Summer of Love."
She described how he once borrowed her car to attend a protest at San Francisco State University, where he was a student. He was so "worked up" about the protest, however, Elise Higgins said he had a traffic accident and totalled the vehicle.
"By the time the insurance cleared, we were a couple," said Elise Higgins with a laugh.
Over the years, Tom Higgins wore a variety of career hats, including co-owning a Bay Area advertising agency. As the creative director for the agency, Higgins wrote jingles for commercials and directed commercials for a variety of businesses.
During his life he also worked as a lobbyist for school administrators and traveled nationwide, giving real estate seminars.
Higgins liked to travel, and took pride in having boogie-boarded at every beach mentioned in the Beach Boys' song "Surfin' U.S.A."
He was also an avid historian, in addition to an aspiring screenwriter and author, having written around six screenplays and a novel he was hoping to publish.
Higgins kept a website, tomhiggins.info, listing his literary pursuits. Elise Higgins said her life's mission will now be to publish her husband's novel.
Of the things Elise Higgins said she'll miss the most about her husband is dancing with him.
"I have his voice in my head. And I have his words in writing. He left so much. But I can't replace him dancing," she said.
Merced County Sheriff's deputies are asking anyone with information about Higgins' death to call the major crimes division at (209) 385-7472. Tips are kept confidential and callers can remain anonymous.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.