Case of murdered Modesto couple shrouded in mystery

Three weeks have passed since Ken and Diane Terhune were found shot to death inside their home north of Modesto. Their house remains vacant, their neighbors nervous and their oldest son in jail, charged with their murders. Cameron Richard Terhune, 24, appeared briefly in Stanislaus County Superior Court today.

His lawyer asked for more time, and a judge agreed, scheduling the next hearing in the case for March 20. (See related story "More time in Terhune trial.")"

Coroner's officials released the bodies of the Terhune couple to family members last week, according to deputy Royjindar Singh, a sheriff's spokesman. There was no indication, as of Thursday, that the family has scheduled a funeral or memorial service.

Family friends and neighbors still are in shock. They remember Cameron Terhune as a shy, awkward, lanky kid who was never violent and always polite even when he did something wrong.

Sheriff's homicide detectives and officials at the district attorney's office have declined to release details about how or when Ken Terhune, 65, and Diane Terhune, 56, were killed in their home at 201 Stewart Road, in an upscale neighborhood just west of McHenry Avenue near the Del Rio Country Club.

According to court documents, authorities believe Cameron Terhune shot his parents Jan. 13, two days before their bodies were found.

Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley has said her office will not release details, because prosecutors want to ensure the defendant receives a fair trial.

Neighbors, who eye the vacant house warily, have tried to piece together some of what happened.

"I'm really scared," said neighbor Sharon Watts while standing just outside the Terhunes' backyard fence. Watts, 45, and her sister, Lynne Smith, 44, moved nine months ago into a small rented home behind the Terhunes' house.

"Just knowing that someone was killed in there. It's scary to think someone did that to such a nice couple."

Parties never rowdy

On several weekends after they moved in, Watts and Smith heard loud rock music coming from the home. Watts said Ken and Diane Terhune appeared to be gone for the weekend, and their younger son, 16-year-old Elliott, was inviting a few friends over for a small party.

The parties never got rowdy, and the music wasn't loud enough for Watts and her sister to complain, she said.

At 7 p.m. the day the Terhunes were shot, Watts and Smith heard rap-rock music coming from the Terhunes' home, louder than they had ever heard before, they said.

The sisters thought it was strange, since they had never heard the loud music on a weekday when the parents would have been expected to be home.

But they never heard gunshots coming from the home that day.

About 3:30 p.m. the next day, Smith heard "more mellow" tunes coming from the Terhunes' home. She could only describe it as the kind of music adults listen to, not young people.

Watts said she has had trouble sleeping since the day the bodies were found. She keeps her pit bull, Blue, in her bedroom at night, but she still wakes up frequently.

"I just hear these strange noises coming from the house," Watts said, admitting the sense of fright might just be all in her head.

She said she and a friend poured droplets of holy water near the Terhune home to calm some of her fears.

Though the Terhunes once complained about loud music coming from Watts' home late at night, it didn't produce any hard feelings. The sisters remember a particular act of kindness over the holidays.

"He (Ken) came over to our house to give us a Thanksgiving Day package," Watts said. "It was a complete Thanksgiving meal with a turkey. I guess he was giving them out to his employees, and he had one left over. I thought he was a really sweet guy."

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Ken Terhune hired a crew to build a 7-foot, backyard fence. Trees had formed the only boundary between the properties, Watts said, and she thinks the Terhunes wanted to keep their privacy.

It was the same fence that the sheriff's Special Weapons and Tactics team climbed when they received reports of a possible homicide in the Terhunes' home.

"They were screaming, 'Come out with your hands up,' for about 30 minutes before they went in," Watts said.

What happened at the Terhune family home Jan. 13-15 remains a mystery. Their neighbors said the home has been dormant in the following few weeks, with no family apparently coming by to pick up personal belongings.

Cindy Burda remembers the Terhunes kindly offering to watch their home while the Burdas were gone.

"Everything has just stopped, and we don't know anything," said Burda, 50. "I saw them the Sunday before they were murdered. I wish I would've got to know them more."

Cindy and Jeff Burda, 55, moved into their home, just around the corner from the Terhunes' home, in 1999. It's a close-knit neighborhood with residents who look out for each other.

"The homes might be bigger, the job titles might be bigger, the incomes might be bigger, but the people care about each other," Jeff Burda said.

His wife got to know the Terhune couple while they walked their dogs, Maggie and Cliff, who were abused pets and rescued by an animal shelter before the Terhunes adopted them.

"They were good neighbors," Cindy Burda said. "No one knows what goes on behind closed doors, but they were great parents."

The Terhune sons always seemed supervised, she said, and always seemed happy.

Firm still in business

The Terhunes' business, Vintage Concepts, markets wine-related products through what eventually morphed into a profitable online and mail-order business. It operates out of a small east Modesto warehouse.

Family members have asked manager Teri Trujillo, 47, to continue running the business as usual, Trujillo said. So the orders come in, and she fills them, for the special wicks and decorative covers that turn wine bottles into candleholders. She said she's doing the best she can.

Stacey Elving, 49, of Oak- dale said she spent a lot of time at the Terhune home. Elving and Diane Terhune were members of Omega Nu, a women's public service group in Stanislaus County.

Elving is organizing a small, private memorial service for the Terhunes next week at her home.

"She was warm, inviting and very humble," Elving said about Diane Terhune. "She was not an egotist, and neither was Ken."

He was great at woodworking, Elving said, and built the wooden decks that are around the pool in the fam- ily's back yard.

She was great at cooking, and once owned a bistro in Walnut Creek, where she would make the desserts. Elving said Diane Terhune was always bringing her treats, including her favorite brownie torte.

"They were good parents," Elving said. "We would lament back and forth about our children, but it was typical teenager stuff."

Elving said her daughters used to baby-sit the Terhune sons.

"Cameron was a wonderful kid, and he was incredibly shy," Elving said. "He didn't come out of his shell until he was 18 or 19. He was a computer geek. He is brilliant. He could've done anything he wanted in life."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.