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Murder by suicide: Linda Cummings’ family, advocates gather to commemorate a major change

Part seven: Her brother says death certificate fix 'was about her soul,' and a reporter is relieved to get Cummings' story right

The death in 1974 of Linda Louise Cummings was listed as a suicide. Largely due to work done by former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn, her death was recently was changed to a homicide, though her alleged killer is now dead. Gathering at the gravesite of Cummings at the El Toro Memorial Park in Lake Forest on Saturday, June 6, 2020, are from left: Bob Romaine, formerly with the DA’s office cold case unit; former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn; Paul Broadway, half brother of Linda Louise Cummings, with wife, Marcia; Larry Yellin, formerly with the district attorney’s office and now a superior court judge; Mike Fell, attorney; Ed Berakovich, former investigator with the DA’s office; and Bob Sayne, formerly with the DA’s office cold case unit and the Santa Ana Police Department. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The death in 1974 of Linda Louise Cummings was listed as a suicide. Largely due to work done by former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn, her death was recently was changed to a homicide, though her alleged killer is now dead. Gathering at the gravesite of Cummings at the El Toro Memorial Park in Lake Forest on Saturday, June 6, 2020, are from left: Bob Romaine, formerly with the DA’s office cold case unit; former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn; Paul Broadway, half brother of Linda Louise Cummings, with wife, Marcia; Larry Yellin, formerly with the district attorney’s office and now a superior court judge; Mike Fell, attorney; Ed Berakovich, former investigator with the DA’s office; and Bob Sayne, formerly with the DA’s office cold case unit and the Santa Ana Police Department. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
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El Toro Memorial Park

June 6, 2020

Paul and I agreed to meet the following Saturday at Linda’s gravesite. I invited a few others who had shared the journey.

We hadn’t counted on weather other than the usual California sunshine on that Saturday in June, but a damp, drizzly morning didn’t keep anyone away, either.

One by one key people who stood up for Linda over the years arrived at the cemetery and found their way to the grassy hillside where we waited near her granite headstone, the gift of an anonymous donor, in Block 42b.

Many had been in the crowd 16 years earlier when Linda’s body was exhumed in a search for DNA to identify her killer. This time we weren’t looking for a way to drag Louie Wiechecki to justice. We were there to celebrate the moment – and to honor the life of the young woman who in death had brought us all together.

Fittingly, one of the first to arrive was retired detective Bob Romaine, age 86, my first confidential source and the reason I started keeping a “murder book” decades earlier. That archive of documents was essential to getting Linda’s story right.

Then Ed Berakovich, the lead investigator in 2005 who questioned Louie in his Henderson kitchen while SWAT waited to arrest him. His interrogation of Louie resulted in the self-incriminating admission that he had sex with Linda before her death.

Bob Sayne, the former Santa Ana P.D. detective who worked the murder case against Louie and made certain that I witnessed the SWAT-aided arrest at Louie’s home in 2005. He arrived with his wife Ann, a retired deputy sheriff.

Judge Larry Yellin, the former prosecutor still regretting what he considered his failure to bring Louie to trial, pulled up in a black SUV with his wife Kris, arriving just ahead of a grinning Mike Fell in his sleek Porsche 911, still in high spirits over the administrative victory that made this rainy day in the cemetery a victory party for everyone.

We were maintaining proper social distancing until Paul Broadway and his wife Marcia arrived and the small crowd drew closer. This was the first time Yellin met the victim’s brother and his heartfelt greeting seemed drenched with emotion.

“I was honored to fight for justice for your sister,” Yellin said.

“You did the best you could with what you had,” Paul told him.

While the brother was thanking the disappointed former prosecutor for doing everything he could on behalf of his sister, Yellin kept apologizing for not doing enough. He apologized for not recognizing the significance of changing the death certificate earlier, and for not being there personally with Paul and Marcia during the long-running case.

Paul assured him no apologies were necessary. He was more than grateful for Yellin’s efforts to hold Linda’s killer accountable.

I noticed the rain had stopped.

The former detectives each stepped up to tell Paul and Marcia they were happy the truth had finally come out and to know that Linda’s death certificate was finally changed. But all of them wished that their efforts had paid off with a conviction. To a man they felt strongly that Louie should have died in prison.

Paul finally addressed the whole group of us to speak for his dead sister when he said that correcting her death certificate would have “meant more to Linda” than convicting the man who raped and strangled her.

“Why is that?”

“I’m not very religious, but she was,” said the brother. “She was Catholic, and to her the suicide label would have damned her to hell. … So, this was about her soul.”

The mortal sin that was committed here was Louie’s, not Linda’s. “It’s his legacy now. He murdered my sister.”

Fell emphasized that point with a clenched fist. “That’s right. She didn’t leave you. She was taken from you.”

  • A 1966 Santa Ana high school graduation photo of Linda...

    A 1966 Santa Ana high school graduation photo of Linda Cummings. (Courtesy of the Cummings Family)

  • Former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn, left, speaks with...

    Former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn, left, speaks with Paul Broadway, center, the half brother of Linda Louise Cummings, and his wife, Marcia, at Cummings gravesite at the El Toro Memorial Park in Lake Forest on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Cummings death in 1974 was listed as a suicide. Largely due to work done by Welborn, her death was was changed to a homicide, though her alleged killer is now dead. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Attorney Mike Fell, left, speaks with Paul Broadway, right, the...

    Attorney Mike Fell, left, speaks with Paul Broadway, right, the half brother of Linda Louise Cummings at the El Toro Memorial Park in Lake Forest on Saturday, June 6, 2020 where Cummings is buried. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Bob Sayne, formerly with the DA’s office cold case unit...

    Bob Sayne, formerly with the DA’s office cold case unit and the Santa Ana Police Department, speaks with others gathered at the El Toro Memorial Park in Lake Forest on Saturday, June 6, 2020 where Linda Louise Cummings is buried. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Larry Yellin, formerly with the district attorney’s office speaks with...

    Larry Yellin, formerly with the district attorney’s office speaks with others gathered at the gravesite of Linda Louise Cummings, at the El Toro Memorial Park in Lake Forest on Saturday, June 6, 2020. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The death in 1974 of Linda Louise Cummings was listed...

    The death in 1974 of Linda Louise Cummings was listed as a suicide. Largely due to work done by former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn, her death was recently was changed to a homicide, though her alleged killer is now dead. Gathering at the gravesite of Cummings at the El Toro Memorial Park in Lake Forest on Saturday, June 6, 2020, are from left: Bob Romaine, formerly with the DA’s office cold case unit; former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn; Paul Broadway, half brother of Linda Louise Cummings, with wife, Marcia; Larry Yellin, formerly with the district attorney’s office and now a superior court judge; Mike Fell, attorney; Ed Berakovich, former investigator with the DA’s office; and Bob Sayne, formerly with the DA’s office cold case unit and the Santa Ana Police Department. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • As former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn, left, looks...

    As former Orange County Register reporter Larry Welborn, left, looks on, Paul Broadway, center, half brother of Linda Louise Cummings, kisses his wife Marcia, at Cummings gravesite at the El Toro Memorial Park in Lake Forest on Saturday, June 6, 2020. At right is Larry Yellin, formerly with the district attorney’s office and now a superior court judge. Cummings death in 1974 was listed as a suicide. Largely due to work done by Welborn, her death was changed to a homicide. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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I got a call from Eddie Berakovich the next day. He left a voice message: “We all thank you, Larry, for never letting Linda’s case fall through the cracks. I know Linda was with us yesterday. Take care.”

It took a very long time, but Linda’s story is now ready to share. I set out 46 years ago to find justice for Linda. Instead, I found an inner peace that came with finding the truth – and finally being able to tell her real-life story.

She was a loving child who wanted to be loved. She had a difficult adolescence and a tough transition but she was emerging from her awkwardness. She had friends and family who cared for her. As an adult, she was a giving person who worked as a nurse, wrote poetry and dreamed of a happier future. She has not been forgotten. She will always be remembered.

Was it enough?

We got her story right … and I can live with that.

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