As a former staff writer for the Daily Breeze and the San Diego Union-Tribune newspapers -- and a contributor to the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Diana Chapman has covered the issues peoplefind important. In this blog, she focuses on the community programs and resources that benefit children and teens. Also visit her blog: http://www.secretlifeinmybackyard.blogspot.com. You can email her at email@example.com @
Johnny O'Kane and son, Jonathan Andrew "Drew" O'Kane
O'Kane Children Reeling From Father's
Double Shooting Of Himself And Girlfriend Now Face Another Front When "Estranged"
By Diana L. Chapman
Johnny O'Kane's children who wanted to
bury their father next to their mother who died of cancer in 2005 might not get
the chance after his second wife resurfaced recently, claimed his body and had their
father's account frozen, according to her face book page.
The O'Kane children, dealing with a deep
grief after their 55-year-old father shot his girlfriend, Michelle
"Shellie" Stamper, 45, twice on Nov. 2 and then turned the gun on
himself dying in a hospital two days later, were stunned when Jennifer O'Kane
reappeared -- a marriage, they said, they thought had completely crumbled and
one they believed was annulled.
"We have the annulment
papers," said the son, Jonathan Andrew "Drew" O'Kane, 23.
"But they were incomplete. She's been gone for two years. She contacted me
right after (the shootings) and showed up at the hospital. I just want her to
go away. She's taking the body away and I've come to the conclusion that that's
what's going to happen.
"She can take the body. But Honor
(his sister) is not o.k. with it."
As far as Jonathan and Honor, 19,
are concerned, their father told them he wanted to be buried next to their
mother, Maggie. He had the tombstone and plot ready and visited her grave
frequently. The account was frozen, he said, when the children and Jennifer
O'Kane disputed ownership. The house is not in dispute, however, as their
mother put it in a trust for the children, the son added. They will received it when Honor turns 25.
Jennifer O'Kane with O'Kane at festival.
But because Jennifer O'Kane is still officially married to their father, the
law is apparently on her side. Jennifer O'Kane, who says she owns and operates
a legal brothel in Battle Mountain, Nevada, called the Calico Club, contends she and O'Kane still visited each other
via flights and kept their love alive, she explained during a phone interview. She adds that she is keeping the account
frozen to pay off O'Kane's bills and doesn't understand why the community is so angry
with her. She is grieving his loss along with everyone else. No one a the Calico Club could be reached for comment.
O'Kane, she argues, never wanted to be
buried at Green Hills Memorial Park and wanted to have his ashes scattered at
sea and not have his body "in a metal box." His body, she said, is
currently at Green Hills and will be released to her Nov. 27.
She will scatter his ashes at sea.
"I am not putting my husband in a
metal box," she said from the hotel room she is staying in in Torrance. "I'm not disgracing my husband in any way,
shape or form.
didn't come here to start a problem. I didn't come here to be shunned."
But Jennifer O'Kane's reappearance has mystified
many in the community who haven't seen her for at least two years and others
have written not-so-friendly comments on her face book page. She said during the interview that she and O'Kane married in May 2010 and she moved away the following November.
O'Kane, a popular iron worker union
leader, stunned the San Pedro community when he shot and killed himself and his
girlfriend. The killings devastated both families and became more cruel,
O'Kane's children said, when the "estranged" wife showed up and took
over O'Kane's body.
Feeling ridiculed, Jennifer O'Kane defended
herself saying O'Kane would have divorced her if it was officially over and
wrote this on her face book page:
brothers and sisters of local 433 and all whose lives Johnny touched- I want everyone to know that I have not taken Johnny's
body out of San Pedro. I have not taken any money from any bank accounts, I
have frozen all bank accounts because at this point i felt it best for anyone
not to take the money until everything settles down. I also need everyone to
know that I have not taken any of mine or Johnny's personal stuff out of the
been told that the brothers and sisters of Ironworkers local 433, were told
that I have done those things and you are very angry. I honor and respect you
as Johnny did and on his memory I swear-First thing is, I have not done these
things. Secondly, if I was an "estranged wife" I
would have let anyone do with Johnny as they pleased. The last words my husband
said to me were " I can't deal with my personal life anymore Jennifer
please help, I only want to be a Ironworker; that is who I am.) (Sic)
with what happened with their father, Jonathan O'Kane believes his father --
who befriended all classes from tough blue collar workers to upper middle class
folks to his daughter's teachers and Girl Scout leaders-- must have snapped
that evening he killed Stamper. His father periodically got angry "from
time to time" but not enough to kill someone.
everyone," Jonathan O'Kane said."He cared for everyone. He just
didn't think anyone cared about him."
Jonathan both went to Michelle Stamper's service because they liked her and
also her children, Jonathan said, adding that he believes the children are not
blaming them for what happened.
O'Kane also had
a third son, named Alex, 21, who took a week off from his mechanic job in
pretty shocking," Alex said sitting with his half-brother Jonathan at
Walker's Cafe. "It was unbelievable. He was nice for the most part and was
not a violent man. Even my mom said that about him."
A wake was held
for O'Kane Saturday and was packed with hundreds of iron workers, friends and
relatives. Jennifer O'Kane was not welcomed to attend.
Johnny O'Kane Killing Girlfriend Makes
No Sense And Just Leaves Tattered Hearts Scattered To The Winds
By Diana L. Chapman
I drove by the house where it happened,
just around the corner from where I live in San Pedro, not knowing what I was
looking for. I don't know if I just wanted to be drenched in more sadness. Or
if I just was looking for his kids, who are really adults now, but to me they
are still kids. Nice kids.
know both of them.
Maybe I was looking for a sense of
solace. Maybe a way to make sense out of something that makes no sense and
never will. Maybe I was looking for a way to get rid of my anger that Johnny
O'Kane had just shattered so many people's lives, especially his kids, and
shredded the hearts of another family, turning them into a pulp that will never completely heal.
What I did get oddly from the visit was a soothing
sense of peace -- a symbol I can only paint for you through words as I had no
camera to capture this image and one that perhaps some readers might just laugh
at. But it worked for me. I can't say why.
First, I spotted the shrine to Michelle
Stamper -- a group of burning candles with "we'll miss you" signs and
a colorful butterfly at the spot where the 45-year-old woman also known by the
nickname "Shellie" --was shot to death across from O'Kane's house on Almeria
Street directly behind my home.
heard two shots ring out one right after another at 10:35 p.m. the dreadful night
of Nov. 2. It was just the beginning of the shredding hearts in the stillness
of the black night that soon burst into the sounds of loud sirens and a roaring
helicopter. That's when it became all too clear this wasn't a movie shoot or someone fooling around with a gun.
Something bad had gone down in the seaside Palisades
area of San Pedro, where crime is less, not more.
The next day, the community learned that
Johnny O'Kane, 55, a well-regarded leader in the iron worker's union, also popular
with many town residents he befriended -- including me -- chased down and shot
Stamper, his girlfriend, outside his home that night apparently over a dispute
that turned deadly for both. He shot her in the head twice.
Within minutes, he then called police and
reported what happened before shooting himself. He died three days later at
County Harbor UCLA Medical Center surrounded by colleagues and family, who were
trying to come to grips with this tragic turn of events, according to news
O'Kane, a tall and lanky bearded man who
sported tattoos, apparently had many faces. He was kind and thoughtful to some.
Tough to others. The kind face was what he showed me on our many chats on life
when I bumped into him at our local Corner Store or walking along Paseo del Mar,
a roadway along the ocean.
I'm sure he was not that kind man with the
tough blue collar crowd he worked with or he wouldn't have survived as one of
their leaders or earned the respect he received.
I'm sure he was not that man when he gunned down
Stamper, who left behind three grown children, Evelyn, the oldest,
Robert, and Anthony Jordan, all in their 20s. They now are left with a horrendous mess of pain
and cruel hurt that will never fully mend and with a raging beast called grief.
While I did not know Stamper, who was
born and raised here, those who did say she was one of the kindest woman they'd
ever known.She also left behind her
father, brother and many cousins, aunts, uncles and scores of friends.
"She was absolutely the sweetest,
most gentle person," said Mona Sutton, who co-owns the Omelette and Waffle
Shop with Leslie Jones, adding Stamper worked a short stint at their restaurant
becoming close friends with many of their waitresses and for many years at the
San Pedro Brewing Company. "She was a fixture here (in the community). I
can't even get over it."
On her face book page, Sutton wrote:
"So sad that such a sweet, gentle woman's life had to end in such a
violent heinous way. Murdered in the town she grew up, worked and raised her
children in. Her children need our support."
A heavily packed memorial service was
held for Stamper on Saturday.
The Stamper family is not blaming
O'Kane's children, Honor and Andrew, for what happened, a family friend said.
But both families will go through a swath of emotions that are often unreasonable as
they grieve. Grief too has many faces; family members will have to pilot through a storm of sentiments that could include anything from a hazy fog of disbelief to ugly waves of torment.
I thank God that Stamper's family is
willing to try not to blame O'Kane's children, because this community can be
divisive and cruel when it wants to be. Blaming two innocent kids is not what
we need to do. O'Kane's children already know what nature's cruelty means and now
they must live here facing residents knowing fully what their father has done.
Honor, who is in her late teens, and
Andrew, an iron worker in his early 20s, already learned what heartbreak meant when
they lost their mother, Maggie, to cancer in 2004. It seared the family deeply,
riddling them with scars that only other families who've faced this crises can
Now, Honor and Andrew are facing a new
sea of sorrow they have to reckon with. They apparently had come home to
celebrate their father's 55th birthday that night and found instead a bevy of
police cars and blaring lights, according to news accounts.
I kept asking myself how could O'Kane do
this to his kids, leave them in this mess, a muck so disturbing that it will
take them years, perhaps their lifetimes, to crawl out of? Perhaps, and very
likely, this will be the same for the Stampers too.
I also know how union workers might
elevate O'Kane's reputation, forgetting that he killed a woman who grew up here and
left behind a slew of loved ones. And how others will call O'Kane a murderer when
his kids might be standing there. Or the kids might read it as one Daily Breeze reader posted
it on a comment section in the newspaper. Let's not even mention what can go on
face book where people can say anything anonymously and recklessly and not care
who gets hurt.
I can ask for people to
refrain and be sensitive to those around them in this tragic and horrific incident.
Having traveled down this road before, I have my doubts that they will. When
asked to do so, it just seems to drive some into a furious shark frenzy to post even nastier words and do
it with great pleasure.
We can all agree on one thing I suppose.
This shooting didn't have to happen and these two people should be here now, alive
and with their families today, getting up to brush their teeth in the
morning,witness another sunrise, see
the powder blue skies buffeted with clouds, celebrate more birthdays and watch
their grand kids arrive one by one.
They should be here. But they are not. It
just took a few dreary minutes, a horrible decision and a gun to erase their
lives and leave dozens of shredded hearts scattered to the winds.
As I turned the corner in my car,I became more incensed even though I knew it
made no sense. The emotion was clinging to me like an unwanted shadow, not doing
anyone any good, especially me. Perhaps it was because the last time I saw
Honor she was so excited about life. She was mapping out her future.She was gleaming with happiness that even her
cute freckles glowed.
After I spotted Stamper's shrine, I
looked over at the O'Kane household perched on a hilly street draped with lacy
fichus trees. An old, black jalopy, obviously not working, sat in the driveway.
And then I saw a set of peacocks, doing something I've never seen the fowls do
before, even though I have them roosting in my yard on a daily basis.
A male and female sat on the jalopy's
shady roof top, kissing, crooning, nurturing each other -- just two giant lovebirds
oblivious to anything else going on in the world like a young couple kissing
passionately, romantically on a public street, each moment sweet and dripping
with love as though two beings folded into one.
I could barely move and just sat there
watching. A gentle peacefulness descended on me. I no longer felt angry. It
left me with this: we have not one family that has been devastated in this
town, but two. Both families are victims.
All the rest of us can do is try to reach
out and grab few pieces of their tattered hearts and pull them back in from the