Who Killed Kathleen Fabry, Rancho La Paz’ beloved thespian?

Fabry at left in Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.” (Miss Marple at right.)

Rancho La Paz’ Kathleen Fabry died about three weeks ago in late February – exact date and cause still unknown.  She was still in her seventies, and was still full of vibrant energy – at least until a little before last Christmas, when she discovered that park owner John Saunders had, FOR A SECOND TIME IN SEVEN YEARS, managed to take away her mobile home and leave her homeless.

If you’re one of those people who say, about the seniors in parks like Rancho La Paz that get bought by rent-gouging speculators like Saunders or Kort & Spark, that “these people were old and were gonna die anyway,” you can stop reading now, I don’t want to hear from you.  And if you respond, like Anaheim’s brainless heartless Mayor Sidhu, “Where could somebody rent an apartment for $1000?” and grin like you think you’re clever, know that these folks are HOME OWNERS who pay property taxes, their mobile homes often represent their life savings, and all they’re renting is a patch of dirt.  And shut up.

The stress that Saunders’ rent-gouging in senior parks across Southern California has caused on folks who are living on a fixed income really DOES kill seniors prematurely, and has driven a few to suicide.  But let’s get back to the beloved, vivacious Kathleen Fabry who, on retiring from a lifetime career at the Gas Company, put her life savings into a nice mobile home which she kept at Huntington Shorecliffs, and began a second career in the local theater.

For two decades Kathleen acted and starred in countless plays, at the Long Beach Playhouse, Fullerton’s Stages Theater and Maverick Theater, and especially at Goldenwest College, whose theater professor Tom Amen reminisces:

“Kathleen and I first met in the winter of 2001 and worked together off and on for almost 20 years. From classical tragedies like OEDIPUS REX, MEDEA, and HAMLET, to landmark dramas like THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and the GRAPES OF WRATH, Kathleen was nothing short of intrepid; she was right there for some of our most ambitious and daunting creative endeavors, and just knowing that she was in the cast bolstered all of us immeasurably.

“Oddly enough, though, of all the heavyweight shows we did together, one role that became indicative of my relationship with Kathleen was her wonderfully playful turn as a feisty, drunken, and foul-mouthed Irish grandmother, Mammy O’Dougal, in Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy, THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN. Kathleen was an absolute hoot in the role, and from that point on was always affectionately ‘Mammy’ to me.”

Typical Shorecliffs story – this structure is now owned by park owner Saunders, who’s renting it out. It used to belong to another 70-year old woman who couldn’t afford Saunders’ rent increases, and he wouldn’t allow her to sell it. He finally paid her $1000 just to get lost. She was lucky to even get that. Nobody knows what happened to her.

Well, that was all good, but it turned out that planting your nice mobile home, the fruit of your lifetime of work at the Gas Company, at Huntington Shorecliffs, was a bad idea for a senior on a fixed income, when the park was unexpectedly bought in 2008 by the Newport speculator John Saunders.  With the help of cutthroat attorney Robert Coldren, who does the same sort of thing up and down the Golden State, Saunders nearly doubled the seniors’ rents, with the apparent goal of driving them out so he could rent to younger families with more income.

As I explained here in 2014, the term “mobile home” is something of a misnomer, as they are prohibitively difficult and expensive to actually move.  So Saunders, believe it or not, ended up owning the homes of OVER A HUNDRED seniors at Huntington Shorecliffs alone.  Some homes were sold to him at a huge loss, some simply abandoned, nobody knows what happened to many of the original owners.  Kathleen was luckier than many, selling her treasured home to Saunders for $8000, a home she’d originally bought for $40,000.

As I remember in Huntington Beach 2014, the only councilmembers who cared about this outrage and wanted to impose a rent cap and other protections on senior mobile home parks were Democrats Joe Shaw and Connie Boardman.  And they were defeated for re-election that year, partly by attacks financed by Saunders and the mobile home park industry.

Rancho seniors fighting Saunders

Moving along.  Our heroine between her savings and her $8000 managed, in 2014, to get a less expensive mobile home and moved to Rancho La Paz, up in Anaheim (half of it’s in Fullerton.)  That should be safe, right?  Farther from the beach and Saunders, and translating “Peace Ranch.”  Pero no, five years later in 2019, as though stalking Kathleen, Saunders purchased that park too, and has raised rents by $300 a month over these two years (they’ll go up another hundred this October.)

Kathleen did her best to keep up with the rent on her fixed income, but inevitably fell behind, and a little before Christmas she realized she was going to have to once again sell her home to pay off Saunders’ demands.  Lupe Ramirez who lives four doors down says she became a totally different person – the feisty, active Golden Girl couldn’t even leave her bed those last two months.  “I just give up, Lupe, I just give up, I don’t know what to do.”  She was found dead the day after she sold her home – at least she’d managed to sell it to somebody other than Saunders.

SO, Who Killed Kathleen Fabry?

It’s easy, and true, to answer that question by simply saying John Saunders killed Kathleen Fabry.  Lupe estimates that at least NINE of her neighbors have died years earlier than they otherwise would have due to the stress and depression of housing insecurity.  One lady on receiving her latest rent hike started walking up the nearby railroad track at night, hoping to be hit.  Paramedics visit the park nearly every day, and the put-upon seniors rely on visiting charities for food.  But Saunders is just the creature he is, a capitalist without conscience or boundaries, and he’ll just do what he does.

So saying Saunders killed Kathleen wouldn’t be the whole truth.  In this country we have what purports to be a democratically elected government, “of the people, by the people and FOR the people.”  And one thing we reasonably expect our government to do is to protect the weak, poor and aged from being preyed upon by the strong and rich.  And John Saunders shouldn’t be allowed to do what he does, in Huntington Beach, in Anaheim, in Fullerton, or in California, if those places were civilized.

So Kathleen Fabry was also killed by Harry Sidhu, the grotesquely grinning Mayor of Anaheim, who socializes with Saunders, and has opined on the dais that the Rancho seniors were getting too good of a deal with $1000 rent because you can’t rent an apartment for that much, forgetting that these are homeowners just renting a patch of dirt (as I mentioned above.)   Throughout multiple tumultuous Council meetings of 2019, regularly mobbed by desperate Rancho seniors, Harry steadfastly resisted any attempts to impose rent caps on Rancho La Paz, backed up unquestioningly by his sturdy Council allies Lucille Kring, Trevor O’Neil, Steve Faessel and Jordan Brandman – who, it should be added, ALSO killed Kathleen Fabry.

Saunders poured tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, directly and through various PACs, into the 2020 Anaheim Council races, for the benefit of three candidates he knew he could count on not to interfere with his predations: Jose Diaz, Avelino Valencia, and (for re-election) Steve Faessel.  Some of that money he spent ruthlessly and dishonestly attacking the two female candidates he feared most – Annemarie Randle-Trejo and Denise Barnes (an incumbent who spent a lot of time every week, and still does, helping the Rancho seniors, even though the park isn’t in her district.)  Avelino and Steve won overwhelmingly, Diaz won by a little.  So you could even lay a lot of the guilt for Kathleen’s death at the feet of Anaheim voters, who didn’t appear to care much about the issue.

The 2021 Anaheim Council majority that Disney and Saunders created.

Five politicians who definitely did NOT kill Kathleen Fabry:

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who worked hard all last year to pass a mobile home rent-cap bill, which was opposed by not only anti-rent-control Republicans and the mobile home park industry, but also the Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League, a bourgeois group of mobile home owners who disagrees with Sharon’s “percentage” method of rent control, feeling that advantages poorer homeowners over middle-class ones.  Undaunted, Sharon has brought the bill back this year as AB 978, and we should support her. 

Councilman Jose Moreno and former Councilwoman Denise Barnes also have their hands clean of Kathleen’s murder, as they not only did their best to pass a rent cap, but also showed up to the park countless times, advocated for the tenants, and have regularly brought them food … as have defeated 2020 District 4 candidate Jeanine Robbins and defeated District 5 candidate Kenneth Batiste, who is completely innocent of killing Kathleen Fabry.  Helping the seniors of Rancho La Paz was a cornerstone of Kenneth’s campaign in particular, but he came in third, behind Saunders’ dependable incumbent Faessel, and a young hispanic woman who’d never heard of Rancho La Paz.  (I apologize for the Barber Adagio being too loud at the end of this video, it’s “my bad…”)

But, back to our heroine.  In his reminiscence of Kathleen Fabry, Goldenwest’s Tom Amen continued: 

“In our final show together in the Spring of 2019, Kathleen played the role of Polly (an elderly woman suffering the ravages of dementia) in Amy Herzog’s powerful and haunting drama THE GREAT GOD PAN. Though hers was but a cameo role comprised of a single scene, Kathleen’s performance was a real show-stopper, eliciting thunderous applause each time the lights faded to black.

“Fittingly, I believe that this role represented Kathleen’s finest work on our GWC stage, and, given that it was our final production together, I am gratified to have had her tell me that out of all of the creative miles we had traveled together, this was the role of which she was most proud.

“Kathleen was a wonderful actor, a trusted collaborator, a kind woman, and a dear friend. She was emblematic of everything that we have attempted to create within our theater program at GWC: a sense of family…a feeling of home.

“I will always treasure our work together. I will miss her more than I can say.”

UPDATE:  Lupe spoke out at Council 3/23 for her friend, and the survivors:


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.