By Neal Putnam
Disturbing new details emerged June 26 in court documents about the man who bludgeoned 94-year-old Jean Eskridge in her Ramona mobile home. He was sentenced Wednesday to 26 years to life in prison.
Many family members and friends of Eskridge attended the sentencing of Gary Allen Thomas, 64, who said nothing before El Cajon Superior Court Judge Allan Preckel sentenced him.
Thomas, who lived near Eskridge, pleaded guilty April 15 to first-degree murder.
Carol Ann Eskridge, the victim’s daughter-in-law, asked Thomas to turn around and look at photos of Jean Eskridge, but he laid his head on the table with his back to the audience and softly cried in his blue jail clothing.
“I want you to spend every waking hour you have begging forgiveness from God, because He’s the only one who can forgive you,” said Carol Ann Eskridge. “She was joy. She had compassion. We’ve lost her laughter.”
Suzanne Mollenhauer, the victim’s daughter, talked about the good memories she had with her mother.
“You took her away from me and I’m very sad,” she told Thomas. “I know she’s up in heaven today. She’s up there telling me to forgive you. I’m struggling with that. I miss my mom.”
One of the victim’s sons, Valjean Eskridge, told the judge his mother befriended Thomas after “she saw you all alone in the lunch room. She said you were like another son to her.”
“You killed one of the kindest persons in the world. She was one of God’s angels on earth,” said Valjean Eskridge. “This is not a forgivable sin. You will rot in hell for eternity.”
Preckel ordered Thomas to pay $5,000 for funeral and burial expenses, and he was fined $10,224. If Thomas gets a job in prison, a portion of his earnings would go to the restitution and fines.
Preckel gave him credit for serving 421 days in jail since he was arrested May 2, 2012, the day after Eskridge’s body was found in her bed. A claw hammer was found nearby, and she had been struck in the head eight times, according to court records.
Deputy District Attorney David Williams III said Thomas will have to serve 26 actual years in prison before he could be eligible for parole.
Preckel, who served as a prosecutor before he was appointed a judge in his 40-year legal career, said this case surprised him. “Just when I get to the point where I think I’ve seen it all…along comes Mr. Thomas.”
Many hours after the sentencing, the probation report was released and it included interviews with Thomas in which he tried to explain why he killed her and his past killings of birds, cats, dogs and sheep.
In a taped interview with sheriff’s detectives, Thomas said he always had a desire to kill, and initially claimed to have never acted on it with a person.
Thomas was born in Los Angeles, and was married at age 23 in 1972. His wife divorced him two years later. They had no children.
Thomas admitted he tried to strangle his wife with ropes during bondage sessions. No criminal charges were filed and he has no record. He moved to San Diego in 1978.
He had another girlfriend for two years, but after they broke up, he sought the services of prostitutes who specialized in bondage and sado-masochistic acts, the report said.
Thomas said he practiced strangling prostitutes. He told detectives he stopped seeing prostitutes about 10 to 15 years ago because he “lost interest.” He moved to the Terrace Estates mobile home park in Ramona seven years ago. He named the Jean Eskridge as his only friend.
He worked as a machinist for 30 years, but lost his job when he turned 60 years old and he retired, he said.
Thomas told authorities he experienced some type of “euphoric feeling” upon killing animals, which included several cats and dogs he killed with knives. He said he started killing parakeets at age 8 — for “fun” — and it stopped when he turned 13 years old. But the desire to kill remained within him, he said.
“He said it was a more powerful feeling than sex,” stated the report. “He said it was the most powerful feeling a person could have, but it dissipated very quickly. He talked about it being thrilling and talked about how the thrill was like a volcano.”
Thomas took Eskridge to church, to Bible studies, and to feed the ducks in a park. They were not romantically linked, but Thomas was allowed to stay overnight in a guest bedroom on April 30, 2012.
Thomas told detectives he woke up on May 1 at 6:30 a.m., had coffee, and watched TV. “He decided to kill the victim at that moment, but admitted he had wanted to kill someone for quite some time,” the report said.
Thomas told detectives that immediately after killing Eskridge, he went to his home and deleted all his e-mail on his computer that was about bondage and sadomasochistic acts.
Computer experts with the sheriff’s department went through Thomas’ computer and noticed he had repeated searches for how to kill someone. “Death by blow to temple” was one online search. Another was “how long to bleed to death from cut throat,” according to the report. “Death by falling” was another search.
Thomas also researched biblical and religious sources as well on the subject of “if I commit suicide, do I go to hell.”
The victim’s family members afterward said their focus will always be on Jean Eskridge and not Thomas.
“I feel the justice system gave him the maximum amount by law,” said Mollenhauer.
“She’s the most positive person you ever met. She’s the epitome of joy,” said Mollenhauer.
Jean Eskridge founded Jean’s Dance Studio in Spring Valley in 1948, and Mollenhauer operates it.
“She changed people’s lives through dance,” said another relative.
At the end of the probation report, someone asked Thomas what his future plans are.
“My life is over,” he replied.