As children rode their bikes to the sound of leaf blowers on Wednesday, Redwood Avenue in Costa Mesa showed few signs that a neighbor had been killed there three days earlier.

A child's smiley-faced basketball sat in the front yard, while a skull-and-crossbones doormat rested at the front door of the small house where police say Thomas Michael Wilhelm, 48, shot his former girlfriend and business partner, Christian Marie Murray, 45.


FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of the headline to this story should have attributed the accusation that Wilhelm stole the gun to his neighbor John Michael.

Wilhelm's arraignment has been moved to July 25. He faces murder and felony firearm charges, according to court documents.

Next-door neighbor John "Jack" Michael, 79, said Wilhelm stole the gun he allegedly used to shoot Murray several times in the chest from him.

Police discovered Murray in a bedroom of the home she shared with Wilhelm in the 2900 block of Redwood. She was pronounced dead at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.

Michael said he and Wilhelm were good friends, going so far as to keep ladders on either side of the fence so they could easily visit each other.

On Sunday, about 15 or 20 minutes before gunshots rang out, Wilhelm, who seemed agitated, visited Michael in the workshop adjacent to his house, he said.

According to Michael, Wilhelm said that he planned to move away because of increased tension with Murray.

During the visit, Wilhelm excused himself, saying he had to use the restroom, Michael said.

Instead, Wilhelm went to an upper level of the shop and stole a pistol, Michael said.

Minutes later Michael said he heard gunshots, and then through his kitchen window saw Wilhelm climb into his yard. Wilhelm returned to the workshop, taking a shotgun, according to Michael.

Police said Wilhelm tried to commit suicide using a shotgun. Michael said he understands the shotgun went off when Wilhelm tripped and he didn't know how to reload the gun.

The main source of the fighting between Murray and Wilhelm was a sprinkler business they shared that she was pushing him out of, according to Michael.

"I know it was getting volatile, but I didn't really think it would go that far," he said. "It was kind of a last straw kind of thing."

Court documents also show tension between the former couple.

One of her ex-husbands, Peter Madsen, in a custody battle over their 8-year-old son, said Murray's home life was "unstable."

In custody papers filed in January, Murray wrote that she and Wilhelm had financial problems.

"My boyfriend began drinking and on 12/31 I asked [Madsen] ... to take him while I looked for a new place to live," she wrote. "While our business has slowed and has caused financial difficulties we still live in the same home where [my son] has his own room. With his father he has to share a room. Despite the difficulties that I've had with my relationship the issues have been resolved and are being addressed. Our household is again alcohol and drug free."

Madsen, in writing to the court said Murray told him, "I can't do this anymore." He said nine garbage bags filled with the son's clothes and toys were outside the home in December of last year.

Michael said the boy was home at the time of the shooting.

On Wednesday, a man later identified as one of Murray's ex-husbands was at the home, and would only say that Murray left behind three children.

The escalating fighting between Wilhelm and Murray wasn't completely unknown to neighbors, although there was reportedly nothing to indicate the relationship could turn violent.

"It wasn't a match made in heaven," Michael said. He said the block had a Fourth of July parade, and he has photos of Murray seemingly happy with one of three great Danes she shared with Wilhelm.

"What was amazing was … Tom got along with her friends and her exes and all of that, and she got along with her exes and ex-boyfriends," Michael said. "But it seems like it was oil and water between the two of them."

lauren.williams@latimes.com

Twitter: @lawilliams30