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Suspect's life has always been a trial The man accused of masterminding a Sarasota murder had a brut Print E-mail

Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL){PUBLICATION2} 

January 16, 2000
Section: A SECTION
Page: 1A
Tom Spalding STAFF WRITER

For the sake of his 2- and 5-year-old sons, millionaire inventor Allen Blackthorne bought someone else's invention last fall, a machine that spikes air holes in his cigarettes to cut nicotine consumption.

On the golf course, he was known for spicing up otherwise unimportant putts with bets for $1,000 or more. He always paid up right away if he lost, and expected the same of others when he won. And when the widower of his ex-wife, Sheila Bellush, filed a $32 million suit against Blackthorne, accusing him of hiring the hit man who killed her Nov. 7, 1997, he turned and countersued.

Allen Blackthorne has always treated obstacles in his life as challenges.

He says he wound up a driven man because it took him four decades to overcome an unhappy childhood and to find contentment. He learned early that he had to fight for happiness.

"What is being in love?" he asked during an interview last July. "It's a good question. I went a lot of my life not believing in the concept."

When he was a boy, his mother once doused him with gasoline and set him on fire.

He didn't know his father until he was 16.

He weathered three abuse-filled marriages, a horrific car accident, bankruptcy, career failures.

He had also, by age 44, built a medical-device business in Texas so successful that he could essentially retire. And he had constructed an apparently happy household with an adoring fourth wife, Maureen.

Now he sits behind bars, facing execution or life in prison if he is found guilty of masterminding the breathtakingly brutal killing of his third ex-wife.  'A very angry man'

Did Blackthorne strike back with the same violence that had been visited against him as a boy? Authorities in Texas and Florida blame "a very angry man" for the murder and say Blackthorne was the one. In the version of events they presented during a detention hearing in Texas last week, Blackthorne is the product of domestic violence, a cyclical brutality that turns victims into perpetrators.

Bellush, a mother of six, including quadruplets born after she divorced Blackthorne and remarried, was found in the kitchen of her Sarasota home, shot in the face and stabbed twice in the neck.

In trying to prove that Blackthorne arranged that demise for his ex-wife, investigators have meticulously gone through his life, looking at court documents and interviewing people from his present and past.

That includes three people already connected both to the murder and to Blackthorne. Daniel Alex Rocha, 30, was convicted in Florida last January and received life in prison for his role in conspiring to kill Bellush.  Samuel Gonzales, 29, a former golf course attendant, admitted to his role in the conspiracy and received 19 years in Florida prison. His cousin, Jose Luis Del Toro, 23, is accused of being the triggerman and faces a July first-degree murder trial in Sarasota.

Rocha, an amateur golfer and bookie, has repeatedly named Blackthorne as the inspiration for the attack.

Blackthorne's defense attorney, Richard Lubin, said his client's past - including marriages and relationships with his children and other people's children - will not be a factor in his trial. But U.S. Magistrate Pam Mathy last week found his history of violence and "physical acting out" strong reason to deny him bail.

His background showed the possibility that Blackthorne could commit a gruesome crime.

"Yeah, looking at that stuff makes you think he's more of a suspect and keeps the light on him," Sarasota chief assistant state attorney Henry Lee said.

Broken teeth, broken home

Not many people have their life story on paper. Blackthorne, however, gave an autobiography to a psychologist in a court-ordered review in 1987.

Blackthorne wasn't his first name.

He was born Allen Van Houte in Oregon on June 5, 1955.

His father, Guy, was a TV repairman who left his wife, Karen, when she was pregnant with Allen.

His mother was a drug addict and prostitute who left him "with few positive memories" Blackthorne can recall.

When he was a boy, she hit him over the head with a two-by-four when he left his tricycle in the back of a car. When a Cub Scout den mother stepped in to assist him, his mother punched her. She was arrested, and Blackthorne was shipped off to a juvenile home for two weeks, then sent to his grandparents.

Other motherly attacks left him with broken teeth and ribs. He said he was hospitalized six times. Several times, he said, he woke up in the hospital with no idea why he was there.

When he was 13, his mother turned him into a torch in the gasoline dousing incident. A friend quickly smothered the flames.

At 16 he located and re-established contact with his father.

When Blackthorne turned 21, his mother tried to kill herself with a shotgun.  She lived, but her left arm had to be amputated. In the hospital, she blamed her son for the trouble in her life, and they never spoke again.

"She had lots of problems," Blackthorne told the San Antonio Express-News of his mother. "There were abuse issues. She tried real hard in life, but she just could never get a handle on it."

In interviews with the Texas newspaper, family members have backed up Blackthorne's tales of his childhood.

Jack G. Ferrell, the court-ordered psychologist, wrote in a 26-page report that Blackthorne had survived "very extreme odds" as a child that he appeared to replicate as an adult.

"The word 'challenging' appears to personify this individual, who may well view his life in terms of overcoming obstacles and challenges," Ferrell wrote.

Marriages, business

Blackthorne had trouble in relationships with other people besides his parents.

In the early 1970s in Salem, Ore., Blackthorne's childhood sweetheart, Ellen C. Chambers, got pregnant. They put the baby up for adoption, and Blackthorne never established contact with the child. In 1973, two months before his 18th birthday, Blackthorne married Chambers, but a day after the wedding, he knocked her down between a toilet and bathtub and beat her until she almost passed out.

In another encounter much later, when she told him she was pregnant again, he threw her onto a couch and beat on her stomach until she bled. The next day she went to a medical clinic and had an abortion.

The couple was so poor that when their car broke down later in San Jose, Calif., they had to get odd jobs to pay for the repairs. They settled in that city but eventually separated and divorced in 1978.

In 1979, while in Lawton, Okla., Blackthorne met Mary Elizabeth Meyers, a single mother. He married her that year, about the same time he opened a chain of music equipment stores known as Capitol Hi-Fi.

Blackthorne told Ferrell, the court psychologist, that his relationship with Meyers was a good one. But Meyers told police he had temper tantrums after bad days at work, and that he broke up furniture and knocked holes in the walls. One time he slapped her in the face, and another time he threatened to hurt her children, telling her he could hire someone to do it.

Blackthorne remembers the marriage differently; he blames a nine-month business trip to Japan as a strain on the couple. Though he cared for her deeply, he remembers, she went back to her first husband.

Blackthorne was divorced for a second time in 1983.

During the divorce, Blackthorne's attorney introduced him to Sheila Leigh Walsh, a legal secretary seven years his junior. After three dates, the couple, living in Oregon at the time, married Feb. 4, 1983.

In that year Blackthorne, then 28, had his first brush with the law. A motorcyclist cut in front of him as he was driving with Sheila in the car.  Blackthorne ended up running over the motorcyclist, killing him, then fleeing the scene. He later turned himself in and pleaded not guilty, and the charge was dropped because of a lack of evidence, according to court documents and Sheila's sister, Kerry Bladorn.

Meanwhile, Blackthorne brought Sheila and her parents into his business. But the business didn't last long.

According to court records, Capitol went bankrupt after the couple's first daughter, Stevie, was born in 1984. The company folded amid family arguments and after at least one lawsuit was filed claiming that it sold defective equipment.

The family moved to Hawaii, where Blackthorne started Pacific International Electronic Supply Co. But U.S. marshals and customs officials seized a warehouse full of 2,700 muscle stimulators, taking issue with Blackthorne's claims that the devices shaped up bodies without exercise, according to a May 1985 article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Blackthorne's once-estranged father, Guy Van Houte, took his son's failure and turned it into a success for himself. He formed a new company called WestPac Electronics that received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to relabel the stimulators as health devices, not exercise devices.

In Hawaii, Blackthorne became upset to learn that Sheila was pregnant with their second child, Daryl, born in 1985. He began seeing her as a "gold-digger," according to the psychologist's report. The family moved to San Antonio to avoid creditors and to get a new start. 

Becoming Blackthorne

On March 14, 1986, Allen Van Houte legally changed his name. He became Allen Blackthorne because he said his mother told him that was the last name of his biological father. Sheila later told authorities that her husband changed his name for the same reason he moved to Texas, to get away from creditors. She said he picked the name from the James Clavell novel "Shogun"
because he'd done business in Japan, too.

"Shogun" is about Englishman John Blackthorne, an explorer and plunderer stranded in Asia in the 1600s.

In 1987, Sheila filed for divorce, sparking a lengthy civil battle that would not fully end for 10 years, when Blackthorne relinquished custody of his daughters.

The deteriorating marriage generated accusations and counter accusations, some real and some fabricated, that each was abusive or sexually assaulted their girls. Blackthorne was convicted of assaulting Sheila twice in 1987, and he received probation for both offenses.

By the early 1990s, Blackthorne had helped establish a muscle-stimulator business, RS Medical in Vancouver, Wash. By 1996 it reported $14.2 million in revenues, according to the Portland Business Journal.

Sheila and Blackthorne went their separate ways but continued to live in San Antonio. She met drug salesman Jamie Bellush on a Southwest Airlines flight in Phoenix and married him in a secret ceremony in San Antonio in 1993.  Although Sheila had two daughters, they wanted more children, so they used in-vitro fertilization and had quadruplets in December 1995.

Blackthorne met Maureen K. Weingeist while she was chaperoning a friend on a blind date. He was more interested in Maureen, however, and they began dating. That relationship almost crumbled when Sheila and Jamie warned her that Blackthorne was trouble. She investigated it herself but believed Blackthorne.

They married in 1994 and have two boys, several pets and an $800,000 mansion.

The Bellushes got custody of Stevie and Daryl in July 1997 and moved from San Antonio to Sarasota that September - partly because of Jamie's promotion. Jamie has said they moved also because they were afraid of Blackthorne, but such a claim has never been completely corroborated.

Six weeks after the move, Sheila Bellush was dead.

On Nov. 9, 1997, two days after her death, Sarasota County sheriff's detective Mark Brewer interviewed Sheila's sister Kerry, who gave this statement:

"She always knew Allen would kill her, because he told her so many times. I know that's all hearsay, but I heard it from his mouth, too."

Blackthorne says he is a changed person.

He's cut ties with his past, including with his estranged daughters. Maureen Blackthorne said her husband has never been abusive, and that he is intensely devoted to his boys, to golf and to defending his new life. His intensity, she says, is one reason for his success.

Lubin, Blackthorne's attorney, put it this way: "Allen right now is not a violent man, not a danger to the community. . . . He has toned down and lives a law-abiding life."

Caption: Allen Blackthorne, 44, is escorted out of the Wackenhut Correctional Facility in San Antonio.
JOHN DAVENPORT/SAN SANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS Allen Blackthorne and his fourth wife, Maureen, have two sons and an $800,000 mansion.
FILE PHOTO

All content © 2004 Herald-Tribune Corp. and may not be republished without permission.

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