Local

Bass Lake tragedy, the victims and a bitter divorce

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Court documents are revealing more about the suspect and the victims involved in a murder-suicide at Bass Lake.

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The suspect has been identified as Jim Williamson. Authorities found him dead early Thursday morning from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They say Williamson is responsible for the murders of his estranged wife, Sandy, and her attorney, Judy Soley.

According to court documents, Sandy had been asking for the couple's Bass Lake home, nearly $12 hundred a month in spousal support, and more than $150 thousand in attorney's fees.

The divorce hearing was supposed to continue after lunch, but instead their lives took a tragic turn.

Sandy and Jim Williamson had been in court at the Madera County Sierra Division just before the deadly shooting. But their divorce proceedings began years earlier. Court documents show Sandy first filed for legal separation in 2004 and was granted a restraining order because of fears about domestic abuse. But the couple reconciled until 2007 when Sandy filed for divorce and requested a new restraining order.

Sandy's pastor did not want to reveal personal details of the couple's relationship, but she did tell Action News Sandy's safety had been a concern in the past.

Pastor and family friend, Dr. Candi McAlpine said, "There has been times when she's felt fearful."

According to this court paperwork, sandy was very afraid of her husband. She claimed he had pistol-whipped his prior wife and that she had an alarm installed at her house after he moved out. She also said quote, "I am extremely fearful, so much so that I had my grandson stay on the property with me."

The documents also reveal financial fights between Sandy and her estranged husband. This paperwork filed by Judy Soley says the couple's home was once worth more than $1.8 million, but is now worth about $800 thousand. It also states Jim had taken out a more than $900 thousand loan against the home using the forged signature of his wife. When he had to move out of the home, Soley claimed Jim destroyed several valuable items and also photos of his wife's family, including pictures of her son who had since died.

Friends say Sandy used the home as a place to teach birthing classes and help others in any way she could, and that she was just looking forward to moving on with her life after the very difficult divorce.

McAlpine said, "She'd been at peace for sometime with whatever the outcome of the courts were, she was trusting god."

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Friends and colleagues remember Judy Soley

Judy Soley practiced law for almost 40 years. Her death left a large void in the valley's legal and public service community.

Family law attorneys are part of a close-knit group. They all marveled at Judy Soley's inner strength. Soley mentored many lawyers so her death hit the community very hard.

Judy Lund recalled the moment fellow attorney Bob Koligian told her their close friend Judy Soley had been killed. Lund said, "I couldn't speak. I couldn't breathe."

Koligian said of Soley, "She was the most endearing and kindest person."

Action News profiled Soley in 1995 as she maneuvered around the courthouse in a wheelchair. She had polio as a child. But Lund said, "She never let it affect her."

Koligian added, "She never let it be a barrier, either to her sense of humor or to her actions in court or to being a friend."

Koligian often sparred with the woman many considered to be one of the valley's top divorce attorneys. "She demanded you be prepared because she was always prepared and win lose or draw she was always so gracious."

Judy Soley would become the first female president of the Fresno County Bar Association. Lund said, "She was very much a light and a guide and a mentor to me."

Soley was driven to help people on several levels. She was active with Rotary club and the state transportation board.

Judy began her legal career in the office of former congressman John Krebs, who knew right away Soley had a bright future. Krebs said, "I think all of her friends were proud of her. She was a true pioneer as far as lady attorneys are concerned."

Krebs, Koligian and Lund always attended Soley's Christmas parties, where Judy did most of the cooking. Lund said, "I am going to miss her a lot, both personally and working with her on cases."

Soley is survived by a daughter Leslie, who joined her mother in the family law practice.

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Bass Lake residents shaken after double murder and suicide

The suspect has been identified as Jim Williamson. Authorities found him dead early Thursday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

They say Williamson is responsible for the murders of his estranged wife, Sandy, and her Attorney, Judy Soley.

Ducey's is back open for business. Employees who either witnessed the shooting or others who were impacted by it were told not to come in on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Bass Lake community is coming together to heal and pray.

The sanctuary inside Bass Lake's Little Church in the Pines isn't typically open at night. But, on Thursday, a group of local pastors welcomed people who needed a place to pray or a shoulder to lean on in light of Wednesday's double murder and suicide.

Norma Rolff, a Williamson family friend said, "You think of these kinds of things happening in a big city, but not here. It was just too close to home."

People who knew Jim and Sandy Williamson say, during happier times, the couple attended church here, and spent their time volunteering.

When the Williamson's filed for divorce in 2007, Sandy left the church. Jim stayed, but stopped going two months ago when friends say the stress of his divorce was too much for him to handle.

In court documents obtained by Action News, Sandy had been asking for the couple's Bass Lake home, nearly $12 hundred a month in spousal support, and more than $150 thousand in attorney's fees.

Pastor Herk Rolff, a Williamson family friend said, "I know Jim well enough to know that he's been struggling lately and it wouldn't have surprised me nearly enough to hear he had taken his own life, but to hear he took two other lives took me by surprise."

At nearby Ducey's, employees are in shock from what happened Wednesday afternoon. Investigators say Jim Williamson gunned down his wife's attorney in the parking lot before chasing his estranged wife into the restaurant's upstairs kitchen where he shot her twice.

Ducey's employee, Holly Powell was supposed to show up for work less than three hours after the shooting happened.

Powell said, "They decided to come here and it had happened here. It could have happened anywhere. I was shocked beyond belief."

Powell stopped into the restaurant Thursday to check up on her co-workers, who are still shaken from the incident.

A manager tells Action News he is trying to help employees cope -- something everyone in this community is doing-together.

"We all devastated by it, and just hope that we can help people get through it, and work their way through it." Rolff said.

A manager at Ducey's says counselors have been called in Friday to help console employees.

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Tags:
shooting, homicide, crimetracker, bass lake, madera county, local, shannon handy
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