Local author chronicles 'Murder in Pleasanton'

Pleasanton native writes detailed narrative on Tina Faelz slaying

Joshua Suchon was in fifth grade at Donlon Elementary in April 1984 when Tina Faelz, 14, was stabbed to death on her way home from Foothill High School, her body found on a path students used as a shortcut to the Valley Trails neighborhood. Finally, in 2011, classmate Steve Carlson was arrested on suspicion of the murder.

So four years ago when Suchon, a sportswriter/announcer, wanted to tackle a subject besides baseball and sports for his third book, he thought of the crime that was a vivid childhood memory for him -- and which at last had resolution.

"The thing that drew me to the story was my sister knew Steve Carlson," Suchon said. "He used to walk my sister home from school. A lot of my sister's friends knew him."

Suchon was doing pre- and post-game work for the L.A. Dodgers Radio Network at that time. He contacted Tina's mother, Shirley Orosco, and she invited him to visit, at the same home in Pleasanton where Tina lived at the time of her murder.

"One of the keys for me was the meeting I had with Tina's mother," Suchon said. "I had this idea and talked with Shirley on the phone. She welcomed me into her house."

"That was intense, talking to her," he continued. "She was completely supportive of me writing the book. I don't need permission of the mother to write a book, but I wasn't going to do it unless she wanted."

Carlson's trial date kept getting pushed back, and Suchon moved to New Mexico for his dream job, doing play-by-play broadcasts for the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

"I had kind of given up on (the book), to be honest," Suchon said, but Tina's family encouraged him to continue with the project.

Her brother, Drew, was in the second grade when Tina was murdered, and Suchon points out Drew was known throughout his school years as "the boy whose sister was murdered."

"It was neat to get to know Drew," Suchon said. "It definitely affected him, but he didn't let it affect him negatively. He's a great man, a great father."

During his four years of research, Suchon poured through old police files, letters and firsthand accounts and did countless personal interviews. The Discovery Channel contacted him for its true murder series, "On the Case with Paula Zahn," which will focus on the Tina Faelz murder this Sunday.

Suchon's research revealed Tina as a young teen who was bullied -- some girls taunted and threw rocks at her on the very day she was to die. But he also learned she could be tough and had a quirky sense of fun that was appreciated by her friends.

Several people he tried to interview were too traumatized to talk about Tina or her murder.

"Some felt they wanted to protect their neighborhood and their friends," Suchon said. "But a lot of people wanted to talk. That reminded me how important it was for this story to be told."

"Murder in Pleasanton: Tina Faelz and the Search for Justice" is a disturbing read. Not only was the murder brutal, with 44 stab wounds, but the criminal investigation revealed a disquieting underlying environment of violence, sex and drugs.

"I know this is a tragic story," Suchon said. "There are negative elements about Foothill and Pleasanton, but these are the most important stories for us to learn from."

The book is a thorough examination of everyone involved, including a detailed look at Carlson's life after the killing until his arrest on suspicion of Tina's murder on Aug. 7, 2011, in Santa Cruz, where he was already in jail on drug-related charges. He'd spent almost as much time in jails and prisons as he had as a free man, Suchon wrote, including from 1989-92 for lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14.

The advancement of DNA testing allowed police to find their suspect decades later when samples of blood from Tina's purse at the scene were matched to Carlson. He was found guilty on Oct. 30, 2014, and sentenced to 26 years to life in prison. He has never admitted guilt.

"I'm glad for Tina's family that they got their justice, but my heart still goes out to Steve Carlson's family for what they had to endure," Suchon said. "A shadow was cast upon them through no fault of their own."

Suchon, 42, graduated from Foothill in 1991, and he noted that Tina Faelz was not the only student to die.

"When I went to Foothill, there were trees and plaques all over the place for students who had died," he recalled. "It was sad, almost like a graveyard. But the case of Tina always stood out, and it always will stand out, the tragedy of it."

"Tina was the first child murdered in Pleasanton since World War II," he said. "It was a time when Pleasanton was still considered innocent. It made people realize that bad things could happen anywhere."

He said he personally remembers that although people were shocked by the murder, life went on as usual.

"I still walked to school the next day," he recalled.

Although Carlson was convicted of the murder, a lot of questions remain.

"Why did Steve do it? What was his motivation? What was Tina doing that day?" Suchon asked.

Meet the author

What: Book launch party for Joshua Suchon's "Murder in Pleasanton: Tina Faelz and the Search for Justice," published by Arcadia Publishing and the History Press.

When: 6-9 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 22

Where: McKay's Taphouse & Beer Garden, 252 Main St.


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