Crime & Justice

Previous wife of man charged after Aliso Viejo explosion died in 'mysterious case'

This image, taken from cellphone video, shows the medical building in Aliso Viejo, California, where a fatal explosion occurred on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
This image, taken from cellphone video, shows the medical building in Aliso Viejo, California, where a fatal explosion occurred on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
Raul Hernandez/AP

A decade before Stephen Beal's ex-girlfriend, Ildiko Krajnyak, was killed in a targeted explosion, his wife died in what a coroner deemed a "mysterious case."

Christine Beal's death in 2008 came a few weeks after she fell down a flight of stairs in their Long Beach home while carrying a heavy piece of furniture with her husband. The bureau landed on her pelvic and hip area.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office said it was not clear if the death was related to trauma, but said there were no signs of foul play and ruled the manner "undetermined." An autopsy said her death was caused by pancreatitis, electrolyte imbalance and chronic lead intoxication.

Stephen Beal won $550,000 in a lawsuit against a life insurance company that denied his claim after asserting the death was not an accident.

On Wednesday, Beal was arrested and accused of possessing an unregistered destructive device by FBI agents investigating the bomb blast that killed his former girlfriend inside the day spa she owned in a medical office building in Aliso Viejo, about 50 miles south of Los Angeles.

Beal, a 59-year-old actor and model rocket enthusiast, was not charged with the fatal explosion, but he remains in custody as authorities search for a motive and suspect.

Krajnyak, 48 and a native of Hungary, had dated Beal until recently and they were business partners. She was killed when she opened a cardboard box Tuesday afternoon. Two patrons, a mother and daughter, were seriously injured.

Beal told authorities he hadn't made any bombs and that he didn't possess enough explosive material for a blast the size of the one that ripped a corner out of the building and shook the neighborhood.

He was arrested after a search of his home found two improvised explosive devices, three guns and more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of explosive material, according to court documents.

Stephen Young, a friend and nearby neighbor, said he couldn't imagine Beal doing anything violent. He rejected suspicions in the neighborhood about the death of Christine Beal and said it was a tragic accident.

"If there was anything unusual about that she certainly had time to confide in a nurse or someone like that," he said. "I have no doubt it was truly an accident. I think he really suffered from the loss of his wife for several years."

After the death of Christine Beal, 48, a coroner's investigator wrote that Beal was "uncooperative, not wanting to 'reveal' information to the hospital staff about (his wife)," according to a copy of her autopsy report obtained by The Associated Press.

A toxicology screening showed she had benzodiazepine in her system, a medication commonly used for anxiety.

The tests showed her blood lead level was 24 times greater than the number set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and 100 times greater than the average for adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The autopsy report said medical examiners couldn't conclusively say whether the fall contributed to her death and said it was a "mysterious case."

"Death is probably natural, maybe trauma contributed but this is not known," the report said.

Beal filed a lawsuit against his employer and insurance company after they denied his claim. A doctor hired by the insurance company said it was unlikely the death was "solely by an accident."

Ultimately, Beal prevailed in his suit against Marsh & McLennan, his former employer, and American Life Insurance Company of New York.

Beal and Krajnyak met online in June 2016 and dated for about 18 months. Photos on his Facebook page showed them vacationing in Cuba, Portugal and Mexico.

Beal spoke frequently of Krajnyak and seemed happy after the difficulty of losing his wife and having his adult children move out of the house, Young said.

The couple's romance cooled earlier this year after disputes over exclusivity and finances, authorities said.

Beal called sheriff's deputies in Orange County about two hours after Tuesday's explosion, at the urging of his current girlfriend who had heard about the blast on news reports and knew he had a business in the building.

Beal didn't enter a plea during an initial court appearance Thursday and was due back in court on Monday. His public defender would not comment on the case.

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Associated Press journalists Amanda Lee Myers in Long Beach and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed to this report.