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A Crack in the Glass

TV Celeb Murdered in Arizona Hotel Room


Rick Chance was not from Portland, but he spent a lot of time in our living rooms. As the spokesperson (and former owner) of Empire Glass, the smiling salesman showed up ad nauseum during late night television. His ad began in a sunny parking lot. Thrown from off-screen, a rock chipped a car's windshield. "Hi, Portland. I'm Rick from Empire Glass. Has your windshield been chipped?" the celebrity would ask a dozen-plus times each day. As additional enticement, the huckster salesman would throw in ten free dinners from Shari's for every repaired windshield. He gleamed with unctuous confidence.

Empire Glass sprawls throughout the western states, from its base in Arizona to the Pacific Northwest. Last year, the company earned more than $25 million.

Last weekend, Chance was murdered. His lifeless body was found by a housekeeper in a Tempe, Arizona hotel room. There was a bullet hole through his throat.

In the days following his death, the mystery began to unfold with the tantalizing pace of a serial pulp novel. Starting last Monday, police began slowly to release findings from the crime scene: Information about bullet casings, DNA from a used condom, and statements from ex-wives, friends, and a stripper.

On Monday morning, his housekeeper reported that Chance left his $3 million, brown-and-red brick mansion the previous Friday, with a briefcase containing $1 million in jewelry. Chance kept his primary residence in Paradise Valley, Arizona; an over-the-top wealthy neighborhood adjacent to Phoenix. According to his attorney, Chance had planned to start a new business and build up a jewelry empire. The briefcase has yet to be found.

The next police update was released several hours later. Chance's 15-year-old daughter had scoured her dad's internet history. Police--and Chance's daughter--pieced together that Chance, twice divorced and a serial online dater, was scheduled for a date at Starbucks with a woman he had met on Allegedly, the woman and her friend wanted to check out Chance's jewelry.

Wednesday, police released a photograph taken at a Best Western Hotel on Rural Road in Tempe, Arizona. Chance is wearing a dark Hawaiian shirt. With one elbow propped on the counter, he slumps casually with his back towards the surveillance camera. Standing at the other end of the check-in counter is a small woman.

Over the next 24 hours, the police received more than 100 phone calls. From the distorted surveillance picture, the mysterious woman is identified as Brandi Hungerford, a 25-year-old Asian stripper. Although our judicial system demands innocence until proven guilty, pieces of the puzzle begin falling into place. The stripper had not been seen since checking into the hotel with Chance. According to hotel clerks, she did not leave through the front door.

Since his death, family members and friends have extolled the windshield magnate's virtues. An article in the Arizona Republic detailed what his friends referred to as "his generosity" and explained how his "trusting nature" may have led to his demise. Consciously or not, his friends described Chance as a wide-eyed innocent led to slaughter by bad, evil people (aka strippers and robbers). But in another context, Chance's so-called virtues would be simply called gullibility. In 1993, for example, Chance picked up a woman at a restaurant. When they returned to his mansion, she drugged him, and cleaned out $71,000 in jewelry from his dresser.

Late Thursday, the still-unfolding story landed in Tacoma, Washington. Along with the Tempe, AZ police, Tacoma detectives announced they had tracked down Hungerford, the young Asian stripper, to an apartment above a brewpub. Joining her was a chiseled 24-year-old male stripper, Robert Donald Lemke II. A Tacoma native, Lemke had worked in Arizona for Pink Kitty Strippers. In spite of the obvious suspicion cast upon anyone fleeing a crime scene, police carefully explained the two are not suspects--but merely "persons of interest."

On Thursday, Lemke was arrested on unrelated firearm charges and outstanding warrants. Over the weekend, Hungerford remained holed up in a friend's apartment in Tacoma, allegedly not under police surveillance. But on Sunday, the police arrested Hungerford on murder charges, throwing her in the Tacoma jail. Although questions still remain--including the whereabouts of the briefcase full of jewelry--one thing is for certain: Hungerford won't be enjoying any free meals from Shari's behind bars.


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