Today's Featured Biography
They were described as "great people," "wonderful people" and "the nicest people in the world."
Ken and Diane Terhune seemed to have it all: A great marriage, two sons, a beautiful home in one Modesto's best areas, and a profitable small business. Which, for friends and acquaintances, makes this story all the more bewildering.
"I'm just in total shock about it," said Judy Genton of Coachella Valley, a longtime family friend. "I'm just as baffled as everybody else."
The Terhunes are dead, Ken at 65 and Diane at 56. Their 24-year-old adopted son, Cameron Terhune, is in the Stanislaus County Jail facing murder charges.
What led to this tragedy remains a mystery as investigators attempt to sort it all out.
What's known about the Terhunes would never have suggested such a sad ending.
Ken and Diane Terhune were devoted parents who supported their sons emotionally and financially, said an extended family member who spoke about them under the condition of anonymity.
"They were probably two of the most amazing people I've ever known," the relative said.
A native of Pennsylvania, Ken attended Shippensburg State College (now Shippensburg University), and came to California in the early 1970s.
He and Diane, who celebrated their 30th anniversary Nov. 5, were married in Sacramento in 1978. They lived in Walnut Creek, where he worked as a representative for various New York-based publishing companies and later for a paperback book distributor based in Reno, family friend Genton said.
"They had entrepreneurial aspirations, but they were also looking for a slower pace of life," the relative said.
They found it in Modesto, moving here in the early 1990s and living in a home on Barola Lane in north Modesto. In 1994, they sold it and moved to home in the Del Rio area.
"They were looking for a more rural setting in Modesto," the family member said. "Behind their house in Del Rio, they had a beautiful view of a field. It's a part of Modesto most people might not know exists."
By then, they'd started Vintage Concepts, marketing wine industry-related products through what eventually morphed into a profitable online and mail-order business. They operated out of a small warehouse in east Modesto. Ken Terhune applied for a patent for a garden stand and wine holder. The Terhunes often worked 10-hour days to make the business succeed, the relative said.
Thad Erickson, owner of Birchwood Cabinets of California, became the Terhunes' business landlord when he bought the warehouse four years ago. Erickson and fiancée Margot Roen, who is the cabinet company's vice president, said the Terhunes had rented the building for 10 years.
"They were just great people — a really neat couple," said Erickson, who said he saw them nearly every day.
"They were very caring, gracious, wonderful people," Roen said. "He talked about politics and the environment."
Diane worked alongside Ken, but also was involved at Central Catholic High, where 16-year-old son Elliott plays soccer.
Ken, a military veteran, posted a message to the troops on America Reaches out, a Department of Defense-sponsored support Web site for men and women serving in the United States military: "I just want to say you so very much for your help and for the sacrifices you have made for our country. As a Vietnam vet (who never saw combat) I can only appreciate a little of the wonderful job you are doing. Please don't listen to the blasted politicians and the losers in this country that aren't behind you. The vast majority of us are with you 100%. Come home safe and sound."
The couple recently bought an RV and had already started hitting the road to visit family and friends, the family member said. They had no relatives in the Modesto area. Vacationing with the RV was a dream for their lives away from their business. "They'd usually let us know if they were going to be gone, and they'd ask us to watch out for them (the business)," Roen said.
Roen and Erickson live in the same north Modesto neighborhood and would pass by the Terhunes' home every day on their way to work. Roen said she visited the Terhunes home a couple of times, and chatted with them at work frequently.
They knew the Terhunes had younger son. But until recently, Roen knew little about Cameron, the eldest son. "I remember a conversation I had with Ken just before the holidays," she said.
Ken told her about traveling somewhere back East last year and helping Cameron move back home, though Ken never told her the reason for the trip: Cameron had lasted only a couple of weeks in the Navy before being dismissed, and Ken went to Chicago to bring him home.
"(Ken) flew out and they drove back cross-country," Roen said. "He said it was the best trip he'd ever had."
They'd planned to travel over the holidays, but Diane's bout with the flu kept them home, Roen said. That didn't stop Ken from making more plans, Erickson said. Ken occasionally told Erickson he wanted to take Diane to the East Coast, and to New England in particular.
"He would have loved to be on the road all year long," Erickson said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Erickson said he saw Ken drive away from the shop in his RV. Diane was not with him.
"He waved as he drove off," said Erickson, who said everything seemed perfectly normal. It was the last time he saw either of the Terhunes. They didn't come in at all on Wednesday.
Thursday morning, sheriff's investigators came to interview Roen and Erickson. "They came and started asking questions about when was the last time we'd seen Ken and Diane," Roen said.
Their questions led Roen and Erickson to a sad but obvious conclusion: Ken and Diane Terhune — their neighbors, tenants, friends and two of the nicest people they've ever known — are dead.
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