Is ‘Blue Velvet’ madness obscured by Orange County’s terrific landscaping?

A criminal history of O.C.’s most shocking mysteries, felons, and fiends

I spent my first week in O.C. on a friend’s couch in an apartment on Santa Ana’s 17th Street. It was October 1985. That same week, on that same street, a Palestinian-American antidiscrimination activist named Alex Odeh opened the door of his office and set off a bomb. Odeh died in the explosion, which the FBI concluded was a terrorist act.

An international political assassination? In Orange County?

Odeh’s still-unsolved murder was my first hint that this idyllic, sun-drenched paradise was a wee bit more complicated than I’d imagined. Even today, it’s impossible to watch the opening scene of “Blue Velvet” without wondering what teeming madness is obscured by our terrific landscaping.

This month, we asked writer Pat H. Broeske to explore the Orange County that exists beneath the sun, surf, and shimmering national image as a haven from crime. In producing “O.C. Confidential,” Broeske enlisted long-time local crime reporter Larry Welborn to help explain how that image persists despite compelling evidence to the contrary:

“For years local misdeeds flew under the radar and the glare of cameras from Los Angeles TV stations,” Welborn writes. “But the county’s … freeways promise quick getaways and lead to dangerous police pursuits. Its remote canyons and miles of coastline are convenient for disposing bodies. And of course, there’s money here—lots of it—to seduce the black-hearted.”

That world exists alongside the more familiar Orange County reflected in “The Ultimate O.C. Home Tour,” which spotlights some of the county’s grandest residences. After reading both features, we decided we could certainly live without the crime. But we’re also certain the place wouldn’t be nearly as fascinating.

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