In the city's first homicide since 2008, Cho Yong Chang, 70, and his ex-wife In Ku Lee, 62, were found dead Friday morning, May 14, inside Vogue Dry Cleaners on Escuela Avenue by an employee. Both had been shot and a gun was found at the scene, police said. There was no sign of breaking and entering.
Police are classifying the case as a murder-suicide, but are not ruling out the possibility of a double murder.
"We're not discounting the possibility that it could be a staged murder-suicide," police spokesperson Liz Wylie said Tuesday morning. "But so far we have uncovered nothing that points to that."
Police say Lee was shot by someone else several times in the torso and once to the head, while Cho died from one gunshot wound to the neck.
"Evidence gleaned during the autopsy further confirms our current classification as murder-suicide with (Cho) as the shooter," Wylie said via e-mail Tuesday.
Siaby Singh, a clerk at the 7-11 store across the street from Vogue Dry Cleaners, said people in the neighborhood looked up to Cho and some even called him "Mayor." Cho would visit businesses in the nearby strip malls several times a day to socialize.
"People went to him for help and advice," Singh said. When the warm food at 7-11 was about to expire, Cho would take it to a struggling family living behind the dry cleaners, Singh said. "That's the kind of person he was," Singh said.
"He was a trustworthy guy," Singh said. "It was like losing family."
Cho worked for Lee after their divorce in order to make a living because "he had to," Singh said.
Santa Clara County court records reportedly show that Lee had been ordered to pay Cho $350,000 in their 2004 divorce in which Lee became owner of a Santa Clara home. Years later, Cho felt he had still not received his share, but "he was never angry," Singh said.
"Let me get my share and go back to Japan," is what Cho was saying to his ex-wife, Singh said. Cho was born in Japan, according to a Vogue Dry Cleaners employee.
By all accounts, Cho was a "nice, friendly guy," said an employee of Tony and Alba's Pizza and Pasta, another business at the corner of Latham and Escuela streets where Cho would socialize with the staff. "He will definitely be missed," said the employee, who asked that his name not be used.
Anthony Salciccia Jr., whose family owns Tony and Alba's, said people in the neighborhood were shocked and saddened by the deaths.
Cho and Lee had also operated Calderon Dry Cleaners at Calderon and Church streets. Both stores were apparently signed over to Lee at some point, though Cho had been an owner for over 20 years, friends said. Both Lee and Cho had children from previous marriages.
An employee of the Calderon store said Cho would come in daily to help run the place, which is now managed by a daughter of Lee's. He seemed "lonely and depressed," the employee said. "He didn't have any hope."
"He wanted to live with her, but she didn't want to live with him," the employee said of Cho and Lee.