A Mystery Memorialized
By Naomi Chamblin
Local Author, Retired Judge Delves into the Story of Napa’s Most Grisly Cold Case
In a small and quiet town like Napa was in 1974, the brutal murder of Anita Fagiani Andrews, a well known figure in the community, was a shocking and sad loss. From 1974 to 2011, Anita’s murder remained unsolved, despite the extensive efforts and unwavering persistence of the Napa Police Department. The location of the murder, formerly Fagiani’s Cocktail Lounge on Main at 3rd Street, was a macabre time capsule, left vacant and untouched for nearly forty years, a memorial of intrigue and lore.
Upon my move to Napa in 2010, the deserted building was one of the first landmarks to which I was introduced. Its history seemed a distant and fantastical story without resolution, equally sad as spooky. The description in the upcoming book The Napa Murder of Anita Fagiani Andrews captures the sentiment perfectly: “Over the years, Fagiani’s Cocktail Lounge had remained untouched from the moment of the murder, frozen in time. It was surrounded by flourishing new businesses, yet the lounge itself remained empty and rundown. The building stood as an eerie museum, with residents and tourists peering through the windows as they walked by.”
In 2011, the cold case reopened with compelling evidence, and was finally brought to trial with the Honorable Judge Raymond Guadagni presiding. Now, in 2021, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the trial sentencing, Judge Guadagni has written a book about Anita Fagiani’s murder, trial, and along awaited resolution. As details unfold of Anita’s personal story and of her working relationship with her sister—who co-owned and co-operated the bar—to the day after the murder, and then through the decades of waiting before the reopening of the case and trial, I felt like I was talking directly with Ray as he recounted the details he heard from the bench. Ray has memorialized an almost unbelievable tale to a very real and humanized story of a tragic and senseless murder. Anita’s story, and Ray’s telling of it with deep humanity and care, moved me.
As the co-owner of Napa Bookmine, I met Ray in 2016, when he published his first book, The Adventures of the Squeezebox Kid. His delightful and informative memoir about growing up in Napa in the 1950s is to this day our best-selling book ever, at 442 copies to date! That autumn, the big publishers did not come out with titles that were bringing people in, but Judge Guadagni provided an important reason to visit our bookstore during those months. Everyone wanted a copy of his book, and he quite honestly kept us in business. In 2018, Mr. Guadagni wrote his second book, an uplifting collection of tales of his beloved pup, Tuna the Wonder Dog.
Books on the history of Napa have always intrigued its residents and visitors. Authors such as Lauren Coodley, Todd Shulman, and Lin Weber have been writing about the Valley’s architecture, economy, and general history. Most recently, Alexandria Brown has come onto the scene with Hidden History of Napa Valley and the Lost Restaurants of Napa Valley.
After reading Judge Guadagni’s book, I followed up with some questions to Ray. He is one of the most kind and thoughtful people I have ever met, in addition to being an engaging and charismatic writer. It is my pleasure to share an excerpt of our conversation with you.
In your career, how often did you preside over murder cases? Would you say that in your career, this was one of the most infamous cases that you worked on? How has science helped the solving of cold cases like this?
I worked for years in a civil assignment so I didn’t have a criminal assignment for as long as I would have liked. I presided over three murder trials as a judge, in addition to the murder cases I tried as a lawyer. It was the only cold case I presided over. I would say it was the most infamous case in Napa I worked on. Keep in mind that many criminal cases are tragically sad or senseless. This was one of them, but the fact it took 37 years to solve made it stand out. Advances in scientific techniques over the years, especially DNA, have definitely assisted in solving cold cases. Not only the fact of DNA but the organization and national indexing of DNA has expedited crime solving. You can now enter DNA into an index and possibly get a match on a suspect. Also, the expense of DNA has come way down since its inception. Also, the size of the sample to test the DNA is not required to be as large a sample as it used to have to be.
What was the most difficult thing about writing this book?
Deciding what angle to write this book from. I rejected writing it about the killer. Instead, I wanted to write it about how this horrific murder happened in our town and its impact on us. As I was writing it, however, I realized that what I was most impressed about was the dedication of the original police officers initially, and then later the new detectives and investigators who solved the case. They were all so impressively dedicated over the decades. They never ever gave up. They persisted over the years - first the original officers and then as they retired or died, the new officers just didn’t quit. And Napa did not have a dedicated cold case unit and still doesn’t. Another problem I anticipated was going to be obtaining interviews and reports and documents and photographs. However, my experience was significantly enhanced, due to the wonderful cooperation of the attorneys on both sides and the investigators and detectives. Everyone was so completely helpful.
Are you in touch with her daughters? Did you interview them for this book at all, and why or why not?
I didn’t have personal contact with them except through the lead detective when writing the book. One daughter was estranged and the other daughter had no objection to the book being written, but did not want to relive the terrible memories of the events. Of course, I had the daughters’ testimony from the trial and their expressions of their feelings at the time of sentencing.
Please join us and Judge Guadagni for the virtual book launch of this true crime history on Thursday, January 28, 2021 at 6:00 pm. RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can pre-order your copy at any of the valley’s Bookmine locations to receive on its release date of January 18, 2021!