07.23.10

The Beverly Hills Revenge Murder

Who stabbed the son of a movie producer in a posh L.A. neighborhood that hasn’t seen a homicide in years? Will Doig on the young suspect accused of killing for love.

When he graduated high school five years ago and left his small town of West Springfield, Massachusetts, Scott Joseph Barker was a young man in search of a bigger life—one that included VIP parties, glamour, and fame.

On Thursday, his wish for fame was fulfilled. Barker and his girlfriend, Chie Alexandra Coggins-Johnson, were charged with the first murder in years to take place in the posh Beverly Hills neighborhood of Trousdale Estates. The victim, 21-year-old Katsutoshi “Tony” Takazato, the son of a B-movie producer, was found savagely stabbed to death outside his father’s multimillion-dollar house on a swanky stretch of road known as Carla Ridge.

Although Barker was never known to pick fights for no good reason, he wouldn’t hesitate to battle if provoked.

Much about the horrific crime defies stereotype. Trousdale Estates is a serene, well-appointed neighborhood whose wealthy residents rarely appear outside their homes’ towering security gates. It’s a world away from where Barker grew up, a leafy, picturesque town nestled on the bank of a river in western Massachusetts, the type of town parents consider the perfect place to raise a family and children consider a stifling backwater.

And Barker, 23, and Coggins-Johnson, 20, seemed like decent kids. She was a talented rhythmic gymnast who took home a silver medal at the 2004 Junior Olympics. He was a high-school basketball star with no shortage of charm, a quality that netted him many friends and admirers. Judging by the makeshift memorial that’s sprung up outside the crime scene, Takazato was well-liked, too.

According to prosecutors, Takazato’s death is the result of a love triangle that spawned a revenge killing. He and Coggins-Johnson had dated before she started dating Barker—and Barker heard that Takazato hadn’t been very nice to her. Apparently, he learned that Takazato may have even physically abused her while they were a couple. Prosecutors say that Barker was enraged upon hearing this, and in retaliation, began plotting Takazato’s grisly demise.

The murder apparently took place sometime during the night of July 19—a night on which Takazato reportedly threw a party at the lavish house on Carla Ridge. The owner of the house, Takazato’s father, a producer of low-budget movies like Red Meat and Lured Innocence (starring Dennis Hopper), lives in Japan and wasn’t there. Takazato’s body was found by police early the next morning, and Barker and Coggins-Johnson were arrested for his murder on Tuesday. Yesterday, Coggins-Johnson pleaded not guilty and remains jailed on $3 million bail. According to Barker’s lawyer Brad Brunon, Barker’s arraignment, also scheduled for yesterday, was postponed for “medical” reasons. Both face life in prison if convicted.

If the prosecutor’s theory is correct that this was a killing to avenge a wronged woman, it would fit with Barker’s history of protectiveness toward young women he knew, according to a longtime friend. She says that Barker always reacted forcefully when he believed a girlfriend or a female acquaintance was in a bad situation. He wasn’t afraid to confront whoever he felt was doing wrong by the women in his life, and there were many of these women—Barker was a seasoned flirt. The friend adds that although Barker was never known to pick fights for no good reason, he wouldn’t hesitate to battle if provoked. And he had a temper that could explode at inopportune times—more than once, the friend observed arguments between Barker and a girl he was dating devolve into public, nerve-jangling screaming matches.

These loud arguments sometimes took place at high-school parties, at which the popular Barker was a fixture. He even threw a few blowouts of his own at his parents’ house with typical teenage bravura. They were your usual small-town throwdowns with lots of drinking and maybe some weed, but no hard drugs. When he wasn’t partying or playing ball, Barker hit the gym—he may not have been very tall, but he kept himself muscled.

After graduation, many of his peers stuck around or enrolled at nearby UMass-Amherst. Barker had more glamorous aspirations. He fled West Springfield for Florida, then headed to Los Angeles with dreams of getting involved in the entertainment industry. He also had designs on becoming a club promoter, which would have suited his naturally social demeanor. It’s unclear whether he ever got his foot in the door. The friend who knows him from high school says she last heard from him a year ago, when he sent her a Facebook message telling her that he was still working on making a name for himself in entertainment.

Now his name has been made, though not in the way he had planned. And Takazato’s name is spelled out in an array of white votive candles placed outside the house where he was killed, arranged to spell “R.I.P. TONY T.” A pack of Parliament Lights sits in the center of the “O,” and snapshots of Takazato standing on the beach in low-slung jeans are scattered under a large white banner hung on the security fence reading “Rest in Peace.”

Meanwhile, back on the cul-de-sacs of West Springfield, it’s a good 20 degrees hotter than in balmy L.A., and those who knew the accused back when he was a small-town boy are buzzing about who he might have become in his search for a more interesting life.

Will Doig is the features editor at The Daily Beast. He has written for New York, The Advocate, Out, Black Book and Highlights for Children.