|Subject: Archive: Rod Luren, July 11, 2007
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Date Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 03:46:09pm
Police suspect that the 1960s singer-actor from Tracy committed
suicide when he plunged from a Tracy Inn balcony Wednesday. By Bob
Brownne and Sam Matthews
The man who died Wednesday morning in a fall from a balcony at the
Tracy Inn was identified Thursday as Roger L. "Rod" Strunk, a 68-year-
old Tracy resident who 3½ years ago avoided extradition to the
Philippines on charges he hired someone to kill his movie and
television star wife.
Reports to the Tracy Police Department indicate he jumped from the
inn's second-floor balcony onto the parking lot pavement about 20 feet
"It appears to be a suicide at this point," said Sgt. Steve Beukelman,
who said police didn't find anyone who saw him jump but found evidence
in his room that indicates Strunk took his own life.
Police responded to the Tracy Inn, 24 W. 11th St., at 11:36 a.m.
Wednesday after a woman reported that she found a man bleeding from
the head and nose in the parking lot near the breezeway that leads to
The woman told police he was not breathing and did not have a pulse.
Police arrived and called the San Joaquin County Coroner shortly
Strunk, who had a brief singing career in the late 1950s and early
1960s as Rod Lauren, was an artist and actor who more recently worked
as a camera operator for the city of Tracy's public-access station,
Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert said the city manager informed her and
other council members of Strunk's death Thursday morning, because he
had been a city employee and regularly recorded City Council meetings
for Channel 26.
"I really liked him. I found him to be a pleasant gentleman," she
said. "I was always pleased to see him at council meetings."
Strunk had lived in the Philippines for 23 years beginning in 1979,
when he married Nida Blanca, one of the best-known movie and
television actresses in the island nation.
On Nov. 7, 2001, Blanca was found stabbed to death in a car parked in
a Manila parking garage, and a man known as Philip Medel wrote a
confession that stated Strunk had hired him to kill Blanca. The murder
of the popular film and TV personality became the No. 1 news story in
the Philippines, filling the front pages of newspapers and leading
Strunk was interrogated about the murder but was not charged
immediately. In the meantime, Philippine authorities allowed him to
return to the U.S. to visit his mother, Helen Strunk of Tracy, who was
dying of cancer. She died Jan. 20, 2002, two days before Strunk
arrived in Tracy.
After his mother's death, Strunk remained in Tracy. When he did not
return to the Philippines, murder charges were filed against him.
While living here in the family home on Whittier Avenue, he worked for
a time as a sales clerk at the Sears store in West Valley Mall.
In May 2003, however, federal agents, acting on an extradition request
from the Philippine government, arrested Strunk at his home and placed
him in the Sacramento County Jail pending an extradition hearing.
At the hearing, held Oct. 17, 2003, in the federal courthouse in
Sacramento, Strunk's lawyer, Jeffrey Kravitz, pointed out that the
person who fingered Strunk as hiring the killer recanted his testimony
a short time later in an open hearing.
After the Philippine prosecutors failed to provide additional evidence
contradicting the recantation, on Nov. 12, 2003, U.S. Magistrate
Gregory Hollows denied extradition and ordered Strunk's release from
jail. The denial brought cheers from Strunk's family and U.S. friends
and cries for a new hearing from a number of people in the
After his release, Strunk returned to Tracy and held a press
conference in Good Shepherd Church at Parker and Eaton avenues, where
he had become a member. He said Blanca's daughter by a previous
marriage had pushed for his extradition, using her political influence
to seek his return to the Philippines.
"The only thing the Philippine government had implicating me was the
written confession of this person, Philip Medel, who I had never met,"
he said, "He recanted it, dramatically, in open court five days
Strunk, who continued to live in Tracy since his release, said last
year he was writing a book about his experiences in the Philippines.
In December, he told friends he was going to Redding to be married,
but they learned later the marriage did not work out.
A native of Fresno, he moved to Tracy in 1943 with his parents. His
father, Larry Strunk, taught at West Park School and later became a
switchman for the Southern Pacific. His mother was a church organist
and a teacher at Jefferson School.
Strunk attended Tracy schools, was a carrier for the Tracy Press and
graduated in 1957 from Tracy High School, where he appeared in school
plays and played trombone in the school band.
It was in Fresno in 1959 that he began singing in local clubs. A
recording executive liked his easy-listening style that contrasted
with the increasingly popular rock 'n' roll genre and offered him an
audition. He received an RCA recording contract and took on the
professional name of Rod Lauren.
Strunk cut several records that had some success, but his recording
career never climbed to hoped-for heights. He continued his career by
singing in clubs in Southern California and Las Vegas lounges while
appearing in several action movies.
In 1964, he went to the Philippines for the filming of a movie, and it
was there that he met Nida Blanca, then a rising Philippine film star.
He shuttled between the Philippines and Southern California before he
and Blanca were married in 1979. He then became a permanent resident
of Manila and an often-photographed companion for his wife, who
appeared in films and in TV serials and as a talk-show host.
Kravitz, his Sacramento attorney, on hearing of Strunk's death
Thursday, said news of the apparent suicide will receive major
coverage in the Philippines, where the unsolved murder of his wife
remains a major public issue.
Strunk is survived by a sister, Sharolyn Grove, who has lived in
LaSelva Beach, Santa Cruz County. Another sister, Tammy Sedillo, died
three years ago in Stockton.
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