OAKLAND -- The husband of a woman found dead July 6 in their Oakland hills home has been arrested and charged with murder by police, who say he killed her in a brutal physical assault but claimed she had been injured in a fall down a staircase.

Joseph Bontempo Jr., 53, a locksmith, is charged in the death of Laurie Wolfe, 57, an Oakland businesswoman and property owner he had been married to for 12 years. He was arrested Tuesday driving away from a friend's home in Montclair on a no-bail warrant charging him with murder.

When investigators tried to interview him later Tuesday about the incident, he declined to talk, police said.

His attorney could not be immediately reached for comment.

Wolfe was found dead about 6:30 p.m. July 6 at the bottom of a staircase inside their split-level hillside house in the 6700 block of Saroni Drive by firefighters and paramedics responding to a 911 call by Bontempo.

He said at the time he found her at the bottom of the staircase but did not witness the fall, lead investigator Officer Leo Sanchez said. Police said they had not been called to the home before.

Police had been investigating the case as a suspicious circumstance death. Investigators questioned Bontempo at the time but he was released pending further investigation, including waiting for the results of her autopsy.

Police said Bontempo told some who knew the couple that Wolfe had died in an accidental fall. A memorial service was scheduled for her this weekend, a friend said.


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The coroner's office determined last week Wolfe's injuries were from blunt-force trauma inconsistent with a fall and the case was classified as a homicide. Police would not say how Wolfe was assaulted. Sanchez said there were also inconsistencies in Bontempo's explanation of what happened that are counter to physical evidence police have.

Police are not commenting about a motive. Bontempo and Wolfe had known each other 20 years, having met each other at a photography class. They have no children together and people who knew her said she was an only child.

Wolfe was the owner of Ace Machine Company in East Oakland, having taken over leadership of the company three years ago after the death of her father, who had founded the business in 1956. Police said that since her death, the business has closed. Police said she also owned several pieces of property in Oakland, including the Saroni Drive house.

After being told of Bontempo's arrest, John Sol, the owner of Columbia Machine Works in Oakland who had known the Wolfe family for decades, said "this is as shocking as her death."

Sol, who has hired some of Wolfe's employees and is reaching out to their clients, said she had worked at Ace -- which was mainly a repair facility for businesses associated with the food industry -- since the 1980s and he thought she was very competent and "stellar," someone he always enjoyed talking with.

He had never met Bontempo but said he and Wolfe talked frequently and "I never heard anything negative from her about him."

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