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Recording discusses Kovacich marriage

Court hears defendant’s perspective in 1982 tape
By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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A 1982 tape recording played in a Roseville courtroom Thursday gave jurors a glimpse of murder suspect Paul Kovacich’s version of life with his wife, Janet, his hot temper and his admitted infidelity. On the tape he discussed meeting a young Janet on the ski slopes, the immediate hostile exchanges between him and Janet’s mother, and the couple’s eventual divorce conversations. Paul Kovacich is charged with murder with the enhancement of using a firearm in the Sept. 8, 1982 disappearance and murder of his wife. Paul Kovacich has pleaded not guilty. Since his trial began last month, the defendant has remained silent and attentive during court proceedings. On Thursday, his voice echoed from a speaker in the courtroom as prosecutors played a three-and-a-half hour taped interview conducted on Sept. 15, 1982. The interview included Paul Kovacich and two local law enforcement officials. At times, Prosecutor Suzanne Gazzaniga would stop the tape to question witness Johnnie Smith. Smith was an inspector with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office in September 1982 and was one of the two officials interviewing Paul Kovacich Sept. 15, 1982, the day of Janet Kovacich’s 28th birthday. The interview began with Paul Kovacich calm and ended with a heated and ominous exchange between the accused and Auburn Police officer Dan Boone about the possible reasons for Janet Kovacich’s disappearance. Paul Kovacich said he met his wife in November 1970. He was a ski instructor and the then-teenage Janet Kovacich was a ski patrol student. Immediately, Janet’s mother disapproved, Paul Kovacich said. She said the four-year age difference between her daughter and the man who would become her son-in-law was one of the main problems. Paul Kovacich said his wife would later tell him that one phone conversation in particular would always stay in Janet’s mother’s mind. “I said, Mrs. Gregoire (Janet’s mother) I can wait until she’s 18. I’ve got plenty of time,” Paul Kovacich said on the recording. What did she say? Boone asked. “The phone clicked,” Kovacich responded. Despite her mother’s disapproval, Paul and Janet Kovacich continued to find ways to see each other in secret. Paul speculated that if Janet’s mother had “backed down,” then possibly he and Janet would not have later married. But, he said, the effort of sneaking around and hiding created a “hell of a bond between us.” The relationship almost hit a breaking point, however, when Paul Kovacich said he met another woman. He pursued a sexual relationship with the woman and in the process broke up with Janet Kovacich. He told Boone and Smith that he never told his wife of the sexual relationship, but informed her of the other woman. “I initiated the falling out,” Paul Kovacich said on Sept. 15, 1982. “I said, ‘I’ll call you, don’t call me.’” Paul Kovacich said he went away for the weekend with the other woman, but said he missed Janet. He cut the weekend short and soon after reconciled with the yet-to-be 18 years old Janet Kovacich. What followed was a “big fallout” between Janet and her parents, the couple deciding to get married in Tahoe in August 1974, a move to Tracy and Janet’s first pregnancy. Janet Kovacich’s parents didn’t attend the wedding, nor did they visit their daughter in the hospital when she gave birth to her two children, Paul Kovacich said. The couple’s marriage was marked by Paul Kovacich attending graduate school, the couple moving into different homes and at one point briefly living with Janet Kovacich’s parents and also Paul Kovacich’s parents. Eventually, the couple and their two children settled in the final house where they would live together on Forest Court in Auburn. Paul Kovacich was asked on the tape what he thought of his wife’s plans to go through with a breast augmentation surgery. He said he told his wife that he was satisfied with her body as it was. “I’d say it’s not you, why don’t you be yourself,” Paul Kovacich said. “I never said not to do it, but I probably didn’t give her the support she expected.” Boone and Smith asked if Janet Kovacich ever asked or suspected Paul Kovacich of cheating on her. He said his wife would continually talk about the woman he initially broke up with her for. Janet didn’t think he was cheating on her though, Paul Kovacich said. Paul Kovacich did have one-night stands but no lasting relationships, he told Boone and Smith during the interview. Did Janet know? they questioned. “She never knew. There was no way to know,” Paul Kovacich said. Eventually, Boone and Smith asked Paul Kovacich what happened on the last day he saw his wife. The morning was mostly calm, he said, despite a discussion about a divorce. She told her husband she was unhappy. Accustomed to this complaint, Paul Kovacich said he was nonchalant in his response. He asked her if she wanted to get a divorce. “I was pushing her into a corner, mentally,” Kovacich said. “I thought maybe this time I’ll beat her to the punch.” Paul Kovacich said the discussion remained calm as they talked about how they would split the house, children and cars. When the conversation ended with a teary-eyed Janet Kovacich, he said he continued to get ready to leave the house to run errands. His wife later approached him saying she was making an appointment to go to Forest Lake Christian School to transfer their kids from St. Joseph’s School in Auburn. He told Boone and Smith that he offered to give her a ride to the school, but she declined. That was the last time he saw his wife, Paul Kovacich said. Paul Kovacich told Boone and Smith the rest of his activities for the day. He went to Payless and Kmart looking for oil but didn’t find any. He went to the gym and stopped by the jail to pick up his mail. He was home by 1 p.m. One of the officials asked Paul Kovacich what he thought happened to Janet Kovacich. Paul Kovacich said his mind had changed in the days following her disappearance. First, he thought she was with her mother. Then, he speculated that she committed suicide. He later feared that someone had taken her. One of the officers said there was a fourth possibility and that was that law enforcement suspected Paul Kovacich was involved in her disappearance. Initially, Paul Kovacich remained calm during the taped interview, saying he may have contributed to the sad mental state that could’ve caused his wife’s disappearance. But as he was pressed, Kovacich’s voice became louder and his responses more defensive. “I bet I have more background and other ideas on law enforcement than you,” Paul Kovacich said loudly. “You’re not talking to an idiot.” The officer on the other end said he hoped that the suspicion surrounding Paul Kovacich turned out to be wrong, and if it did, he would be the first to apologize. As Paul Kovacich calmed down, he said thought his wife would be found. “I think with time she’ll show up,” Paul Kovacich said. “She hasn’t been found, therefore she must be alive.” Boone warned Paul Kovacich that the investigation would not end until she was found. “It’s not going to end until Janet surfaces one way or the other,” Boone said. “Believe me, even if the smartest people can stay down … they’ve got to pop up one way or the other.” The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at Auburnjournal.com.