The community dance at Ramona Terrace Estates just wasn’t the same on Friday night.
Residents at the mobile home park in Ramona were teary-eyed and took comfort in each other as they remembered 94-year-old Jean Eskridge, their beloved neighbor who was killed Tuesday.
According to authorities, Eskridge was allegedly bludgeoned with a hammer and murdered by her 63-year-old friend Gary Allen Thomas, who was arrested Thursday.
On Friday, he pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors alleged Thomas killed Eskridge in her sleep after staying the night at her house.
On Friday, neighbors mourned the loss of Eskridge at one of their community dances – an event Eskridge, who was a retired dance teacher, loved to attend.
Neighbors decorated the chair where Eskridge used to sit and displayed a young photo of her.
Friends admitted not seeing Eskridge at the dance this time was difficult.
“Tonight was really hard, because she always danced every song. So I'm trying to do that for her. I feel so bad for her family,” said Ramona Terrace Estates resident Jannine Flemmer.
“To go this way, it’s just shocking. It’s unbelievable that anybody would do something like this,” said friend and neighbor Bob Chambers.
Neighbors said Thomas acted as a friend and caretaker to Eskridge and was oddly quiet.
According to neighbors, Thomas recently started spending much more time with Eskridge, visiting her late at night and staying for hours.
“He was a man who would walk by with his head down always,” recalled neighbor Marilyn Caddell.
Despite the dark details of Eskridge’s death, her family wants to remember her in a positive light.
“Her kind heart and her smile – that’s just what she was. She brought happiness to everyone who knew her,” said her daughter Suzanne Mollenhauer.
Thomas’ next hearing is set for May 11. His bail is currently set at $3.5 million.