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Sonoma Greens neighbors in ‘shock’ after woman killed in apparent beating


The residents of the quiet neighborhood of Sonoma Greens have expressed shock over the news that Steven David Rothschild, 72, of 771 Amherst Circle, was arrested on suspicion of killing his wife, Juanita (“Nita”) Gullahorn Rothschild, 67, on Aug. 4.

The couple, while described by neighbors as “intensely private,” were a familiar sight on the streets of the Boyes Hot Springs neighborhood. Nita was almost always wearing her signature large black sunglasses while walking their cream-colored labradoodle, Gracie.

At approximately 11:40 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 4, Steve called 911 requesting a deputy to his home. He told the dispatcher that he and his wife had been in a fight and she was dead. Deputies and emergency medical personnel were dispatched to the house.

Deputies found Nita unresponsive on the living room couch. According to a statement the Sheriff’s Office released the next day, Juanita appeared to be seriously beaten but no obvious weapons were found.

Deputies and emergency medical personnel tried to revive her, but were unsuccessful. Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene.

The cause and manner of her death are still being investigated. Steve was arrested on suspicion of murder and booked into the Sonoma County jail, where he is being held without bail.

None of the Rothschild’s Sonoma Greens neighbors report having heard anything out of the ordinary on Friday night and none could recall ever hearing any disturbances at the well-maintained condo on Amherst Drive. According to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, there were no calls to the house prior to the 911 call on Aug. 4.

“We haven’t had any prior negative contact with Rothschild,” said Sgt. Spencer Crum of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. “But we aren’t allowed to divulge any criminal history.”

Crum said that Nita’s autopsy is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 8, and the district attorney’s office said that Steve is scheduled to appear before Sonoma County Criminal Court Judge Robert LaForge in Santa Rosa at 1:30 p.m.

Neighbors seem to know few details about the Rothschilds. Neighbors and friends believe both were married previously but said that if either had children, they were never mentioned and had not been seen in the neighborhood.

Juanita’s maiden name was Gullahorn and she graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 1971, according to online profiles.

Nita was best known in the Valley for her participation in the Sonoma Newcomers Club and in Sonoma Greens social events, and for her involvement at Pets Lifeline, where she volunteered frequently over the past three years.

Neighbors expressed shock over the turn of events and several stressed that they never suspected anything was amiss.

“We are all realizing now how little we knew about them,” said neighbor Mara Levy Kahn, who heads up the homeowner’s association in Sonoma Greens.

The couple’s longtime pet sitter, Mary Deely, declined to be interviewed, saying that the couple was very private and that she wanted to respect Nita’s desire for privacy. She did confirm that she is working with the Sheriff’s Office to provide any information that would be useful to the investigation. She also said that she wanted to assure friends and neighbors that the Rothschild’s pets “are being well taken care of.”

Neighbors described Nita as friendly.

“Each and every time she walked by with her dog, we would say hi,” said Sonoma Greens neighbor Cody Williams. “She would walk on with our daughter, chatting all the way to the mailboxes.”

Friend and neighbors repeatedly mentioned Nita’s love for animals.

Judy Bayless spent most Mondays over the past 2-to-3 years socializing cats with Nita at Pets Lifeline.

“She was a gem with such a big heart,” said Bayless. “But she was a private person and even though we also took some trips together to San Francisco, I can’t say that I knew her well.”

Neighbors in Sonoma Greens believe the Rothschilds have only lived in town for a few years and tax records confirm that the couple bought their two-bedroom condo on Amherst Circle across from the neighborhood tennis courts in 2013.

A decade prior, the Rothschilds were living in Truckee, and Carol Mcnamara spent a lot of time with Nita.

Mcnamara helped Nita to launch a pet assisted therapy program that brought animals into the long-term care unit at Truckee Forest Hospital to provide comfort and companionship.

“We are all in shock up here,” said Mcnamara, who had dinner with the couple and their dog Gracie about two years ago in Reno. “I’ve kept in touch by email and through Christmas cards and I just can’t believe it.”

“Nita was just so sweet, so caring,” said Mcnamara. “She just had a heart of gold.”

Based on their correspondence over the years, Mcnamara believes the Rothschilds left Truckee in the early 2000s, and moved around; first to Edmonds, Washington, and then to Marysville, Washington; and then to Reno, before they settled in Sonoma three years ago.

Contact Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.