MODESTO -- David Moreno spent many days during the last decade of his life seated on a bench at the fourth tee at the Modesto Muni golf course.
The 82-year-old homeless man camped along the Tuolumne River, across the street from the course. He'd chat with the players, getting to know many of them on a first-name basis. And each Tuesday, he'd watch as the women of the Modesto Muni Niners club played their weekly rounds.
He'd encourage them, endorsing a good drive with a smile and a thumbs-up. Never once, they said, did he bother them in any way. He never asked for so much as a dime. He never was anything but pleasant and supportive, they said.
They even threw a party a couple of years ago to celebrate his 80th birthday. They bought him clothing, including coats for the cold winters. They regularly brought him food, and some members slipped him a few bucks on occasion.
In fact, Moreno became so popular with the Muni Niners group that they jokingly called themselves "Dave's Girls."
So, after Moreno died in a Modesto hospital Aug. 31, they considered having a plaque placed on the fourth tee bench and perhaps even staging a tournament in his memory.
Those aren't going to happen, and for a number of reasons.
The golfers knew him only as Dave, a nice old man who hung out at the golf course and just another person down on his luck in a world full of them.
"I didn't know a lot about Dave," said club member Donna Suender. "I'd bring him cookies. I collected money from the girls and we bought him 17 different gifts (one Christmas). If you gave him a dollar, he'd say, 'My dog eats.' "
Yes, the golfers knew he'd been arrested for being drunk in public in 2009. But they didn't know he'd lived a troubled existence: several felony convictions, some of which included sex crimes against children. He was listed on the Megan's law sex offender registration Web site. He went to prison five times from 1974 to 1996.
He'd told the golfers he owned homes in Sonora and Modesto, which wasn't true. He told a homeless friend, Paul Carranco, that he'd spent more than 40 years in prison for killing the brother that killed their mother. Not true. It's the kind of fib some homeless people might tell as a defense mechanism a way of scaring off anyone thinking about attacking them.
Yet, Carranco will tell you Moreno became a father figure of sorts who convinced him to stop drinking.
"He was always down to earth and always had something to say," Carranco said.
M oreno's body is in a vault at the Stanislaus County coroner's office, where deputy coroner Tom Killian spent the past two weeks trying to locate next of kin. If he couldn't do so within 30 days, Moreno would get an indigent burial in Ceres. Complicating Killian's mission: documents indicating three dates of birth ranging from 1929 to 1938.
Al Brewer, a Modesto resident who knew Moreno from the golf course, called me because he hoped The Bee could help. Like the other golfers, Brewer liked Moreno. He remembered Moreno once saying he had a brother in Modesto who died a few years back. Indeed, an obituary ran at the time. Killian was able to reach Moreno's son, who lives in the foothills.
Hence, another fabrication. Moreno told Carranco that his children pleaded with him to come live with them, but that he preferred to live without walls after spending so much time in 6-by-9 cells of San Quentin and other prisons. The latter part might have been true, but the former likely represented wishful thinking.
The younger Moreno told me he hadn't spoken with his father since 1998. The son said he had tried to make contact several years go, but his father didn't respond. Moreno's long-estranged wife and daughter no longer live in California. The son plans to meet with Killian, arrange to pay for the cremation and pick up his father's few belongings his cane, wallet, etc.
"It is what it is," he said about his father's life.
Only one extended family member had spoken to David Moreno in the past year. She steadfastly believes he was a good man at heart, who made some very bad choices.
"We all make mistakes," she said.
It's difficult for some and impossible for others to find any sympathy whatsoever for Moreno or anyone else who commits such predatory crimes.
Would the golfers at Modesto Muni, including "Dave's Girls" in the Muni Niners group, have been so kind had they been aware his background? These are friendly people, never rude. They are polite by nature. But they would not have embraced him as they did.
The birthday party, gifts and cookies? Considering the types of crimes he committed, not a chance.
No, there won't be a plaque on the bench at the fourth tee or a memorial golf tournament.
The golfers simply judged him on how he treated them respectfully, politely and nonintrusively over roughly a decade, and that might be the one positive element to be drawn from this episode.
Ultimately, they brought out perhaps the best behavior he displayed throughout his life if only because of what they didn't know.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.