Respected Lab Exec Found Dead in Triple Homicide

California’s lab community stunned over death of Richard Nicholson, his wife, and a family friend

CEO SUMMARY: Police and the district attorney have released few details about the murders of well-known clinical laboratory executive Richard Nicholson, his wife, and a family friend. The crimes were committed in Nicholson’s home in Newport Beach, Calif., and 27-year old Camden Nicholson, the family’s youngest son, was arrested as the prime suspect in this case. Richard Nicholson owned and sold two successful clinical laboratory companies in recent decades.

CALIFORNIA’S CLINICAL LAB COMMUNITY WAS STUNNED earlier this month when Richard Nicholson, age 64, was found dead along with his wife, Kim Nicholson, age 61, and their housekeeper, Maria Morse, age 57, on Feb. 13, in the Nicholsons’ home in Newport Beach, Calif, according to reports in The Los Angeles Times.

Nicholson was the long-time owner and CEO of Westcliff Medical Laboratories and most recently was a part-owner of Pacific Medical Laboratories, both in Orange County. He had a well-deserved reputation for operating high-quality laboratories that were consistently profitable.

The suspect in the case is Nicholson’s son, Camden Burton Nicholson, age 27, who was charged with three counts of murder. He did not enter a plea when he appeared in court on Feb. 15 and was being held without bail pending a court appearance March 8, the newspaper reported.

After the murders were discovered, few details of motive and how the victims were killed were made public. However, on Feb. 20, KTLA television news reported that the Nicholson’s had hired a private investigator because they were concerned that Camden Nicholson’s behavior had become increasingly erratic.

Private investigator Michael Youssef of the investigation company Blue Systems International (BSI) told KTLAthat Richard and Kim Nicholson contacted him earlier this month concerned about Camden Nicholson’s behavior. On its website, BSI says it is “a team of former state and federal law enforcement investigators with combined experience of over 100 years.”

BSI’s website also provides extensive details about the case, saying that Youssef, the firm’s chief private investigator, met with Richard and Kim Nicholson in their home, where they said they were concerned about Camden’s safety because he was missing and they wanted to get him medical assistance.

The Nicholsons asked Youssef to find Camden and “conduct surveillance on him in order to have physical evidence and proof that would help them get a conservatorship over their son because they knew that their son was suffering from extreme mental instability,” the BSI site states.

The site also reported that in December, Camden Nicholson left his home suddenly and without reason and that his mother’s attempts to reach him by phone and e-mail were to no avail.

“During the month of January 2019, Mr. Nicholson noticed that Camden was using his credit card at a Marriott [hotel] and giving excessive tips of $1,000 in one transaction and in excess of $15,000 in total,” the site states. Richard Nicholson then cancelled Camden Nicholson’s credit card, the site added.

Visit to Nicholson Home

On Feb. 13, Newport police received a call from Irvine police requesting a welfare check at the Nicholson home. Irvine police were alerted after speaking with a man who was later identified as Camden Nicholson, in the emergency room of a medical facility, the LA Times reported.

“When Newport officers arrived at the house, they found the bodies of two women and a man. Authorities did not release details about the circumstances or manner of the deaths,” the Timesreported.

The news of Nicholson’s murder came as a complete surprise to clinical laboratory professionals in Southern California. He was widely-respected for his contributions to the clinical lab industry.

Nicholson Family and Westcliff Med Labs

FOR ALMOST FIVE DECADES, one of the most-admired clinical lab companies in Southern California was Westcliff

Medical Laboratories. It was founded in 1963 in Newport Beach by Edward L. Nicholson, father of Richard Nicholson.

Richard Nicholson assumed the role of President and CEO of Westcliff and came into his own during the 1990s. This was the time when closed-panel HMOs and independent practice associations (IPAs) began negotiating capitated, full-risk prices with labs in the Golden State.

However, Richard refused to play that game. He understood that these capitated rates (as low as 20¢ per member-per month) did not pay labs for the full cost of testing. This was counter-intuitive at a time when the popular wisdom in the clinical lab market was that a lab needed that capitated contract in order to “pull through” the Medicare and other fee-for-service patients from physicians.

Nicholson refused to bid for the capitated HMO and IPA contracts. He organized his lab so that it truly offered a noticeably higher level of service, accuracy, and quality. Physicians recognized this difference and happily split their lab specimens. They sent the fee-for-service specimens to Westcliff and capitated specimens went to the contracted labs.

Nicholson’s success with this strategy was admired by his peers. Unfortunately, Westcliff Med Labs came to a sad end. He sold the lab to a private equity company in 2006. In the following years, Westcliff’s new executives went after all the money-losing capitated contracts—even though they already had the profitable fee-for-service referrals from these same physicians. Westcliff filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and Laboratory Corporation of America bought Westcliff’s assets.

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