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For eight years, Robert Young made the lives of Susan and David Beugen a litigious hell.

He sued them once. He sued them again. He sued them 18 times, finding new and ingenious ways to bring them to court. Their anger was so great, their frustration so extreme, that Susan Beugen wrote the Wall Street Journal seeking an expose of her family's nemesis.She saw no solution, she wrote, "short of killing the bastard."

Then, three months later, someone did.

On Feb. 8, two hours before he was to face the Beugens in a Redwood City courtroom in his slander lawsuit against Susan Beugen, Young was shot to death on a San Francisco street. The suit was dismissed when he failed to appear.

"Of course we didn't do it; I said `short of killing him,' " she says now. "Whoever did pull the trigger did society a favor, though. In my mind, Robert Young had to be stopped."

Young was 44, a soft-spoken intellectual who spoke several languages and sang arias while at the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, where he worked as a paralegal. In 1983, the Beugens sold him two hair salons in Reno, Nev.

Young and his roommate, Hyon T. Mun, planned to operate the salons. But on May 1, 1983, Young filed his first suit against the Beugens, claiming they misrepresented how much money the businesses would make.

Young would spend the next eight years trying to get back his $20,000 down payment. Nearly every suit he filed was eventually dismissed.

For six months, Young refused to make payments. The Beugens, fed up, traveled to Reno to take back the salons. They changed the locks, then went home. Young responded by rechanging the locks.

The Beugens met Young at the San Francisco airport upon his return. According to police and witnesses, Susan Beugens tackled Young, biting his left hand. When authorities chased his wife, David Beugen slugged Young in the face.

"I sent him flying," he recalls. "The son of a bitch deserved it. We were at the end of our rope. A bus driver held me off him . . . He didn't even hit back. He never did. He saved it all for court."

Young's friends say he never forgave the Beugens "for the airport incident" that prompted him to file a civil suit for assault and battery. The animosity he felt - and the litigation he filed - increased dramatically.

The Beugens and several others sued by Young describe him as a "courtroom terrorist" intent on destroying his enemies.

Young's friends see things much differently.

"He thought he was right in taking things to their very ends," says San Francisco attorney Zaide Kirtley. "I guess he carried things further than I would have, but he thought he was right."

Neither side was unacquainted with the courts. The Beugens, who now own clothing outlets in Northern California, have done legal battle with business associates and creditors in the past, and countersued Young on occasion.

Young, who couldn't make the grade in San Francisco Law School, also sued past associates, landlords for other salons he and Mun operated, and even lawyers and judges.

"They were the type to keep going after each other," said John Hartford, who represented the Beugens in two lawsuits filed by Young. "If you see this as two sides who wouldn't give up, you have a firm grasp of the obvious."

Hartford said the Beugens owed him $17,000 for his services, but wouldn't pay. So, in an unusual maneuver - one he often used - Young paid Hartford $500 for the right to collect $1,000 of that debt; when Young's own suits were stymied, he would press others' claims.

Young used his and others' claims against the Beugens to get copies of their records - financial, telephone, credit cards, personal and business. He sent copies of those records to the Beugens' banks, associates, even Susan Beugen's father, who was ill and died of cancer weeks after Young was killed.

"He would stop at nothing to get at us," says Susan Beugen, 51, who during one deposition became so angry she grabbed a paperback book from Young's hands and ripped it in half. "I don't know where I found the strength. I think sometimes I lost myself during this whole crisis."

The Beugens also resorted to strange tactics. Early on, they took pictures of Young in a San Francisco law library, and they photographed Mun while he was at work as a hairdresser. Both men filed suits against the Beugens, claiming harassment. The couple also were accused of making threatening statements and telephone calls to Young and his friends, something the Beugens deny.

"When the Beugens try to portray themselves as the helpless victims, it's just not the case," says David White, Young's second roommate. "They were just as nasty to him as he was to them."

The courts finally dubbed Young a "vexatious litigant."

He had used lawsuits "as a whipping post" to harass, according to a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision handed down April 12, after his death.

The common theme, the opinion said, was "Young's attempt to harass and make life miserable for the debtor."

Young was ordered to pay fines and the Beugens' court costs. In the past, Young had avoided $30,000 in similar payments by claiming he was broke.

A witness told police a "nerdy-looking" white man in his 40s, wearing glasses and a bicycle helmet was seen nearby before Young's murder and might have been the trigger man. Otherwise, there are few clues.

Police have interviewed the Beugens twice, but Inspector Arthur Gerrands isn't calling them prime suspects - too many other people on the receiving end of Young's dozens of lawsuits also hated him. And Gerrands says Young led a secret life that could have attracted enemies still unknown.

For two to three years, Young had surreptitiously rented a $1,500-a-month San Francisco apartment; even his two longtime roommates didn't know about it until after his death. He used one roommate's credit cards to rack up $70,000 in bills without the roommate's knowledge, according to police. He had another $50,000 in debt in his own name.

"I would say he was most involved, even obsessed, with the Beugens, but he had a lot of people who didn't like him," Gerrands said. "We're a long way from solving this one.

"We still don't know who he was associating with in that other apartment," he added. "This is not the run-of-the-mill case. We've got a real mystery on our hands."