SANTA ANA — Spa owner Ildiko Krajnyak was opening a package that had piled up with mail during her recent trip to her native Hungary when it exploded.
News reports of the blast quickly reached Stephen Beal, her ex-boyfriend and a partner in the Southern California business.
At the urging of his new girlfriend, Beal phoned police and then let them search his house. They found more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of explosive material and charged him Thursday with possessing an unregistered destructive device.
While not charged with the fatal explosion, the arrest puts Beal in custody as authorities investigate what they believe was a targeted bombing.
Beal, a model rocket hobbyist, told investigators he had not made any bombs and did not have material for an explosion as powerful as the one he saw in news coverage.
Beal, 59, did not enter a plea during his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana and his case was continued to Monday. His public defender refused to comment.
The criminal complaint was accompanied by an affidavit from an FBI special agent that briefly described the relationship between Beal and Krajnyak, as well as the grisly blast.
The two had met online in June 2016 and dated about a year and a half. Photos on his Facebook page showed them living it up in far-flung places: a beach in Cuba, restaurants in Portugal, and riding jet skis in Mexico.
The romance cooled earlier this year after disputes over exclusivity and finances, FBI Special Agent Evan Jesch wrote.
They remained business partners, with Beal serving as spa manager, and the two operated a separate cosmetics firm. State records show Beal and Krajnyak were officers in a skin care business called I&S Enterprises.
Beal was listed on the spa's lease because Krajnyak and her estranged husband had filed for bankruptcy, he said. Beal paid the $1,500 monthly rent and half the spa's operating costs. He had to loan Krajnyak money some months to cover her costs.
Beal was once an investment banker who turned to acting after his wife's death several years ago, said friend and neighbor Steven Young. Beal appeared in several small films.
"You can't imagine him doing what we've been hearing," Young said, referring to the blast. "I don't recall him ever being visibly angry at anything. He's been a good neighbor and a good friend."
Nathan Beal said it was "highly unlikely" his father was guilty of any charge related to a destructive device.
The father and son build sport rockets fuelled by a propellant commercially available at hobby stores. The biggest of the rockets used about 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) of fuel in multiple motors.
Stephen Beal told authorities he hadn't been involved with rockets since 2004. He said he had once made fireworks and mortars, but quit that after Sept. 11 because he said he "did not want to give the wrong impression."
When confronted with photos of the IEDs recovered, Beal initially denied recognizing them but later explained exactly where they were found.
"Beal also claimed that he had not made any bombs or anything that would catch on or cause fire," Jesch wrote.
Beal's wife died in 2008 and his adult children had moved out of the house, Young said. Beal seemed happier after meeting Krajnyak and spoke of her frequently.
"I think he was happy to have found someone he could connect with," said Young, who never met Krajnyak.