The story of Sally McNeil and the murder of her husband Ray McNeil (sometimes spelled McNeill) has generated a lot of buzz. “Killer Sally” was in the top 10 of Netflix shows, both globally and in the US.
While watching and then re-watching the three part series, something didn’t sit well with me. There’s always more to the story and I always want to know more.
I want to share a different perspective about the murder of Ray. I plan to write a lengthier and more detailed rebuttal to Sally’s claims, but in the meantime this is meant as a prelude to a more comprehensive story to come.
Sally repeatedly claimed in the series that her body building husband was an abuser and that she was a battered wife – and was left with no choice but to shoot her husband in self defense.
However, Sally’s testimony to the Parole Board in 2019 and 2020 refutes her own statements in the Netflix series. It offers a completely different version of events that led up to the shooting of her unarmed husband.
Both Ray and Sally were in the Marine Corps stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. When Sally started bodybuilding she said her Staff Sergeant Ira Kelly, told her “You know, the bodybuilding contest isn’t just a bikini contest.” She ended up placing 4th in the Armed Forces Bodybuilding Championship in 1987.
Ray and Sally lived in a home on South Freeman Street, in Oceanside, California, after they were married. They would eventually move to an apartment at 1802 South Tremont Street in South Oceanside. The couple both belonged to Gold’s Gym, which was located on South Hill Street (Coast Highway) and both pursued bodybuilding. Sally also wrestled various “clients” across the country, many of which were filmed.
Sally presented herself as an abused and battered wife. And I believe she was. But Sally also abused and battered. The list of violence perpetrated by Sally includes:
Hitting her first husband, John Anthony Lowden, in the head with a lead pipe, requiring 8 stitches.
Assaulting numerous officers in two different police departments.
The assault of two teenage female babysitters and two unrelated adults.
Dropping weights on Ray’s car, while he was in it.
Arrested for willful cruelty to a child in 1990.
Despite her history of violence, she has garnered the sympathy of many and headlines echo Sally’s claims of self defense. The Guardian is one example with a headline that reads: “This is still happening today: the story of an abused wife accused of murder.” The byline opens by saying “A sensitive new docuseries considers the case of Sally McNeil, a woman who killed her violent husband in self-defense.”
In the Netflix series Sally recounts the terrifying moments leading up to the shooting of Ray while her two children were home.
“First, he hit me. ‘Cause I told him, I said, “Well, you look like sh–.” “You’re not gonna place at all.” “You’re not striated in the contest.”
“So then he hit me. And then he started choking me. I got scared, and I thought, “He’s gonna kill me, and I’m not gonna make it through this night.” I scrambled away. I ran to the bedroom and retrieved the weapon. I grabbed two, um… two rоսnds, and, um, walked out to the living room, and loaded the weapon as I was walking out to the living room. I didn’t know what he was capable of doing. He had five different steroids in him. He was superhuman. He was super strong and he was super fast in a small apartment.
“So I tell him to get out, and he says, “No,” so I shot him.. He’s on the ground, so I go out and I grab the blanket, and I came in and brought it and covered him, to prevent shock.”
Sally called 911 and said: “I just shot my husband because he just bеɑt me up.” She would repeat this at least two more times to the operator.
Operator: You shot your husband?
Sally: Yes. I’m at 1802 South Tremont Street.
Operator: Who’s crying?
Sally: My daughter.
Operator: Okay, is he dead?
Sally: He’s shot.
Operator: Okay. What’s your name?
Sally: My name is Sally McNeil. Don’t touch the door, Shantina!
Operator: How old is he?
Sally: He might bеɑt me up!
Operator: Ma’am! I just got bеɑt up.
Sally’s daughter describes how she heard her mother choking before Ray was shot. Sally told police the scratches on her neck were from Ray choking her.
But at her parole hearing she revealed the real origin of those marks:
PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: I was looking back over my notes and I wanted to ask you, this is kind of jumping back a bit, but back at the life crime, you did have some marks on your neck? And I wanted to ask you where those marks came from? Did you hear my question?
INMATE MCNEIL: No. Ma’am. Can you repeat it.
PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: At the time of the life crime the record it’s showed something about you having marks on your neck. So, where did those marks come from?
INMATE MCNEIL: I was wrestling the day before. I had a client and it probably came from there. There were scratches on the back of my neck too. They noticed them, I let them believe what they wanted to believe.
PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: So, you said the marks were on your neck from wrestling the day before?
INMATE MCNEIL: Yes, ma’am.
PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: And you said you let them believe what they want to believe. Who is them? And they?
INMATE MCNEIL: The police noticed, they noted that I had marks on my neck.
PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: Okay. Did you say anything to the police about where you got those marks?
INMATE MCNEIL: I said he was choking me and that’s probably how it happened. And I probably scratched myself when I tried to stop him from choking me. That’s what I told them.
PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: So, you told the police, the victim was choking you and that you had scratched your neck?
INMATE MCNEIL: Yes, ma’am.
PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: Was that true?
INMATE MCNEIL: No.
In another portion of the hearing Sally McNeil concedes that she shot her husband in anger, not self defense.
INMATE MCNEIL: I admit what the DA said, I don’t have any arguments with him. I accept responsibility.
PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: Today, do you say that the victim abused you at all?
INMATE MCNEIL: No. The victim did not — the victim did not abuse me that day.
PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: And was there any element of self-defense that day?
INMATE MCNEIL: No, ma’am.
This testimony to the Parole Board belies the story Sally now tells on the popular Netflix series. There’s more to share, more to reveal; the truth, not just sensationalized storytelling. Stay tuned.
In 1942 a 14-year-old girl made national entertainment news when she was discovered by actress Judy Garland during a performance at the Wilshire Ebell Club in Los Angeles.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Dariel Jean was performing in a production called “Cavalcade of Youth” when she caught the eye of Garland, who urged studio executives to sign her. In 8th grade, attending Bret Harte Junior High School in Los Angeles, Dariel’s seven year contract was approved on her 14th birthday by Judge Emmet H. Wilson.
Dariel Jean Johnson was born November 10, 1928 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was the youngest child of Lee and Mabel Johnson. Lee Johnson worked as an accountant and by the late 1930s moved his family to Los Angeles.
She was signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, earning $75 a week, and it was reported that she was taking acting and ballet lessons to prepare for “important roles in forth coming pictures.” The “discovery” of Dariel Jean was featured in newspapers across the country in Virginia Vale’s column “Star Dust” regaling her contract with MGM. Then in December of that year it was reported that she would appear in “Girl Crazy” staring Garland and Mickey Rooney. However, she did not appear in the film, or at least is not credited with any role.
In 1944 Dariel Jean did perform in “Fellow on a Furlough” directed by Vernon Keays and produced by Will Cowan of Universal Pictures. The musical short featured Bob Chester and His Orchestra and starred Hal Derwin and Rose Anne Stevens; other performers included the Les Paul Trio and the Nillson Sisters. It was released on March 1st in theaters and included as a bonus reel along with feature films.
It is unknown if Dariel was included in any other studio productions but she did attend a “legislative attaches’ dinner” in Sacramento in 1945 along with other performers including Vivian Blaine, Dorothy Lamour and Leo Carillo. The group of fourteen actors, singers and dancers then entertained patients in several hospitals, including military hospitals in the San Francisco area.
Nothing else is known of her contract with studios MGM or Universal, but it is likely they did not resign her. At the age of 18, with her short career as a starlet seemingly behind her, Dariel Jean married Alvin Thomas Budd on September 23, 1947. Budd was a California native, born in 1925, a veteran of World War II, and employed with the telephone company. One year after they were married Dariel gave birth to a baby girl.
In 1950 the family of three had settled down to a domesticated life in Orange County and although Hollywood was less than 60 miles away, they were worlds apart. On the surface, all must have seemed well for Dariel Jean, who had lived a semi-charmed life, transitioning from a brief time in the limelight into the routine of family life. But there was something amiss; something troubling.
Alvin Budd left for a job in Hawaii as a radio operator, but Dariel and her young daughter stayed behind, living in Newport Beach with a roommate identified only as Mrs. Robert Shand. Mother and child were to eventually meet Alvin in Hawaii, but on Monday, August 13, 1951 Dariel Jean drove south on Highway 101 through the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and pulled off near Aliso Canyon, on a beach area five miles north of Oceanside. She was presumably there to meet a “friend.”
Whether she met that friend or not is unknown, but on August 16, 1951 a group of Camp Pendleton Marines would discover a grisly scene. Dariel Jean’s life had come to a sudden end.
The Oceanside Blade Tribune published the tragic story on August 17, 1951 with the headline “Discover Body Young Lady Aliso Canyon” with the sad details that Marines on maneuvers had “discovered the body of a 23-year-old woman in a car parked in Aliso Canyon, seven miles north of Oceanside on the Camp Pendleton reservation. The woman identified as Dariel Jean Budd, of Newport Beach, had apparently been dead for several days. She was found slumped across the front seat of the car, a .32 caliber pistol clutched in her right hand. Upon examination it was found that a bullet had entered the right side of her head just above the ear and emerged a little higher above the left ear, lodging in the car top. The slug will be extracted from the automobile for examination. The young woman was clad in slacks and a blouse. She gripped the steering wheel of the car with her left hand.”
The FBI was called to investigate, likely because the death occurred on federal property. Investigators found the car doors locked and made entry by forcing a window open. An automatic pistol of “foreign make” was found lying on the seat. A small wicker purse was on the floor containing a makeup kit, along with a green wallet which revealed an identification card from the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, and a driver’s license, identifying the lifeless body as Dariel Jean Budd. Authorities contacted her husband Alvin Budd, who made arrangements to quickly return to California.
The body of his wife was taken to Davis Mortuary in Oceanside and an autopsy performed. San Diego County Coroner A. E. Gallagher said “evidence indicated a suicide.” He reported that “the barrel of the gun had been placed close against the right side of the head, as there were powder burns at the entrance of the bullet wound.” He added there were “no other marks on or about the body to indicate that there had been any violence in connection with the death.”
Despite the finding of suicide, her roommate was interviewed and said that Dariel Jean did not know how to load or fire a gun and that she had planned to leave on August 30th to join her husband in Hawaii. One additional detail she provided was that Dariel had left Monday afternoon to meet a Camp Pendleton Marine by the name of Ernie. The two had met at a dance just four days prior on August 10th, but Mrs. Shand described the relationship as “casual.”
What led Dariel Jean to end her life? Was it an overwhelming disappointment of a failed movie contract? Did an unhappy marriage lead to a brief affair? From whom and when did she acquire a gun?
As Dariel Jean viewed the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing on the shoreline from her car window, was she waiting for a friend or a lover? It is unknown if investigators tried to determine the identity of Ernie. Did Dariel Jean ever meet up with him that day? If he existed, he never stepped forward.
In the scrapbooks of Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department was a torn photograph of Dariel Jean. In the photo she is gripping the steering wheel with her left hand and a gun is resting in the crook of her right hand. It seems an odd position of each. But with the coroner’s ruling as suicide, the death of Dariel Jean no longer warranted further investigation.
It was a sad ending for a young woman who appeared to have fame and stardom within reach, but it had slipped through her fingers. She was discovered by one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Garland herself would die a lonely death years later despite the fame she had gained. She is quoted as saying, “If I am a legend, then why am I so lonely?”
Dariel Jean died alone in her car, either by her own hand or that of someone else. It wasn’t the “Hollywood ending” anyone expected.
On a quiet summer night off a dirt road in northeast Oceanside, California laid the body of Marine Staff Sergeant Carlo G. Troiani. He had been shot twice, once in the back and once in the neck. As he lay dead or dying, tire marks on his lower legs suggest he had been run over by a vehicle.
Troiani, who served his country in Vietnam, was killed, not by a foreign enemy but by one he would have considered a brother, a fellow Marine. The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis or Semper Fi for short, Latin for “always faithful”. But unfaithfulness would result in Carlo Troiani’s death. His murder was orchestrated by his wife of five years.
On August 10, 1984, Laura Troiani had lured her husband to a remote area under the pretense of car trouble. When her husband dutifully came to her aid in the middle of the night, she waited for her plan to unfold. As Carlo pulled off North River Road to help his wife, Laura tapped her brake light. This was a prompt that signaled two Marines who were in hiding to step out and to ambush Carlo. One of the Marines, later identified as Mark J. Schulz, shot the defenseless man in the back.
After being shot Carlo cried out to his wife, “Laura, I’ve been hit!” Laura watched impassively from her car as the scene played out. There was no attempt to save her husband, no attempt to help or abort the mission. She watched the Marines grab Carlo as he instinctively tried to find cover and crawl under the vehicle. They pulled him by his legs and shot Carlo again, this time in the neck with the bullet exiting his face as he collapsed. Laura watched it all. Her husband, the father of her children, was dead.
Laura and the two Marines, Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz then drove to a 7-11 convenience store on Vandegrift Boulevard where three other Marines, Russell Sanders, Kevin Watkins and Jeffrey Mizner, were waiting with Laura’s two small children. This woman who had coldly masterminded the murder of her own husband and watched him die, had left her two young children, ages 5 and 2, in the care of two men who had helped plan the murder of their father. Two little ones any caring mother would have safely tucked in bed hours ago, were instead left with strangers at midnight standing in front of a convenience store. The children, too young to know what was happening, had no idea they would never see their daddy again.
After her murderous plot was accomplished Laura took her children to a friend’s house to spend the night — instead of taking them home where they belonged. It was just before 1 am in the morning. She told Annabelle Thompson that she was coming home from a Tupperware party and had a flat tire. This story is simply inconceivable — what was she doing at a Tupperware party in the middle of the night with her children? But lies came easy to Laura Troiani. It did not matter to her that the story made no sense. It only mattered to her that she was free to do as she pleased. By dropping her children off, she was free of her children, and free of Carlo forever.
Annabelle watched as Laura hopped on the back of a motorcycle driven by a “Marine-type.” They took the same dark and winding route on North River Road where the murder occurred. On the way to Vista they passed by the lifeless body of Carlo Troiani. Another route could have been taken but the two callously drove past the murder scene, perhaps satisfied with their deed.
After Laura returned to her apartment she picked up the phone and called police, feigning concern for her husband who she claimed did not come home as expected. She called police twice more. Then Laura called her husband’s friend Marty Gunter saying that she had a premonition that Carlo was in danger. She called him three additional times in less than an hour.
Meanwhile, the Oceanside Police Department had been alerted by a passerby who had discovered the body of Carlo Troiani. John Brohamer, Jr. was the first Oceanside Police Officer to arrive at the murder scene at 3 am. He found Carlo Troiani face down in the dirt in a pool of blood. The engine of his Ford Mustang was still running with the headlights on, piercing through the darkness. Detective Ed Jacobs was notified and upon arrival he initiated the criminal investigation.
Detective Jacobs said in an interview that it was a “good crime scene” because it was done in a remote area and had therefore been left in pristine condition. As they waited for the sun to rise, nothing had been disturbed. Shoe prints left in the dirt, along with tire tracks were noted. These matched Laura’s 1968 Ford Galaxy which was found by police. It had a flat tire after being hit but a bullet from the same gun that killed Carlo.
It did not take long for Laura to be visited by Detectives Jacobs and Bob George. They went to her Vista apartment at 8 am. When advised of Carlo’s death, Laura did not seem at all surprised, nor did she exhibit any grief or sadness. She was taken to the police station for questioning and she would never leave their custody.
After a lengthy interrogation and numerous false stories, Laura Troiani would eventually confess and name her co-conspirators.
The Detectives also conducted interviews of the neighbors in the apartment complex where the Troiani’s lived, who confirmed Laura’s plan was to have her husband killed. They reported to police that she had solicited a number of men in recent weeks to accomplish the deadly task and there were at least two failed prior attempts.
Oceanside Police Sergeant Ron Call drove to Camp Margarita aboard the military base. The Marines were put in formation, then identified one by one, and eventually taken into police custody.
Police apprehended and arrested five young Marines, all under the age of 21, with the murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani. They were with H&S Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Camp Pendleton: Russell E. Sanders, 20, Kevin W. Watkins, 18, Mark J. Schulz, 19, Jeffrey T. Mizner, 20, and Russell A. Harrison, 19.
These Marines called themselves “The Gremlins,” after the movie Gremlins, which had just been released that summer, two months before the murder, about creatures that “transform into small, destructive, evil monsters.”
Laura Ann Cox was born in Los Angeles, California in the summer of 1961. By all accounts hers was not a happy childhood. She was a neglected child, raised by a mother who was described as self-involved and slovenly, spending hours watching daytime television and reading romance novels rather than tending to her three children. Without the love and proper care of a mother, the children were left to themselves, and as result, were poorly dressed, disheveled and dirty. Due to a lack of proper personal hygiene, Laura and her siblings were seen as outcasts at both school and church.
The family moved to Washington State where Laura would grow up. Laura’s parents separated when she was seven years old and divorced about three years later. She remembered it as a turning point in her life. Just two years after the divorce, Laura’s mother Catherine remarried in 1973. The marriage offered little stability in Laura’s life. Her mother was inattentive and labeled as a hypochondriac, caring more for herself than her family.
If her mother was a poor example of a parental figure, Laura’s biological father was no better. Lawrence J. Cox was described as angry and had a drinking problem. He was sent to prison for attempted murder after he shot at a neighbor.
Laura had a brief relationship with an unnamed man and became pregnant at the age of 17. Apparently the biological father was quickly out of the picture and Laura found herself alone. She met and married Carlo Troiani who told her he was willing to raise her unborn baby as his own. In Carlo, Laura found the security she never had.
Carlo Grant Troiani was 15 years older than Laura, born in 1947 in Seattle, Washington. His marriage to Laura was his third, and he had two children, one from each of his previous marriages.
Carlo was in the Navy, serving in Viet Nam in the late 1960s. He was released from the Navy and joined the Marine Reserves and later enlisted in the Marine Corps. Carlo was a Marine Recruiter in Tacoma, Washington from 1976 to 1979. His supervisor recalled that he was one of the “proudest individual in the Marine Corps” he had ever met, he loved being a Marine and worked “aggressively” as a recruiter to meet his quota and prove his worth.
Carlo and Laura were married August 3, 1979 in Pierce, Washington. It was a Marine Corps “full dress” wedding with Marines in their dress blues. After the ceremony, Laura and Carlo walked underneath an arch of swords, where a group of six to eight Marines stand on either side to create an arch as if to “shelter the bride” as she and the groom walk out.
Laura gave birth to a son and shortly thereafter, Carlo Troiani was sent to Orange County, California as a Marine Corps Recruiter. In 1982 Laura gave birth to another child, a daughter. Eventually Carlo Troiani was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Assigned to H&S Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group (1st FSSG), he was a military police or “MP”. The couple got an apartment in Vista on Foothill Drive.
Infidelity and Murder Plots
Laura Troiani may have found security in her marriage to Carlo but she did not find happiness. She was continually unfaithful. It was even reported that she had slept with her husband’s best man (before or after) their wedding. Carlo knew of her infidelities and was angry. However, he sought to salvage his marriage and the two attended marriage counseling in the spring and summer of 1984.
James Bondell, family and marriage counselor, would later describe Laura Troiani as a manipulator and a “hard person” who “tormented” her husband. The Troiani’s attended 20 sessions from April through July, wherein Bondell also noted that “Laura Troiani teased her husband by withholding sex from him, was the dominant force in their relationship and was otherwise ‘ambivalent’ about marital problems the couple was experiencing.” He also noted that Laura complained that Carlo wanted her to “stay home and be with him.” This statement would suggest that Carlo was aware, at least to some extent, of Laura’s extracurricular activities.
Despite Carlo’s attempts to save his marriage, Laura’s presence at the sessions seems disingenuous at best. Carlo was sent to Korea and while gone, Laura threw a party over Memorial Day weekend. There she met Darryl Nelson and was intimate with him that very day. During the two month affair, she asked Nelson if he knew anyone that could “do a hit” on her husband. When he asked Laura about simply getting a divorce, she replied in the negative, complaining that she would then have to get a job and take care of her children, which was apparently out of the question.
Jessie Montgomery, a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps attended a party thrown by Laura and noticed that Laura Troiani and a man emerged from her bedroom. Montgomery was then informed that Laura only married Carlo for security and that “the marriage was one of convenience.” Troiani spoke to Montgomery about getting rid of Carlo and even stated that she knew someone who would “put a contract out on him.”
Over this same weekend Laura talked to Kevin Manwarren and Bill Fenley, unambiguously telling them she wanted her husband dead. Manwarren, who would later claim to be joking, offered to kill Carlo Troiani for $5,000, to which Laura quickly offered: “Well, I can take care of it out of the insurance proceeds.” (Carlo had two policies that totaled $95,000.) Laura then followed up their conversation with several phone calls to Manwarren, anxious to elaborate on a plan to have her husband killed. He demurred.
Annabelle Thompson recalled that Laura had also told her that she knew a person in Tustin, California who would “take care” of Carlo and that he was “worth more dead.”
It appears that many of the men Laura encountered thought that she was joking and did not take her seriously, but she continued searching and sleeping with potential would-be assassins. None seemed willing to commit murder for her.
In July of 1984 Kim Hartmann moved into the apartment complex in which the Troiani’s lived. The two women met and Laura wasted no time by complaining to Hartmann about Carlo and that she wanted him killed. Hartmann said Laura talked about it constantly. Laura also told Hartmann that Carlo, keenly aware of her unhappiness, offered Laura a divorce, a way out, and said that he would pay her rent and child support. But Laura would not be dissuaded. She wanted Carlo’s insurance money and for that he had to die.
On July 19th Hartmann went with Laura to an E-club (Enlisted club) on Camp Pendleton. There Laura met Jeffrey Mizner for the first time and was introduced to the other Marines who eventually would be the accomplices to Carlo’s murder, including the triggerman Mark Schulz. Hartmann would later testify that Laura kept bringing up the subject of having her husband killed, even though she had just met them. Laura was unapologetically, unabashedly, out to have Carlo murdered and she apparently did care about first impressions.
It is significant to point out that in conversations with Kim Hartmann, someone she felt close enough to tell about wanting her husband murdered, Laura Troiani did not allege or assert to her that she was being abused by Carlo. Hate and money were her given motives. In marriage counseling, even when she attended one-on-one sessions without Carlo, she never complained of abuse of any kind, only that Carlo had a “yelling problem.”
Laura, was not one to be weighed down by marriage vows or motherhood. Her own son related his memories about their relationship: “I do remember a lot of her, actually, even at a young age. I remember she had Carlo crying one night in the bedroom. I remember she would just take off with whoever the boyfriend was at the time.” When asked if he remembered any abuse between his mother and stepfather, Chris replied: “As far as the abuse, no, none, not that I can remember. Honestly, seemed like they were never together, very rarely.” He added, “The abuse was more about neglect, [leaving] a 5 year-old to fend for himself. She was at the clubs doing it up. In no way was she a mother.”
The Marines began to plot with Laura Troiani, as the ringleader, the killing of Carlo Troiani. Mark Schulz told other Marines in his company that he had been “hired to waste someone” and was recruiting anyone else that might be interested in helping with the deed, adding their cut would be $500 to $600. Schulz along with Russell Harrison, Jeff Mizner, and Russell Sanders began to solicit information on how to kill someone, which including poison, making a bomb and using a firearm.
For several days in a row, Laura would take her two children and drive 35 miles each way to the remote base camp to visit with the Marines at Camp Margarita so that they could discuss their “options.”
August 3, 1984 was the occasion of the Troiani’s fifth wedding anniversary. Carlo, oblivious to the fact that his bride was planning to have him killed, toasted his wife that evening.
The First Attempt
On the night of August 6, 1984, Laura and Kim Hartmann went to the E-Club at Camp Margarita aboard the military base. There Laura plotted with the Marines to kill Carlo (This group included Kevin Watkins). All of whom seemed eager to carry out the plot. Harrison and Schulz had weapons, a knife and a gun, which they put into Laura’s car. They then traveled to the Del Mar Club, located near the beach of Camp Pendleton. At the club the conversation of killing Carlo continued. This was no fantasy talk or mere joking. The group planned to carry out the plot that night. Harrison suggested that the Marines “jump” Carlo at his car, attack and kill him with a knife, rather than attract attention with a gunshot.
Laura and Kim Hartmann were dropped off at a market in order to call Carlo and tell him that Laura’s car had broken down. She told Carlo that she was stranded in Carlsbad with their children. But exactly where were the children on a Monday evening, if not with her or Carlo? Like her own mother, it seemed she had no instinctual love and care for her children.
Hartmann claims that she tried to keep Laura from going through with her plans, saying it wasn’t too late and that she could still call Carlo back to keep him from being murdered by the Marines who were lying in wait. Laura’s reply was, “Nope, I got to get it over with.”
The Marines then hid in an area near Carlo’s vehicle, waiting for him to come out of his apartment. However, because his car was nearly out of gas, Carlo had called his friend Corporal Marty Gunter, to come and take him to look for Laura. Ambushing Carlo alone was not feasible and the group was unable to fulfill their deadly plan.
Carlo and Marty diligently searched for Laura and the children for four hours, to no avail. (This was before the convenience of cell phones.) Unsuccessful in their search, Marty dropped Carlo back at his apartment building.
When Laura discovered the plan to kill her husband did not go through, she was furious. She told the Marines that she “couldn’t stand it” and that it had to be done that night. Russell Harrison volunteered to go up to the Troiani apartment and to slit Carlo’s throat. Laura gave him the key. However sinister and bloody this particular scenario would have been, it is believed it was abandoned altogether as the group was spotted, likely by an apartment resident.
The Second Attempt
While the group did not want to be seen that night by outsiders, it was an open secret that Laura and the Marines were seeking to murder Carlo as they spoke about it openly to several people. The following day, Jeffrey Mizner told Robert Guerrero, a fellow Marine, about his “girlfriend Laura”, and that she was trying to get someone to kill her husband. Mizner asked his roommate “how to blow up a car by running a wire from the sparkplug to the carburetor.”
Apparently, this was now the chosen method of murder. Russell Sanders shared a story with yet another Marine how they had “practiced” by attaching a wire to the sparkplug of Kevin Watkin’s motorcycle and hooked the other to a mouse to electrocute it. They watched it die.
Satisfied that a similar technique would also kill Carlo, his vehicle was rigged with the wire from the sparkplug placed into the gas tank of his truck. The attempt failed and did not detonate. In fact, Carlo found the device and removed it. Marines in his unit remembered him laughing about it, thinking it was a harmless prank by one of them.
Jeff Mizner then complained to Marine Joseph Hickman that the sparkplug scheme did not work. Mizner even said that he had lost sleep over the failure and the plan was now just to shoot Carlo Troiani.
With at least two thwarted murder attempts, on August 9, 1984, Laura Troiani would not be denied. Mark Schulz borrowed a .357 pistol from David Schenne on the pretense of doing some target practice. That same day Laura went to the local Kmart (at the time located next to the Oceanside Police Station) to purchase bullets for the weapon and the group laid out their final lethal plan.
That evening between 8 and 9 pm, Laura went to the apartment of Diane and Randy Gray with her two children. Soon after Mizner, Harrison, Sanders, Schulz and Watkins arrived. The group huddled together, whispering their plots and because the Gray’s were concerned about the secretive behavior, asked what was going on. Sanders replied, “Never mind, we don’t want you to get involved further.”
The group left the apartment with Jeffrey Mizner riding on the back of Watkins’ motorcycle and Laura, Schulz, Harrison and Sanders, along with Laura’s two children, drove away in her car. The group pulled up to a 7-11 on Vandegrift Boulevard (which leads to the rear gate of Camp Pendleton).
Sanders and Watkins called Carlo Troiani, presumably as “good Samaritans”, to tell him that his wife’s car was broken down and they directed Carlo to a remote location on North River Road.
Meanwhile, Carlo had called Stephanie Howard, a friend of Laura’s, to ask if she knew where Laura and the children were. He was genuinely concerned for his wife, while she was getting ready to have him killed.
Laura, along with Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz, drove to the location they had chosen for their ambush to wait for Carlo, a dirt turnoff on North River Road, three miles east of Vandegrift Boulevard.
A clerk back at the 7-11 reported seeing two small children with at least one Marine (Jeffrey Mizner) standing outside near the ice machine. They were there for 45 minutes. Waiting … in the middle of the night …. while Laura completed her plan to have her husband killed.
Laura Troiani would describe herself as helpless to stop the murder of her husband, an event she had longed for, recruited for, and set in motion. As he was shot by Mark Schulz with bullets purchased by Laura, Carlo’s last words were to her, a cry for help. But rather than help him, she left her husband for dead by the side of that dark road.
After the murder, the trio drove west on North River Road back to the 7-11. The clerk there reported seeing a vehicle drive up with a flat tire. One of the men came into the store to buy a can of tire inflator and once the tire was sufficiently inflated the group departed.
The murder of Carlo Troiani was the last case Detective Ed Jacobs worked on before he retired from the Oceanside Police Department. After investigating the murder scene, he and his partner Bob George went to the Troiani apartment to speak with Laura the morning that Carlo’s body was discovered.
Detective George went through Laura’s car which had been impounded. He found evidence that Laura had purchased bullets at Kmart and interviewed the clerk, who specifically remembered Laura because he had given her wad-cutter bullets, commonly used for target shooting, and she insisted on lead caliber bullets.
Laura Troiani was taken to the police station for “routine questioning.” During the interview Jacobs said that Laura remained calm and was not visibly upset when told about her husband’s murder.
One of the first stories Laura Troiani told investigators was that she and her two children were abducted by three men who forced her to call her husband to lure him out to North River Road. She said she was separated from her children, and after Carlo was murdered, was taken to be reunited with them and warned not to tell anyone or that she would be killed.
Detective Jacobs and George listened as Laura then changed her story and said that she was at Kmart when five men on two motorcycles abducted her. When detectives questioned the veracity of that story and asked how five men were on just two motorcycles, Laura simply said, “I don’t know.”
Yet another story that Laura offered was that she and the children were driving around all day after Carlo said he wanted a divorce. She ran out of gas and then discovered she had a flat tire. Two strangers on motorcycles came to her rescue, one drove her and children to the babysitter’s house (Anna Thompson), and then one took her to her Vista apartment. When asked by detectives if she was worried at all by these strangers giving her a ride in the middle of the night, Laura replied, “No”, because she was “a good judge of character.”
Laura’s next defense strategy was her unfaithfulness. “Why would I want to have my husband shot? Sure, we had marital problems. Sure, I was having affairs on the side,” Laura told investigators. “I was having a ball, being married and fooling around.”
Detective Jacobs said that Laura Troiani never mentioned any abuse by her husband in the lengthy interrogation that spanned over nearly 12 hours. She eventually confessed and gave up the names of the Marines, who were all stationed in the same unit.
During a phone call while Laura was being held in jail, she told Marty Gunter that her husband had “suffered not more than two to three minutes” the night he was murdered. She thought her comments would come across as reassuring and compassionate but only served to further expose her lack of remorse and coldness.
Meanwhile Laura’s co-conspirators were bragging about Carlo’s murder to their fellow Marines on base. After taken into custody at the Vista Detention Center, Mark Schulz told a fellow cellmate about the murder, including that Carlo Troiani had begged for his life before being fatally shot.
Three years after Carlo’s murder, the murder trial of Laura Troiani began in the San Diego Superior Court, North County, located in Vista. She was the first woman in San Diego County to face the death penalty in California in 25 years.
Laura not only succeeded in having her husband murdered, her attorneys now went about destroying his character. Her defense team would portray Carlo Troiani as controlling, angry, having a drinking problem and being physically abusive.
But before the defense had its turn, District Attorney Paul Pfingst would send a myriad of witnesses to the stand, including the Troiani’s marriage counselor, who would testify that it was Laura, not Carlo, who controlled the family. Far from being fearful of an abusive husband, it was Carlo who “was in fear of [Laura’s] moods.” The counselor added, that Carlo “walked on eggshells most of the time, not wanting to upset her [because] she would become very mean to him.” While Laura gave her affections away to numerous men, Carlo was ignored. “He had a wonderful day if he got a kiss or she put her arm around him,” the counselor testified.
When asked if Laura Troiani was a “fragile” woman desperate for her husband’s approval for her self-worth, the counselor replied, “No. She didn’t need it because she was pretty much in control of the relationship.”
Stephanie Howard, who knew Laura since 1981, testified that Carlo Troiani loved his wife and was trying to improve his marriage. She went on to testify that Laura had Carlo “wrapped around her little finger. She’d be a cold fish one minute, and then when she wanted something (from him), she’d warm up.”
Howard also told the jury that Laura openly admitted to her that she “had more than one boyfriend.” More damningly, Laura told her “she wanted to hire someone to kill” Carlo and that “she wanted to make sure he was not in her life again.” In response, Howard said she tried to talk Laura out of it and suggested a divorce, but Laura would hear none of it.
Leeca Smardon, manager of the Foothills apartment complex, testified that Laura expressed to her that was not happy about Carlo returning from Korea. She reported that Laura told her, “I wish he’d never come back. That would make me happier.” Smardon added, “When Carlo was home, I never heard any screaming, shouting or disputes from their apartment. When he went to Korea, there was a lot of traffic into the apartment, and it was mainly males.”
Kmart employee Richard Deem testified to the fact that it was Laura, accompanied by a male, who purchased the bullets that killed Carlo. He remembered the event because there was a “price mix-up” and particularly noted Laura’s demeanor that day. “She was forceful and rude.” He said, “I was behind the counter, and the male asked for ammo, I believe for a .38 special. I was uncertain about what they wanted because there are different types of ammo.” Laura told the young clerk, “I want 158 grain (the weight of the bullets).”
“She was very specific about it,” Deem testified. “She knew what she wanted. I felt it wasn’t good to make her wait. I thought she was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste time.” The bullets that Laura demanded were high-powered ammunition, rather than something typically used for target practice.
Despite the testimony of others to the contrary, Laura’s defense attorney, Geraldine Russell described her as an “impressionable, simple young girl who was used by others looking for thrills.” She contended Laura was being abused by Carlo and had no way of escape. The defense portrayed Carlo Troiani as an “overbearing and obnoxious husband who cowed his wife into submission.”
Catherine Lewtas, Laura’s mother, testified for the defense and stated that while she witnessed Carlo being verbally abusive to Laura, she did not witness any physical abuse.
But even when interrogated for hours by police, Laura did not claim Carlo abused her. Instead Laura said she was perfectly happy being married to Carlo, all the while being unfaithful to him. She gave several scenarios as to how she was a kidnapping victim, but none on how she was the victim of domestic abuse.
Sergeant Ron Call was the supervisor on the Troiani case and he said that at no time during questioning did Laura Troaini bring up spousal abuse. He also said that Laura was neither upset nor emotional over the death of her husband.
A psychiatrist hired by the defense said that Laura was not capable of being manipulative and that rather than being a neglectful mother, Laura was so depressed that she had “trouble getting up and getting dressed and caring for her children.” Another expert witness dismissed the idea that Laura was a so-called “black widow” and put all the blame on the men, arguing that “organized violence is virtually a male monopoly.”
Anna Thompson, Laura’s friend who often watched her children, testified that she witnessed Carlo kick Laura when she did not change one of the children’s diapers. But she also said she had seen Laura hit her husband, and said that Laura would refuse to cook or clean and gave Carlo the “silent treatment” when she didn’t get her way. “Laura had control,” Thompson insisted.
The prosecution called over 45 witnesses, most of whom testified that Laura Troiani did not want to be married and that she “openly plotted” in the “company of others” to have her husband killed.
While presenting their defense, and closing arguments, the defense team claimed that Carlo’s murder was not orchestrated by Laura, but the Marines themselves. Laura was depicted as abused, vulnerable and helpless and that Laura’s codefendants alone were responsible for killing Carlo Troiani.
One of the last things presented to the jury by the prosecutor was the recording made by the Oceanside Police Department. The jury listened intently to the recording, as Laura concocted story after story, variations of different scenarios. And then finally, after hours of interrogation, Laura told detectives that she had in fact plotted, planned and agreed to pay at least two of the Marines to kill Carlo. As the courtroom listened to the recording, Laura Troiani sat emotionless at her own word as she described the murder of her husband, “half crawling, half staggering” before he was shot a second time, in the back of the head.
On August 26, 1987 Laura Troiani was found guilty of first degree murder after the jury deliberated over a two day period. Her trial was one of the longest and most expensive court cases in San Diego County history. She would now face the death penalty.
At her sentencing hearing, Laura’s father testified on her behalf. Lawrence Cox said that Laura was raised in a filthy home by a neglectful mother who had “the mentality of a six year old.” In some respects he could have been describing Laura, who reflected many of the same character flaws, especially when it came to motherhood. Cox said that while he was in the military he always worried that his children were not getting fed or clothed properly and that his wife “couldn’t cope with responsibility.”
After he and his wife separated he helped to move them into a new apartment. He said he had to hose out the refrigerator that it stunk so bad. He added that the apartment was filled with both human and animal waste.
Others took the stand to testify to the fact that Laura’s childhood was horrible, as if that were the cause or justification for Carlo’s murder. Laura cried for herself as she listened to their testimony, but she did not shed tears for Carlo.
In the end Laura Troiani was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life without parole. She was sent to the California Institute for Women in Chino, California.
On December 17, 1987 Jeffrey Thomas Mizner pled guilty to first-degree murder. In doing so he avoided the possibility of a death sentence or life in prison without parole.
Twenty year old Jeffrey Mizner knew Laura Troiani just three weeks, and yet he was willing to plot to have her husband killed. Laura told him that Carlo was molesting their two children. There was never any evidence to suggest such a thing and likely Laura made the statement solely to gain sympathy and then outrage, hoping to garner Mizner’s support and cause him to act on her behalf. When asked why he or Laura did not simply report the alleged abuse to authorities, Mizner answered, “She wanted him dead, and we went with it.” Laura also told Jeffrey that her two children were not Carlo’s biologically. Was her second child a result of an affair, or was Laura lying? It is anyone’s guess because she did both prolifically.
Jeffrey Mizner would later tell the parole board in his case that he never slept with Laura Troiani, and that his sole motive in the killing of Carlo was to protect the children from his alleged abuse. Shortly before the murder, Mizner found out that Laura had turned her affections to Russell Harrison, and was sleeping with him instead.
Russell Sanders pled guilty to murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 25 years.
Russell Harrison pled guilty to first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 26 years.
Kevin Watkins, whose trial was moved to Ventura County, was acquitted.
Mark Schulz (sometimes spelled Schultz) was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
A Second Chance
In December of 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown commuted Laura Troiani’s life sentence, saying that she had been rehabilitated. While this commutation did not release her, it gave her the chance for parole.
During a hearing held on June 21, 2019, Laura was asked what exactly she did that landed her in prison. Her response: “Prior to the actual brutal murder of Carlo Troiani, my spouse, I had put into motion several incidences leading up to Carlo being murdered. I was the mastermind. I was the one who utilized by codefendants as a tool and a means to, um, to, um, to murder Carlo.”
While she was willing to admit to being the mastermind of her husband’s murder, Laura seemed to shirk responsibility as her hearing continued. When asked about details and organizing discussions of Carlo murder, she started to backtrack and minimize her role as “mastermind” saying, “I did not organize [them], sir. They were — they — we were at a club or in a parking lot and discussion would — would come about. We’d go from normal discussion and that — and that would come about. Did I bring that up? I did not always bring it up. No sir.”
When asked about purchasing bullets at Kmart, she referred to the shooting of Carlo as “target practice” saying, “Initially it was to — to use the bullets for target practice, but in essence it was to use Carlo as the target. In other words, to murder him.”
In describing the murder, she placed responsibility on the Marines rather than her role: “They, uh, form — a plan was formulated that we would — we ended up leaving the children and three of the codefendants down at a 7-11, the car — three of us went up on a deserted rural road where a phone call from below had been made letting Carlo know that I was in distress and that I would be found in this area.“
Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you drive up to that area?
Inmate Troiani: I did not drive. No sir. Nor did I drive leaving. I was not the one driving that night.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Did you go voluntarily?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you remain in the car?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: How long did you remain there until Carlo got there?
Inmate Troiani: I honestly don’t know how long it was while I sat in the —
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Can you give me an estimate?
Inmate Troiani: Um, no more than twenty minutes.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: What happened when Carlo got there?
Inmate Troiani: Carlo left his car running. He walked over to where I was sitting in the passenger’s side, tapped on the window, and asked me if I was okay and then the bullets started flying.
When asked what happened next, Laura describes the shooter as a stranger in hiding, rather than a person she planned the murder with and drove her to the scene: “I witnessed what looked like a very large man running out of a bush toward Carlo firing a gun. Carlo went down and within 20 seconds we were leaving the — you know, we were leaving where Carlo was.” (She couldn’t bring herself to say the crime or murder scene.)
Laura was asked if she did anything else to accomplish the murder and only stated, “I was physically there.”
The parole commissioner continued to press her: “Okay. How did you convince them? You said you hit upon their training, but usually they’re trained to kill other combatants. This is very different than what they’re trained for. How did you convince them to participate in a murder?”
Inmate Troiani: “I was seen as a damsel in distress,” Laura answered, “And I played upon — I played upon that.”
Presiding Commissioner Castro: That’s why you think they got involved?
Inmate Troiani: I’m not sure why they got involved. I only know that they did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Just helping you out?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: So what’s in it for them? Anything?
Inmate Troiani: I didn’t recall this at the time, but I know it happened that they had hopes of receiving insurance money?
Presiding Commissioner Castro: How would they know about insurance money?
Inmate Troiani: Being in the military, you automatically sign up for a policy.
When asked why the Marines would think they were entitled to Carlo’s life insurance proceeds, Laura denied she offered insurance proceeds, but only agreed to pay them when they asked, saying, “Because I was asked to give them some money from the insurance policy.“
Laura then went on to deflect responsibility of Carlo’s murder by saying that she was in a disassociated state.
The Mayo Clinic describe this disorder: Dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life. Dissociative disorders usually develop as a reaction to trauma and help keep difficult memories at bay. Symptoms — ranging from amnesia to alternate identities — depend in part on the type of dissociative disorder you have. Times of stress can temporarily worsen symptoms, making them more obvious.
Inmate Troiani: I continue to remove myself by going into my head when the consequences were too great. I had distorted thinking and then there was the childhood abuse, which brought about the distorted thinking and the disassociation.
Presiding Commissioner Castro asked, “What do you mean by disassociation?
Inmate Troiani: I would go into my head and come up with a different fantasy type scenario.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: What was the role in your — in your crime specifically?
Inmate Troiani: In the crime itself?
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Yeah.
Inmate Troiani: While I was sitting there waiting in the car for Carlo, that’s exactly what I did. I put myself in a whole different scenario.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay, when you’re having the conversations, planning these different plans, were you in a disa — dissociative state at this point?
Inmate Troiani: At times, yes, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you called Carlo asking him to come help you, so that he would leave the apartment, when you made that call, where you in a disassociated state?
Inmate Troiani: No until after I made the phone call, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Report says that you gave keys to Mr. Harrison.
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir. I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Were you in a disassociated state when you gave him the keys?
Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: You made admissions to the police, correct?
Inmate Troiani: I do not recall exactly what I said because I said so many different stories.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: There were different versions and they said that you had made some admissions about being involved in the murder. Were you in a dissociative state when you talked to the police after the crime?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, I was.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re buying the bullets are you in a dissociative state?
Inmate Troiani: I was in denial.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re being driven up to the location where he was killed, were you in a disassociated state?
Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not thinking about what was going on. I was actually not thinking at all.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. So you said the abuse, domestic violence, hopelessness, disassociation, distorted thinking, your childhood trauma. Any other reason why you decided to kill Carlo?
Inmate Troiani: I wanted the abuse to stop.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. Was the insurance money part of your motivation?
Inmate Troiani: Initially, no.
When questioned by Deputy Commissioner Lam, he asked why she didn’t try to stop the Marines from murdering her husband.
Laura answered, “When Carlo tapped on the window, before I could have even said anything, the bullets began to fly. There was not any time to say anything, think or anything else. So had the opportunity been there, I would’ve said something.”
Of course, Laura had time to say something. On the way to Kmart she could have aborted the plan and not purchased the bullets used to kill Carlo. She was the only one old enough to purchase them. On the way to 7-11 to drop off her children, she could have turned around. While on the five minute drive to the scene of the ambush she could have called it off.
For the twenty minutes it took Carlo to arrive, she could have stopped it. Even if the two Marines who were with her were hell-bent on executing their plan, when they exited her vehicle, she could have driven away, leaving them there. Carlo, looking for Laura’s car, would have driven by instead of being ambushed.
Certainly, she might have even been able to warn Carlo before he opened his car door. Lastly, she could have called the police to report the murder of her husband, if in fact she was a pawn in a murder scheme.
But she did none of those things.
Incredulous to her answers, Deputy Commissioner Lam asked, “May I ask why your version of what happened to the clinician only two months ago was so vastly different from the version today?”
Laura answered, “At the time I spoke with the psychologist, I was still in denial. I was not seeing my — how my actions were the — what led — what was — what was feeding this. How — how I was the one who was the mastermind and I was unable to say that and acknowledge to myself. Therefore I wasn’t able to even speak about it at that time. Since then I have been looking within myself and in my denial management class I am able to see that I — I was in complete denial. I rationalized, I minimized and I blamed.“
Then, just moments later, Laura again denied any knowledge about the murder plot saying, “I may have been the one that initiated it. I do not recall.“
The panel was not swayed by her insincerity and empty words. After listening to Laura fail to take responsibility for her role in Carlo Troiani’s death, the Parole Board denied her release.
However, on July 10, 2020, the prison’s Administrative Review Board approved an advancement of Troiani’s next parole suitability hearing date (at her request). Rather than having to wait three years, her next hearing is scheduled for January 22, 2021.
While Laura sits in prison, Jeffrey Mizner was released in 2013 at the age of 50. Russell Sanders and Russell Harrison have presumably been released as well as there is no record of them in the California Department of Corrections. Mark Schulz, who shot Carlo Troiani, is currently serving life in a private prison in Arizona.
Some may question why Laura Troiani would serve life without parole when she did not even pull the trigger. But it should be remembered that while these Marines helped plan, plot and carry out the murder of Carlo Troiani, it was Laura Ann Troiani who went looking for an assassin. It was she who solicited a number of men to kill her husband even before she met Jeffrey Mizner and his friends.
It was Laura Troiani who brought up the killing of her husband to the group — they were not looking for someone to murder — it was Laura who was looking for a killer.
It was Laura Troiani who gave an apartment key to Russell Harrison so that he could enter the apartment with the intent to kill Carlo.
It was Laura Troiani who purchased the bullets used to kill her husband. She even demanded the type of bullets with which he would be killed.
It was Laura Troiani who tapped the brake lights when Carlo pulled up on the place of his execution. Tragically it was for Laura her husband called out to when he was shot.
It was Laura Troiani who pretended concern for her husband and called police but who could not conjure up grief or remorse when told he was dead.
Laura Troiani, who only cried for herself, now presents herself as an abused wife and has fully embraced that role. While there was no testimony or evidence presented to suggest that she was ever abused by Carlo Troiani, she has continued to assassinate his character even while he has been dead for over 35 years.
And just like the Marines who she was able to persuade and manipulate, she successfully convinced the Governor of California that she was “a damsel in distress” (her words) and to commute her life sentence, declaring her “rehabilitated.”
In January of 2021 Laura Troiani faced the parole board but she again skirted responsibility for Carlo’s murder and continued the alleged abuse stories by her husband, as if to say Carlo deserved to be killed on that dark desolate road.
The panel was not persuaded and manipulated, as were her co-conspirators. She was denied parole based on her lack of insight, minimization of her role in the crime, and denial of certain aspects of the crime. She will not be eligible for parole for another three years, although she may petition the parole board for advancement of hearing.
Will Laura Troiani ever accept responsibility for the brutal, cold and calculating murder of Carlo Troiani? Or will she continue to present herself as the victim?
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
On a quiet morning on an isolated beach, a double homicide was committed north of Oceanside that shook all of Southern California. On September 10, 1895, the bodies of Harriet Stiles and John D. Borden were discovered by Harriet’s husband, Leroy Stiles. They had both been shot twice, and each in the face. There appeared to be no motive and the two were unarmed and defenseless.
Leroy and Harriet Stiles had been camping on the coast near the mussel beds north of Las Flores. They were accompanied by Harriet’s 86 year-old father, John B. Borden, who came to visit his daughter from Michigan and was looking forward to “an outing on the beach.” The Stiles were residents of Fallbrook, and had visited the spot before to escape the inland heat, enjoy the cool ocean breeze and do some fishing.
The trio set up camp in a tent on the remote beach and had the area all to themselves to enjoy. Las Flores was about two miles south of their spot; the small town of Oceanside was another 7 to 8 miles further. They likely saw no one else except an occasional train.
On the morning of the murders, Leroy and John walked from camp about a mile north to a spot at which to fish, while Harriet stayed behind. Leroy spotted two men in the distance walking south along the railroad track. Perhaps something about the men caused him to be uneasy. Their presence prompted Stiles to instruct his father-in-law to walk back to the tent to inform Harriet that two men may be approaching their campsite. Leroy would later tell law enforcement he simply did not want Harriet to be alarmed by the two male passersby.
John Borden walked back to the camp while Leroy proceeded to fish. Leroy likely assumed that his father-in-law, at age 86, was too tired to make the trek back and that he decided to stay with Harriet.
At about 10:30 am Leroy Stiles returned to his camp. Upon entering the tent he came upon a horrific site. His wife had been shot dead, as well as his father-in-law, the tent floor covered in blood. Stiles swung into action and immediately set for Oceanside on a horse and wagon to notify authorities. On the way south Stiles was stopped by a man he described as a “half-breed” who asked him for a ride. Stiles, who was unarmed, refused the request and afterwards said he believed the man was one of the two individuals he spotted walking towards his camp that morning and believe the man intended to kill him. He would later describe the man as a “negro of rather light complexion, good size and dressed in blue clothes or overalls.”
Stiles met a rancher on the way to Oceanside, who in turn went to reach law enforcement. Returning to camp alone, Stiles waited with the dead bodies of his family members. He later broke down in tears, overcome with emotion, when he told the first arriving lawmen that he and his wife were married forty years.
The early newspaper accounts of the murders said that Harriet had been sexually assaulted and that there were three deceased, not two. (Harriet in fact had not been raped. Her clothes were not disheveled or removed and her glasses were still on her face.) Nothing of value was missing from the camp, except a package of Durham tobacco, described by Stiles as “half full, the sack being the smallest size, just two ounces.”
One initial theory is that the two were murdered by Isidor Renterias, a known outlaw who had served jail time for horse stealing and murder. On September 6th, just a few days before the murder of Stiles and Borden, Renterias had shot and killed Ramon Araiza in San Luis Rey. Renterias operated a restaurant near the Mission San Luis Rey, wherein he had his wife by the hair and was beating her. Ramon Araiza’s wife was the daughter of the woman being beaten and Araiza came to her defense. Renterias then focused his rage on Araiza, picked up a rifle and shot him dead. He then fled while a posse led by Constable Ben Hubbert, who was still trying to track him down when the double murdered occurred on September 10th. (Renterias would later die in a shootout but not until he shot and killed a deputy by the name of Juan Castro.)
Deputy Sheriff Fred Jennings and a posse, traveled to the Stiles/Borden murder scene to hold an inquest. Railroad section men in the area were questioned and they informed law enforcement on the morning of the murders that two men had approached them. They shared breakfast with the strangers and talked to them at length. They provided a description of the two men, one was “a man six feet high, dark complexion, possibly “mulatto” and the other was “a smaller man, light hair and had a small hand valise.” The witnesses also noted that the pair had separated at some point as the smaller man went in a different direction.
Based on witness descriptions the “smaller man”, who would later be identified as Jay Allison Garges, was arrested at Fallbrook. He told deputies that he and the other suspect, Joseph J. Ebanks, were traveling together but had parted ways at the train trestle. Garges said that about two hours later he encountered Ebanks again, who had a new male traveling companion, a German immigrant. They two talked about “meeting so unexpectedly” once more and Garges noted that Ebanks was in possession of tobacco that he had not had earlier. It was in a small, two-ounce Durham tobacco sack, which was the very thing that had been reported by Leroy Stiles as missing from the tent. Garges noted that Ebanks no longer had a sack that he had carried with him for the length of their trip which began near El Toro.
While the unidentified German departed, Ebanks and Garges trekked south towards Oceanside, and eventually parted at the Fallbrook Junction. Garges made his way to Fallbrook where he was eventually apprehended. He was charged with complicity in the murder, and was held at Oceanside until taken to San Diego. Garges, a traveling “watch tinker” would later be eliminated as a suspect and became a witness for the prosecution.
Joseph Ebanks was born in England in about 1865. His father was from the West Indies and his mother a white woman. Ebanks arrived in New York’s Ellis Island from Liverpool, England on May 15, 1893 traveling on the Aurania, a British ocean liner. He gave differing accounts as to his arrival in California.
Ebanks was caught on September 14th by Deputy Sheriff Ward. Ebanks had traveled to San Luis Rey, then on to Vista. The following day he continued southward and spent a night in Mission Valley before hitching a ride on a wagon leaving for Rancho Bernardo. After he arrived near Poway, he left the main road and traveled through thick brush and steep terrain in an apparent effort to elude authorities. Ward eventually tracked him to a cabin where he was arrested and taken to jail in San Diego. One of the first questions Ebanks asked was for something to eat. It was reported he was cheerful and talkative.
When questioned, much of his story corroborated that of his traveling companion; that the two parted ways at the trestle where they had stopped to get water to drink out of some barrels. Garges walked south along the railroad and Ebanks walked along a wagon road. He admitted that he was the one who had tried to flag down Leroy Stiles for a ride, but that Stiles passed him “at a rapid gait.” He continued walking and met up with the German man and the two eventually met up again with Garges.
Ebanks said he had no firearm with which to shoot anyone and declared his innocence in the matter. He said he spotted a woman near a camp who appeared to be swimming, and he want to take a swim in the ocean as well, but had determined the bluff too steep to negotiate and decided against it.
Upon his arrest, one newspaper made an overtly racially prejudiced statement: “[Ebanks’] appearance is against him, as he is a West Indian Negro, with heavy cheekbones, thick lips, small, shrewd eye and a generally sensual face. He speaks with a queer half-French and half-Negro accent, and uses nautical terms in his speech.”
The hunt began for Ebanks’ sack, in which it was believed a firearm was kept. It was eventually brought to light that Ebanks had stolen two guns in Fullerton. One was a white handled Colt 45, along with a belt loaded with ammunition. Several railroad men, including Arthur Steele, section foreman, testified they saw Ebanks carrying a sack, when they saw him and Garges the morning of the murders.
The pistol was found in a canyon near the Stiles campsite and delivered to Constable Ben Hubbert of San Luis Rey. It was wrapped in a shirt with the marking of R.F.G, who was the rightful owner of the two firearms allegedly stolen by Ebanks. Four empty shell cartridges were also found. Even more damning, when Ebanks was captured he was wearing another shirt with the same initials. One additional piece of evidence in the sack was a “ladies’ journal” which had been given to Ebanks by a woman at ranch house he had visited in Orange County.
The murder trial began on January 4, 1896 in San Diego. Newspapers from San Diego, to San Francisco, Sacramento and Reno published daily or weekly coverage. The trial lasted more than 20 days, at a cost of $2,000, which far exceeded the cost of other similar court cases. During the trial Ebanks was described as being impassive but at times “happy and indifferent.”
There was a lot of interest in the trial and Ebanks in particular. The San Diego Bee reported: “There was a larger attendance of spectators yesterday than on any preceding day of the trial of Ebanks, the West Indian mulatto who is on trial before Judge Pierce and a jury for the murder of Mrs. Stiles and her father, John D. Borden. There has been a perceptible increase each day in the number of women in attendance on the trial, and yesterday most of the chairs inside the railing except those used by the jury and counsel, were occupied by women young and old, who evidently enjoyed the testimony.”
R. F. Gibson of Fullerton testified that the white-handled revolver that Ebanks used in the murder was stolen from his room, along with another gun. Both were found in the sack several witnesses had described Ebanks as carrying. Gibson also testified that the shirts, one of which Ebanks was wearing at the time of his arrest, belonged to him and were marked with the letters “R F. G.”
Simon Goldbaum of San Luis Rey testified that Ebanks came to his store on the afternoon of September 10th, the day of the murders and bought lunch. Goldbaum asked the tall stranger if he had beard of the murders at the mussel beds. According to Goldbaum, Ebanks looked down “at the mention of the crime”. Then, inexplicably “looked up and laughed, and replied that he had not heard of the murders.”
William McCrea, testified that he was baling hay at Vista the day of the murders, and that Ebanks came “to his camp between 11 and 12 o’clock at night and asked for work.” He stayed the night with the crew, but left in the morning “without any breakfast in the direction of Escondido.”
Garges, who had no longer been considered a suspect, was detained in San Diego as a witness until late February of 1896. During that time his satchel which contained his watch tools was also taken into evidence. (He was detained 143 days after which he filed a claim against the county for $214.50 at the rate of $1.50 a day. The county instead agreed to pay him just $114.15.)
Garges testified as they were walking south they saw two men fishing in the surf a few hundred feet from the railroad. About a mile farther down they spotted a woman near a tent on the beach. They continued walking about one-fifth of a mile, and came to a trestle where they sat down to rest. Garges said he was anxious to “hurry along”, and left Ebanks sitting on the bridge.
With Garges out of sight, Ebanks want back along the track to a bridge spanning a canyon which opened out on the beach near the tent, and made his way with some difficulty down into the canyon and to the tent. The prosecutor believed that Ebanks’ intention was to assault Harriet Stiles, but her father had returned to the camp by that time. The San Diego Bee reported: “It will never be known just what transpired, for Ebanks in his numerous confessions of the crime never told the story twice the same way. But he could have been at the tent but a moment when he shot Mr. Borden, who fell dead. Ebanks claimed that he was at first inclined to flee without [killing] Mrs. Stiles, but decided that he must take her life if he would himself escape.”
The prosecution had the last word and despite the testimony of 53 witnesses and damning evidence he instead focused the jury on Ebanks looks:
“It has been said that he could have had no motive for killing that poor woman who was alone and defenseless in the little tent—no motive for taking her life as she stood with hands upheld to her God, her last words tremulous in supplication and with a realization that a fiend incarnate stood ready and determined to send into her sick brain the leaden messengers that would sever the tie which bound her to this life. No motive for this hellish deed! Can you not read the motive on his face? Look in his treacherous eyes and on his brow, which bears the curse of his maker as plainly as it was ever born by Cain!”
After the trial concluded, and the jury began its deliberation, The San Diego Union wrote this openly racist account: “While the jury was out deciding his fate, the happy-go-lucky mulatto, who is more animal than man, whiled away the time by playing cards with a Mexican and negro in the jail rooms. When the jury came in and Ebanks was taken before them to hear the verdict of murder in the first degree, he took his seat and twirled his thumbs while everyone in the room fixed their gaze upon him.”
The jury deliberated just three hours. Leroy Stiles, who had sat through the daily testimony, waited in the courtroom into the evening to hear the verdict. Ebanks was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. An immediate appeal was filed.
While awaiting appeal Ebanks actually confessed to the murder of Harriet Stiles and her father. He stated he wanted to clear his conscious and remove any doubt of his guilt. Ebanks’ confession in various versions was published in newspapers across the country from Nebraska to New Jersey.
Ebanks said while walking along the railroad track with Garges, they spotted the tent on the beach. Earlier he had found an orange, ate it and became sick. He went to the tent without Garges to see if he could “get some medicine.” He encountered Mr. Borden and his daughter Harriett and said, “I’m sick; give me something. I feel as if I was dying.”
Ebanks said Mr. Borden noticed that the muzzle of a revolver was showing out of the flour sack he was carrying. Borden walked toward the back of the cot and said he would get something “to relieve” him.
“I do not know that I said anything to the man at all, but it was only just my opinion that the man was then looking for something possibly to shoot me with. He walked away toward the cot and I did not know what he was doing behind the cot. I sat then in the chair and fired at him and I shot the old gentleman. I did not know at that time where I had hit him, but he fell. Then the old lady sung out to me, “My God, he had no gun.” I sat there and I looked at him and I looked at her and I begged her to hitch a team and go away and let me get away. I was sorry for what I had done.
“The woman said to me — I do not just remember the first words that were spoken — but anyway, I said to her, says I, ‘Now I am awful sorry for what I have done, and his own foolishness caused it’; now, says I, ‘what is I going to do about it to get rid of this? The only way out now for me’ — says I — ‘I know your life is sweet and mine is sweet and we all thinks that your life is sweeter to you than mine is to me. I suppose you think so, and says I, ‘I think about the same, I suppose, but the only way out of this for me is to kill you along with him, and for me to make my escape.’
“And I said to the woman, ‘I suppose I ain’t got much time to think this matter over. The best thing for you to do is get to praying for yourself; I may possibly have to shoot you.’
“The woman knelt down by the cot and she stayed there and I dropped tears over that woman; but I thought the only refuge for myself was to shoot that woman. After the woman raised from her knees and turned around, she looked at me and she did not say anything. I held the gun laying across my lap and I shot her; where, I do not know, up until today. She kind of fell back on the cot against something, but I saw she was just in misery. The wound did not kill her–it did not look like it to me–and I shot the woman the second time.
“With that I walked over to the cot where this man was laying to see and to be certain that there was no weapon there that he was looking for to injure me. After examining behind the cot and around the cot and seeing that there was no weapon there, before God I felt worse.
“I walked back to the door and I tried that gun three times in succession to my own breast, but she refused to go. I then turned around, and the old gentleman had some movement in some part of his body, or made me think that he suffered, and I tried it the fourth time on him and she went off, and I think that was the shot that was through his body.”
After his confession he stated his desire to see his family who were living in the West Indies. He then asked that his appeal to be withdrawn and that he was ready to “die any time.”
Notwithstanding his lengthy and detailed confession, Ebanks’ defense team filed three additional appeals, each of which was denied.
His appeals exhausted Ebanks was sentenced once again to die and to be delivered to San Quentin for hanging. Before he was transported from San Diego, it was reported that Ebanks, who had converted to Christianity while in custody, “delivered a sermon to the other prisoners confined in the county jail, and sang and prayed with them. He admonished the men to reform when they were released and lead an upright life. He later made a request for a minister in order that he might be baptized. He was taken north on the Santa Rosa last night by Deputy Sheriff F. M. Jennings and T. H. Scoby.”
On May 27, 1898 Joseph Japhet Ebanks was led from his cell to the gallows. The evening before, he had written a statement declaring his innocence, having retracted his detailed confession in which he had given Mrs. Stiles but a minute to pray for her soul. Yet he resigned himself to die “a brave man”. Ebanks was described as calm when he was readied for execution at 10:30 am. He offered no comment of any kind before he was hanged. The trap floor dropped, the force breaking his neck. Ebanks was pronounced dead 10 minutes later although the newspaper described his death as “instantaneous”. His body was buried in the prison cemetery. Ebanks was one of nine state prisoners executed in California that year.
After the murder of his wife, Leroy R. Stiles went to live with his married daughter in Long Beach. He died in 1913 at the age of 83. He was buried in the same cemetery in Fallbrook with his beloved wife Harriet and her father John. As is sadly the case today, there was more attention placed on the salacious murders than paid to the victims themselves. Little detail was provided about the lives of Harriet Stiles and John Borden but they were truly innocent victims enjoying an idyllic day on a quiet beach when their lives were abruptly and brutally taken.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Defenseless”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Defenseless”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
One quiet night in Oceanside, California a senseless murder was committed with no apparent motive or suspects. Days after the murder, someone claiming to be the killer called local police with an ominous threat that resulted in armed gunmen protecting city busses for several nights in anticipation of another death. But as shocking as it was, the incident slowly faded into obscurity and the murder went unsolved. The case was in fact forgotten about altogether until in 2017 when I stumbled upon a newspaper article while doing research on an unrelated subject. As I continued research on the murder I collected dozens of newspaper articles and discovered that the case had never been solved. I then contacted the Oceanside Police Department who directed me to their Cold Case Detective.
The Murder of Ray Davis
On the evening of April 9, 1962, the Oceanside Police Department received an anonymous telephone call. The unidentified caller stated cryptically: “I am going to pull something here in Oceanside and you will never be able to figure it out.” The call was likely dismissed…until two nights later on April 11th, when a body was discovered and the caller contacted the police again.
Patrolman Terry Stephens discovered the lifeless body of Ray Davis in an alley in the upscale beachside neighborhood of St. Malo at 1:45 am. The night of the murder, Stephens had not yet turned 28 years old, but was already a seasoned police officer. Born in 1934 in Escondido Stephens was raised in Oceanside where he lived nearly all of his life. At the age of 21 he joined the Oceanside Police Department and served on the force for 31 years before he retired.
The victim, Ray Davis was just 29 years old, a native of Michigan. Ray was estranged from his wife Marion, whom he had married in 1953 in Owosso, Michigan. At the time of Ray’s murder she was living in Pomona with two children from a previous marriage.
Ray and his brother Jack had moved to Oceanside in January of 1962. Oceanside had a population of less than 25,000. Jack got a job working at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Ray as a cabdriver for the Checker Cab Company. The brothers were renting a house at 525 South Tremont Street.
Ray Davis was working an evening shift, his cab parked on Mission Avenue in downtown. At 11:10 pm he reported to his dispatcher Lowell Sikes that he was driving a fare to South Oceanside. He never returned or responded to subsequent radio calls.
Ray’s body had been dumped in the alley behind 1926 South Pacific Street, the home of Oceanside’s former Mayor Joe MacDonald. Across the street was the home of Oceanside’s current Mayor Erwin Sklar. This was not a neighborhood familiar with violent crime, let alone murder. (Note: Few people realize that St. Malo does not begin behind its iconic gated archway, but also includes the 1900 block of South Pacific Street.)
Davis had been shot once in the back, through the driver’s seat, and once in the back of the head. His assailant unceremoniously pulled him out of the cab and drove away. Robbery did not appear to be a motive as Davis had a modest amount of cash in both his wallet and shirt pocket.
The bloodied cab was discovered at 6:30 am, left in the alley of the 400 block of South Pacific Street with its meter showing a $2.20 fare. On scene Detective Don Brown found a third shot had been fired through the windshield of the taxi.
On the front seat of the abandoned cab was a paperback novel, “Dance With the Dead.” Written in 1960 by Richard S. Prather, it featured a private detective who solved crimes, all the while encountering scantily clad women…very campy stuff.
Davis was taken to the Seaside Mortuary at 802 South Pacific Street where an autopsy was performed by L. H. Fairchild of the San Diego County Coroner’s Office. Two .22 caliber bullets were removed and given to Oceanside Police Detective Floyd R. Flowers.
The following day, April 12th, both the Oceanside Blade Tribune and San Diego Union Tribune newspapers reported the murder along with the fact that police had no motive or suspect. The story of Ray’s murder was also published in several Southern California newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. In Ray’s home state of Michigan, at least three newspapers reported the murder of Ray Davis. No mention was made of the mysterious phone call of April 9 as the Oceanside Police Department had not released that information.
Funeral services for Ray Davis were held at the Oceanside Church of God on April 13th. He was buried in a plot located in the “Sunset Slope” at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Virginia Davis, his bereaved mother, flew from Michigan to Oceanside for the services.
On April 16th the Oceanside Police Department disclosed to the public that an unknown person had called them on April 9th with a veiled threat that they now linked to the murder of Ray Davis. The second phone call came with a frightening warning.
Police Chief William H. Wingard described the caller as a possible “deranged killer” and released the contents of the call: “Do you remember me calling you last week and telling you that I was going to pull a real baffling crime? I killed the cab driver and I am going to get me a bus driver next.”
Who, but the original caller, would have known about the initial message? Who would taunt the police in such a way?
This threat was not taken lightly, considering the unknown caller seemed to have made good on his last one. Chief Wingard stated: “We have no reason to disbelieve the calls.”
In response to the threat, the Oceanside Police Department took measures to protect all city busses and armed military police were put on each bus going aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The newspaper reported that Frank Lilly, Oceanside’s City Manager gave Oscar Hatle, Bus Superintendent “blanket authority to take whatever steps necessary.” The unusual aspects of the murder and the unprecedented response of armed guards were big news. The story was widely distributed by the Associated Press and United Press International.
Three days passed without incident. Guards were removed from the busses, but on so-called “lonely routes” the bus company assigned two drivers. Oscar Hatle commented: “The situation still exists. We are taking no unnecessary chances.”
The police had no motive and scant evidence. They were desperate to solve the murder. Several people were questioned and released. One reported suspect was a fellow cabdriver, Charles Schofield, but the accusation had no foundation.
On May of 1962 an arrest was made of four Marines for armed robbery, but neither their prints nor ballistics matched. Another armed robbery suspect was arrested in November but again, the fingerprints were not a match.
The murder was all but forgotten about except for the Davis family. Years passed, then decades. Ray’s brother Jack died in 1990. Ray’s mother died in 1995 and was buried at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Ray had no biological children. After the death of his brother and mother there was no one left to remember.
Work of the Zodiac?
It is only speculative, but it is still worth noting that seven years after Ray Davis’s murder, a killer known as the Zodiac would mimic the same deadly scenario. In 1969 he shot and killed a taxi driver in San Francisco, contacted police taking credit for it and then threatened to target a bus, in this instance one full of children.
The Zodiac killed his victims in a variety of ways and weapons, including a .22 caliber gun (as in the murder of Ray Davis). It is believed that the Zodiac may have been in the military. It is now surmised that one of his first victims may have been Cheri Jo Bates, who was murdered in Riverside, California in 1966. While there are several theories surrounding Zodiac, is it too far-fetched to believe that perhaps he started his killing spree in Oceanside?
Many serial killers are known to taunt or toy with police and certainly this was the case with Ray’s murderer. Serial killers taunt because they crave the attention, they want the notoriety and many times they are convinced of their own superiority over law enforcement.
Theories and conjecture aside, to this day the murder of Ray Davis remains unsolved. It is likely the killer is dead … even if he was just 25 years of age in 1962, he would be 83 years old in 2020. Many of the police officers and detectives who worked so diligently to try to solve the case and protect the residents of Oceanside have passed. However, Roy K. Smith, a retired police captain, remembers the case as he was working the morning watch the night of the murder.
I first brought this case to the attention of Tom Heritage, a semi-retired law enforcement officer working part time in the Oceanside Police Department’s Cold Case files. Soon after his brief review of the file, Heritage permanently retired and moved out of the area. Detective Sylvia Guzman O’Brien then headed the department and she took a more thorough look into the unsolved murder.
In December of 2019 Detective O’Brien sent the latent fingerprint cards collected at the scene for entry into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). The Oceanside Police Department has kept silent about those results.
There may be DNA evidence. The murderer pulled Davis’ lifeless body out of the front seat of the cab by his belt loop but it is unknown if the evidence is sufficient to create a profile.
Detective O’Brien retired in 2021 and it is unclear if anyone is actively working this murder which is now 60 years old. The Oceanside Police Department solved a 27-year-old case in February of 2022, the stabbing death of Dolores Rabaya in 1994.
Regardless if there is a tie or link to the Zodiac killings, Ray Davis still deserves justice. Even if the killer has since died, perhaps this case could be solved through ancestral DNA forensics.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
“WAS HE INSANE, IS HE INSANE NOW?” That was the actual headline of a print ad for Curran Real Estate in the 1920s. This unconventional advertisement was written by William Edward Curran, a local Oceanside businessman with an uncontrollable temper, who would do the unthinkable: commit murder.
Curran’s curious and odd newspaper ad went on to say: “I was called insane by some of the Oceanside mossbanks when I started to improve the James property. Take a look at it now. A few more green spots like this will make our city. Come one and all, it’s great to be crazy”.
later his attorney would argue in court that Curran was indeed insane.
Edward Curran came to Oceanside from Ohio in 1919. A married man and father of
two sons, he had a junk business. Soon afterwards he ventured into real estate,
which by all appearances was a successful enterprise.
May 26, 1886, in Pocahontas, Virginia, Curran’s parents moved to Cleveland,
Ohio by 1900. William E. Curran’s earliest occupation was that of a decorator
or wall paper hanger. William Edward married Anna Hayer in Cleveland in 1911
and their sons Richard and Frank were both born in Ohio.
after the Curran family settled in Oceanside, William purchased three lots near
the corner of Third and Myers Streets (Third is now Pier View Way). He later
acquired a business located at the corner of Third and Pacific Street called
the “Fox Den” which was a lucrative beach concession during the
summer months because of its proximity to the Oceanside Pier.
joined the local Chamber of Commerce but soon found himself at odds with one of
the directors. In June of 1922 he wrote an editorial calling out Secretary
Thomas Bakewell, saying “I think you are a joke” because Bakewell did not
endorse Curran’s idea of promoting Oceanside as an area rich with oil deposits.
He was later involved in a lawsuit regarding such claims.
unorthodox ideas and self-promotion might have been successful in getting a dig
in at his critics’ expense, it was apparent that his arrogance did not win him
friends or supporters. In July of 1922 Curran unsuccessfully ran for city
However eccentric Curran appeared to be, he soon proved to be volatile as well. In 1923 he was arrested and placed in jail after being charged with battery against Vere Scheunemann, a 16-year-old local boy. Curran was 37 years old at the time of the assault. He was a large man standing 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, and at one time was an amateur boxer by the name of “Red Kenney”. On the day of the vicious attack, William Curran knocked out three of the young man’s front teeth, but after hiring an attorney was able to get out of jail on bail. His attorney petitioned the court to have the trial moved because Curran said that he couldn’t get a fair trial in Oceanside “owing to a prejudice in the community against him.” One month later Curran was arrested again for disturbing the peace. He again asked for a change of venue because of “prejudice against him.”
his erratic and violent behavior, Curran ran for city council in 1924. Not
surprisingly, he lost the election. He was a regular attendee at council
meetings, at which he voiced his concerns over competition from other beach
concessionaires. He was also a proponent of building a new pier made entirely
of concrete. The city council balked at the suggestion because of the “prohibitive cost.” The newspaper reported that W. E. Curran was
undaunted and “advocated this type of construction regardless of the cost
and addressed the board to that effect, but his suggestion met with no favor.”
unstable behavior continued when in 1925 Curran found himself again in court as
a defendant after he assaulted Frank Graff, in a dispute over a fish business
near the pier.
though his reputation appeared to be ruined, Curran unapologetically ran again for
city council in 1930 stating: “My platform is reduction of taxes and to halt
further improvements for the present. I also am strongly in favor of home
labor. Being a large property owner in Oceanside, and always a staunch booster
for the welfare of the City, my interests are yours.” He was not elected.
is known of the outcomes of Curran’s previous run-ins with the law or any
particular consequence he faced except for being ostracized. However, one
encounter with Curran years later would have a deadly outcome.
summer evening in 1944, two Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton stopped or
walked through Curran’s property at 107 Third Street (Pier View Way) where
Curran was living in a two-story building, which served both as a storefront as
well as his home.
The two men were on the way to view a side-show of sorts, where a two-headed cow was on display inside a tent, just east of Curran’s home and vacant lot. Curran spotted the Marines and believed that they were going to siphon his gasoline. Fuel was a hot commodity because gasoline and other items were rationed and in short supply during World War II.
to Curran’s account, he ordered the men off of his property and they became
combative. Curran then went inside his home to retrieve an unloaded gun and
confronted the Marines again. Despite being armed with a gun, the Marines
became more aggressive and came after him, according to Curran. He then ran back
into the home, threw down the gun and grabbed “some object”. That object was a “commando style” knife,
with a brass knuckle handle which Curran took with him to challenge the men. He
ran back to the Marines, “a scuffle ensued” and Corporal Erwin E. Koch was
stabbed three times, including a fatal blow straight to the heart. Koch fell to
the ground, bleeding profusely while his fellow Marine, Corporal August N.
Heveker, tried to render aid.
police arrived, Curran hid the weapon in a pile of boxes and empty bottles
behind his home. He later produced a small knife to the police but it was
apparent that the deadly wound had been made by a much larger knife. The police
on the scene included Police Chief William L. Coyle and Captain Harold B. Davis,
who found the bloodied murder weapon after a 30 minute search, where Curran had
died of his wounds and was taken to the Oceanside Mortuary at 602 South Hill
Street (now Coast Highway). There the police discovered a letter Koch had
written to his wife in Nebraska soaked in blood. Koch was just 29 years old,
and in addition to his grieving wife, left behind two small children. Family
back in his home town of Eustis, Nebraska were stunned and left to wonder of
the circumstances that took the life of their beloved son, husband and brother.
Erwin’s widow, Otalee Elizabeth, would later remarry.
Curran was arrested by local police and questioned, when he then claimed that
the Marines had followed him into his home, pushed him down and struck him in
the head. He was taken down to San Diego for an inquest just days later at
which Corporal August Heveker testified to the details leading up to the
“We had been out on the
Oceanside pier and had come up Third Street preparatory to entering a side show
to see a two-headed cow. Wishing to urinate before entering the show, we went
back along a building about 20 feet. As we did so, a man yelled to us from the
rear doorway, ordering us off. We left the place where we were standing and
went to the sidewalk toward the tent, going back again on the vacant lot just
west of the tent, believing we were off this man’s property. The man came out
again, this time with a gun in his hands. We started off again, and as we
neared the sidewalk, I happened to look back and saw this man coming toward us
with a shining instrument in his hand. I called for Koch to duck, and I ran
forward to the walk. Koch was between the man and me, and did not have time to
even turn around. As he fell, he yelled he had been stabbed.”
Heveker went on to
testify that the two had never followed after Curran, entered his home or
struck him. Police testified at the inquest saying that Curran had no marks or
cuts on him, although he did hold his head as though he were injured. There was
no evidence of a scuffle, as Curran had claimed, only a pool of blood on the
vacant lot where Koch was attacked.
The jury at the inquest
found Curran responsible for the death of Koch. The murder trial was held the
following month in July and Curran testified in his own defense. Inexplicably,
Curran left the stand, walked up to August Heveker and shouted: “That man lied
about me. Anyone could look at his face and tell that he was lying. He pushed
Koch towards me and incited him to attack me. He is responsible for Koch being
stabbed. After I struck Koch, he took two steps away from me and sagged to his
knees. After he fell, this man Heveker tried to drag his body off my property.”
Curran was found guilty
of second-degree murder. Defense witnesses included Curran’s brothers Frank and
Clarence, his wife Annie and his sister Mary. Oceanside’s Mayor Ted Holden,
Curran’s attorney James B. Abbey, along with the County Psychiatrist, also
testified that Curran was insane. The witnesses provided a number of incidents
to prove up their allegations that the Curran was “mentally unbalanced.” The
very next day the same jury that found him guilty of murder, determined that
Curran was insane. The newspaper reported that Curran would be sent to a “state
asylum for the criminally insane.”
Erwin Eugene Koch was
laid to rest in the Eustis East Cemetery, in Eustis, Nebraska, a small town of
600, settled by German immigrants. A military headstone marks his grave. When
Koch went in the Marine Corps during wartime, his family might have worried
about the dangers that might befall him. He wasn’t killed in war by a foreign
enemy, but by a fellow countryman.
It is unknown how long William Curran was actually confined and when or if he was deemed “sane”. But by by March of 1950 he was back in Oceanside and still owned the property where the murder occurred. Curran’s son, Frank Earl Curran, was elected as Mayor of San Diego, serving from 1963 and 1971. William Edward Curran died on July 19, 1963. He was interred at Eternal Hills Memorial Park, in Oceanside, along with his wife who later died in 1989.