Murder Santa Maria Style
By: Mark Riddering.
In Santa Maria many opportunities were available to try several different facets of police work. An environment rich with various crimes. One stop was as a detective assigned to investigate â€œCrimes Against Childrenâ€. Because I was low in seniority I was also given the list of missing persons. Normally not a big deal until one Monday afternoon my friend Corporal Felix Esparza called me. He explained a young woman was missing in a suspicious manner. The missing girl, by the name of â€œAnnâ€, was reported to be missing by her coworker at the local YMCA. The coworker was suspicious of Annâ€™s common-law boyfriend, â€œJamesâ€. The couple had a 5-year-old daughter; however, things were not well in their relationship. Ann was missing since Sunday morning but James didnâ€™t call the police department.
The coworker explained that Ann was a hard working girl with two jobs she worked to support her daughter. She just received a promotion at one job enough to reduce to one full time job. The girls at the YMCA went out to celebrate the Friday night before she became missing. At the celebration Ann shared she was going to finally separate from James. She had tried several times for over a year to get James to leave but the unemployed -occasional drug user would not leave easily. Annâ€™s coworker had gone to Annâ€™s home to ascertain why Ann didnâ€™t go to work Monday morning and James seemed nervous. The coworker entered the house and saw Annâ€™s daughter, purse, keys, and makeup still at the house. Annâ€™s car was in the driveway and the coworker said Ann never left home without makeup and would never leave her child without telling someone. James invited the coworker on a date as she left.
Corporal Esparza met me at Annâ€™s house and we contacted James. He was a large young man that became nervous at our presence. The home actually belonged to Annâ€™s father who allowed Ann and her child to live there for free. The longer we spoke to James the more he squirmed. We walked into Annâ€™s room and noticed no bedspread on her bed and all of her things seemed to be present. As we confronted James he got very nervous but maintained Ann left and just never came home and he was watching their daughter. We left to do some checking.
Annâ€™s father lived in Reno and had no regard for James. He asked we secure his home, and remove James, until Ann was located. A coworker described Ann and the jewelry she normally wore. The detective supervisor, Bill Ryle was notified. Several detectives returned to the house and found James entertaining friends. He was quite upset when we asked him to leave. We spoke to Jamesâ€™s friends but they claimed to never have met Ann. James had a scheduled wrist surgery the next day and went to a friendâ€™s home with his daughter. We secured Annâ€™s home.
The next day one of the female friends of James called. She explained she drove James to his surgery in nearby Santa Barbara but the surgery was canceled. The friend said James asked to go to a pawn dealer before returning to Santa Maria. There he tried pawning some of Annâ€™s jewelry, but couldnâ€™t get a price he wanted. This struck this friend as very peculiar behavior. We also found a paralegal who had drawn up a restraining order against James by Ann. Ann planned to change her locks to keep James out without permission. She feared James was stalking her. One date she had while Ann and James were separated resulted in Annâ€™s datesâ€™ vehicle burned by arson and James vehicle was seen speeding away. Ann hoped to remain separated from James but wanted her daughter to know her father.
It was learned James was a small time drug seller/user. He and Ann both did allot of partying allot when young but things changed for Ann when she became pregnant. She stopped that lifestyle but James continued on. He sold drugs from the garage and Ann caught him having sexual relationships exchanging drugs for sex more than once. We spoke to Ann and Jamesâ€™ young daughter at her preschool. She said she went to a YMCA sleep over. The next morning Ann picked her up. The daughter said when she returned home her parents argued. She watched cartoons and her parents argued in her mommyâ€™s room. She heard her mommy scream but James wouldnâ€™t let her come into the bedroom. The daughter never saw her mother again. Everyone we spoke to emphasized Ann would never just leave her daughter especially with James as the only caretaker. People at the YMCA that saw Ann pick up her daughter Saturday morning said Ann was happy and appeared in good spirits.
We interviewed James at SMPD several times. James had many lies and inconsistencies in his story. He explained on Saturday he hoped to take Ann on a date but she said she was going out with someone else that night and sounded happy. James went with a friend to Santa Barbara and was upset. He drank heavy at a bar and was arrested for Drunk Driving on his way home. The arresting officer said James blamed Ann for the DUI because she was on a date. James drinking buddy confirmed he was mad at Ann as he drank.
James told us he didnâ€™t have access to Annâ€™s money. However we found the day after Ann was missing her account had ATM withdrawals 8 times from various banks. Later we confronted James saying he was seen on banking surveillance tapes. The cameras were in place but not turned on. James had called the banks LA corporate office and they informed him the cameras worked well. In truth the LA cameras work continually but are not turned on in Santa Maria. James admitted withdrawing the money and lying. He left his daughter unattended as he drove from bank to bank the night Ann became missing. He continued to deny knowing anything about Annâ€™s disappearance.
The media jumped on this story with both feet. People volunteered to search with the local search and rescue. Commander Ryle coordinated the investigation, search and rescue, and the press. The buzz around town was what could have become of Ann. The suspicion fell on James and he didnâ€™t like it. It seemed like every woman in town was upset and interested in this case. We obtained search warrants for his vehicles and a sisterâ€™s residence where James lived. Some of Annâ€™s jewelry was given to this sister, which we recovered. James was asked to leave this sisters residence by his sister and he subsequently moved to a friendâ€™s house.
One day a woman called saying her phone had a temporary party line with a man talking about the missing woman that sounded like the women reported in the news. It turned out to be James who was at a neighborâ€™s house. We obtained a search warrant for this home and found James gave the woman at this home more of Annâ€™s jewelry as payment for staying there. This jewelry was found to be the jewelry described as always being worn by Ann and was seen on Ann by coworkers the Friday before she was missing.
The prosecutor we consulted was the head of the District Attorneys office in Santa Maria, Christie Stanley â€“ a great lawyer who became a good friend. She agreed to proceed with a circumstantial murder case on James. We arrested him and he obtained a lawyer. Eventually discussions for a plea deal were made. One Friday the defense lawyer agreed to a dealâ€¦. James would reveal what happened and the location of Annâ€™s body for a lesser sentence. The defense lawyer wanted to do the deal on Monday. I pleaded to do the agreement immediately to give an end to this for Annâ€™s family, but I was turned down. However, that Sunday a cellmate of James called us to share what James had told him in jail. He explained James came to Annâ€™s house after his DUI arrest and Ann was happy about her recent date. This further added to Jamesâ€™s anger. They argued and James began choking Ann. James said he blacked out and when he came to Ann was dead. Yeah right… He waited till the night and took Ann, some wood and diesel fuel in his 4X4 to Pismo Beach and burned her. Afterwards he put her remains in a plastic bag and threw them in the rural Twitch ell reservoir.
We searched Pismo Beach and collected bags of bones probably animal and BBQ bones. A dive team, search and rescue, and a cadaver smelling dog found Annâ€™s body at the reservoir. The dog located the remains on the shore of the reservoir. Dental records confirmed we found Ann.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriffs urged us to transport Annâ€™s remains to SMPD and turn them over to the Coroner of Santa Barbara County. We followed this suggestion not knowing there is some law that only the Coroner can authorize the transport of remains. The Coroner threatened to arrest the person or persons responsible for moving Annâ€™s remains to SMPD. All this and I had 3 bags of unknown bones from Pismo Beach. Eventually the Corner relaxed and we worked together.
We got the jailhouse informant out of jail only for him to get go out and get drunk, into a fight and back in jail. The jailers were unhappy with his behavior and I requested they give him a Gideon Bible when he became sober. The next morning I found him reading the Bible. He said, I thought I had it tough but boy this Job (pronounced like a persons work) guy, boy he really had it bad.
James plead guilty receiving a 20+yr sentence. Annâ€™s daughter was raised by Christian grandparents and is said to be a sweet and smart Christian girl. For months my beloved wife and incredible children kept me going. I will always be in their debt. This case consumed me for months day and night. DA Stanley commented a light shinned in front of this case and kept the case alive. I thank God the case was solved. Itâ€™s His justice all the way!!! â€œSoli Deo Gloriaâ€ â€“To God be the Glory! Unfortunately Ann was murdered; however, the killer was brought to justice. Annâ€™s daughter has been raised in peace in Santa Maria with family in a Christian home. Sheâ€™s excelled in school. She was raised in a way that Ann was working hard to accomplish.