Killer tales: Orange County’s most notorious murder cases

We live in the land of sunshine, sandy beaches and opportunity.

And, sometimes, bizarre murders.

“Dateline NBC” recently aired a two-hour segment exploring the crimes of Costa Mesa community theater actor Daniel Wozniak, convicted of beheading a neighbor to pay for his upcoming wedding and facing a possible death sentence in March.

Wozniak staged the double murder to make it appear one victim sexually molested the other; he cut off one victim’s head and tossed it in a park, then he calmly walked onto a Fullerton stage and performed in the starring role in a musical.

“There’s nothing wrong with his head,” prosecutor Matt Murphy told jurors during the December trial. “It’s what’s wrong with Daniel Wozniak’s heart.”

Some of America’s most heartless killers have prowled our streets. We’ve fallen prey to the Night Stalker, the Freeway Killer and the Folsom Wolf. We’ve had murderers who licked their victim’s blood; who boiled their victim’s head; and who saved a victim’s body as a trophy.

Then there’s Randy Kraft, Orange County’s most prolific serial killer. He raped, tortured and killed as many as 65 young men and only was caught when a patrolman pulled him over on I-5 – and found a dead Marine in the passenger seat.

Here are 15 of Orange County’s most notorious cases.

Campus gunman

Who: Edward Charles Allaway

When: July 12, 1976

Where: Cal State Fullerton

What: Shortly before 7 a.m., Allaway, a Cal State Fullerton janitor who had served in the Marines, carried a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle into the campus library basement.

The 37-year-old with a history of mental illness methodically walked room to room, firing indiscriminately at colleagues starting their workday.

At the time, it was the bloodiest rampage in Orange County history. It was over in five minutes.

He shot nine people, reloading as he went, and killed seven. Two victims staggered outside before they fell dead. The rest lay scattered on the basement floor.

Allaway then drove to a nearby Hilton Inn Hotel where his estranged wife worked. He called police and surrendered.

The former Sunday school teacher claimed that delusions sparked the attack. A judge later found Allaway not guilty by reason of insanity and he remains in a state mental hospital.

Through the years, he has petitioned to go free, claiming he is cured and no longer dangerous. Each time, prosecutors successfully argued to keep Allaway locked up.

Freeway Killer

Who: William Bonin

When: 1979-80

Where: Los Angeles and Orange counties

What: Bonin raped, tortured and murdered 21 boys along Southern California freeways over a 10-month period. Most were hitchhikers whom he lured into his green van and strangled.

His youngest victim was Jimmy Macabe, 12, of Garden Grove, who was abducted while waiting for a bus to Disneyland. One of the oldest victims was grocery clerk Darin Lee Kendrick, 19, of Stanton, who was abducted while gathering shopping carts in the supermarket parking lot.

Bonin, a truck driver from Downey, raped his victims, then dumped their bodies along the road. For this, he was nicknamed the Freeway Killer.

After his arrest, Bonin confessed, telling one TV reporter: “I couldn’t stop killing. It got easier with each one we did.”

Bonin, a Vietnam veteran, was convicted of four murders in Orange County and 10 in Los Angeles County. On Feb. 23, 1996, he was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison.

‘Dating Game’ contestant

Who: Rodney James Alcala

When: June 20, 1979

Where: Huntington Beach

What: Alcala already was a convicted child rapist when he appeared on TV’s “The Dating Game” in 1978 – and won.

No one knew or even suspected that in the previous year, he had murdered three women.

The long-haired former photographer used his camera to approach women, witnesses later would testify, and once he gained their trust, he raped, beat and strangled them.

A year after the TV show, Alcala murdered a fourth woman, in Burbank, then cruised Huntington Beach, looking for a younger victim. He found her in a 12-year-old blond dancer pedaling her bicycle to ballet class. Alcala pulled out his camera and went to work.

That day, June 20, 1979, he abducted young Robin Samsoe near her Huntington Beach home. Twelve days later, her skeletal remains turned up in a ravine in the Angeles National Forest.

When investigators learned that Alcala had photographed the girl just hours before she disappeared, they arrested him.

Twice Alcala was sentenced to death and twice his convictions were overturned on appeal. In 2009, Alcala returned to court a third time, facing five murder counts.

Alcala represented himself. He conceded the murders of four women but steadfastly denied killing Robin Samsoe. During closing arguments, however, he played the song, “Alice’s Restaurant,” in which singer Arlo Guthrie sings the line: “I want to kill.”

Alcala was convicted of all five killings and sentenced to death. He awaits execution.

Computer consultant-turned- serial killer

Who: Randy Kraft

When: 1983

Where: Mission Viejo

What: In the early hours of May 13, 1983, California Highway Patrol officers pulled over a brown Toyota Celica slowly weaving along the freeway in Mission Viejo.

A driver emerged and approached officers. They escorted him back to his car where they found a strangled Marine in the passenger seat, and a coded “death list” in the trunk, said to be the names of all his victims.

Kraft’s arrest ended an 11-year stretch in which he drugged, sexually tortured and strangled up to 65 young men, many with their own belts.

Kraft, a 38-year-old Long Beach computer consultant, targeted young drifters and Marines he found hitchhiking. He plied them with alcohol and sedatives, usually Valium, until they couldn’t fight back.

In 1989, Kraft was convicted of 16 murders after an 11-month trial, at the time the longest and costliest criminal proceeding in Orange County history.

His family and colleagues described him as a hardworking computer expert who organized his father’s 83rd birthday party and served as an usher at his niece’s wedding – a man who liked playing bridge and pinochle with buddies.

In 1989, as he was led from court after being sentenced to death, the father of one victim yelled out to him: “Burn in hell, Kraft.”

He remains on death row at San Quentin Prison.

‘Something in the water’

Who: Dixie Dyson

When: Nov. 18, 1984

Where: Huntington Beach

What: Dyson insisted that her sleeping husband was stabbed to death by a masked intruder who then raped her and forced her to drive him away.

Huntington Beach detectives were unconvinced. Why had Dyson conveniently slept in another room that night? Why was there no blood on her or her car? Why did she wait several hours to call police to their Huntington Harbour condo?

Prosecutors alleged that the 44-year-old Dyson plotted with her lover and another man to kill her husband in his sleep – and collect $135,000 in life insurance. An Orange County jury convicted her of first-degree murder in 1988.

Strangely enough, Dyson was not the only wife who hired a hit man to kill her husband in Huntington Beach in 1984. Two others did the same thing:

Jeanette Hughes was convicted of having husband Jim Hughes shot to death as he slept in their bed. And Anita Ford was convicted of arranging the killing of husband Barry Ford, who was found shot to death in an industrial park.

Local police were flabbergasted; premeditated spousal murders are rare. Statewide, 57 women killed their husbands in 1984, and many of those killings occurred during a fight or argument.

In all three Huntington Beach cases, detectives alleged, the women conspired with male friends to kill their husbands for insurance money.

“We hadn’t seen anything like that before,” Detective Richard Hooper said in 1988. “And then all of a sudden, we’ve got three of them in a row.”

Dyson’s defense attorney, Andrew Stein, said at the time: “It’s just weird. There must be something in the water.”

After her trial, Dyson cooperated in the prosecution of her lover, Enrico Vasquez, and his pal, Ira Lamb, and her conviction was reduced to second-degree murder.

Dyson was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. She has been denied parole several times, and is eligible again this year.

Night Stalker

Who: Richard Ramirez

When: 1984-85

Where: Southern California

What: A Mission Viejo woman awoke to the sound of gunshots in her bedroom on the night of Aug. 25, 1985. An intruder shot her fiancé three times in the head, then raped her in the bed beside him.

“You know who I am, don’t you?” he said, making her swear to Satan. “I am the Night Stalker.”

For more than a year, Ramirez, a 25-year-old drifter from Texas, terrorized Southern California in a rampage of murder, rape, mutilation and sodomy.

The press nicknamed him the Night Stalker because he sneaked into homes at night through unlocked doors and windows. He killed his victims with handguns, knives, a machete, a tire iron and a hammer.

Mission Viejo gunshot victim William Carns miraculously survived, as did his fiancée, whom Ramirez left tied up on the floor of their Mediterranean Village apartment.

As Ramirez drove away, she struggled to a window and got a description of his orange Toyota station wagon that led to his arrest.

In 1989, Ramirez was sentenced to death for killing 13 people. While on death row at San Quentin, he got married – something Carns and his fiancée never did after the trauma they endured.

In 2013, Ramirez died of complications from B-cell lymphoma while awaiting execution.

Folsom Wolf and the cocktail waitress

Who: James Marlow and Cynthia Coffman

When: 1986

Where: Huntington Beach

What: On Nov. 12, 1986, college student Lynell Murray missed a dinner date with her boyfriend. He drove to her workplace, a Huntington Beach dry cleaner, found it ransacked and called police to report her disappearance.

About the same time, James Marlow and Cynthia Coffman used Murray’s credit card to check into Room 307 of the Huntington Beach Inn.

That night, they raped and strangled Murray, 19, and left her body in the bathtub. About midnight, the couple dined on shrimp and steak at a Denny’s restaurant in Ontario.

Marlow was an ex-convict from Kentucky known as the Folsom Wolf after serving time at Folsom Prison. Coffman was a former cocktail waitress who’d tattooed the words “Property of the Folsom Wolf” on her buttocks.

Five days earlier, the couple had abducted and killed Redlands insurance clerk Corrina Novis, 20, and buried her in a vineyard.

Two days after Murray’s death, police traced Marlow and Coffman to a Big Bear lodge and arrested them on a hiking trail – both in clothes stolen from the dry cleaner where they had abducted Murray at gunpoint.

Both were sentenced to death for Novis’ murder. Marlow was sentenced to death and Coffman was sentenced to life in prison without parole for Murray’s murder. Both remain in prison.

Daughter took the rap

Who: David Arnold Brown

When: March 19, 1985

Where: Garden Grove

What: David Brown was out buying comic books – he made sure of that – when his 14-year-old daughter climbed on his bed and shot his wife, Linda, twice in the chest.

When police arrived at the family’s Garden Grove home, officers found Cinnamon Brown, 14, lying in her own vomit in the doghouse, clutching a note that read: “Dear God, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

A visibly shaken David Brown, 36, said he went out that night to get away from the bickering between his wife and daughter.

Cinnamon confessed, and was sent to the California Youth Authority in Camarillo.

Case closed. Or was it?

While she languished in prison, her computer-whiz father collected $850,000 in life insurance. He secretly married his dead wife’s 17-year-old sister, Patti Bailey. He drove new cars and bought new homes.

And he stopped visiting the daughter he once implored: “If you loved me, you would do this for me.”

In 1988, the teenager told detectives that her father and Bailey had plotted the murder, assuring her that she was too young to go to prison. They gave her a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson and prescription medicines to take that night.

Both Cinnamon Brown and Bailey testified against David Brown in his 1990 trial, which spawned a made-for-TV movie and two true-crime books. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He died in 2014.

Cinnamon Brown served eight years before she was released.

Trophy murder

Who: John Famalaro

When: June 3, 1991

Where: Costa Mesa

What: She just vanished one night. Newport Beach waitress Denise Huber was returning home from a Morrissey concert when her Honda had a blowout about 2 a.m. on the 73.

Friends found her car just south of Bear Street in Costa Mesa. But there was no sign of Huber for more than three years – until Arizona authorities found her decomposed body in a freezer belonging to Famalaro, a former Lake Forest house painter.

As a child, Famalaro was spanked at home and bullied at school. As an adult, he stalked one girlfriend and handcuffed another. Then in the early morning hours of June 3, 1991, he saw Huber, 23, stranded along the freeway.

Famalaro took her to a Laguna Hills warehouse he rented and shattered her skull.

He then devised a way to preserve the body as a “trophy” – to remind him of his conquest, prosecutor Christopher Evans said at trial.

Famalaro ordered a new Montgomery Ward freezer and had it delivered to the Laguna Hills warehouse where he lived at the time. Over the next three years, Famalaro moved the 23-cubic-foot, chest-style freezer to other storage sheds, always insisting the power be kept on. In 1994, he took the freezer with him to Arizona, where investigators found Huber’s frozen body. Inside the house, they found her clothes and purse inside a box marked “Christmas decorations.”

In 1997, a jury took less than six hours to convict Famalaro of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death and remains on death row.

House of horrors

Who: Omaima Nelson

When: 1991

Where: Costa Mesa

What: When she married on Nov. 1, 1991, Egyptian model Nelson thought she’d found the man of her dreams in William Nelson, 56, who had been a Marine pilot.

“He was a gentleman who would open the door for me and take me out to dinner,” she’d later say.

But four weeks after their union, Omaima, 24, bludgeoned her new husband to death with a clothes iron and boiled his head.

When police entered their Elden Avenue apartment on Dec. 2, 1991, they walked into a macabre house of horrors that included bloody sheets, a butcher knife and four trash bags stuffed with William Nelson’s body parts. A fifth trash bag, holding his vital organs, was stashed in his red Corvette parked outside the Sus Casitas Apartments.

In court, Omaima claimed that William sexually abused her and that she killed him to stop a string of rapes and beatings.

She admitted to chopping him into pieces and hiding some parts with leftover Thanksgiving turkey. She boiled her husband’s head and hands in water and told a psychologist that she added spices and tasted it.

In 1993, she was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 28 years to life in prison.

“I’m sorry I dismembered his body,” she said at her 2011 parole hearing. “I freaked out. I was temporarily insane.”

She is eligible for parole in 2026.

Bedroom Basher

Who: Gerald Parker

When: 1970s

Where: Costa Mesa, Tustin and Anaheim

What: He almost got away with six murders – while an innocent man languished in prison 16 years for the crime.

Parker raped and murdered five Orange County women in the 1970s, earning the nickname the Bedroom Basher because he bludgeoned his victims with a hammer, a mallet or a two-by-four.

On Sept. 30, 1979, he left his sixth victim, a pregnant Tustin woman, Dianna Green, in a monthlong coma. When she awoke, she accused her husband, U.S. Marine Kevin Lee Green, 22, of beating her for refusing sex.

Kevin Green insisted he’d gone to get a hamburger and saw a man loitering near their apartment, but jurors didn’t believe him. For more than 16 years he sat in prison – as Parker eluded justice.

Then in 1996, investigators gained access to a new DNA database featuring samples of 65,000 convicted criminals. The same name – Gerald Parker – popped up for six unsolved Orange County murders, including the attack that killed Dianna Green’s unborn child.

Parker, in prison at the time for a parole violation, confessed to all six attacks.

In 1998, he was convicted of six counts or rape, six counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree attempted murder. He was sentenced to death, and remains on death row.

‘America’s Little Girl’

Who: Alejandro Avila

When: 2002

Where: Stanton

What: Five-year-old Samantha Runnion finished dinner on July 15, 2002, and ran outside to play.

She and a friend were playing “Clue” in the Smoke Tree apartment complex in Stanton, when a man drove up in a green Honda. He’d lost a puppy, he said. As Samantha approached, he grabbed her and threw her in the car.

“Help me! Tell my grandmother!” were her last words.

The next day, hikers found her body off the Ortega Highway.

“Don’t sleep. Don’t eat,” Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona warned her killer on TV. “We’re coming after you.”

President George W. Bush ordered federal resources available and more than 100 FBI agents joined 300 Orange County sheriff’s deputies in tracking the killer of “America’s Little Girl.”

Investigators later found Samantha’s DNA, probably from her tears, in a car belonging to Avila, a Lake Elsinore man previously accused of molesting two young girls. And they found his DNA under Samantha’s fingernails.

In 2005, Avila was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

“I want you to disappear into the abyss of a lifetime in prison, where no one will remember you, no one will pray for you, no one will care when you die,” Samantha’s mom, Erin Runnion, said at sentencing.

Samantha’s death accelerated statewide adoption of the Amber Alert system and led to the formation of Erin Runnion’s Joyful Child Foundation, which organizes Neighborhood Watch-style programs and safety campaigns.

Alejandro Avila remains on death row.

Yacht murders

Who: Skylar Deleon

When: Nov. 15, 2004

Where: Newport Harbor

What: Tom and Jackie Hawks were still alive when the 66-pound anchor plunged into the Pacific, dragging their handcuffed bodies across the deck of the Well Deserved, and over the stern with a fatal splash.

Hours earlier, on Nov. 15, 2004, the couple departed Newport Harbor in high spirits. They’d put their 55-foot yacht up for sale to move to Arizona and help raise a new grandson.

Now it looked like they had a serious buyer.

Deleon had inquired about the $460,000 yacht a few weeks earlier. He’d taken a few rides, and was back for one last sea trial.

The retired couple had no idea that he was an ex-convict. Or that he had no intention of buying their boat.

At sea, Deleon and two accomplices subdued the couple and forced them to provide wobbly signatures on sales documents. A sobbing and shaking Jackie Hawks pleaded for their lives: “Skylar, why are you doing this? We trusted you.”

According to testimony at trial, Deleon tied them to the anchor and threw the couple overboard. Then he grabbed a beer and a fishing rod, and went trolling.

In 2009, Deleon and helper John F. Kennedy were sentenced to death. Alonso Machain, another accomplice, was sentenced to 20 years, 4 months. Deleon’s wife, Jennifer Deleon, who participated in the planning, was sentenced to life in prison.

Leading man

Who: Daniel Wozniak

When: May 21-22, 2010

Where: Costa Mesa

What: Hours before Wozniak took the stage on the night of May 22, 2010, the actor beheaded a man and tossed the severed head in a public park.

It was all part of an elaborate murder plot that the leading man scripted for himself – to pay for his upcoming wedding.

Wozniak planned to marry his co-star Rachel Buffett, a former Disneyland princess, at the end of the month. But he was too broke to pay for the beachside ceremony and honeymoon. Prosecutors say he hatched a double-murder plot to drain his neighbor’s bank account of $60,000 – and throw police off his scent.

First he lured his neighbor, Sam Herr, 26, of Costa Mesa, to a deserted attic and shot him twice in the head. Then, using Herr’s cellphone, police say Wozniak lured mutual friend Julie Kibuishi to Herr’s apartment, where Wozniak shot her twice in the head – and attempted to frame Herr for the attack. Then, to hide all evidence of Herr’s murder, Wozniak cut off Herr’s head and hands and tossed them in El Dorado Park in Long Beach.

That night, Wozniak starred in the musical “Nine” at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company in Fullerton with his fiancée, Rachel Buffett.

Woniak’s plan soon unraveled as police traced withdrawals from Herr’s ATM back to Wozniak. Costa Mesa police arrested him at his bachelor party.

In December, a jury convicted Wozniak of the two murders and recommended the death penalty. He awaits sentencing in March. His former fiancée Buffett awaits trial on charges of accessory to crimes after the fact.

Seal Beach shooter

Who: Scott Dekraai

When: Oct. 12, 2011

Where: Seal Beach

What: On the morning of Oct. 12, 2011, a balding, overweight man sat in the sand at Bolsa Chica State Beach – in a bulletproof vest. Embittered from a custody battle, Dekraai decided to kill his ex-wife.

In doing so, he would commit the deadliest mass shooting in Orange County history.

At 1:21 p.m., he entered Salon Meritage in Seal Beach and walked up to his ex-wife, stylist Michelle Fournier: “You wanted this,” he said, and shot her dead.

He turned to manicurist Christy Wilson and shot her dead. Salon co-owner Randy Fannin tried to intervene: “Dude, you don’t have to do this.” Dekraai shot him dead.

In full rage, Dekraai shot and killed customers Lucia Kondas and Michele Fast; and stylists Victoria Buzzo and Laura Webb Elody, whose last words echoed through the salon: “You don’t have to do this. Please don’t shoot me.”

In the parking lot, Dekraai took aim one last time. He shot and killed David Caouette in his Range Rover.

When arrested nearby, Dekraai, armed with three handguns and extra ammunition, blurted out: “I know what I did.”

Dekraai pleaded guilty. His case took an unexpected turn after revelations that authorities secretly bugged his jail cell and used a jailhouse snitch to gain information about him.

In March, 2015, Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the death penalty phase of the trial. The case was turned over to the state Attorney General’s Office, which has appealed the ouster.

Dekraai remains in jail awaiting the penalty phase of his trial.

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