Guest View: Husband of murder victim reflects on nightmare

Missing woman

The last time I spoke with my wife was around 8:30 a.m. that Wednesday. I was busy at work so I cut her short but she just wanted to tell me how excited she was to go to Disneyland that weekend and that a family friend Stephanie (who would baby-sit our son) had drawn a charcoal picture of Riley and she was going to pick it up from her brother Dave who had called her and asked that she pick it up. Dave was the loser in the group: no real job, he lived at home with mom, in and out of jail. He was the one guy we all felt sorry for, most of all Heather who always encouraged me to invite him with me on my fishing trips because he needed to have some clean fun.

At 2:30 p.m. I found out that Heather did not pick up the neighbors’ kids she watches from school. She had been their nanny for three years and had never been late. At this point I knew something was wrong. I called my son’s school to find out she did not pick him up either. I started calling friends and family who all reiterated the same fear. WE KNEW NO MATTER WHAT THAT HEATHER WOULD PICK UP THE KIDS. Now 4 p.m. we have called all hospitals and called the police to check for accidents. Dave said Heather picked up the picture. At this point I called close friends who were members of nearby sheriff’s departments and a district attorney’s office. We filed a missing person’s report and asked for an officer to come out. I was surprised that only one officer came and there were no detectives. The officer appeared to be very young, inexperienced and had no sense of urgency. I asked that I be given a number so that I did not have to call 911 or dispatch in Santa Cruz every time and give them all the details over and over again. He replied that he did not want to give me his cell phone because I might call him on his day off. At this point I became irate and started breaking items in my house, I had not asked for his cell phone!! I started to realize it appeared that there is no protocol for a missing person in Hollister.

Now getting dark on Wednesday we started sending friends to different common intersections in town and near highways to look for her car. I hired a private investigator. One friend approached me to tell me that Dave called his girlfriend that morning to pick up something and I yelled at my friend for being jealous in a time like this, because how could Dave do this? We talked about different scenarios and panicked. People went home around 1 a.m. that night.

At 2 a.m. that morning, now Thursday, we hear on the scanner that her car is found torched. At this point I knew she might be dead. No sleep! I go to tow yard at 8 a.m. who said it was at the HPD. They would not give us the location where it was found so I went to the HPD. I asked to speak with a detective and was told that one would contact me later in the day. I refused to leave until someone spoke with me. At this point they interrogated me as a person of interest with no compassion and no skill. I wasted three hours in my search while they asked me over and over about our relationship problems. I explained early on that I was on camera at work all day and that the last person to speak with her was on probation and could be searched without a warrant. After hours of interrogation I offered my phone and house be searched. They kept my phone and let me go and said they would come by the house.

When I went home my best friend had a complete investigation under way. The pictures in my living room were replaced with whiteboards and lists. It was a surreal nightmare. At 1 p.m. Thursday we had a meeting in the backyard and decided suspect number one was Dave. At this point we started asking simple questions of Dave’s friends and every piece seemed to fit the puzzle. We now had circumstantial and non-circumstantial evidence. Meanwhile we did not tell anyone of our conclusion because we were contemplating how to get information out of him in case Heather was still alive. It was between my best friend, the P.I. and me. I kept trying to reach out to police as each piece unfolded with no response. The police or detectives NEVER came Thursday to listen to us! All day we sent people on well-planned routes to search South County. As surreal as the nightmare was, the communities support was UNBELIEVABLE. Businesses everywhere (except for Subway and McDonald’s who refused to let us post missing person’s fliers) donated items. Friends, colleagues, relatives of others who had gone missing all came to my house to help. It was amazing. Secretly I was planning on going in Dave’s house to look for my wife but I could never get alone.

Sometime during Thursday it was reported that Dave was aiding in the search. He came in my house to give me a hug around 5 p.m. I was confused.

A friend approached me and told me about the sex trade and the possibility of her being kidnapped as part of the sex trade. I went off course learning about that for hours. At around 10 p.m. I approached close friends and told them about Dave. They risked their lives with me to go to his house to look for Heather. We got to the front door and he answered. He appeared to be sleeping so we asked to use his restroom and searched the house. His mom was in bed sleeping so we left. Dave appeared awkward. At that point we had a meeting to discuss whether we should go in the house again or call the police. I called 911 and told them I knew information about who killed my wife. They had no sense of urgency and told me that at some point they would send an officer to take a statement. I hung up, waited a few minutes and called back. I was scolded for calling back twice and was told an officer would come back at some point. Out of desperation, I called a friend who was a nearby assistant district attorney. She also made phone calls to the police telling them we had evidence of who killed Heather. An hour later an officer comes to take a statement and leaves. No sleep, no food, we panicked all night, and called a detective in the morning and left a message. At 10 a.m. Friday officers entered my house asking if they had my consent to search. I said they could search on the condition that one of them spoke with me so I could tell them what I knew. I was told that I refused to consent and was given a warrant and was told to sit on the couch and wait as each room was gone through. The police took all computers in my house including my customers’ computers that I was fixing at the time. They spent hours removing around 20 computers.

Finally I became irate and a detective agreed to listen to me. I told them the puzzle and they appeared to actually hear me. The rest of that afternoon was spent trying to organize media, dog searches, and airplanes. We were confident the police would already be at Dave’s. Finally when we realized police were not at Dave’s my friends decided to risk their lives to look for Heather. At that point Dave told them it was over and he had guns. Friends called 911, and law enforcement for the first time went to his house.

What followed was seven hours of a nightmare the community will never forget. Law enforcement came from out of town risking their lives to get Dave out safely so he could be questioned. I lay in the fetal position on my couch and listened on the scanner with friends as Dave barricaded each room. At one point we heard there were two people in the house and celebrated. When she was not found alive was when we mourned for her death. At this point I knew.

The coroner’s report said that Heather’s death could have been Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. I have started pacing and smoking cigarettes. I feel that we could have found her faster. A simple investigation by trained officers would have drawn a conclusion by Wednesday evening. We could have possibly saved my wife’s life. It is without question that we could have saved the community from the terror in risking their lives to find her.

I asked the police chief to meet with me so we could discuss what happened. He scheduled the arraignment at this time and addressed the press that they had been working with family. He set me up so I would be waiting while he went on the air and wrongfully said they were working with the family.

A Husband’s Promise:

On top of raising my 5-year-old son by myself, I have been given another huge responsibility. If one of the moms that helped me search for my son’s mom goes missing tomorrow I need to know that someone with training is going to look for her. Hypothermia and dehydration can kill someone in a day or two. I offer my help to anyone who needs help searching and vow to make changes in the community. The police should be here to protect us. They are paid by our taxes. I ask the community to stand up to protect our families.

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