Welcome to Tell Tale Crimes, the crime column of the Quaker Campus. A new addition to the QC, Tell Tale Crimes will aim to provide a look at both local and national crimes and cases that are sometimes interesting, sometimes relevant, and sometimes both, from the perspective of a true crime enthusiast. I became fascinated by true crime at a surprisingly young age after a school project on psychosis. With my obscure knowledge of serial killers in hand, I skirted the periphery of crime and horror until my college years. Then I discovered an obsession with glitz, glam, and grim crimes that is unique to Southern California. From the Black Dahlia, to the Cecil Hotel, to Richard Ramirez, Southern California is ripe with historical and current crimes that are worth a story. So here I am writing scary stories, both local and national, and true ones at that.
Be forewarned, the pieces published in this column will contain descriptions of violent crimes or crime scenes. Thank you for reading.
A Disney princess should have a perfect wedding — or, at least, Rachel Buffett should have. Buffet, a community theater actress, also spent time working as a princess at Disneyland. She was excitedly waiting for her upcoming wedding to her fiance and fellow actor, Daniel Wozniak, in May of 2010. Buffett did not know that Wozniak needed money. He wanted to provide the extravagant wedding that his fiancé deserved, and he did not want to postpone. Instead, he killed two people.
His neighbor, Sam Herr, had recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan and was taking community college classes with a friend of his, Juri (Julie) Kibuishi. Herr had $62,000 saved up from his deployment according to the Los Angeles Times. Wozniak was obviously interested in the money: as that month continued, his internet searches went from looking for good sandals to “how to fake thumbprints,” “how loud shotgun,” and “how to hide body” according to the prosecutor on the case; Not the smartest idea.
On May 21, 2010, Wozniak decided to ask Herr to help him move some furniture at the theater in the Los Alamitos Joint Forces training base, according to The Washington Post. Wozniak was an actor, so this must have seemed normal to Herr, who readily accepted. After moving a chair into the attic, Wozniak stood behind Herr and shot him in the back of the head, but Herr was not dead yet. Thinking that he had been electrocuted, probably by some wiring in that musty attic, Herr asked Wozniak for help. Instead, Wozniak reloaded the gun and shot him again. Herr died after this second shot, but Wozniak still needed to explain away Herr’s apparent disappearance.
Using Herr’s phone, Wozniak texted Kibuishi to meet at Herr’s apartment. According to the Los Angeles Times, Kibuishi entered the apartment, and Wozniak shot Kibuishi twice. He then posed her body and set the scene to make it seem that Herr had raped Kibuishi, then, in a panic, murdered her and fled the country. Wozniak then went to perform in a play, only afterwards returning to the Alamitos theater to dismember Herr’s body and scatter the body parts across the El Dorado Nature Center. Herr’s father discovered Kibuishi’s body, and the police investigation led to a sixteen-year-old boy who had been tasked by Wozniak to withdraw money from Herr’s bank accounts.
Police quickly found Wozniak and arrested him at his bachelor party. He called Buffett from jail, and then confessed to both murders to the police shortly after. His trial took some time to come to fruition, and Wozniak was convicted Dec. 2015 on two counts of murder and sentenced to death. He claimed that it was all about the money, however, after admitting he was probably a pathological liar, it became hard to really take what he said with anything but a grain of salt. According to the Washington Post, Wozniak told the court he was smiling and laughing as he dismembered Herr’s body.
According to a blog written by his coworker (danielwozniakismyfriend.com), Wozniak told the coworker, in a letter from prison, that he was on drugs at the time, including crystal meth, heroin, and ecstasy. So if Wozniak was lying at every turn, where was Buffett’s place in all of this?
That is what a recent trial aimed to find out. A year after the crime, Buffett was also arrested and charged with three counts of accessory after the fact, but has been out on bail for most of the time since then. According to the Los Angeles Times, the current prosecutor and Senior Deputy District Attorney of Orange County Matt Murphy argued that Buffett had purposefully lied and changed her story several times to mislead police and investigators on the case. Buffett’s defense attorney, David Medina, argues that Buffett was a victim of Wozniak’s lies and had been a star witness during the investigation, giving crucial evidence to investigators. Murphy estimated that, during her second interview with police, Buffett lied to investigators approximately 19 times, says the Whittier Daily News.
Buffett was convicted on Sept. 12 of this year for two counts of being an accessory after the fact, instead of the initial three, meaning that, while she did not participate in the murders, she purposefully made it harder to solve the crime with her misleading evidence, and faces up to three and a half years in prison. She is scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 8 of this year.
Hopefully, families of the victims will get some peace. According to the Whittier Daily News, Julie Kibuishi’s family attended every day of Buffett’s trial, and began sobbing once the verdict was announced. After an eight-year-long battle, they must only be wanting rest. During the original trial of Wozniak they had powerful statements to make. June Kibuishi, Julie Kibuishi’s mother, made this statement to the court in 2016 according to the Orange County Register: “On May , 2010 you took my beautiful, caring daughter’s precious life to cover up your heinous crime — for a pathetic reason for wanting money for your wedding? For six years and four months, I sat behind you, seeing you come out smiling for the cameras and audience, enjoying being the center of attention. Did I ever see you show any remorse? Not even once.”
According to various sources, Wozniak has apologized for his crimes; however, this is never enough for surviving victims. As a self-admitted pathological liar, Wozniak must have shown palpable narcissm in the courtroom during the trial. Murder cases can take especially long to get a trial, or even a conviction, and these victims’ families now know that well. It took them eight years to get their justice against a man who destroyed their lives just because he needed the money for his facade of a glamorous marriage. The anger and sorrow that builds up in that time can be crushing.
In his victim statement to the court in 2016, Steve Herr, Sam Herr’s father, spoke directly to Wozniak, saying: “You, Dan, are a coward and a poster boy for the need for an effective death penalty in California. My only regret [is] that this state won’t let me kill this coward myself.”