Fear and Loathing of…Me?

On Friday, August 14, Daniel Wozniak went to court, again.

I wasn’t there.

I had planned to be there.  I prepared in advance to be there. Nothing specific happened to interfere with me being there.

So why wasn’t I there?

That’s a good question.  That’s what I kept asking myself as I dilly-dallied around my house until it was too late to go.

I was mad about it.  Mad at myself.  And the self-bashing escalated when I found out that Steve Herr, the father of murder victim Samuel Herr, spoke in court that day.   My understanding is that he essentially asked the judge to get on with it.

Rightfully so. His son was murdered five years ago, as was Sam’s friend, Julie Kibuishi, whom Mr. Herr was the first to find.

There are some people (quite passionate writers, I might add) who have suggested that, because I am admittedly Daniel Wozniak’s friend, I am completely oblivious to the feelings of the victims’ families.   That’s not true.

However: do I know what they are going through?  Of course not.  It would be ridiculous for me, or anyone not in their unenviable shoes, to comprehend their pain.

So I had a chance to personally hear Steve Herr speak in court, and I missed it.  It was the opportunity to listen to this grieving father’s own words.

I am writing a blog about my friendship with his son’s accused murderer. How can I be an honest writer without acknowledging his pain?

Clearly, I can’t.

One might ask why I haven’t tried to communicate with the Herr and Kibuishi families.  I want to tell a balanced story and show both sides, right?

Of course.  However, I suspect that, at this moment, they have enough on their plates to bother with a blogger who is just fleshing out a possible-someday-maybe book.   I definitely plan on approaching the loved ones of Sam and Julie in the future.  If any relatives or friends of the victims agree to speak with me, I will be honored.

Back to court though: You might be wondering if I was afraid to see Mr. Herr speak.  Would hearing the pain in his voice make it difficult to rationalize being friends with Daniel?

Nope.  It’s quite the opposite, actually.  I didn’t know he was going to speak that day.  Had I known, I would have mustered my courage and made it to court.  I want to be reminded of the victims and how there lives and Daniel’s will forever be intertwined.

Steven Herr was not the reason I avoided court.   I think I didn’t go because I hadn’t sifted out the answers to some legitimate questions. Yet.

Being Challenged

For the past couple of weeks, a number of people posted comments on this site’s Facebook page making accusations and assumptions  about my motivation for writing this blog.  Some commenters were quite vocal about their dislike of this blog, and of me for writing it.   Fans of mine or not, some valid questions were raised amidst the insults .

To paraphrase:

  1. Why did you write to this murderer, especially since you hardly knew him before this all happened? Are you trying to get famous?
  2. What kind of sick person would be interested in a murderer in the first place?
  3. Why have you chosen his side instead of keeping an open mind?
  4. Are you being played and manipulated by a murdering sociopath?

I had my own internal answers for all of these questions, but I didn’t feel like I had a way of verbalizing them.

“What does this have to do with not going to court?” You might ask.  “Are you sure this isn’t all an excuse because you don’t like getting up early in the morning?” and “Did you think that the Facebook commenters were going to show up at the OC Court House to yell at you?”


No, I didn’t think that.

But I did start to wonder, “What if the bailiff or the court reporter happens to ask you who you are, or why you’re there?”  Hence, this post topic.   I didn’t want to miss court again.

Relevant To My Interests

Let’s start with why I wrote to a “murderer” in the first place.

As I’ve said in other posts, I’ve had a fervent interest in the topic of True Crime since long before I’d ever even heard the name Daniel Wozniak.  I’m a admitted True Crime junkie.

I think it’s hereditary!  My biological mother is the same way.  My seventeen year old watches everything from Dateline to Homicide Hunter with me.  We call it “watching crime” in my house.

The genre might not be for everyone, but you can’t deny it’s popularity.   If I am sick for having this interest, well, I’m not alone.

I can remember watching the TV movie Helter Skelter in 1976.  It’s based on the novel of the same name by Vincent Bugliosi,  about the investigation and trial of the Tate-LaBianca murders that were orchestrated and directed by Charles Manson.

Side note: On Facebook, I was accused of being a “Manson girl.” For the record, that comparison is not entirely accurate, since it was actually the “Manson Girls” (Leslie Van Houten, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian), and two male followers of Manson, who committed the murders.   I am just writing about a murder case.  I didn’t murder anyone.

In 1986, I was glued to the two-part TV movie series The Deliberate Stranger, starring Mark Harmon as convicted serial killer Ted Bundy.   I wasn’t the only one tuning in to get a glimpse into the mind a psychopath.  Like many, I was fascinated by Bundy.  How could this seemingly intelligent, charming man commit numerous horrific murders?  More important – why?

Always Asking

I’m a big on asking “Why?”

When I’m directing plays, I ask “why.”  Why do characters act the way they do?

Working on a modernized version of the Greek tragedy Medea (the story of a woman who murders her own children), I spent months researching women like Susan Smith and Andrea Yates.   It wasn’t enough to just tell the story.  I wanted to show the human being behind the story.   The audience wasn’t necessarily going to like Medea, but I was going to make them think about her.

I was still working regularly at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company in 2010 when Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi were murdered.

Like everyone else, I believed exactly what the newspapers said about Daniel Wozniak being the savage murderer of these two innocent victims.   Since I had actually just met Daniel Wozniak, spent time with him, joked with him, asked him to audition for my play… well, I won’t deny it: I was enthralled.

I wanted to know more.

I wanted to understand why!

Coming To Writing

Even though my public creative focus was on directing, I’ve always liked writing as well.   The thing is, you don’t always have the time to do everything you want to do.

Hunger Artists eventually closed its doors.  My kids got bigger and more independent.   I found myself with time to write, and so, I did.

I wrote about my life.  I wrote about Mary Magdalen.  I wrote about anything I found interesting.

A guy I’d met four years earlier was accused of and had confessed to double murder,  and yet he still hadn’t been sentenced.  That, I found very interesting!

I realized maybe I could write a true crime book.   It was close friends who kept telling me that it would be more interesting to write about my own involvement with Daniel.  Anyone could report, but I had a connection.

Did I think this would lead to me becoming the JK Rowling of the genre?  No.  Did I hope that other people would be want to read what I write?

Of course.  Just like I wanted people to see the plays I directed.

That is why I wrote the first letter to Daniel and hoped that our brief meeting years earlier would be enough to entice him to write me back.

The purpose of the blog was to have a place to write, and think, and question, and prepare, for a possible future book.

My Own Assumptions

The thing is, I already assumed Daniel Wozniak was completely guilty.  The police and the newspapers said he confessed.  There.  Done.   So let’s see if I could find out what kind of person would do these horrible acts?

I am not proud of determining anyone’s guilt solely from what I’d read in the paper.

That wasn’t fair.   Innocent until proven guilty, I kept telling myself.

Was I a witness to this crime.  No.

Have I ever read or heard a recording of the confession? No.

Do I have any information about physical evidence? No.

Have I seen pictures of the crime scenes? No.

That’s not the kind of person I am.  I don’t blindly accept without proof, but that’s what I was doing, and I was going to stop.

Like the judge in Miracle on 34th Street, I was going to wait and see.  Keep an open mind.

That is what I’m doing.

Do I think Daniel is a completely innocent man who is unfairly incarcerated?

No.  I’m guessing that he had something to do with… something.   That’s my hunch, but I do not know if he is a murderer.   The trial will hopefully answer some of those questions.

Does having questions mean I’m being manipulated by Daniel Wozniak?

I don’t think my blog accomplishes anything for him, although he does like the idea of it.  Not that he has any way to read it.

Maybe he’s a narcissist.  He might just like that someone isn’t calling him a monster, for once.

You Might Not Like It, But…

Here is the part where some of you are going to get cranky.

I don’t think he is a monster… at least, I don’t think that of the person I now know.

I like Daniel.  He writes a great letter.  He makes me laugh.  He tells the cheesiest jokes.  We talk about life, religion, politics and cartoons.  I enjoy our conversations on the phone, and I like visiting him.

I’m not alone in that.   Daniel has close friends and supporters in and out of jail.

There are even those who believe he’s not a murderer.

And hey… what if he isn’t?

Jail Visit (Part 2)

I expect the visit to start at exactly two o’clock, but when nothing seems to be happening,  of course I’m immediately worried I’m waiting in the wrong place. Which is dumb, because there’s only one place to wait.

After five more minutes, the Deputy who checked me in comes through a door in the back of the booth.  She carries a handful of white papers and her walk to the center of the waiting area is determined.  She calls out, “Two o’clock visit!”

Bam! My hand pops into the air like my pre-school teacher had just asked who can spell the word cat.

No one else raises their hand.

The Deputy looks at me, and then back at the papers in her hands.


A couple in their sixties walks up and takes the paper from the deputy.

“Ohhhhhh, I get it now,” I say in a too-loud whisper.

OK.  Name is called.  Visitor walks up and takes the paper and gets in the line to the metal detector.

Finally, “Wozniak!”


Oh for God’s sake, she’s not taking attendance, I remind myself as I get my paper, say “Thank you,” and get in the line.

Another Deputy starts moving from person to person along the line, comparing picture IDs to the visitor name on the paper.   He takes my paper, looks at Daniel’s name, and then back at me.

“You haven’t been here before, right?”


“So how do you know him?” He seems genuinely curious.

“I actually met him just before his arrest, but I didn’t start writing to him until a couple months ago.”

“Wow.  It’s such a crazy story.  Do you know where you’re going?”

A weightier question for me than he knew.  “Not exactly.”

“After you go through the metal detector, head to the elevator and take it up to J.  He’ll be in J4.”  He shows me the letter J and number 4 that someone had written on the top of my paper in black Sharpie.

“Thank you,” I smile.

The line moved at a good pace.  Most of my stuff was in the locker.  I have the key on a red elastic wrist band, my paper and my ID, and I put them in the miniature white plastic basket before going through the detector.   I don’t need to remove my Vans, but I mentally note that I should never wear my black combat boots with the metal studs.

I pick up my things and walk over to the elevator to join the other waiting  visitors.

So far, so good.  In spite of having a dry mouth and pounding heart, I’m doing OK.  I really wish I could have taken my water bottle with me.  How exactly is a bottle of Arrowhead going to be a security risk?  I promise it’s not a Molotov cocktail, or I wouldn’t be drinking from it.

The elevator doors open and everyone stumbles inside. “J” was the next floor up.  I wondered what happened to floors “A” through “I.”

Even though Daniel and I had been writing back and forth for a couple of months, standing in that elevator I’m not sure if we’ll have enough to talk about to fill a one hour visit.

The elevator doors open again and two women get off.  One has a small boy with her around the age of four.  I follow them out.

Directly ahead and to the right are walls of glass. I can see down to the floor where we’d just been.  To the left is a hallway, and this is where the other visitors head.   There are no signs, just a green arrow.  It feels more like an abandoned inner city high school than a jail, and reminds me of when I taught English as a Second Language in downtown Los Angeles.

I  follow the hallway for three turns, then finally come to an end at a doorway marked with a stenciled “J.”

Inside, I see a row of metal stools butted up to a large glass window.  There are small wall dividers creating semi-private “cubicles.”  Each has a steel shelf jutting from the window and a white telephone receiver hanging from a cord coming out from the wall.  I wonder if it had actual real wires and such, or is this just a creepy game of “telephone?”

There are signs reminding you your conversations will be recorded.  Even though I don’t plan on talking about anything important, that still feels awkward.  Invasive, even.

Side note: In TV and movies, people always seem to be able to kind-of hear through the glass.  This is not true.  Sometimes, you can barely hear the other person even when you have the static-y phone pressed to your ear.  I always end up taking out my earrings because they stab into my head.

People aren’t sitting down, even though we all have papers with our cubicle numbers.  I ask the woman with the little boy about this and she explains it’s because the inmate doesn’t always get brought to the correct cubicle.  “You could be sitting in J4 and the person you’re visiting is locked in at J2.  Once they are locked in, they are stuck.”

It’s nice that other visitors were so helpful.

I do that, now.  When people are confused, I’m the person who explains how the lockers work, which is harder than you’d think.

“When you put in your quarter, do not take the key out before you close the locker door or you’ll end up with it locked open.  Then you have to put the key back in and use another quarter.”  Lady in the red shirt—if you’re reading this—thank you again for your assistance.

I see Daniel Wozniak being led by a deputy to his side of J4.   He waits patiently for the guard to open up the little cage and lock him inside.  Their conversation looks almost amiable.

Daniel wears the ubiquitous orange jumpsuit. I can see a white cotton t-shirt peeking up through the top of the V-neck.  His hands are in his pockets.  No handcuffs or leg shackles like in court.

He’s a big guy, but he looks thinner than when I’d met him at the theatre.  In spite of his height, Daniel doesn’t come off as intimidating at all.  He has a friendly and slightly sheepish smile on his face, and he’s sporting the hair style and facial hair of Hugh Jackman in Wolverine.

Yes. You did read that correctly.   He’s a huge Hugh Jackman / Wolverine fan and had done this for Halloween (obviously he didn’t go trick or treating, but I could see doing anything to pass the time).   I must say, it was pretty damn accurate.  Halloween was long over, but he hadn’t changed it yet.  He thought it was funny.  I did, too.

There was another thing about it that was weird: that day, I’d chosen to wear a Marvel t-shirt featuring Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor and Wolverine.  A bizarre coincidence that we both found pretty entertaining.  Ice broken.

Turns out, we have enough to talk about for an unheard-of three hour visit.  To this day, that is still the longest visit we’ve ever had.  Usually it’s an hour, and that’s it.  I learned later that the guard told him he let the visit go on so long because it looked like we were “having a good time.”

I honestly can’t remember everything we talked about, just like you might not remember all the specifics of your dinner conversation with a friend.   There was a lot of laughing.  It was easy.

I do recall talking about how my son and I had recently been reading To Kill a Mockingbird.  I told Daniel that we watched the Gregory Peck movie version from 1962, and we got in a discussion about the possible modern casting if Hollywood were to re-make the movie today.  When Daniel jokingly suggested Tom Cruise could play 2015’s Atticus Finch,  my response was to threaten him with bodily harm (specifically a jail phone hitting him upside the head).   He pretended to cower even though we were separated by thick glass.

This has become a running joke when I visit.  He’ll says something sarcastic and immediately pretend to cower and then say, “put down the phone.”

The visit is, dare I say, fun.

I didn’t even notice that four year old boy had lifted my locker key out of my back pocket… until his mortified and extremely apologetic mother finds and returns it to me.

I know the visit is over when the deputy comes back to take Daniel out of his small cage… in order to lead him back to a slightly larger one.

Daniel thanks me for visiting and tells me he’d write soon (this first visit was long before we started also speaking on the phone).  I promise that I’ll also write him, and that I’ll visit him again.

I keep watching him as he’s walked down a set of  stairs and through a set of doors.

When I can’t see him anymore, I walk back down the hallway and get on the elevator.

Going outside, I feel like it’s sunnier, clearer, and the air smells fresher than when I got there.

I buy an ice cold Diet Coke from a vendor and head back to my car.

Jail Visit (Part One)

imageNovember 21, 2014: My first visit to the Orange County Jail.  I was totally freaked-out nervous for a bunch of reasons.

  1. Holy crap!  This guy is accused of murdering two people.
  2. It’s jail.  I feel judged even just visiting the place.
  3. Overwhelming worry that I’d mess something up and they wouldn’t let me visit.  Silly as it sounds, I don’t like to let people down.  I would’ve felt terrible if Daniel didn’t get a visit just because I couldn’t follow directions.
  4. Self-inflicted high anxiety.  I stress out because that’s what I do.  You know, maybe there would suddenly be some glitch in the Matrix and Daniel and I would switch bodies and I’d watch him walk away to freedom while I was put back in his cage.
  5. AND… holy crap…. this guy is accused of murdering two people!

Before the big day, Daniel provided me with a basic run-down of the visiting procedure:

  • Visits are on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8 am – 5 pm.   You need to arrive fifteen minutes before the hour.  This is not nearly enough time for my comfort level. I like to be there a least thirty minutes early.
  • You need the booking number of the inmate you’re visiting.  I had that already because it’s same number I use when I send him snail mail.
  • Bring a picture ID (which you must have on your person at all times)
  • Quarters! You really only need one quarter.  It’s so you can put your stuff in a locker while you’re visiting.  I always need at least two quarters, since there’s never been a time when I didn’t forget that my phone is in my pocket, or that I accidentally put my driver’s license back in my purse, so I have to open my locker and use  another quarter to lock it again.

Knowing the whens and hows still didn’t help me know what to expect.

This wasn’t actually the first time I’d ever visited someone in jail.  I’ve had friends or family members who had done time for petty theft or drug use.  There have even been a couple of drunk-and-disorderlies thrown in there.

You visit those people at “Honor Farms” like on Orange is the New Black.  You sit at cafeteria-style tables and you can hug your loved one (once upon arrival and once leaving

The Protective Custody unit at the Orange County Jail is a completely different world.

Daniel is in the Intake / Release Center. This is where inmates are housed while awaiting trial.  Most people are not there for five years.

There’s something you can’t quite put your finger on: a feeling that you lose some of your “regular person on the street” status in the eyes of the O.C. deputy sheriffs. As soon as you walk in the door, you become someone to be watched, scrutinized, and recorded.

You go through the glass doors and join a check-in line.  They do not appreciate it when you excitedly approach the next window before they call you up (I was just trying to keep things moving along… jeeze!).

You talk through a speaker.  You can only see the deputy if you push your face against the glass (they don’t like that, either).

I give Daniel’s name and booking number to the female deputy and she seems immediately distrustful.

Daniel’s circumstances do make him a high visibility inmate, so that’s not total paranoia on my part.

“Your ID.”

I open the little door on the secure passageway between us.  When my door opens, her corresponding door seals shut, and vice versa.

“If you’re his friend, then where have you been for the past five years?”

“Ummm… We’re reconnecting… you know… from our old theatre days.”

“Do his parents know you’re coming today?”

“Yes they do.  He told them in advance.”

“Hmmm… ok.”  She puts my ID back in the compartment.

I try to open my side too soon.  It’s still sealed because her door isn’t completely closed.

I still make that mistake, even though I’ve visited a bunch of times by now.

Maybe, inside that room, there is access to some giant “release all prisoners” button, and they want to make sure that no “El Chappo types” send in their henchmen to try a breakout.

“Wait over there until the two o’clock visit is called.”

I sit on one of the teal molded-plastic chairs in the waiting area.  The place isn’t very crowded.  I’ve come to discover that Saturdays and Sundays are busier.

I try to not be obvious with my people watching.

I’m sure people are watching me.  Purple hair (at the time).  Black clothes.  Tattoos.  Giant nervous smile plastered on my face.  I try to keep my legs from bouncing too much.

Next up on DWIMF – The first time I was face to face (well… face to glass to face) with Daniel since before his arrest.

It would be great if anyone would like to share their own jail visit stories.   I’d love to read your comments.