Crime Scenes Field Trip

We’ve established that I watch a lot of crime shows, but there’s another side to my interest in true crime.  I like playing detective.  When I was a little girl, I read two Nancy Drew books a week (because that’s all we were allowed to take out of the school library).

Thanks to Nancy Drew, I’ve poured over everything I can get my hands on about the Daniel Wozniak case.  Since he hasn’t been to court, there aren’t any trial records.  The only information available to the public comes from the DA’s office, the Sheriff’s department, and the media’s coverage of them both.

If you’re thinking I’m about to tell you I have inside information from the “killer” himself, well, I’m sorry to disappoint you.  Everything he says is recorded and everything he writes is scrutinized (I’ll talk more about jail mail next week).

But, I actually do ask Daniel questions. It’s not that I think he can answer me, it’s that I want him to be aware that I have them. He’s told me that one day he’ll give me all the answers.

We’ll see…

Visiting Some Of the Scenes of the Crimes

From everything I’ve read, I know that there are three main crime scenes associated with this case:

  1. The Costa Mesa apartment complex where Julie Kibuishi was murdered and where Daniel, his fiancé and Sam Herr were neighbors.
  2. The Liberty Theatre on the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos.  This is where Daniel allegedly shot Sam twice and then left his body in this building overnight, returning the next day to decapitate him and cut off his arm and hand.  Sam’s torso was left in the theatre.
  3. The El Dorado Nature Center in Long Beach.  This was where Sam’s body parts were disposed of.  From what I’ve read, it was during Daniel’s confession that the police obtained information on where to search for Sam’s head and hands.

My friend Matt lives close to the Nature Center.  It’s one of his favorite places,  so he volunteered to show me around when I decided to visit this “scene of the crime” myself.

The Nature Center

The place is big: over one hundred acres of animal and plant sanctuary in the middle of the city.   It’s beautiful.  It’s quiet and peaceful.  For the most part, people seem respectful of others and the surroundings.

We went on a weekday.  Matt says it’s busier on the weekends.  It would have been swarming with people on a beautiful Saturday, like the one on May 22nd, 2010.

The El Dorado Nature Center only has one entrance and exit, and there’s no one checking bags when you come in.  It’s a park.  Even though it has a fence surrounding the grounds, employees told us it has plenty of holes.

Would it be feasible to enter the El Dorado Nature Center from an area other than the main entrance?  Yes.  It wouldn’t be difficult for a person to sneak onto the grounds, hide body parts in any of the densely wooded areas and then exit, probably without being seen or noticed by anyone.

So yeah, that was the constant weird thought going through both our heads as we walked along the two mile path and snapped pictures of squirrels.  I also took shots of a couple areas that seemed particularly plausible dumping grounds.

a wooded section of el dorado park

We didn’t know exactly where Sam’s body parts were found, but we did learn from employees that his parents had visited specifically to be shown those locations.

Imagine being in this serene setting and only being able to feel despair.

When we left, I saw a sign at the exit that I hadn’t noticed when we arrived.

entryway sign at the el dorado nature center
“Welcome to the El Dorado Nature Center. Take only memories, leave only footprints. Enjoy your visit…”


The Joint Forces Training Base

Next, Matt and I headed over to the Joint Forces Training Base, and this is when we started taking some issue with the public story. It didn’t seem like the kind of place a civilian like Daniel could just drive into.

training base front gate
One does not simply drive onto the Joint Forces Training Base!

Maybe Army veteran Sam Herr was with him?  Trouble with that is, it was supposed to be Daniel who asked Sam to help him move some furniture in the theatre on Friday May 22nd.

Even if Daniel did have some kind of all-access pass to this training base, there is still the matter of explaining how two men entered this base, but only one man left.

In 2010, were there no security cameras placed around the base?

Also, not to be too graphic, but where was the blood?

We are supposed to believe that on the afternoon of Friday, May 21st, Daniel and Sam went on the base together, Daniel shot Sam inside a theatre building, and Daniel left by himself… and nobody noticed.

Then, the next day, Daniel allegedly returned, mutilated Sam’s body, and exited the base… taking the body parts with him.

Maybe a person could shoot someone twice, move their body around and manage to avoid getting any blood on themselves.   But would it be possible to cut off the head and arm and hand of a dead body without getting covered in blood?

I just don’t think so.

Maybe Daniel brought a change of clothes.  That would show some scary premeditation.

I’ll be curious to see if those questions get answered during the trial, and  I hope the jury wants to know those answers, too.

What’s that expression?

Oh right… the devil is in the details.

4 thoughts on “Crime Scenes Field Trip”

  1. I went to high school with Dan. Good old Los Al. In 2003 I used to go onto the base all the time. I played with their band for practice and Fourth of July (the public is let on the base for this holiday with no restrictions) and they just let me join in without providing any kind of info or ID. I think all you do to go in the base is show your ID. They wouldn’t monitor who comes in and out unless it’s a day when Air Force One is flying in and out. They didn’t even really have much security when I played for the band welcoming the California governor. After 9/11 they just added concrete barriers so you couldn’t drive at high speed directly into the base. That’s it. The theater was open to local groups. I used to play for the band for a kid’s theater group who were putting on the wizard of oz production in the theater. It was run by a guy who would scream the nastiest way at the poor kids and they ended up letting go of the band before the show opened because they couldn’t afford to pay us. Still owe me half of what they promised to pay me. Anyway, at least then it was essy to get into the theater any day of the week, any time. Nobody goes up at the top level of the theater, which is where I think a body part was supposedly left. It’s dark and musty, as are most old military buildings. Nothing special. I don’t remember hearing anything about haunting(s). Not a lot of soldiers around on base whenever I was there because everybody is reserve. It was a surprise to hear about what happened with this case. I could never have predicted Dan to do something like this but you never know what anybody is capable of. It’s interesting to hear from you how the case has been progressing because every now and then I wonder.

  2. I commend you on your writer’s inquisition into the human complexity of existence. Yea! It’s not everyday you see someone stop during their walk through the park to perhaps see a magnolia leaf drift through the wind and end up far apart from the rest of the other fallen magnolias. I think it is much easier to see things as just black or white, good or bad, chaos or order, saint or sinner, human or monster. Who has time to wait for a sinner to redeem himself? With 8 billion people on this planet, and 5000 years of recorded history, why would one more story of greed, madness, or even redemption be considered an incredible act of the human condition?

    Putting aside the intrigue factor of all involved in this case, I only have 2 comments after seeing this case on Dateline.
    1) Daniel Wozniak lied and changed his story a few times, to the point where he was cornered and had no choice but to reveal the truth. Whether he reveal all the the truth and nothing but the complete truth, or some of the truth, in my opinion, will never be known– simply because his credibility is completely shattered. So based on this premise, I really don’t think he is that much more interesting than any average person you may see in your daily lives. I think it is noble of you to see the good and the bad, the other sides of Wozniak. To try to understand him as a complex human being like everyone else and perhaps relate that to how all of us can end up in this horrible situation like Wozniak is worthy of literary exploration. To be his friend is just extraordinary. However, the fact that he murdered 2 people and completed 2 performances after the fact, it’s almost impossible to find the happy medium to explain this Wozniak as a person as complex as anyone of us. There is only one thing that separates a murderer from an innocent person, is the act of murder itself. Sure, I think you can reveal the many humane layers of a murderer, but at the end of the day, this act of murder still has to be accounted for. Is he a ruthless, cold-blooded killer with no human quality of remorse? Or is he really an incredible, gifted actor with an incredible level of discipline & focus beyond the average? That to me would be perhaps the only question, if I had one, to ask Wozniak– that is how he was able to perform theatrical shows (with great praises) after committing murder? How can a “non-monster” of a person achieve this task? To me there is a huge difference between acting and lying. And of course it’s always fascinating to see someone blur the lines between these two things in art. I suppose it may be called mystery?
    2) I personally am inclined to think his fiance (Rachel Buffett) was not completely innocent as she had proclaimed. The police are right, if Wozniak did in fact texted Julie Kibushi in her presence that evening, how could she not notice that Wozniak was not using his own phone? When asked by the show’s interviewer, her simple reply of “no” just seemed like a lie.
    As a previously trained actor (from decades ago) I can tell you emphatically that the power of observation is an actor’s main tool to successfully complete a good/great performance. You are trained to feed off of other actors, and react genuinely to events within your environment both physical and emotional. This would include “knowing” the physical world around you. I guess if anything, I would be more intrigued about the truth of Rachel Buffett’s involvement in these murders. I refused to believe she was just another “dumb blonde” caught in a circumstance beyond her control or knowledge.

    I would read more of your writing. Please send links to any internet postings or info for purchase.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. I’m reading through you blog on my cell and have had a couple of issues with your objectivity and planned to, and will, go back later to leave a detailed comment when I have time to go online with an actual keyboard. Here, I couldn’t not comment and am glad that someone else has already partially addressed your issues with security on the base, so I’ll leave that alone.
    But to answer your question

    “Maybe a person could shoot someone twice, move their body around and manage to avoid getting any blood on themselves. But would it be possible to cut off the head and arm and hand of a dead body without getting covered in blood?”
    Absolutely if that person is dead and especially if they’ve been dead long enough for lividity to have set in (which he clearly was and would have had extreme lividity). Once the heart stops beating, the body stops bleeding. Cutting the major veins and arteries in the throat would not have sent blood spraying the way it does if someone is alive. If the victim had been laid on his back overnight, cutting the throat would have produced very little, if any, blood because it always pools down. He could’ve needed gloves and or some kind of protective gear to not get any on his hands and wrists (to be certain) or he could simply take off his shirt and then wash the little bit of blood he did pick up, directly off of his skin. Your question also assumes a fact that has not been asserted (correct me if I’m wrong) because no one reportedly seeing him covered in blood, does not mean he wasn’t. It could be that there was no one there to witness it. It could be that he watched from inside and made sure to wait until no one was there to witness it. It could be that if a witness did see him, he was too far away for them to notice anything unusual about him. Again, your question incorrectly asserts he’d be “covered in blood” when that’s not the case at all and may be one of the contributing factors into not dismembering him immediately before the blood had time to pool.

    “Maybe Daniel brought a change of clothes. That would show some scary premeditation.”
    Ummm…yeah the whole idea of going back to the victim the next day with the tools to dismantle his corpse and the act of putting said tool up to the victim’s neck, to make the decision once again to go ahead and cut, then to make the decision yet again, to continue to cut, to keep going through this disgusting, disrespectful indignity to the friend he murdered, all show “scary premeditation”. I don’t understand how you find taking an extra set of clothes to be more unsettling, than the premiditation of bringing the tools he would use.

    I’m not trying to sound like a condescending bitch here, (since tone of voice is lost in electronic correspondence, reading though my own words I can see how I may sound too harsh, so please don’t take it that way). I’m honestly trying to caution you that your commitment to keeping am open mind seems to be fading the more you get to know this guy. Maybe that’s not the right wording I should have chosen. I don’t think it’s your commitment to tell a balanced story is what is fading, I think it’s that you’re losing some objectivity due to perception bias (which happens to every single one of us, continually throughout our lives).
    I know that you must have moved on leaps and bounds from the lack of knowledge about the details of the case, since you wrote this post in particular, because the trial had not happened yet. But I wanted to go back to the beginning when I found this blog and follow your experience and thoughts as it evolved from the beginning.

    For the record, I do know the victim’s name and did not leave it out to disrespect him. I was hoping to accomplish the opposite and not use his name when describing the graphic, gory details of how he was further defiled after he was killed. He should be remembered for who he was in life and the lives he touched, not for the disgraceful acts that were done to him at the end.

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