Daniel Wozniak on LockUp (Part Two)

“She was my best friend. My only friend when you come to think of it; simply because I let no one in… Deep down I had a very low sense of self-esteem… God delivered me an angel… There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her (even to this day if you can believe it). She was still part of my life for my first 3 months of incarceration – then I must have done something idiotically stupid…”  — from Daniel’s first letter to me, August 31, 2014

 It was the summer of 2010, and Daniel Wozniak had a problem.

Well, in fact he had several problems, not the least being his recent incarceration. Dan was sitting in the Orange County Jail facing charges of double murder.

He’d admitted to shooting his upstairs neighbor, Sam Herr, a 26-year-old college student and Army combat veteran. Dan claimed his motive was money. He had plans to clean out Herr’s rather sizable bank account. Dan told the Costa Mesa police that he also cut off Sam’s head and arms in a pathetic attempt to hide Sam’s identity.

Daniel Wozniak also revealed that he’d murdered Sam Herr’s close friend and tutor, 23-year-old Julie Kibuishi, inside Sam’s apartment. The plan was to frame Sam and make it look like he was on the run instead of missing.

Daniel had confessed to all of that. He was locked up in jail, and he was facing the death penalty.

Where’s Rachel?

But in August of 2010, what kept Dan up at night were thoughts of his (former) fiancée, Rachel Buffett, and how she’d recently ceased all communication with him.

The couple was supposed to be married the previous May, but Dan’s confession and subsequent incarceration derailed all plans for a romantic beachside wedding. Still, Dan was genuinely surprised when Rachel stopped writing, visiting and accepting his collect phone calls from jail. In fact, he was downright worried about her, and determined to figure out why Rachel had cut off all contact.

A month before, in July, the TV show Lockup was trolling for willing interviewees among the prisoners at the Orange County Jail. Daniel’s attorneys had warned him that the show’s producer would be on his tier and he should turn down any request to do an interview. That is exactly what he did.

Soon after, Daniel was moved over to the Main Jail (aka “the dog kennels”). Quickly, he noticed that the dayroom for D-MOD, his current home, actually had two telephones accessible to the inmates during their out-of-cell time: the usual phone for collect calls, and another, non-collect, phone available to inmates who were acting as their own lawyers (Pro-Per), or had special request documents from their attorneys allowing them access to non-collect calls. Phone time was also given to inmates as a “reward” for helping the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in some fashion.

Since Rachel Buffett had stopped accepting his collect calls, Dan coveted an opportunity to use that non-collect phone. After all, maybe Rachel was just short on funds and couldn’t afford to pay for the calls… (Or a stamp? She’d stopped writing as well).

Lockup To The Rescue?

Daniel was returning to his cell after a visit with his parents one day, and lo and behold, the same Lockup film crew was looking around his new tier in D-Mod.

Daniel wrote to me, “The same producer lady, Suzanne Ali, made eye contact and said, ‘I know you!’ I smiled and kept on walking right past them back to my cell. A couple minutes later, my door opens and I’m asked to return back to the rotunda area (from where I had just come)…”

This time, Suzanne Ali seemed more determined to convince Daniel to speak with her on camera. It seemed to Dan that Ali was buttering him up. She talked about how his case was “high profile,” and this could be Dan’s chance to “get his story out.”  (This was the first of many times Daniel would be offered that same opportunity by a TV producer.)

He wasn’t interested, but he “jokingly” asked Ali if he could “get paid for doing it.”

Suzanne Ali said Lockup couldn’t offer anything. And then the officer who was escorting the crew spoke up, and threw out a couple of options to convince Dan to agree to be on the TV program. (Daniel suspects this deputy was a member of the special handling unit involved in the Orange County Snitch Scandal, and was purposefully trying to get him to incriminate himself on camera).

So, readers… you can probably already see where this is going. Yup, Daniel agreed to be interviewed, but only if he could have access to the dayroom “free” phone.

First, he had to keep up his end of the bargain. Dan signed a waiver, was immediately put in restraints, and walked over to an open MOD in the main Women’s jail. The crew filmed him on the way (wearing his flood-length jail pants that looked like they came from the “Huck Finn” collection).

On the way over, Daniel couldn’t help wondering how angry this was going to make his attorney, Scott Sanders. (The answer to that: VERY).

The thing is, Dan had never heard of the show LockUp before they came into his MOD. He thought it was like a local cable access show with a very small viewing audience, and for whatever nutty reason, he thought it was a show to teach kids how to “follow the rules” or they could end up in jail like him.

He thought LockUp was like a combination “After School Special” and Scared Straight.

The group arrived at the filming area and the crew set up two chairs where Daniel and the Ali would sit during the interview. DDan was asked to do a sound check.

Way To Read The Room

Daniel Wozniak had been deeply involved in community theatre before his arrest. He’s done numerous sound checks in his life. Remember, Daniel and I met through theatre. As a director, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an actor say “testies…testicles…” into a microphone. It is commonplace to kid around during tech setup in the theatre world. So, Daniel Wozniak, a man who regularly turns to humor when he is in an uncomfortable situation, smiled and looked into the TV camera and quipped:

I want people to know that I’m a good guy. I’m easy going. I enjoy long walks on the beach. I’m an Aries.

And that sound check became the introduction to Daniel’s Lockup interview.


It was a completely inappropriate time for a lame joke. That bad is on him and he knows it.

Daniel Wozniak Describes His Lockup Interview

Here is how Daniel explains what happened next:

Ali goes over the format and what I should expect. She assures me that I’m going to be “running the show” and I won’t have to answer or talk about certain topics or specific details (if I don’t want to)… I reminded her that due to the fact that I hadn’t had a trial yet, I couldn’t go into details regarding the case itself – and to respectfully avoid those questions. I said I wanted to focus on the jail and the experience within… She agreed that would be a good “starting point.”

For the first 10 minutes or so, Ali asked me various questions about my life in jail and I gave my answers (At least 95% of which never made the final edit)… Then she starts broaching into my case (trying to get me to talk about it). I respectfully say that “I can’t comment on that at this time.” She returns to something more neutral but then jogs back to the case within the next couple of questions. For the first few times I’m calm, cool and collected when responding, “I can’t talk about that,” but the pattern continues and the two of us are becoming more and more frustrated. She keeps asking the same questions, and I won’t answer her.

Then Ali becomes like a detective – instead of asking me questions, she begins telling me some of the “facts” that are out there and wanting me to comment or explain. Since I say I can’t talk about the details, she asks me how I “feel” about some of the elements of the crime:

  • Are you happy that Sam and Julie are dead?
  • If this was the plan, are you pleased with how it turned out?
  • What are your feelings toward Sam and Julie – were they your friends?

She started flipping some of my own answers on me:

  • What would motivate you to kill two people when you say you have no reason and had nothing against them?

The questions kept coming and coming and I was approaching a breaking point… I told her “I don’t remember,” and “I’m not aware of what has been said.” So she asks me if I know what the newspapers are writing and people are saying about me. When I say “no” she gets one of her crew members to pull up a couple of articles for me to read… and he hands me his phone.

The articles that dude pulled up on his phone weren’t the basic informative New York Times style of articles. These were readers comments and what they had to say about the case and me. Reading one after the other, after the other, etc. – was not something I was ready for, especially when I was already at my “breaking point.” The emotion hit me like a tidal wave… water streamed out of my eyes and I couldn’t turn off the damn valve and make it stop! Complete and utter MELTDOWN. They had broken me and they knew it. At which point the interview was over.

Ultimately Ali didn’t get the story she wanted and I’ve always suspected she was pissed off about it and edited the episode to make me look as bad as humanly possible.

Not So Ready For His Close Up

If that was Suzanne Ali’s goal, she was damn successful. Let’s be honest here: The viewing audience didn’t feel sorry for Dan at all. This was a guy who had confessed to murdering two people.

When I watched the show the first time, I thought Dan was acting for the camera the entire time. and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t believe his tears at all. But really, after the confession, any words out of his mouth would make him look bad. The only way to avoid the problem would have been to not do the interview. That’s something Daniel Wozniak learned from his Lockup experience – don’t do interviews.

When Daniel and the crew got back to the “dog kennels,” the camera man asked about day to day life inside the OC Jail. That’s when they filmed Daniel shaving and creating culinary masterpieces. When the cell shots were finished, it was finally Daniel’s chance to reap the rewards of going though all that emotional turmoil.  It was time to go into the dayroom and call Rachel Buffett on the non-collect phone!

Time To Call Rachel!

Just before leaving, someone from Lockup asked Daniel if they could return and film one of his visits as well. There was no way Daniel’s very private parents would agree to be on camera. And even though she hadn’t spoken to him in a couple of weeks, Dan Wozniak thought he might just as well ask Rachel Buffett if she would be willing to be on the show.

Dan dialed Rachel’s number and after a couple of rings she answered the phone. From Dan’s telling, the call went something like this:

Rachel: Hello

Dan: Well hello to you too. Where the hell have you been?

Rachel: Dan?

Dan: Surprise!

Rachel: How are you calling me?

Dan: Just filmed an episode of Lockup and I got some free phone calls. Oh and by the way, the crew is still here and they were wondering if you want to be filmed visiting me.

Rachel: What?!

Dan: Can you come visit and be filmed for Lockup?

Rachel: No! Are you an idiot?

Dan: So I’ve been told.

Rachel: Why did you agree to do that??

Dan: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because someone wasn’t answering her phone when I called.

Rachel: So you go on a TV show?

Dan: It was the only way I could talk to you.

Rachel: No. Dan. I’m sorry but this is not a good time. I really have to go. Can you call back later?

(Was she washing her hair??)

Dan: ummm I assume so.

Rachel: Ok, call me back later.

Dan: Just to be clear, that’s a “no” to visiting, right?

Rachel: Goodbye Dan.


Is anyone surprised that Rachel didn’t answer the phone when Dan called back?


Readers! I have a special surprise for you! One of you (thanks, Isadora!) discovered that the episode of Lockup is available for your viewing pleasure. It is now listed as “Facing the Death Penalty.” Here it is!


Lock Up / Lock Down: It’s an Honest Mistake

Hi readers. I apologize for the lengthy breaks between blog posts. I’m working on the book. It’s the holiday season. And, truth be told, there isn’t much to blog about in terms of Daniel’s case right now.

Originally, I planned to write a post all about the three-week long extended lockdown that took place in San Quentin State Prison this past September. In California prisons, a lockdown means inmates are locked in their cells twenty-four hours a day (this is probably twice as difficult for the prisoners who have cellies). For the duration of the lockdown, no visits or phone calls are allowed, and all classes and activities are suspended.

This topic seemed like the most noteworthy recent event in Daniel Wozniak’s life. But it wasn’t really a Daniel story, per se, so I put it off to write the last blog post, “It Worked for the Other Guy,“ about the major ruling in the Scott Dekraai case and the numerous connections to Daniel and his own trial.

While I was working on the Dekraai post, I asked Daniel to write me a letter describing what it was like for him during those three weeks being locked in a cell twenty-four hours a day.

However, we must have had a slight miscommunication issue. A week later, I received a detailed and interesting six-page typed letter from Daniel, but it was all about how he came to do an interview for the TV show Lockup six months after his arrest. Daniel wrote about being manipulated by the show’s producers and how his words were edited to make him look even more evil than he could have imagined.

Lockup, Lock down: It’s an honest mistake.

When I talked to Daniel after receiving his letter, I explained the whole “Lock down” vs “up” situation. He said he’d write me another letter, but pointed out that that being locked up all day, and having no visitors, calls, or classes, was the extent of the story. That’s why he thought I wanted information about his appearance on the TV show.

So, I’m afraid I won’t be blogging about the lockdown at SQ in this post. I’m sure I’ll revisit the topic at some point.

In case you’re disappointed about the lack of a lockdown story, I highly recommend checking out this story from San Quentin Radio.

Lockup: How to Make Egg Salad While Incarcerated

If you’ve been following Daniel Wozniak’s case for a while, you may have already watched the MSNBC Lockup Extended Stay: Orange County – Unholy Trinity episode that aired in 2011. If you haven’t seen Daniel Wozniak’s one and only on-camera interview, then I’m sorry to say you might have difficulty finding it now. It appears that two of the “unholy trinity” have been edited out of the show. The interviews with Jason Russell Richardson (aka “The Home Depot killer”) and Daniel are no longer part of the program in any of the versions I can find online. I don’t know about Richardson, but there’s still a bunch of legal controversy surrounding the show and Daniel’s case, so perhaps that is an explanation.

Nonetheless, I luckily had the full episode saved on my TiVo, so I was able watch it again before I wrote this post.

I first saw the Lockup episode when it originally aired six months after Daniel’s arrest. Orange County theatre people had been texting each other about how Wozniak was going to be on Lockup. At that point, I barely knew Daniel. I hadn’t started writing to him (or about him) yet. He was only that “actor from Nine who killed two people.” I couldn’t imagine what he would actually say in an interview.

Like everyone else, I’d read that Daniel confessed to murdering Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. But I’m a true-crime junkie, and I knew confessions are not necessarily the end of a story. I had met this man. I’d joked around backstage with him. I’d watched him perform on the stage of my theatre home.

Could that guy really have murdered two innocent people? Did I shake a hand that cut off a man’s head?

Doesn’t He Get It?

I had an open mind when I started watching that show, and then I saw Daniel Wozniak smiling into the camera and saying…

“I want people to know that I’m a good guy. I’m easy going. I enjoy long walks on the beach. I’m an Aries.” 

Ummm what did he just say??

Rewind… play….

“I want people to know that I’m a good guy. I’m easy going. I enjoy long walks on the beach. I’m an Aries.”

Dude! You are on Lockup! This is not an E-Harmony website!

Daniel Wozniak was off to a very bad start. I thought he must just be joking around. He couldn’t possibly think anyone cared about his astrological sign or the outdoor activities he used to enjoy.

And seriously, if you want people to think you’re a “good guy,” you probably shouldn’t commit murder. Just sayin’.

Next up, Dan gave the camera crew a tour of his humble abode: “Here is my sink.  Here is my toilet.”

It wasn’t a long tour – his sink and toilet were one and the same.

Good Eats: Orange County Jail Edition

When Daniel’s lunch was delivered (in a paper bag), he gave a food preparation demonstration in his cell. His lunch included a small container of carrots and a hard-boiled egg. Daniel explained how a clever convict could first eat the carrots, and then take the egg and some mayonnaise (lunch included an abundance of those little fast food mayo packets) and make egg salad in the now empty container.

That online dating video was getting more impressive by the minute.

There were shots of Daniel shaving with a tiny razor, footage of him on an escalator being escorted by a guard, and images of him sitting on his bunk. At one point, Daniel even read one of his favorite Bible verses for the audience.

Acting Oblivious? Or Just Oblivious?

When producer Suzanne Ali started asking Daniel questions about his case, he tried to avoid the topic. Daniel acted like he didn’t even know exactly what his own charges were. “They said I murdered two people. They said I dismembered one of them.”

Daniel talked about Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. How they were both great people, terrific friends, and would help anyone at any time.

It was clear to me that Dan Wozniak was attempting to perform for the camera. When he continued to claim ignorance about the details of his crimes, someone on the crew pulled out a cellphone and brought up some articles for Daniel to read.

As the camera zoomed in on the side of his face, Daniel scanned the phone screen. Seemingly overwhelmed with emotion, he started to cry. Even though he’d confessed to committing these crimes months earlier, we viewers were supposed to accept that Dan Wozniak was shocked to learn what was being written about him.

By the end of the show, I was completely convinced that Daniel Wozniak was a fake and a liar. Hell, maybe he didn’t even like long walks on the beach.

Up Next: Was Daniel Wozniak “Produced” by Lockup?

But in part two of this post, I’m going to give you Daniel’s explanation of how Lockup managed to make him look even worse than he already did, and why he even agreed to the interview in the first place.

I’ll give you a hint: it was all about talking to Rachel Buffet.

A Rachel Buffet Update

Speaking of Rachel – I attended her court hearing on November 28th. Technically she now has a trial date set for Feb 9, 2018. However, she still has a TRC (Trial Readiness Conference) scheduled for January 19th, so a lot can still happen before Rachel Buffett faces a jury. Fingers crossed, though.