The Sword and Scale Podcast recently profiled the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. I was interviewed for the episode (via telephone) in May, and it’s now available here, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
I think the story is covered decently, especially considering all the bizarre twists and turns in the case. They spend the first fifteen minutes or so examining how one of the victims, Sam Herr, was originally considered the prime suspect in the murder of Julie Kibuishi.
However, out of respect for Steve and Raquel Herr, Sam Herr’s parents, I wanted to go into a little more detail than provided in the excerpts of my interview used for the podcast. If you’ve come here as a Sword and Scale listener, this might be enlightening and interesting.
More to the Story
Julie Kibuishi’s body was found in Sam’s apartment. Authorities thought the Army veteran had possibly snapped, murdering his friend.
It was a logical interpretation of a crime scene in which Julie’s clothing was torn and the words “all yours fuck you” were scrawled on the back of her sweater.
In fact, this was Daniel Wozniak’s intention in staging the scene Steve Herr discovered.
Dan had been aware of a dark time in Sam Herr’s life. He knew that when Sam Herr had spent some time in the Los Angeles jail.
When Sam was a teenager, he and a group of other young men had been arrested on a murder charge. So Dan figured the Costa Mesa Police would suspect Sam even more than they already did once they looked into his past.
Sam Herr had been completely acquitted of that original crime. After that, he got away from a bad crowd, joined the Army, and became a highly decorated veteran.
He did everything right. The future stolen from him would likely have been filled with success, family, and happiness.
I hope that extra context adds to your experience of the episode.
Hello! Some of you readers may be new to my blog Daniel Wozniak is My Friend. You may have found this site through the podcast Sleuth. If so… welcome!
This blog and I have come up as a topic of discussion on Sleuth a couple of times. If you’ve come here via Sleuth, you might think of me as “The Blogger,” or “That Blogger Woman,” because that’s the moniker I’ve been assigned on Sleuth.
On the recently released season finale, I learned that Sleuth has “two million listeners,” and that is a lot of people, right? I figured at least a dozen or so of those engrossed Sleuth fans might come here to check out what I have to say. Because Daniel Wozniak, the convicted murderer sitting on death row for the brutal murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi, is my friend. And I’m writing a book about all of it.
Don’t worry; I have plenty of friends who are not incarcerated.
Who is The Blogger?
I love true crime. When the idea came to me that I might want to write a book about Daniel Wozniak, a friend suggested I begin by writing a blog first, and use it as a jumping-off point for the book. I liked the idea and didn’t see the logic in writing the book before Daniel and Rachel had even been to trial. This gave me some much needed time to hone my writing skills in a relatively safe environment. I think you’ll notice a marked improvement in the blog posts as you read them from the beginning.
When Daniel’s former fiancée, Rachel Buffett, was sentenced in November, I decided as soon as the holidays were over, I would put the blog on the back burner for a bit and focus entirely on the book.
Well, not entirely… I am married and I have two children at home. So, seeing Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse and going out for Mexican food with my family will occasionally take priority over my work.
Like Daniel and Rachel, my background is in the local theatre world. I’ve directed. I’ve written. I’ve acted. My goal has always been to share an interesting story in a creative and engaging way. I don’t use the word “journalist” to describe myself. I’m a storyteller, and Daniel Wozniak is only telling his story to me.
Years of Direct Access to Daniel Wozniak
Daniel and I talk on the telephone almost daily, and in the past three years, he’s written to me… a lot. The picture here doesn’t do justice to the number of letters I’ve received from Daniel Wozniak. It’s not even a drop in the bucket. I have hundreds of letters, but I’m not going to put them all on the floor to take a picture because they are organized (at least in a way I understand) in files and crates with titles like “Life with Rachel” and “Leading up to the Murders.”
It’s Enough to Make Your Head Spin (Apparently)
Daniel Wozniak can communicate with whomever he wishes, in spite of the suggestion I’m somehow controlling with my ability to do a 360 with my noggin. Unfortunately, I have no such skill, and I don’t even have a recipe for (vegetarian) split pea soup.
Clever The Exorcist reference was thrown in by Editor Matt. Thanks EM
I do not claim Daniel Wozniak has never communicated with other writers or journalists. He has told me that any contact he’s had in the past three years has been minimal, merely to explain that he will only be telling his story to me, “The Blogger.” I personally have not seen or heard any evidence to the contrary, so I tend to believe he is telling me the truth in this regard.
Why Wasn’t I On That Podcast?
Sleuth host Linda Sawyer asked me to come on her podcast more than once. Despite Sawyer’s claim that appearing on her podcast would be great publicity for my book, I turned her down. Since the book isn’t finished, it seemed like putting the cart before the horse.
Also, I want to tell the story in my own way, and in my own time. True crime and my theatre world crashed into each other, and I really want to understand exactly how and why this horrible event happened. I’ve been piecing together this disturbing puzzle for over three years because I want to know the truth.
I don’t have any illusions that my book will bring more justice to the Herr and Kibuishi families, but maybe they’ll have some questions answered… assuming Julie’s and Sam’s loved ones believe Daniel has been honest with me.
Has Daniel Heard the Podcast?
Daniel is not able to listen to Sleuth or any other podcast besides San Quentin’s own podcast, Earhustle(Great podcast. You should check it out). Daniel doesn’t have the Internet or a device with which to receive it. I’ve tried to play the podcast over the phone, but SQ background noise is loud and I don’t have great cell phone reception where I live, so I’ve attempted to give him a general overview of each episode.
It would be so convenient if there were written transcripts of all the Sleuth episodes.
Often, the information stated on Sleuth coincides perfectly with the story Daniel has shared with me.
And sometimes… it doesn’t.
When that happens, I have questions for Daniel. That’s nothing new in our friendship; I’ve bombarded him with questions ever since I first wrote to him. I want to know the truth, and it’s challenging.
I’m aware that most people are going to trust a popular podcaster over a convicted murderer.
What About Tim?
However, Tim Wozniak, Daniel’s brother, is not a convicted murderer. Whatever role Tim may or may not have had in this crime, as of today, he’s never been charged with murder.
I met Tim for the first time when I visited him at the Orange County jail. Daniel wanted to make sure his brother was doing okay behind bars, and I wanted to talk to Tim because he’s an integral part of this story.
I don’t know Tim very well. We’ve messaged a fair amount, we went vintage clothing shopping, we’ve had coffee at Starbucks, and we ate Taco Bell. In all my communications with him, Tim has seemed cautiously aware of what he says to me.
I’m not suggesting Tim Wozniak is cautious because he’s dishonest. To not be cautious would be foolhardy, considering his situation, and all that has been said about him on the Sleuth podcast.
According to Tim, he had only one brief conversation with Linda Sawyer, and he told her nothing that incriminated him (or Rachel) in the murders of Sam and Julie.
Is he telling the truth?
Show Your Work
It would be a lot easier to know who to believe if Sleuth host Linda Sawyer would play a recording of even one of the conversations she claims to have had with Tim Wozniak.
Overall, the podcast Sleuth has been exceptionally helpful for me as I work on my book. I often feel like it’s paving my way with introductions to information I’ve only previously heard from Daniel himself.
That said… Come on, Sleuth fans. I can’t be the only listener who would like a little more solid evidence to accompany accusations made on the show.
Questions For Me?
Some of you might have a few questions for me. That’s understandable. I just ask you take some time to read the entirety of my blog and get a sense of who I am and how I write before you go comment-crazy. It’s likely I’ve already answered your questions in a previous post…
Again, welcome, and thank you for visiting the blog. I never forget that my “project” only exists because Sam and Julie were viciously murdered and stolen from their families. I hope you’ll read my book when it’s finished, and maybe we can all gain some understanding about this incomprehensible tragedy.
I’ve been writing about Daniel Wozniak and the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi for about three years now (wow). During this time, I’ve come to realize just how many people are fascinated by the True Crime genre.
I used to think it was just me who would ask Santa to put a deck of serial killer trading cards under my Christmas tree. But True Crime is everywhere these days. Even people who don’t think of themselves as True Crime fans give me their undivided attention when I attempt to deliver a condensed version of what I’m working on.
The True Crime bug has even made its way into high school matriculation.
Behind Behind the Curtain
This past April, I received a message from an Irvine, California high school student named Tess Ortego. She was the team leader of a trio of teens, including Collin Press and Sydney Guanga*, who were working on the final project for their Forensics Core classes. As part of the curriculum, they took an Honors Forensic Science class, an Honors Forensic Psychology class, and an Honors Critical Theory and Literature class.
Impressive, right? I thought my honors Algebra class was challenging.
According to Tess, the assignment was pretty open ended. It was to use a medium (suggested mediums included podcast, documentary, or website) to answer the essential question, “How do we determine a reliable understanding of truth within the criminal justice system?”
I believe the children are the future – for reals.
The students were supposed to focus on a cold case and act as their own investigative team. Interestingly, Tess, Collin and Sydney were given permission to work on a case that wasn’t so cold. Considering all the publicity surrounding Daniel Wozniak’s trial and the Orange County snitch scandal, the students couldn’t have found a better case to study truth within the criminal justice system.
They decided to do a podcast, which they cleverly titled Behind the Curtain, and their research let them to my blog. They figured I’d be a good source of information on the topic.
I’m a busy person. Active life. I have a book to finish. But I enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed and recorded for their podcast. These kids are barely older than my own son, and since I’d hope someone would help him out on an important school project, I could do no less.
An Opportunity To Share
Also, I’m not ashamed to admit I was glad for the opportunity to actually talk about some of what I’ve been writing. In the theatre world, it’s common for a director to ask a trusted and perceptive peer to attend an early rehearsal and provide audience feedback. These kids are smart (the two seniors, Tess and Collin, are starting at prestigious colleges this fall) and they’d done quite a bit of research on Daniel’s case. They really wanted to know the story Daniel has only shared with me, and Tess agreed to not use anything I told them in confidence.
Tess and I emailed back and forth for a bit in order to plan an interview time. The team sent me a list of well-crafted interview questions, such as:
How did you know Daniel Wozniak prior to his conviction?
What about Daniel Wozniak interests you the most?
Do you know anything about Wozniak’s family/parents?
Have you ever been criticized for writing your blog?
We decided to meet at a local Starbucks, because all my important meetings take place at a local Starbucks.
The three students were seated outside when I arrived. It was a hot day, and our four o’clock meeting time landed us with the bright sun beating down between the gaps where two patio umbrellas attempted to protect my pasty white skin. Sydney ended up trading seats with me when I still couldn’t stop making a squinty-eyed pirate face in spite of wearing sunglasses.
Honestly, I would have preferred sitting indoors, but I didn’t want to sound “complainy” asking about it. Maybe they looked indoors before I arrived; and they weren’t any tables available that were large enough to seat four.
Being outdoors did mean I had to be more aware of acoustics and background noise for the podcast recording. I was wearing Invisalign braces at the time, so I felt the need to make an extra effort to speak clearly and loudly enough for their microphone. I have a good strong voice. It’s not super loud and intrusive (I hope), but if other patrons at nearby tables happened to want to focus in on the conversation at our table, it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge to catch the majority of what was being said. (Foreshadowing!)
We spent the next two hours discussing the horrible murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. We went over the details of the story known to the public; which can be complicated to follow even for those who have studied the case extensively. We discussed aspects of Daniel Wozniak’s confession that are illogical and weren’t actually proven in court with any corroborating evidence. I shared some of Daniel’s claims of what actually took place when Sam and Julie were murdered.
I wanted to make sure the students understood that Daniel in no way exonerates himself with this other story. He is a murderer. There is no version of the story where Julie Kibuishi and Sam Herr don’t lose their lives.
However, what Daniel has told me sure does add quite a few new layers to the cake. There are a lot of extra ingredients, and Daniel claims he wasn’t the only chef in the kitchen.
Listen to a special composite version of Behind the Curtain (edited to maintain my privacy) by clicking on the player:
(Audio is used by permission. Behind the Curtain is copyright 2018 Tess Ortego, Collin Press, Sydney Guanga. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication in any media is a violation of international copyright laws.)
An Unintended Guest
I used to feel uncomfortable discussing my writing project. Even in a crowded restaurant, my voice would instinctively drop to a whisper when saying words like “murder” and “mutilation.”
The popularity of True Crime had made me let down my guard. That’s why I was so surprised about what happened just when we were wrapping up the interview.
Unseen by me, a man had sat down at the table behind ours. The seating order at our table allowed all the kids to see the man while my back was turned away from him.
“That isn’t a very nice conversation you’re having,” he loudly called over to us. “It isn’t appropriate for such a beautiful day.”
He wouldn’t have been bothered if it were raining?
I turned around in my seat and faced the man. He was small and pale with thinning dark hair. I detected an Eastern European accent. I kindly explained to him that our conversation was all for the purpose of education. Unfortunately, he wasn’t appeased.
“Oh” he said. “It’s so lovely out, I thought you should talk about something more appropriate.”
“We are almost finished, and we want them to get a good grade.” I answered, turning back to the kids.
I wasn’t exactly sure what he was attempting to accomplish. It’s a free Starbucks. We can discuss whatever we want. Our language was clean. Nobody was smoking or doing anything offensive. This man had no right or reason to try and shame us for our conversation topic.
That being said, if we hadn’t been leaving, I would have tried to keep my voice lower, or move us to another table, for the sake of peace and harmony.
“There are so many nicer things to teach children.” He spoke louder to the back of my head. He had that passive aggressive nature that some men reveal when they decide, “you should smile more because you are such a pretty girl.”
The teenagers looked amused. Eye rolling ensued.
It wasn’t just me; the kids rolled their eyes, too.
I looked at him over my shoulder. “I’m not their teacher. I’m not their parent. I just know a lot about their topic.”
“And we all come from loving homes, by the way,” Tess added. Well played, I thought!
People are drawn to True Crime for a wide variety of reasons. Is it a fascination with the darker side of humanity? Is it the excitement of a good scare? Or does having an in-depth knowledge of murderers and their victims makes us feel a little more prepared to fight off anything bad that comes our way?
It’s possible these kids only wanted a good grade on their final. But Tess has aspirations to join the FBI, and both she and Sydney say they can’t wait to read my book.
So I better get back to work.
Update on Rachel Buffett’s Trial
Once again, Rachel has a scheduled trial date. She is supposed to be in court Monday August 20th, 2018. I’ll keep you updated if anything happens.
*Permission was granted to use the names of the students.