Sunday 12 April 2020

Murder Most Vile Volume 29

 18 classic true crime cases from around the world, including;

Murder on the Menu: The chef and his wife had a fractious relationship. But did he really dispose of her body by cooking it?

Some Kind of Monster: An appallingly incompetent decision by a judge delivers a little girl into the hands of a monster – her own, abusive father.

Do It Again: Patricia had already gotten away with murder once. Now she’s playing the odds again. Double or quits?

Three Little Girls: When three little girls go missing from a summer picnic, a massive search is launched. One of the searchers knows more than he’s saying.

I Was a Teenage Cannibal: A teenager with a macabre obsession lures a little boy into his parents’ basement. What happens next is the stuff of nightmares.

Heartless: She had the looks of a glamor model and a heart of gold. But Kirsty Grabham made her living as a hooker. It would end up getting her killed.

Friendly Fire: When an illicit romance breaks down between two soldiers, the battle lines are drawn – and this is a war zone with plenty of weapons.

The Girl Scout Murders: An enduring murder mystery. Who killed the Camp Scott Girl Scouts? And why has he never been caught?

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

Murder Most Vile Volume 29

Murder on the Menu

Lomita, California, is a suburb of Los Angeles, lying some 20 miles south of the metropolis along a beautiful stretch of coastline. It is a city that takes life at a sedate pace, so sedate in fact that it is sometimes jokingly called ‘Slow-mita.’ It is also a jurisdiction with one of the lowest crime rates in the greater Los Angeles area, a peaceful enclave in one of the nation’s most populous regions. For David and Dawn Viens, it seemed the perfect place to settle after their move from Florida.

David had met Dawn in Vermont back in the early 1990s. At the time, the handsome chef was going through a divorce from his first wife and was immediately attracted to the petite and pretty Dawn. They started dating and eventually married in 1997 by which time they had moved to the idyllic Anna Maria Island, off Florida's Gulf Coast. David ran a successful restaurant there, the Beach City Market and Grille, employing Dawn’s brother as a manager. Dawn, meanwhile, was the perfect hostess, charming patrons with her naturally outgoing personality. It was a happy time for all until David was arrested for selling marijuana and sentenced to a year in prison. After his release, the couple was on the move again, trekking cross-country to Lomita. There, David bought a small restaurant called the Thyme Contemporary Café, and he and Dawn set about rebuilding their lives and livelihood. Unfortunately, it was not to be. A week after the Thyme Café opened its doors under new management, Dawn Viens vanished.

David Viens seemed unconcerned about his wife’s disappearance. He and Dawn had a somewhat volatile relationship, and she’d walked out on him before. Usually she returned after blowing off steam with her drug buddies. But this time was different. On the morning of Tuesday, October 20, 2009, David called a meeting and informed his staff that Dawn would no longer be working at the restaurant. At that same meeting, he promoted 22-year-old waitress Kathy Galvan to take over Dawn’s host duties.

Later that same day, Dawn’s friend, Karen Patterson, arrived at the restaurant. She and Dawn had arranged to meet for lunch that day, but Dawn hadn’t shown. She wanted to know where her friend was. David said that he didn’t know. According to him, he and Dawn had argued the previous night over her drug use. Dawn had stormed out after he insisted that she check into rehab to get treatment for her problems. “She’ll be back in time,” he said, although he insisted that he would no longer allow her to work at the restaurant. According to him, she’d been drinking as many as 18 beers a day, was rude to staff and customers, and was costing him money by miscalculating bills. Karen could accept that. She knew that her friend had substance abuse problems. What she didn’t understand was why Dawn hadn’t told her where she was going and why her car was still parked in the lot outside the restaurant. Something didn’t seem right.

And Karen’s suspicions would deepen later that afternoon when she received a text message from her missing friend. In it, Dawn said that she had left David and was moving “back east.” She promised to send Karen her new phone number once she was settled. The message was signed ‘PIXY’ and this bothered Karen. Dawn did indeed go by that nickname, but she always spelled it ‘PIXIE.’ How likely was it that someone would misspell their own name?

Someone else who didn’t buy the story of Dawn leaving town in the middle of the night was Joe Cacace, who ran a motorcycle shop across the road from the restaurant. Joe had recently befriended Dawn, and she’d given him $700 to hold for her, saying that she might need it to “get away.” But if that was the case, why had she skipped town without asking for the money? Over the next week, Cacace kept a close eye on the Thyme Café. He soon began to notice something. Within days of his wife’s disappearance, David Viens appeared to have a new woman in his life. He had become very friendly with Kathy Galvan, the waitress he’d promoted to replace Dawn. On more than one occasion, Cacace spotted then walking hand in hand. What he didn’t know was that Galvan had already moved into David Viens’s apartment.

On November 1, 2009, David’s 19-year-old daughter, Jackie, arrived from South Carolina to help out at the restaurant. Jackie had always liked Dawn, so she was somewhat surprised to find her gone and a woman barely older than she was now living with her father. But Jackie was aware that her dad and Dawn had a frequently explosive relationship, and so she readily bought his story about Dawn’s sudden departure. When he asked her to pack up some of Dawn’s stuff, she did so without question. Most of the missing woman’s belongings ended up in a dumpster behind the restaurant.

Dawn Viens had now been missing for nearly two weeks. Yet no one had thus far thought of reporting her disappearance. This may have been because she was still in touch. Several of her friends received text messages, all bearing the misspelled name, ‘PIXY.’ It was Dawn’s sister Deena who eventually decided to take action. She had concluded by now that the messages were not from Dawn but from some imposter. On November 9, she took her suspicions to the police.

One of the first steps detectives usually take in the case of a missing adult is to subpoena the person’s bank records. Inactivity is usually an ominous sign since no one gets very far without cash. In Dawn’s case, her bank card had not been used since October 18. She had also made not a single call from her cell phone, despite the suspicious texts sent to her friends. Detectives next interviewed David Viens who trotted out the same story he’d been telling all along, that Dawn had stormed out during an argument and that he had not heard from her since. With no way to prove otherwise, the police were forced to accept his version of events.

But when the investigators followed up with Viens a month later, he had a different story to tell. He now said that he had seen Dawn since her disappearance. She’d appeared at his door, dirty and disheveled about a week after she initially went missing. Quite obviously under the influence, she’d begged him to give up the restaurant and to “move with her to the mountains.” David had, of course, refused and had asked her again to go into rehab. To his surprise, Dawn had agreed. Thereafter, she’d stayed at the apartment for two days before she left again, while he was asleep, taking some of her belongings with her. After that, Viens claimed, he’d texted Dawn several times and had spoken to her on the phone, before she had broken off all contact.

By August 2010, Dawn Viens had been missing for ten months. No one on the force believed that she was still alive, and the decision was therefore made to transfer the case to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Homicide Division, where it was assigned to Sgt. Richard Garcia. After reviewing the case, Garcia was certain that David Viens knew a lot more about his wife’s disappearance than he was saying. Garcia dearly wanted to conduct a search of Viens’s apartment but lacked probable cause to obtain a search warrant. Then, in October, he caught a break. Viens had decided to move. Seizing this opportunity, Garcia sent in a CSI team ahead of the cleaners. They soon hit pay dirt. Tiny flecks of blood were found on the bedroom wall and in the bathroom. It seemed like the breakthrough the police had been waiting for, but the optimism would be short-lived. The blood was too degraded to be any good as evidence. Garcia was back to square one.

Over the months that followed, the police continued to keep David Viens under surveillance and also obtained a wiretap on his phone. When that proved unproductive, they decided on a different strategy. On February 21, 2011, two L.A. County deputies arrived at the Columbia, South Carolina, home of David Viens’ daughter, Jackie. Jackie had, of course, spent six weeks working at the Thyme Café in the immediate aftermath of Dawn’s disappearance. The investigators were hoping that she might have seen or heard something that would help them in their inquiries. But Jackie would do more than that, much more. To the surprise of the deputies, she suddenly blurted out that her father had killed Dawn.

According to Jackie, her father had confessed the killing to her just a week after her arrival in California. He’d told her that Dawn’s death had occurred in the early morning hours of October 19, 2009, and had been an accident. David had been out drinking with friends that night and had returned to find that Dawn was not at home. He’d then taken a sleeping pill and gone to bed. Before doing so, he’d placed a chair under the door handle to prevent Dawn entering the room. He’d done this, he said, because Dawn was often aggressive and abusive when she’d been drinking and taking drugs. He did not want her to bother him when she got home.

David soon drifted off to sleep. But then he was awakened by Dawn, yelling and banging on the bedroom door, demanding to be let in. David shouted back that she should sleep in the other room, but she started kicking the door, eventually forcing her way in. She then continued screaming insults at him until he got up and confronted her. The two of them had tussled, with David quickly gaining the upper hand. Having subdued Dawn, he dragged her to the living room. There he bound her wrists and ankles with duct tape and placed a strip of tape over her mouth. This, he explained, was the only way to control Dawn when she was in “one of her moods.” He’d done the same on two previous occasions. Having thus restrained his wife, he went back to bed.

But the makeshift restraints would have tragic consequences on this occasion. When David got up that morning, he found Dawn cold and unresponsive. It was obvious that she wasn’t breathing, and he found the cause when he removed the gag. Dawn had thrown up during the night and had choked on her own vomit.

Having made this confession, Viens had begged his daughter to keep his secret. He’d even roped her in to cover up the death, persuading her to send texts to Dawn’s friends. It was she who was behind the ‘PIXY’ messages. The investigators then asked Jackie if she knew where Dawn’s body was, but Jackie said that she did not. All she knew was what her father had told her. He’d said that he’d disposed of the body in such a way that it would never be found.

With direct testimony now implicating Viens in the death of his wife, lead investigator Garcia decided to turn up the heat. He contacted a local reporter, Larry Altman, and told him that the police were about to publicly name David Viens as a person of interest. Altman then went to the Thyme Café hoping to get a statement from Viens but was shown the door by Kathy Galvan. Next Viens received a call from Jackie, who told him that she had spoken to the police and told them everything she knew. “They’re going to be coming after you,” she warned, as detectives listened in on the wiretap.

On the morning of Wednesday, February 23, David Viens left his apartment early and drove to a newsstand where he picked up a copy of the local paper, the Daily Breeze. He then returned home to read the front page article that named him as a suspect in the murder of his wife. The effect of those words had a devastating effect on Viens. Tearfully, he admitted to Kathy Galvan that the story was true. He had killed Dawn, albeit by accident. He then stammered something about killing himself and ran from the house.

Fearful of what David might do, Kathy chased after him. When he got into his truck, she slipped into the passenger seat. She was convinced that he wouldn’t do anything stupid while she was in the vehicle with him. She was wrong. Viens quickly navigated a path towards Palos Verdes Drive, a scenic road that winds its way along the Pacific coast. There are steep cliffs here. That was where Viens was headed.

By now, Viens’s flight had been picked up by a patrol officer who’d radioed for backup. Soon a convoy of police cars was trailing Viens as he followed the coastline. Eventually, he pulled over at a scenic overlook and jumped from the truck. With police vehicles screeching to a halt behind her, Kathy tried desperately to hold Viens back. But he shrugged her off and sprinted away. Without so much as a backward glance, he launched himself over the edge and plummeted to the earth 80 feet below.

Had Viens ended up on the rocks or hit the ground head first, he would undoubtedly have been killed. Instead, he avoided the sharp outcrops and landed on his feet. Still, the injuries were horrific – severe fractures to both legs, serious hip injuries, ruptured organs, internal bleeding. Airlifted to Harbor UCLA Medical Center, he underwent emergency surgery. That he survived is nothing short of a miracle. Viens was placed into a medically induced coma to speed his recovery. He would remain under sedation for eight days.

On the afternoon of March 1, 2011, Viens was finally able to talk to detectives. And he was in a confessional mood, relating to officers the same story he’d told his daughter Jackie and his lover, Kathy Galvan. Yet one key question remained unanswered. Where was Dawn’s body? The answer that Viens gave was shocking. He had cooked her.

According to Viens, he had decided that the best way to dispose of the corpse was to boil all of the flesh from the bones and then dispose of the remains along with other kitchen waste. He had crammed the entire body into a 55-gallon steel pot, filled it with water and got it boiling. This process continued for four days. He’d boiled the body at night and wheeled the pot with its grisly contents into a shed during the day, when his staff were around. The remains had been consigned to the dumpster behind the restaurant and had been carted away to the dump.

The trial of David Viens got underway at L.A.’s Superior Court on September 12, 2012. Since Viens did not deny killing Dawn, the issue for the jury was whether he was guilty of first-degree or second-degree murder. The defense claimed the latter, saying that Viens had not intended to kill. The prosecutor offered a different view, insisting that Viens had killed his wife because she had been stealing money from his business to feed her drug habit. Viens had apparently said as much to a friend of his, adding ominously, “Nobody steals from me. I’ll kill the bitch!”

In the end, though, the jury came down in favor of the defense. David Viens was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life. He will be eligible for parole in 2023. Viens now denies that he cooked his wife’s remains, saying that the police extracted the confession from him while he was under the influence of powerful sedatives and not thinking straight. No trace of Dawn Viens has ever been found.  

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