Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Anatomy Of A Murder: Westerfield vs. Van Dams (A Mother's Story)
San Diego Online ^ | June 27, 2002 | Kevin Cox

Posted on 06/27/2002 6:47:45 AM PDT by FresnoDA

Anatomy of a Murder
The disappearance of Danielle van Dam was a shocking tragedy that ballooned into more than just a murder case. The parents’ lifestyle—and actions by police, media, lawyers and the district attorney—came into question. As the legal team for defendant David Westerfield begins the fight for his life, here’s a no-holds-barred look behind the scenes of San Diego’s biggest story of 2002.
By Kevin Cox

Amid the superstores and strip malls that pass for community in the suburbs of San Diego, some small-town traditions remain. Parents still come out to watch their kids play Little League baseball, just like their parents did.

There’s sunshine and sunflower seeds. Dirt and grass.

But in the Carmel Mountain Ranch Little League, grass is a touchy subject this season. Parents have admitted smoking it, and one of them says a coach supplied it.

Grass. Marijuana, that is.

The coach is Rich Brady (not the well-known San Diego clothier with the same name). Some wanted Brady to resign, but others involved with his team threatened to pull their children out of the league if he left, according to a league official. Brady declined comment on the subject. The dispute went all the way to Little League headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

The Carmel Mountain Ranch league was covering its bases, according to the league official. “The general consensus from everyone involved is unless the man is charged with something, and his performance on the field is affected by choices in his personal life, at this point there are no grounds to remove him,” the official says.

Rich Brady is still coaching, but “It’s one of those situations where we wish he would go away quietly,” says another coach.

And who is the parent who says Brady supplied marijuana?

Brenda van Dam.

The disappearance of her 7-year-old daughter, Danielle, set off a San Onofre–size chain reaction in San Diego on February 2. Three days later, Brenda and her husband, Damon, were on national television, pleading for Danielle’s return. They kept making pleas in daily news conferences before dozens of reporters and photographers outside their Sabre Springs home—with the man suspected of abducting their daughter just two doors away.

Police quickly focused on the neighbor, David Westerfield, as thousands of volunteers kept searching for Danielle. Twenty days after she disappeared, the cops arrested Westerfield, who pleaded not guilty to murdering her. It took five more days for searchers to find Danielle’s body, under a tree by a road in East County.

Westerfield’s murder trial—he faces the death penalty—was scheduled to start May 17. A judge imposed a gag order on most of the trial participants—including the van Dams, the police and the district attorney. San Diego Magazine offered each a chance to comment for this story. They either declined, citing the gag order, or did not respond.

The van Dams

Despite the reluctance of many in the media to explore the van Dams’ lifestyle choices, one thing is clear: The question of lifestyle—both the Van Dams’ and that of their neighbor, David Westerfield—is very likely to be a central issue in Westerfield’s murder trial. And it will be impossible for the media to ignore.

Looking back, Brenda van Dam called it a girls’ night out. That’s how she described an evening of drinking and dancing with her two girlfriends, on the same night her daughter disappeared. Brenda offered the following version of events that evening:

The three women met two men at a bar. Brady was one of them. They went back to the van Dam house about 2 a.m. Damon van Dam, who had remained home with Danielle and her two brothers, joined the group to eat leftover pizza. The pizza party broke up around 3 a.m., and the van Dams went to bed.

Later that morning, about 9 a.m., the van Dams discovered their daughter was missing.

In the days following Danielle’s disappearance, allegations about her parents’ lifestyle began to emerge. There was talk of spouse-swapping and drug use by the van Dams. It had the makings of a public relations nightmare.

“At that time, attention was starting to get diverted to allegations of family lifestyle,” says a spokeswoman for Fleishman Hillard, an international public relations and communications firm. A week after Danielle disappeared, four employees from the firm’s San Diego office started working with the van Dams as unpaid volunteers.

The spokeswoman says the van Dams needed help also because of the “news crush”—the sheer number of reporters now working the story—“and the fear other news [stories] would begin to override” the search for Danielle. “At that point, there was still a child missing,” she says. “That was the concern.”

The Fleishman Hillard employees worked with the van Dams for eight days, but the spokeswoman says the pair didn’t need any coaching. “In the media, there was a lot of second-guessing, a lot of speculation that the van Dams were heavily media trained. Frankly, that’s not true. They knew what they wanted to say; they knew where they wanted the attention to stay focused. We just helped them along.”

The spokeswoman has nothing but praise for the van Dams—as people and as parents. “I don’t know that I could have been that strong. I think their strength came from the belief they were doing the right thing in trying to find their daughter. I don’t think many people would have been as brave as the van Dams,” she says. “They were so selfless ... putting themselves through public scrutiny. They proved themselves to be ... good parents [who] do everything they can for their children. That’s exactly what they did.”

The public saw another side of the van Dams during David Westerfield’s preliminary hearing in March. That’s when Brenda described a previous girls’ night out—on January 25, a week before Danielle disappeared. On that night, Brenda testified, she saw Westerfield at Dad’s, a restaurant and bar in Poway, and he bought her alcohol. But she said she couldn’t remember how many drinks she had.

A week later, on February 1, Brenda testified, she, her husband and her two girlfriends smoked marijuana in the van Dam garage. Then the three women went back to Dad’s for their second girls’ night out in eight days. Westerfield was back at the bar, too. Brenda testified she and her two girlfriends smoked marijuana again that night in the parking lot at Dad’s—marijuana supplied by Rich Brady, the Little League coach.

Brenda acknowledged she told police her two girlfriends were dancing in a sexually provocative manner, rubbing their bodies together. One of the girlfriends, identified as Barbara Easton, tried to grab Brenda’s breasts, according to the statement Brenda gave investigators.

Westerfield’s attorney, Steven Feldman, pressed Brenda about her relationship with Easton. “Would you characterize Barbara Easton as an intimate friend of yours?” Feldman asked.

“What do you mean by ‘intimate’?” Brenda said.

“Very close ... sexually very close,” Feldman said.

The prosecution objected, and the judge ruled Brenda did not have to answer the question.

When Brenda and her friends came back to the van Dam house on February 1, Easton went upstairs to see Damon van Dam. Under questioning from Westerfield’s attorney, Damon admitted he initially withheld information from police about what he did with Easton. When he did provide details, he acknowledged telling investigators that Easton got in bed with him. Later during the same hearing, he testified he and Easton kissed and he rubbed her back while he lay in bed—but she was on top of the covers.

The Media

Every few years, San Diego hits a lottery no one wants to win. Something really bad happens, and it makes national news. Heaven’s Gate. Santana High. Danielle van Dam.

She was reported missing at the start of the February ratings period, when TV stations measure audiences to determine advertising rates. There were no other big national stories in early February. There was no news from Afghanistan. The Olympics hadn’t started. Enron had already been imploding for a while.

“It’s a pretty sensational story,” says Mike Stutz, news director for KGTV (Channel 10). “It certainly generated tons of interest. We saw it in the numbers [ratings]. There were different approaches in terms of how the van Dams’ personal life was reported. We stayed away from getting into that, not knowing if it had anything to do with the actual crime itself.”

At an April 27 Society of Professional Journalists seminar, held on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University to examine the van Dam coverage, Stutz and KNSD (Channel 7/39) news director Jim Sanders defended their decisions to not air information about the family’s lifestyle. Sanders says he confirmed lifestyle reports from two credible sources, but chose not to air the information “unless the police department told us it was relevant to the case.”

Stutz says ratings had nothing to do with way the story was covered. “[But] it’s nice to have ’em come along,” he says. “I didn’t approach it [as] ‘Okay, we gotta get a big number here, let’s have more Westerfield.’”

But there was a missing girl—wearing a choker and a 7-year-old’s smile.

The national networks had their angle. Grieving parents make great television, news professionals say. And those news pros believe the networks go easy on the lifestyle aspect. Shaking her head and looking down, Diane Sawyer seemed barely able to ask the question about the “rumors” when she interviewed the van Dams via satellite on Good Morning America.

The networks, according to insiders, don’t want to ruin their chances for any future access to the van Dams—such as that big sit-down interview—once the trial’s over. So they “make nice” with them, in the words of one producer who made a special trip to San Diego for that very reason.

The tabloids were in town as well, and they had their angle. Danielle was the new JonBenet Ramsey. The two had a lot in common. They were cute little girls, both from relatively affluent neighborhoods, and TV stations across the country played home video of them incessantly.

Who can forget the images of JonBenet performing in that cowboy outfit? And who can forget those images of Danielle playing to the camera, being a happy 7-year-old?

The tabloids played up the van Dams’ lifestyle, too. But the local media, with the exception of radio talk show host Rick Roberts, didn’t talk very much about that. Instead, they were making some bizarre comments about the case.

On the air, KUSI (Channel 51) reporter Paul Bloom said he was “not allowed to think about” certain aspects of the investigation. San Diego Magazine asked Bloom what he meant. “As a journalist,” he says, “I’m not allowed to speculate, or think that way at all.” Bloom adds he was happy with the way he covered the story. “Every day of the week there was a new rumor ... new speculation. There was no confirmation that it had anything to do with Danielle’s disappearance.”

Instead of questioning the van Dams’ lifestyle, the local media went with one of its favorite angles—fear. “[It’s] Polly Klaas redux,” KUSI’s John Soderman told viewers, referring to the Northern California girl abducted at home and murdered by a stranger in 1993.

The media didn’t know if that was the case. David Westerfield was no stranger to the van Dams. Brenda and her daughter even went to Westerfield’s house a few days before she disappeared—to sell Girl Scout cookies. Westerfield bought one box of Thin Mints from Danielle and her mother, according to her testimony in court. During that visit, Brenda testified that she asked to go inside Westerfield’s house to look at his remodeled kitchen, while Danielle went in the backyard to look at the pool.

Danielle van Dam wasn’t another Polly Klaas.

In an interview with San Diego Magazine, Soderman defends his Polly Klaas analogy. “Basically, if Westerfield did it, you still have somebody in your neighborhood who scooped up your child,” he says.

“I think [readers and viewers] were frightened needlessly,” says Dean Nelson, founder and director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University. “I’m not ready to demonize [the media], but I wish they were more skeptical.”

The media have a tough job, Nelson says, because they can’t be too skeptical, either. “Let’s say something else happened, and a warning could have served the public well ... Police say ‘Lock your doors,’ and the media say, ‘Oh, that’s bogus, they’re just buying time.’”

But the police were clearly buying time following Danielle’s disappearance, according to Nelson. “The police knew this was not a stranger,” he says. “I don’t fault the police department, because they knew that was going to be a temporary fear, because they knew who they wanted: ‘Now we can all breathe easier. Okay, it was somebody down the street, so I guess it wasn’t a stranger after all.’”

The Police

At 2:30 in the morning on February 5, homicide investigators from the San Diego Police Department are standing outside David Westerfield’s house, preparing to go inside and search it. Sergeant Bill Holmes is one of the cops.

“Sergeant Holmes, what are you doing here?” a reporter asks.

“We’re here to relieve robbery,” he says. Robbery detectives had also been assigned to Danielle’s case.

“At 2:30 in the morning? That’s some pretty high-priced talent.”

Holmes smiles. “That’s the way they want it,” he says.

Over the next several hours, Holmes and his crew search Westerfield’s house. It’s easy to track their progress. They take dozens of pictures before dawn, and the flash from the camera lights up the windows in each room.

“Sergeant Holmes, you weren’t here to relieve robbery,” the reporter says to him when he comes outside.

Holmes smiles again. “Well, we were. Kinda. Sorta.”

Police arranged to have search warrants in the case sealed by the court, so the media couldn’t find out what investigators took from Westerfield’s home. It was an extraordinary effort to keep the information confidential. And it was a spectacular failure.

Sources close to the investigation started talking about the van Dams’ lifestyle almost immediately. Then came reports of blood in Westerfield’s motor home, and child pornography on his computer.

The cops were furious, according to those same sources. The police department threatened to fire anyone who talked about the case. “They were after the leaks,” a source says.

Police acknowledge being angry over the leaks. “Yeah, we were pissed off,” says Steve Creighton, an assistant chief. But he says the leaks did not result in any large-scale internal investigation. “It’s not even a blip on the radar screen.”

Two police detectives, Michael Ott and Mark Keyser, made big news for the department when they arrested Westerfield. Then they made news again, in a rather embarrassing way. Ott and Keyser attempted to visit Westerfield in jail—without his attorney present. The police department reportedly reprimanded them.

Westerfield’s legal team started hammering Ott and Keyser, saying they had repeatedly violated Westerfield’s rights during the investigation. The lawyers released a memo from the district attorney’s office saying the two detectives made false statements during another murder investigation two years ago. Westerfield’s lawyers used that memo in a legal maneuver

to review the personnel files of Ott, Keyser and 10 other police officers involved in the case for any reports of misconduct during their careers. Judge William Mudd ruled the defense could have information from the file of one unidentified officer.

“I think it’s safe to say Ott and Keyser are the Mark Fuhrmans of the Westerfield trial,” says a court insider, referring to the rogue cop vilified by the defense in the O.J. Simpson case.

The pressure of such a high-profile investigation was getting to the cops. “The detectives are sick of it,” a source says. Others say there were even references to the case as “The Isle of the van Damned.”

Creighton says he had not heard the detectives were sick of the case. “But they’re tired,” he says. “It’s a long and involved case, with a lot of long hours.”

The San Diego Police Department continued to handle the case with the utmost of care. Chief David Bejarano himself went to the van Dams’ home to meet with the family when Danielle’s body was identified. Then he talked to reporters. But at a follow-up news conference downtown, it wasn’t the police chief running the show.

It was District Attorney Paul Pfingst, who is running for reelection.

The District Attorney

The timing was interesting. Just four days before the primary election, Pfingst appeared on live television, talking about one of the biggest developments in the case yet. He thanked the volunteers who worked so hard to find Danielle. He expressed the emotions felt by law enforcement and everyone else in San Diego over the murder of a 7-year-old girl.

Politicians live for moments such as this, especially politicians who have not been getting good media coverage. Pfingst’s opponents had been relentlessly criticizing him, pointing out ethical lapses and declining morale in his office. But all that was getting pushed aside by news about Danielle—delivered by the district attorney himself.

“He was doing it for one reason only—that is, for the election,” says Deputy District Attorney Dave Stutz, a longtime critic of Pfingst. “He was grandstanding and campaigning. He took advantage of free press during a campaign. Once again, it shows he makes his decisions based on politics.”

Citing the gag order imposed on everyone involved with David Westerfield’s trial, a spokeswoman in the district attorney’s office says Pfingst won’t comment—not even to deny Stutz’ accusations. But Pfingst’s former spokeswoman, Gayle Falkenthal, comes to his defense.

“I can’t believe anyone in their right mind would think that Paul Pfingst wished this case into being, just for an election,” says Falkenthal, now the vice president of marketing and communications for the San Diego Convention Center Corporation. Because charges had already been filed against Westerfield, she says, the district attorney’s office was in charge of the case —not the police. So it was appropriate for Pfingst to take over the news conference, according to Falkenthal.

“In my opinion, if the district attorney had really wanted to grandstand, he could have handled [Westerfield’s] arraignment himself, he could have been at the courthouse every day, he could have been at the parents’ home,” she says. “He didn’t do any of that. There were lots of opportunities. He didn’t do any of them.”

Pfingst is in a runoff in November with the runner-up in the primary, Superior Court Judge Bonnie Dumanis. Westerfield’s trial may be a factor in the election.

It’s heavy stuff. Careers could be on the line. Reputations may be damaged. Lives have been changed forever. Those are the big themes, playing out before a national audience.

But the case also shows up in small ways, in everyday conversation in Sabre Springs, where Danielle lived. A neighbor tells a story about planning a party. He calls to invite his friends who live in other parts of the city. “What kind of party?” they ask. “A wife-swapping party?”

His neighborhood now has a new nickname: Sabre Swings.

Undeserved or not, such has been the fallout. But is the van Dams’ lifestyle relevant in the Westerfield trial? That’s a question that was finally left for a judge to decide. 


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; News/Current Events; US: California
KEYWORDS: vandam; westerfield
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-6061-80 ... 701-719 next last

(06-26-2002) - Death Penalty Would Mean Loss of Second Son

By David Gotfredson, LOCAL 8 News

It may be impossible to imagine the range of emotions a mother goes through following the death of a son. But at the age of 69, Laura Nan Westerfield is facing the possibility of going through that painful experience a second time.

Laura Westerfield’s youngest son, Earl Edson Westerfield, died of AIDS at the age of 36. Now her first born, 50-year-old David Westerfield, is facing the possibility of a death sentence in one of the most heinous crimes in San Diego County history: the kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam.

Laura Westerfield lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment behind the walls of a gated, senior complex in Clairemont. An avid reader of novels, Ms. Westerfield fancies herself an amateur sleuth.

“I love to read mystery novels. It used to take me until the final two chapters to guess who did it. Now, I can guess before I’m halfway through. There’s always something that gives you a clue,” she recently commented.

But, when it comes to the real-life mystery of her son’s murder case, Laura Westerfield has no clues. Asked about possible psychological events in David Westerfield’s childhood that could lead him to cold-blooded murder, Ms. Westerfield responded, “There’s nothing.”

“He didn’t cut off puppy dog tails. He never hurt anybody in all his life,” she said.

Confronted with the pile of evidence in the murder of Danielle van Dam, Ms. Westerfield alternates between defending her son and disbelief.

“I am predisposed to the fact that he did not do this. (David) wouldn’t do something like that.”

“What happened? Can somebody tell me what happened? How could he have possibly done it? I did the best I could. He’s a great person. I have no idea how the hell it happened. Something happened to him.”

Of the van Dam family, Ms. Westerfield says she understands their pain.

“I should know how awful it is to lose a child,” she said. “When Danielle first went missing, I cried for the mother. Poor little girl, I would have loved to hug her.”

David Alan Westerfield is the oldest of three children. His sister, Tania Pecina, lives in Clairemont in the same house where she and her siblings were raised from the time they were teenagers. Pecina has three children: one from a previous marriage and two by her present husband. Westerfield’s brother Earl, the middle child in the family, was openly gay and died of AIDS in 1990.

The family was aware of Earl Westerfield’s sexual preference from the time he was a young boy, according to his mother. “I started noticing there was something different about Earl about the time he was five years old,” she said.

Earl Westerfield’s infection with HIV, which he contracted from a longtime companion, eventually led to his hospitalization. The Westerfield family supported him financially through a series of costly treatments until his death at an Oceanside hospice called Fraternity House.

“I hugged Earl the day before he died. I wrapped my arms around him and he was just bones. I told him he could die. He asked me if it would be okay and I said yes,” recalled Ms. Westerfield. “It was a hard time for the family.”

David Westerfield was not overly distraught by his brother’s passing, according to Ms. Westerfield. “Alan was close to his brother, but he dealt with it,” she said. (In conversation, Laura Westerfield refers to her son by his middle name, Alan, because his father was also named David).

Ms. Westerfield’s late husband, David Horatio Westerfield -- who died in 1993 of colon cancer -- served as a lawmaker in the Maine House of Representatives in 1961. He and Laura Westerfield divorced when “Alan” was 26.

David H. Westerfield graduated in 1949 from Point Loma High School and attended San Diego State University for three and a half years. He studied archeology but never received a degree.

“He never did quite make it. He didn’t think it was important,” Ms. Westerfield said of her late husband.

Preferring artistic endeavors, David H. Westerfield held a variety of jobs during his time in San Diego, including landscape architect, still photographer, portrait artist and magazine layout editor. Laura Westerfield herself also worked for a number of years doing layout and editing for Dicta, a San Diego law magazine.

Ms. Westerfield describes her son’s relationship with his father as normal, although she admits her late husband was authoritative, if not strict. “Well, I wouldn’t say strict, but he wouldn’t give you more than two or three chances to do what he said,” she remembered.

David H. Westerfield filed for divorce in 1978, although it was Laura Westerfield who first left home. “I finally got out of that situation after 25 years of being subjugated,” she said.

“We grew apart. In fact, I was bored – empty nest syndrome. It wasn’t very difficult, just one of those things that had to happen.”

“I ran away from home. I left him the house. I left him his daughter. Both the boys were gone. They moved out of the house when they were 18. That was the rule of the house. When you’re 18, you move out. You’re old enough to look after yourself. And Alan was. He was old enough at 14.”

“We supported (the children) as best we could when they moved out. Set them up in apartments. I had been saving some money for them. All the things moms do.”

Regardless of the problems in her marriage, Ms. Westerfield insists there was never any physical or sexual abuse within the family, and certainly none involving her son “Alan.” She describes the family unit as close during David Westerfield’s childhood.

“We talked about everything under the sun at the dinner table. It was a rule. You had to be there at six o’clock every day.”

David Alan Westerfield spent most of his life in San Diego County. Born in National City’s Paradise Hospital in 1952, he lived with his parents and siblings in Point Loma and Clairemont until he was five. That’s when the family moved to Maine, where they stayed for 11 years, according to Ms. Westerfield.

At the age of 15, David Westerfield returned with his family to Clairemont – his mother is a San Diego native – and attended Madison High School where he graduated with the Class of 1970.

Laura Westerfield says her son tried out for football at Madison High but left the team after playing just one game. She says “Alan” became upset with the coaches and players for what he perceived as poor sportsmanship.

“The coaches wanted the players to (hit) the opposing players with known injuries. Alan was disgusted by this and told me he didn’t want to play football anymore,” she said.

On another occasion, Ms. Westerfield remembers her son getting into a fight with one of the other football players and punching him in the face.

Ms. Westerfield says her son was not exceedingly popular at school. “He was the biggest square you’ve ever seen,” she recalled, using her fingers to outline the shape of a box. Asked whether her son ever smoked marijuana, Ms. Westerfield said, “Not that I know of. Alan was just too square.”

A neighbor who lived across the street from the Westerfields for three decades described David Westerfield during his teenage years as a loner. “He was a very quiet, private person. You couldn’t get two words out of him,” the neighbor said. “I don’t think he had any friends at school ever.”

Classmates describe David Westerfield as being involved in math and engineering clubs, though his high school senior yearbook does not list him as a member of any social, athletic or academic group.

After graduating high school, Westerfield attended Mesa College for three years, and worked at Saska’s restaurant in Mission Beach during the early 1970s, his mother said.

Madison High School was also the place where David Westerfield met his first wife, Deborah Kyle. They were high school sweethearts. The two married in 1973, when Westerfield was 21 and Kyle was 19. They were married for six years and had no children before divorcing in 1979. Kyle now lives in Rancho Penasquitos.

Eight months after his divorce, Westerfield married Jackie Neal in December of 1979. He was 27; she was 21. Eventually, the couple had two children, Lisa and Neal Westerfield. (Neal’s first name also is David but he goes by his middle name.)

“Alan was a good father to his children,” according to Ms. Westerfield. “He hugged his son. Something I could never get his father to do.”

During his 17-year marriage to Jackie Neal, David Westerfield’s career as a design engineer developed. He worked for several North County companies before creating his own business in 1995, Spectrum Design.

Westerfield currently holds three U.S. patents: one for a surgically implanted knuckle prosthesis, another for a continuous passive motion device used in knee surgery rehabilitation, and a third for a metal pulley. Friends say he also designed the mechanism for a popular line of electric garage door openers.

Sources close to the family described Westerfield as a demanding husband who enjoyed a party lifestyle, often returning home in the early hours of the morning. He and his wife Jackie Neal separated in July of 1995. She filed for divorce three months later and the dissolution became final in June of 1996. The couple received joint custody of their two children, now ages 21 and 18. Lisa and Neal Westerfield live with their mother in Poway and attend college.

In recent years, David Westerfield’s drinking and womanizing became more prevalent, according to his mother. These traits he apparently had in common with his father.

“Alan’s a horn dog. That’s what my daughter calls him. She called her father that, too,” said Ms. Westerfield. “I think Alan taught his father a few things about (womanizing). They would go out together after the divorce.”

On March 2, 1996, San Diego Police arrested David Westerfield for the first time. An officer noticed Westerfield “weaving from side to side” on Northbound Interstate 15 near Highway 52. Westerfield did poorly on a field sobriety test and was booked into jail with a blood alcohol level almost twice the legal limit.

The DUI appears to be David Westerfield’s only criminal conviction and it came as a complete surprise to his mother.

“Alan never drank. Never. That’s why this whole last year is so out of character. He had a DUI. Ick!”

Court records show that Laura Westerfield has two drunken driving convictions of her own, one from 1983 and one from 1990. In 1991, Ms. Westerfield also was convicted of driving on a suspended driver’s license, according to court records.

David Westerfield purchased his home on Mountain Pass Road in Sabre Springs in June of 1996, according to property records. (The van Dams moved into the neighborhood two years later.)

In October of 1998, a woman Westerfield had been dating for about two months moved into his Sabre Springs home with her two children from a previous marriage, a boy and a girl ages 14 and 11 respectively. Tamera Weibrecht apparently was engaged to Westerfield for a short time but the relationship did not last long. Weibrecht and her two children moved out nine months later because of Westerfield’s “party lifestyle,” according Weibrecht’s present husband Jim Graves.

“He liked to party, but at some point that gets pretty old. At some point you have to give that up and settle down,” said Graves. “That’s what Tamera wanted to do. She also had an interest in religion and (Westerfield) didn’t want anything to do with religion.”

Weibrecht had no comment regarding her domestic relationship with Westerfield, which ended in 1999. Graves says police officers have spoken with both of the children and there is no evidence of any sexual abuse involving Westerfield and Weibrecht’s kids.

In 2000, Westerfield found himself living with another woman in virtually the same scenario.

Susan Lelek met Westerfield at the Big Stone Lodge in Poway and dated him for about three months before moving into Westerfield’s Sabre Springs home with her 15-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. The relationship lasted about a year until the couple “grew apart,” said Lelek.

Lelek recently defended Westerfield during an interview in Mira Mesa, where she is now living with her children. Lelek says photographs taken by Westerfield in his backyard of her teenage daughter lounging in a bikini poolside were not sexual in nature.

Police officers found the photos on a computer disk in Westerfield’s office. Prosecutors entered the images into evidence at the preliminary hearing, as well as Westerfield’s criminal trial.

Lelek insists the photographs were “blown way out of proportion” by the prosecution. “Those were just a few of hundreds of photographs David took by the pool during barbeques with his children and their friends,” Lelek said.

“Yes, the towel was over her face. Yes, her legs were spread, and the angle was sort of looking up, and her hand was in a strange position, but that’s just the way teenagers act sometimes. It was totally innocent.”

Laura Westerfield was unaware that her son had lived with either Lelek or Weibrecht. David Westerfield apparently maintained a distant relationship with his mother. Ms. Westerfield recalled that her son had sent her a Christmas card each year.

“I did not see Alan a lot over the past year,” said Ms. Westerfield. “I saw him at Tania’s house. But I didn’t ask about his lifestyle in any way, shape or form. It was none of my business. When your kids get older, you don’t ask a lot.”

Westerfield never visited his mother’s apartment either. “I knew where he was. He knew where I was,” Ms. Westerfield said. “We spoke on the telephone.”

Ms. Westerfield first discovered her son had been arrested as a suspect in the van Dam kidnapping from television news reports, though she claims she had a premonition something was happening with her son the night Danielle went missing.

“Alan and I have a connection,” she said.

The news was devastating.

“You can’t imagine how much it hurts. I’ve cried until my eyeballs are poking out,” Ms. Westerfield said.

“How would you feel? I turn on the television every day and there’s my son, ‘the murderer.’ ”

Ms. Westerfield had no contact with her son following his arrest until the first day of his preliminary hearing on March 11, 2002. She attended the hearing in person – after taking three buses to the downtown courthouse – making eye-to-eye contact with her son in open court.

During a break in the hearing, a member of the defense team approached Ms. Westerfield and whispered something to her.

The attorneys apparently wanted Ms. Westerfield to understand that jailhouse deputies read mail before it is delivered to inmates. They did not want Ms. Westerfield writing anything confidential in correspondence to her son.

Laura Westerfield since has written one letter to her son in jail. He did not reply. They have not spoken on the telephone and Ms. Westerfield has no plans to visit him behind bars. “I’m waiting for him to contact me,” she said.

If it turns out David Westerfield is found guilty of the special circumstance of murder during the course of a kidnapping, relatives likely will be called to testify on his behalf during the penalty phase of the trial. Ms. Westerfield says she will not be in attendance.

Instead, she will watch the decision come down on television in her apartment, just as she did on the final day of her son’s preliminary hearing.

“When the judge announced his decision at the end of the hearing,” she said, “Alan was crying. He was crying. A mother can tell.”

1 posted on 06/27/2002 6:47:46 AM PDT by FresnoDA
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: MizSterious; spectre; Jaded
PING...) ) ) Research Time...
2 posted on 06/27/2002 6:48:51 AM PDT by FresnoDA
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: MizSterious; spectre; Amore; Travis McGee; BunnySlippers; DoughtyOne; Hillary's Lovely Legs; ...
Pinging...) ) )
3 posted on 06/27/2002 6:52:11 AM PDT by FresnoDA
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: MizSterious; spectre; Jaded

Danielle’s Death
Child abductions do not, for the most part, occur at random.

By Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, a Seattle-based national pro-family coalition of Jews and Christians.
March 12, 2002 8:50 a.m.


little girl is dead, left under a clump of oak trees in the backcountry east of San Diego. Many have seen her murder as a warning, applicable equally to all mothers and fathers, that child abduction occurs by random chance.

On March 1, a day after the body of Danielle Van Dam was identified, the San Diego Union-Tribune published a heart-rending account of parents and school counselors trying to explain to children how it could happen that seven-year-old Danielle was kidnapped and killed. "Mommy," a boy was quoted as saying, "I don't want anyone to steal me." Counselors advised parents "to listen to their children's fears and acknowledge them."

The unstated assumption of much of the press coverage of the tragedy has been just this: Children are afraid, counselors and parents are stumbling to find something comforting to say, for what happened to Danielle could as easily happen to any of our children. Since the grim discovery was made, the nation has absorbed the message that Danielle's death was an event without explanation or reason.

Or was it?

On the morning of February 2, Danielle was found to be missing from her bed. The man who has been arrested for her murder is 50-year-old David Westerfield. Reportedly a child-porn enthusiast, he is a neighbor of Danielle's parents, Damon and Brenda van Dam. That night, says the accused kidnapper, he and Mrs. Van Dam had been dancing at a local bar. Mrs. Van Dam denies dancing with Westerfield, but she does admit being out till 2 A.M. without her husband. Nor do the Van Dams deny the stories reported in Newsweek, stories that say they are active "swingers" with a taste for wife swapping. The Van Dams say their lifestyle has "nothing to do" with Danielle's abduction.

Let us be clear. This horrible death can be blamed only on the man who kidnapped Danielle. But if the Van Dams are indeed "swingers," if Mrs. Van Dam was carousing without her husband until rather late, then these parents — who deserve our sympathy no matter what their follies and vices may be — will have something in common with the parents of many other abducted children, beyond the bare fact that they have lost a child. For these terrible events do not, for the most part, occur at random.

The National Institute for Missing and Exploited Children supplies the figures. In 1997, 24 percent of abducted children were abducted by strangers. About half, 49 percent, were kidnapped by family members, typically a divorced parent. Another 27 percent were kidnapped by an acquaintance. In other words, 73 percent of abducted children suffered that fate due in part to lifestyle choices their parents made: the choice to divorce, or to befriend sleazy characters. When the media, by ignoring these data, give the impression that child kidnapping could happen to any family, the wholesome no less than the unwholesome, we are once again being grievously misled.

This same notion — that a certain kind of misfortune, in choosing victims, makes no distinction between wholesome and unwholesome — animated the AIDS scare of the late 1980s. Back then, the media and AIDS activists asserted that the disease was about to erupt among the population of heterosexuals who are not abusers of intravenous drugs. It never did. AIDS, it's now acknowledged, is a killer with a marked preference for people who engage in particular activities: anal sex and needle sharing.

It does occasionally happen that an unknown drifter will invade the life of an upstanding family and steal and murder their child. That is what happened to 12-year-old Polly Klaas, abducted from a slumber party in Petaluma, California, in 1993. It is what happened in 1981 to six-year-old Adam Walsh, whose father, TV host John Walsh of America's Most Wanted, initiated a campaign to place photos of missing children on milk cartons and junk mail. That well-intended campaign has supported the misconception that children go missing by chance. The brief biographical sketch of the missing child never indicates the family dysfunction that likely contributed to making the abduction possible.

Random kidnapping is not what happened to Danielle van Dam, and the fact is worth considering. For our actions have consequences — often unintended, often for future generations, often tragic — and parents would do well to remember this.

4 posted on 06/27/2002 7:00:08 AM PDT by FresnoDA
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: FresnoDA
Poor mom. Looks like she gets her news from the nightly broadcasts and thus believes Alan is guilty, too. (He was always such a good could something like this happen?)

Posted this morning on yesterday's thread is my evaluation of the prosecution's "star witness," Dog Handler Volunteer and Amateur Part-time Search & Rescue Sleuth Frazee:

Re: Cadaver dogs. here's what I gleaned from Frazee's cross-exam yesterday:

Cielo showed no interest in MH, according to police report. Frazee originally told a police officer that Cielo showed no interest in MH.

"You were telling the truth then, weren't you?"
"To the best of my ability."

When was the first time you told anybody that Cielo had "alerted"?
"I don't recall."

"You told the police that your dog DID NOT alert, didn't you?"
"I don't recall."

Handler bias: handler directs dog to make an alert. Taking dog to wherever HE (handler) thinks what the dog should be looking for may be found. Dogs can feel handler's emotions and will sometimes "perform" to please handler. Search dog should not have been on leash and should search on his own for cadaver scent. Cielo was on leash and directed to sniff in specific areas, several times.

Frazee admits to guiding Cielo to find something because MH was in impound lot and DW was suspect. He led Cielo to the MH to search rather than letting the dog look and search on his own.

LE was standing all around, watching, as dogs searched. Told LE dogs did not make any hits. Police report states dogs did not make any hits. The first time he told anyone Cielo made an alert on the motorhome was WEEKS later. (Says his lieutenant was watching and she had to have observed the "alert," thus he did not feel it necessary to notify LE himself. Again, LE told dogs did NOT hit on anything, which was what they put in official report.)

Only person he told was dog's breeder in New Mexico ("I thought she would be proud."), weeks later, in an email. Email has not been provided.

Question: Did he testify that since taking the course on search & rescue this was his first "successful" hit?

Professionals undergo 960 hours of training...he underwent a single course. I wonder why they've pinned this case on an amateur volunteer's very first "cadaver alert," which he did not portray to observing law enforcement personnel at the time?

You'd think if his dog made a bonafide hit that he would be excited and telling everybody around that Cielo had made an alert in the storage compartment, not keep it a secret. He had taken a course, the dog had undergone some training for just this purpose. I find it hard to believe he would pass off his very first success as no big deal.

I admit, when he was under direct examination Frazee's testimony sounded damning. I hopped down from the fence and thought, "That's it. There can be no other explanation for a trained professional cadaver dog finding the scent of a cadaver unless a body had been in that motorhome's storage area." Then the cross-examination began, and Frazee's story began to unravel. And I'm back on the fence once more.

5 posted on 06/27/2002 7:10:24 AM PDT by shezza
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: shezza
If the defense has done it's homework they would have had the motor home checked by an experienced dog and handler..

The prosecution has been so sloppy that the defense with experts can refute almost everything IMHO..

The ONLY thing is the blood on the jacket..all the rest is poorly documented.

6 posted on 06/27/2002 7:16:44 AM PDT by RnMomof7
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: RnMomof7; FresnoDA
Believe me, I don't want to see this Westerfield, get off...but what's with California law enforcement...This should have been simple, clean, forensics....This case was like forensics 101...I don't get it!
7 posted on 06/27/2002 7:23:12 AM PDT by KLT
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: shezza; All
Court TV just had an interview with someone familiar with dogs who found the poor doghandler's testimony and expertise sadly lacking...

Next they have an expert on handling being interviewed. I suppose he will take the other side, and defend the amatuer handler...

Anyone watching?
8 posted on 06/27/2002 7:24:29 AM PDT by jacquej
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: shezza
This poor Mom made conflicting statements. She is saying on one hand, there was nothing to indicate her son would ever harm a flea, and OTOH, doesn't understand how he could have done it?

Nothing wrong with her thinking...she sounds like some of us :~)


9 posted on 06/27/2002 7:24:52 AM PDT by spectre
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

I do not want to see Westerfield get off if he did, in fact, kill Danielle! Bit I have seen no hard evidence yet that proves he did anything...

I know others disagree, no need to point out the errors on my thinking...
10 posted on 06/27/2002 7:26:35 AM PDT by jacquej
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

I want to see him " get off" if he is innocent...that should be what we all want. the true murderer dead in a chair.

But the truth is I do not believe this guy did it YET. The state has only ONE piece of evidence the jacket..thats it..

So lets see how the jacket is explained by the defense

11 posted on 06/27/2002 7:30:33 AM PDT by RnMomof7
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: jacquej
I am now thanks for the heads up!
12 posted on 06/27/2002 7:31:51 AM PDT by RnMomof7
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: jacquej
we agree 100%
13 posted on 06/27/2002 7:32:51 AM PDT by RnMomof7
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: UCANSEE2; FresnoDA; Mrs.Liberty; demsux; MizSterious; Jaded; skipjackcity; RnMomof7; spectre; ...
Ping for today's thread
14 posted on 06/27/2002 7:43:04 AM PDT by Rheo
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: FresnoDA
Wonder if and when Bobby Dylan will get around to writing a song like "Hurricane" for Westerfield.
15 posted on 06/27/2002 7:52:42 AM PDT by bvw
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: RnMomof7
Sorry to have misled you, either I misunderstood the program host, or the so-called expert didn't show up...
16 posted on 06/27/2002 7:53:47 AM PDT by jacquej
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: spectre
It's the natural parental reaction... what if I had done something differently. Guilt something that has been sorely lacking in this case, IMO.

Several things about the mother's interview struck me. First, it is apparent that they are not close, and apparently weren't raised to be. Mrs. W. seems to have a fixation on the man that she left. There's not quite as much David detail, stuff we'd already heard. On RR yesterday the interviewer stated mom said he was a loner and didn't have any friends. That statement was actually made by a neighbor. Spin... I just thought parts of it were odd, that's all.

17 posted on 06/27/2002 7:58:34 AM PDT by Jaded
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: Rheo
Thanks for the ping!
18 posted on 06/27/2002 8:04:37 AM PDT by vacrn
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

To: Jaded
Guilt? Reference the "Smart" family of Salt Lake. The father says he would never have hired the handy man if he had checked out his background first. THIS is an example of parental "guilt".

OTOH, we have the Van Dams, who absolutely 100% have never uttered one single word to take back the events of that evening, which when added up, certainly contributed to the culpability of their daughter's disappearance.

"We have no regrets"...

So much for guilt.


19 posted on 06/27/2002 8:25:16 AM PDT by spectre
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: Rheo
Thank you for the ping.. :)
20 posted on 06/27/2002 8:36:00 AM PDT by Freedom2specul8
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-6061-80 ... 701-719 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson