A Tragedy Compounded by a Wrongful Conviction

On Sunday, September 17th, 2006, three people were brutally murdered in the remote area of Pinyon Pines, a rural area up in the hills south of Palm Springs, CA. The charred bodies of 53 year old Vicky Friedli and her live-in boyfriend Jon Hayward were found in their fire-devastated home, both having been shot dead before being burned beyond recognition. Just outside the house was Vicky’s 20 year-old daughter Rebecca. Her still-burning body found in a wheelbarrow.

The cause of death for Becky was unknown, but her body had been set ablaze in such a way as to incinerate the upper-left part of her torso. A bullet in the back, through the heart, would have been undetectable.  It seemed that she may have been caught running away, as if she’d seen something she shouldn’t have. She was running in the general direction of the cars, as if to try to escape.

At approximately same time, 25 miles away and way down on the Coachella Valley floor, two young boys are out in a field behind a school, testing out a newly-repaired paintball gun out in the desert. They were oblivious to the horror going on in the hills.  Their phones were off. They had no alibis.

Twelve years later, while the perpetrators walk free, the two upstanding young men, Robert Pape and Cristin Smith, who were merely boys at the time of the murders, were convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Convicted virtually no physical evidence. Convicted due to a (some say intentionally) mishandled investigation. Convicted with the help of suborned perjury.

This is their story.  What follows may be an uncomfortable truth: the possibility that some, to whom we have entrusted some of our most powerful authority, may not be worthy of our trust.

This site is dedicated to exposing the truths about this case, and how some in the Law Enforcement community stick together, cover for each other, falsify evidence, and how they can make the innocent seem guilty anytime they wish.  Prepare for a journey into the dark side of our so-called ‘justice’ system.  Or, as defense lawyers call it: just another day.

Background

Finances were tight in the Friedli household. Jon Hayward was unable, for legal reasons, to work a normal job so he took odd jobs as a handyman to try to make ends meet. Vicky worked at a department store in the valley, for close to minimum pay. Often, Vicky’s older daughters, who did not live at the home, were compelled to make the mortgage payments for Vicky and Jon.

Vicky was soon to receive a substantial payout from her retired-sheriff ex-husband’s retirement plan from the county sheriff’s department. She had considered using it to pay off Jon’s outstanding debts, so that he could obtain a normal job. Other than that, they lived fairly simple lives in the sparsely-populated high desert community.

So who would want to commit such a brutal act on these seemingly-average people?

  • Did the ex-husband have a financial motive? Or any other motive?
  • Did a jealous victim of overwhelming, yet unrequited, love for young Becky, one with substantial law enforcement connections, finally snap?
  • Had Jon Hayward engaged in some illicit activity in an attempt to relieve their financial burdens? (According to testimony, he was known to have used drugs with Becky and her friends).

Would investigators pursue any of these possibilities?

Or would it have served purposes better if it had conveniently been two boys with no motive at all?

Two Boys with No Motive

Vicky’s daughter Rebecca, who everyone knew as ‘Becky’ was scheduled to work the graveyard shift at the Denny’s located at the foot of Highway 74, the road that connected the Coachella Valley with the Pinyon Pines area, and beyond. She spent the afternoon with her almost constant companion, Javier Garcia. Looking like a forlorn puppy, it was obvious that Javier was hopelessly in love with Becky. It was equally obvious that he would never escape the ‘friend zone’. Becky’s interests lay elsewhere. Becky had just broken up with Javier’s cousin, and now she wanted to try to re-kindle her relationship with an old boyfriend, 18-year old Robert Pape, who had broken up with her nine months prior.  Becky liked boys.  She just didn’t like Javier in the same way.

Come on. Let’s go hiking!

Robert Pape had long been dating a new girlfriend, one he eventually married.  A couple days before the crime, Becky had stopped by and made a surprise visit to Robert while he and his friend, Cristin Smith, were at Cristin’s father’s house. With Becky still in her sister’s little green box-like car, she asked Robert to go hiking with her on Sunday. Robert acquiesced with a “we’ll see”. As Becky drove off, Robert turned to Cristin and said “There is no way we are going hiking.

Becky told all her friends that Robert was coming up to see her that awful day.

Church. Paintball…

When Sunday came around, Robert’s mother insisted that he go to church. Since he had just gotten off work at 6:00 (at the local water park, his seasonal job as a lifeguard, a job which was ending anyway, was terminated early due to Robert being caught sliding down the water slide backwards). He knew he was too late to catch a service at their regular church, so he planned to try at another local church, Sacred Heart, located a few blocks from the start of Highway 74.

Robert’s friend, Cristin, decided to join Robert at church, as he sometimes did. He came by Robert’s house just before 7:00pm, driving his father’s white Acura since his car, a classic early 70’s model, Hurst Oldsmobile, was in the shop.

As they left Robert’s house and headed southeast towards the church, Robert called 411 to get the phone number for the church. Next, Robert called the church to make sure they were having a service at 7:00. They weren’t. Without a service to attend, Robert and Cristin decided to head over to Cristin’s father’s house to pick up a newly-repaired paintball gun. They intended to try it out in an open field next to a local elementary school. Robert placed a call to his friend, Sam, to see if he would like to join them and maybe play a little paintball. Since Sam was out of town, he wouldn’t be able to join in.

She’s calling…

Around this time, Becky begins to call Robert. He tries to tell her that hiking is not a good idea. She calls again, then she calls Cristin. Soon, the boys turn their phones off, as they often did. At this point, Cristin turned around and started heading northwest, towards his father’s house.

Little did they know that all the cell tower connections they had just made would be used against them. Since the church was near the base of Highway 74, and that was the road up to Pinyon Pines, the connections could have been construed as if the boys were headed towards Pinyon Pines. Turning their phones off didn’t help either.  It made it appear as if they had entered a ‘no service’ zone, as the Pinyon Pines area was known to be.

A Flicker of Light

According to NASA records, the sun set early that late September night, and the moon was to be largely absent, leaving the rural Pinyon Pines area in near blackness. Sometime after 9:40pm, a neighbor, named Tim, saw a flicker of flame coming from a home several hundred yards away. He called the local fire department, then went off to investigate. They drove to the start of the dirt road driveway, but parked on the unpaved street. Meeting another neighbor at the scene, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, Tim went onto the property to explore. He only saw flames coming from an attic vent over the garage. He called out, but got no answer. Something in the yard caught his eye. He walked a little closer until he could see it was a wheelbarrow, and that it had low flames coming from within. He also saw what looked like a mannequin laying in the wheelbarrow, arms raised.

Tim’s wife and neighbor called for him to get clear. Homes in the area relied on propane tanks, and they feared for his safety.

Someone Fleeing the Scene?

Meanwhile, at the CalFire outpost on Hwy 74, emergency phone calls were coming in fast and furious, but none of the calls offered a firm address. The captain told his driver to hang up the phone and get moving. As they pulled out of the station and entered the labyrinth of dirt roads, they could see the fire in the distance. It was their beacon.

Along the way, as they twisted and turned and bounced along the barely-maintained dirt roads, they encountered a small red truck speeding toward them in the direction away from the fire. This presented a problem, as the road was only wide enough for one of them to pass at a time. As if playing ‘chicken’, the truck approached rapidly and with apparent determination to win. At the last minute, the fire truck pulled it’s wheel off the unpaved road, and on to the soft, sandy shoulder. As the small truck sped by, the driver looked up at the captain. There was only one person in the cab of the truck.

(btw: playing chicken with heavy equipment is something that requires familiarity with heavy equipment, and maybe a culture of playing chicken with it.  A Marine in training, maybe? More on that later)

Eventually, as the fire truck rolled up to the fire scene, the captain jumped out and did a ‘hot lap’ to assess the situation. The two-story house was fully involved, and the captain observed the roof tiles ‘breathing’ as they heaved up and down. As he walked around to the back, he found the flaming wheelbarrow. The flames were much higher now. Seeing the body inside, he instructed his men to ‘cool her off’. They complied by applying water and a fire extinguishing foam. They then proceeded to attack the house fire.

The Investigation Begins:

Once the fire was extinguished, the cleanup began. By the time the sun came up, they had found two bodies in the house, in addition to the body in the wheelbarrow. The bodies would eventually be identified as Vicky Friedli and Jon Hayward. All three bodies would have to wait for formal identification, but the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Central Homicide Unit detectives knew who lived in the house, as Vicky was the ex-wife of a former Sheriff’s deputy who, himself, had built that house.

Enter Javier Garcia

Early that morning, the lovelorn Javier Garcia claims he learned of the fire from his mother, a state assemblywoman, who apparently saw it on the news. He also may have heard it from his father, Javier Garcia, Sr., who was an investigator for the District Attorney’s office.  Or, he heard it indirectly from an on-scene witness, either way, the well-connected Javier, Jr. raced up the hill from the valley floor to try to confirm what he had heard.

A view from street. The arrow indicates the visible wheelbarrow, the victims knees protruding upward.  The distance was about 220 ft.

At the scene, neighbors were milling around, as were local reporters and their news vans. Less than 250 feet from the road, clearly visible from the street, was the wheelbarrow with the girl’s body. The area was buzzing with discussion by all the neighbors. The shocking facts were quickly known  by everyone.  Even Tim, the first witness, who saw her aflame, was there amongst the crowd. What a story did he have to tell!

Did Javier become aware of the fact that Becky was found burning in a wheelbarrow? Is it reasonable to think that he didn’t, considering her visibility and the local buzz? He may have even heard if from a witness.  As the son of a local law enforcement officer, was he able to talk to firemen or EMT’s and confirm details?

During discussions with the deputies on the scene, Javier informed them that Becky was to have met with Robert Pape for a hiking excursion the night before. Soon afterwards, Javier phoned Robert and, during the conversation, told him about the bodies and the ‘girl in the wheelbarrow’. He also called the manager at the Denny’s, where Becky worked, and told her about what had happened. He specifically told her about the ‘girl in the wheelbarrow’ as well.

Conviction – Step One: Interview the kid, without a lawyer

Later that day, investigators asked Robert to come in for questioning. He readily complied. During the taped interview, he mentions a bit of what he knows. The investigator inquires further. Robert mentions ‘two bodies, sexless, burned beyond recognition, and a girl in her early twenties, burned in a wheelbarrow’. When asked how he knew this information, Robert says ‘Javier told me’.

(Fast-forward 12 years: With Robert and Cristin on trial for these murders, Javier changes his story. He testifies that he did not know about the ‘girl in the wheelbarrow’ until 4 days later. Unchallenged, this testimony makes it look as if Robert Pape lied to the investigators.)

A few days later, investigators question Cristin Smith. The questions they asked him were not the same as what they asked Robert. As such, they got different answers.  For example: they asked what kind of car he was driving. He answered a white Acura.  They asked Robert Pape what kind of car Cristin drove (in general). He said a Hurst Oldsmobile.  Cristin explained his Olds was in the shop, but the conflict made the investigators think the pair were lying.

A Cold Case Brought Back to Life

After going cold for years, the case is re-opened after public pressure is applied by the victim’s families. Charges were brought against Robert Pape and Cristin Smith two times; once in 2014 and again in 2016. 

The first go around involved a grand jury hearing and coincided with the re-election campaign of the District Attorney.  In a spectacular showdown between Pape’s defense counsel and the DA himself, the charges were suddenly dropped with very little explanation. (Those who followed the case closely knew exactly what happened.)

After losing the election, a new DA was brought on board.  He promised a new look at this high-profile case.  Two years later, as his own re-election came onto the horizon, charges were filed again.  ‘New evidence’ was the reason given for the renewed charges.

New…Evidence?

There had always been a dearth of evidence that connected the defendants with the crime. the only tangible trace evidence was a crumpled old business card found out in the desert, anywhere from 200 to 800 yards from the crime scene.  The card supposedly contained trace DNA from Cristin Smith.  (The investigators shopped the evidence to four different laboratories before finding one that would claim the connection.)

The odds of a DNA match to this tumbling and remote business card had been recently recalculated. In court, the testimony regarding the new calculations was subjective, at best, and it was tragically amusing.

Nonetheless, with the help of perjured testimony and a ‘jailhouse snitch‘, prosecutors were able to secure a conviction, and in August of 2018, Robert Pape and Cristin Smith were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the murders.

So What Was Their Motive?

The prosecution acted convinced that Robert and Cristin committed the murders. But they had, admittedly, found no motive for the killings.  The best they offered to the jury was ‘selfishness’.

The prosecution, however, may have had motives of it’s own – to win the case. From ‘closure at all costs’, to a ‘behind the blue line’ cover-up, to cementing a re-election bid, there are several plausible reasons a Law Enforcement community may want to procure a conviction. Should they bend and break rules to achieve this end?  There is no punishment for trying.

Did these 18 year old boys, with no prior or post criminal records, with high grade point averages and jobs as ‘lifeguards’, commit these crimes? Was their crime so skillfully covered that they avoided prosecution for more than a decade? Could the crimes have been committed by someone else?  These are the questions we will try to answer in other articles on this site.

Oh, by the way, The DA was successfully re-elected.

For more detailed information, please visit these links:
An Overview of the Evidence
Robert Pape – Profile
A Heinous Crime – with No Motive?
The Trail of a Thousand Footprints?
The Business card evidence
The Cell Phone Tower Pings
Somebody Else’s DNA on her socks
The Jury Must Have Ignored the Instructions

(Editor’s note: Every article on this site should be considered opinion due to the inability to access or record the information necessary to maintain traceability.  The elements provided herein come from sitting in the courtroom during the trial, and/or viewing the evidence we were allowed to see, but not record.)

Comments 6

  1. This has an all too familiar ring to it.

    Please research the case of Michael Amick, from Myrtle Missouri.

    Both cases have similarities to each other, and both exclude another possibility, that I’m hoping will finally be exposed, in Mike Amicks’ civil rights lawsuit expected to go to trial in October of 2019.

    If I had to venture a guess about this case, I’d HAVE to suspect the Sheriffs Office, of Treasonous criminal activity, possibly including (but not limited to); illicit drug and/or gun distribution, running a burglary ring, wanton knowing violations of peoples’ rights for profit and/or for intimidation value, and murdering anyone who might have inside knowledge of these activities that could burn them all.

    I think, it’s entirely possible, that the decedent, discovered information and/or evidence of the Sheriffs Department criminality, and probably called them to tell them to cease and desist all further criminality (loyalty to the thin blue line) and they chose to eliminate that threat.

    Also, being the Sheriffs Department, they would be in a position to manipulate the entire process, from initial accusation, through building a case from nothing, and they likely have a partner in the prosecutors office, and likely at least one judge that will do their bidding.

    I don’t think this would be far off from the truth, but SOMEone needs to chase that rabbit.

    1. The same thing happened to Kevin Cooper.Witnesses have said there were 3 white guys that came into a hole in the wall bar in Ontario Ca. That had blood all over them. Look up that case. I have been following Kevin Cooper since this happened back in the 80’S. He was so railroaded cause he had escaped from the prison and was hiding in a storage shed next to the Ryan’s home.SO SAD IS OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM.

  2. Of course its a police cover up.They will stop at nothing to protect their own and win!Wicked people do wear badges and robes.

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