Cold Murder Cases Solved

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
I always enjoy reading about how murders from long ago that were never solved get looked at with new technology, and we find the culprit who allegedly did it.

I read about about this double murder from 23 and 30 years ago that was recently solved and the alleged murderer is in jail awaiting trial.

DNA links Pasadena man to slayings
Suspect's attorney enters not guilty pleas; man ran for school board trustee and claimed to be war hero.


NEWPORT BEACH - There was a time a few years ago when John Laurence Whitaker was a deep-voiced community activist in Pasadena who gave motivational speeches to students, ran for the school board and claimed to be a Vietnam War hero.

But Tuesday, Whitaker was an inmate standing slumped over in a courtroom hold cell in Newport Beach while his attorney entered not guilty pleas to two counts of murder.

Whitaker, also known as John Betances, was charged with killing Patricia Carpenter, a Los Angeles woman whose bruised and battered body was found in a Laguna Canyon parking lot in 1983, and Bodil Rasmussen, a school clerk who was found strangled and dumped in a Santa Monica parking lot in 1975.

Orange County Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy said that DNA specimens taken from both crime scenes link Whitaker to the slayings. Murphy hopes to try both killings in Orange County under a new state law that allows similar crimes to be tried together regardless of where all crimes took place.

Whitaker was linked to the Dec. 16, 1983, slaying of Carpenter two years ago by Paul Litchenberg, who was a Laguna Beach cold case detective. Litchenberg submitted tissues of skin recovered from under the victim's fingernails to a DNA database.

Carpenter, who was 26 when she died, was last seen in Los Angeles getting into a car with an unidentified man on Dec. 16, 1983. A newspaper carrier found her body shortly after dawn the next day. She was nude from the waist down and had been strangled.

There were no suspects in her killing until Litchenberg ran the fingernail scrapings through the DNA database. The tests came up with a hit on Whitaker, who once served 10 years in prison for rape.

He was arrested in Oregon in 2004 and fought his extradition for several months before he was returned to Orange County. Santa Monica detectives then reopened their investigation into the June 25, 1975, death of Rasmussen, a native of Sweden who was working as a school clerk when she was killed. She allegedly had been raped and strangled.

Whitaker was an early suspect in that investigation, when police learned he had been with the victim the night before her body was found in a Santa Monica parking lot. But no charges were filed.

Last year, however, DNA evidence found on Rasmussen's body was tested and determined that it was likely left by Whitaker, who has a lengthy arrest record and is required to register as a sex offender.

But that history did not prevent him from becoming a well-known community activist in Pasadena, where he bragged about being a colonel in the Green Beret and serving several assignments in Vietnam, and being captured once there.

Detectives found no evidence of such a distinguished military career, Murphy said.

In 2001, Whitaker – who was then going by the name Betances – was a losing candidate for the Pasadena Community College board after he became a vocal community activist and school volunteer.
This was from todays paper. Justice came late for the family of the victim, but at least they now knew who really did it and it wasnt WHO they thought it was.

Truth uncovered in Huntington cold case


DECADES WITHOUT CLOSURE: Alex Canahuati sits next to a photo of his mother, Maria, who was slain 32 years ago.

Alex Canahuati is one of the few people who remembers this smiling face. For 32 years, he wondered who killed his mother, Maria, on a July morning in 1974. Police suspected a former neighbor, but Alex couldn't help wondering if his father was behind the slaying. This month, his mystery was finally solved.
Mark Edward Davis
Shown in 1993, Davis was convicted on rape, assault and theft charges. Alex, 38, Maria's son
"I didn't believe it, but it was hovering in my mind. It lingered. It bothered me."

Huntington Beach

When they found Maria Canahuati's body, a towel was stuffed in her mouth and she was sprawled on a rose-print bedspread. Fingernail crescent-marks sank into the milky skin of her throat. Bruises marked her nostrils where they had been pinched shut.

The 28-year-old was killed on July 31, 1974. Within days, police thought they had their man, a former neighbor with a fearsome rap sheet. Maria's siblings, however, pointed the finger squarely at her ex-husband, whom she had divorced three years earlier.

In the middle was Maria's son, Alex, who didn't see his dad as a murderer but couldn't shake the feeling that he was somehow involved. "I didn't believe it, but it was hovering in my mind," says Alex, 38. "It lingered. It bothered me."

Forensic science being what it was then, detectives were unable to link anyone to Maria's rape and strangulation. In November, more than three decades later, Huntington Beach police Detective Steve Mack dusted off the 5-inch-thick file of interrogation transcripts and autopsy photos.

On May 31, Mack sent Alex an e-mail with a two-word subject line: "Call Me."


Maria was fed up.

In 1966, she'd fallen in love with Fuad Canahuati, a Honduran she met during a visit with relatives south of the border. They married, and she soon gave birth to baby Alex. But after five years, Maria tired of tending the domestic scene while Fuad worked long hours at the office.

With little Alex in tow, Maria left her husband, returned to the U.S., and moved into the Family Values Apartments on Warner Avenue in Huntington Beach. She found a job at Banco del Pueblo Commercial Bank in Santa Ana, and spent a chunk of her paycheck on a nanny for Alex.

Alex remembers Maria as a committed mother who doled out spankings and mouthfuls of soap when he'd utter a bad word.
"She was very strict, definitely," he says.

Maria was lock-conscious, bolting the door behind her even when taking out the trash. She "would never open the door without asking who was there," but "was very friendly and understanding and would let people tell her their problems," witnesses told police.

One neighbor in particular had problems Maria probably didn't know about.


Mark Edward Davis - 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, according to his driver's license - had been convicted of robbery, burglary and two rapes by the time he was 23.

Little Alex played with Davis around the complex, even inviting him for dinner one night, according to a police report. But Alex doesn't remember Davis at all. One month before Maria's body was found, Davis moved out of the Family Values Apartments. One week before Maria's body was found, Alex left for a summer visit in Honduras with his father.


Each weekday, Maria picked up a co-worker on her way to Banco del Pueblo. On Wednesday, July 31, 1974, she didn't show up. Bank employees went to her apartment. Her body, still warm, was found shortly after 10 a.m.

Police, finding no sign of forced entry and hearing that Maria always locked her doors, assumed she knew her assailant. Noting that Alex was coincidently out of town, Maria's siblings felt her ex-husband "arranged this murder," Mack, the detective, says.

Alex agrees that suspicion of his father "was something my mother's family thought very strongly about." Through Mack, Maria's siblings declined to be interviewed for this story. Despite the family's theory, police focused on Davis, the former neighbor with the long rap sheet.

A witness had reported seeing Davis' orange 1967 Chevy Camaro at the apartment complex on the morning of the slaying. Police officers picked him up.


Police, without mentioning Maria's name, asked Davis where he was the night before the killing. He had an alibi. A student taking 16 units at Golden West College, Davis also played football and was the team equipment manager.

He went to classes and worked late the night before the killing, arriving home at his new apartment around 8:30 p.m. After that, he met friends at Murdy Park in Huntington Beach. Around midnight, Davis hit the downtown bars, drinking at the Gospel Swamp pub on Main Street and Neptune's on the pier.

After last call, Davis went to a friend's place. The buddies drank tequila and played chess until 6:30 a.m. Wednesday - 31/2 hours before Maria's body was found. Friends supported Davis' account of his whereabouts, and he was never arrested. A few years later, he moved to San Francisco.

Maria's ex-husband, Fuad, was fingerprinted but was never considered a suspect. He attended Maria's funeral at All Souls Cemetery in Long Beach, then went home to Honduras to raise Alex.

The case got cold.


Mack, the detective, has been Huntington Beach's one-man cold-case squad since 1992. His first priority is solving recent killings and testifying at trials. The department's 15 cold cases get a review only when things are quiet.

Mack pulled Maria's case in November. He stared at a snapshot of Maria. She is smiling. Her right hand touches a beaded choker at her neck. Mack read Davis' interrogation. Davis' account of working late and going out drinking seemed genuine to him.


By accident or in the belief Maria's case would never be solved, police in 1982 threw out the rape kit with her attacker's DNA. Checking the walk-in freezers at the Huntington Beach Police Department, Mack found that scrapings taken from beneath Maria's fingernails had been preserved, along with four cotton swabs containing Davis' saliva.

The evidence was sent for testing in January. Five months later, near the end of May, word came back. Mack sent the e-mail to Alex and waited for the phone to ring.


After Maria's killing, Alex stayed in Honduras with his father. Fuad Canahuati was head coach of Real España, a professional soccer team, and Alex tagged along as the team played matches across the country and won national championships.

Eventually, Alex married a Colombian woman and had two sons, now 2 and 7. So many years later, Alex still wondered - though not aloud - whether his father had a hand in the killing. From time to time, the two would discuss Maria's death, but Alex could never find a way to mention his suspicions. "How do you ask a question like that?" he asks.

In early May, three weeks before Mack's e-mail, Alex was sorting through some of his mother's things, tokens left to him after her death. He found a picture of the Paramount High School Class of 1963 where she stood with her graduating class. He hung it behind his desk.

Alex noticed Mack's e-mail, with the subject line "Call Me," on June 1.
DNA tests found a match, Mack said. It was Mark Edward Davis.
Mack figures Davis really did go out drinking that night in 1974, then stopped by Maria's apartment.

Since she knew him, she opened the door. Since she knew him, she had to die after the rape. "It's been a long time," Alex said later. "This is something that's time was due."

Justice, however, had come too late for Davis.


They found Mark Edward Davis' body sprawled on a bathroom floor in San Joaquin County Jail, a belt wrapped around his neck. His apparent suicide by hanging in March 2002 came after years of crime, according to police reports. He was convicted of attempted rape, assault with a deadly weapon, vehicle theft, grand theft and driving under the influence of narcotics.

Davis' arrest in 2002 came after a spree in which he was suspected of a disturbance at a Stockton 7-Eleven, home-invasion robbery, carjacking and a hit-and-run car crash, according to published reports.

For Maria's siblings, who had suspected her ex-husband, the conclusion about Davis' culpability was hard to accept, Mack says.
"They've believed a person was responsible for 32 years," he said. "To be told it's someone else, it takes a little getting used to."


On June 15, Alex and his wife, Rosemary, came to Huntington Beach to meet with Mack and collect some of Maria's things - a brown leather purse, an address book, a note from Alex's first-grade teacher.

"I can't be more thankful," Alex said before shaking Mack's hand and leaving the station. Back in Honduras, Alex's family shares a one-story home with his father. The arrangement eases living expenses for the couple while allowing Fuad to enjoy his grandsons.

Alex's suspicions of his father are gone, and little has changed in their relationship since Maria's killing was solved, Alex says.
The two still watch televised Dodgers games together. Fuad still dotes on his grandsons, buying them toy motorcycles and taking them to Dunkin' Donuts on Sundays.

During the week, Alex and his father work under the same roof. Both are managers at companies that sell tractors and other farm machinery. Alex regrets that he'll never look Mark Edward Davis in the eyes, but feels relief.

"I would obviously like it more to be able to face him, and ask him why, and place him in prison forever," Alex says. "Since I can't do that, I can at least say he did that, and it's not my father."


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Article - News - Man sentenced to life in '72 murder

Man sentenced to life in '72 murder
Spouse of one of Edwin Dean Richardson's victims tells the 70-year-old that he forgives him.
The Orange County Register
SANTA ANA – Martin Hires stood on wobbly legs with tears in his eyes Wednesday and told a judge how he went from a loving husband one day in 1972 to a widower and homicide suspect.

And then Hires turned to the man who admitted to kidnapping, raping and strangling his wife, Marla Jean Hires, and forgave him.

"There are not enough words available to explain the impact this man's violence had on my life," Hires told Superior Court Judge Luis A. Rodriguez. "I can only say that I forgive him for what he has done, and hope that his life and soul will also be forgiven by our Lord."

Rodriguez then sentenced Edwin Dean Richardson, 70, to life in prison for killing Marla Hires on Oct. 29, 1972.

Richardson, who is in the advanced stages of emphysema, was rolled into a Santa Ana courtroom in a wheelchair with oxygen being pumped into his lungs. He sat motionless at the counsel table and declined to comment, even though Marla Hire's son implored him to apologize.

He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last week, two years after a search of an FBI database matched his DNA to genetic evidence left behind in 1972.

Marla Jean Hires was a 23-year-old wife with a 2-year-old son when she was kidnapped from in front of her Stanton home.

Her battered body was found the next morning, rolled in drapery material and dumped down an embankment near the Yorba Linda Country Club. She had been raped, beaten and strangled.

Her 1971 two-door Mazda sedan was found abandoned at a Sumitomo Bank near her home, near a construction site where Richardson was working as a concrete finisher.

But Richardson, a stranger to the Hires family, was never a suspect in the case. He left Orange County soon after the killing and returned to Ohio.

In 1980, Richardson pleaded guilty in Ohio to the first-degree rape and murder of Joanna Boughner, 21, and was convicted of kidnapping two West Virginia teenage girls. He was sentenced to 19 years to life in an Ohio prison.

In the early 2000s, Richardson, then in his 60s, stood a good chance of being paroled.

But back in Orange County, sheriff's Detective Larry Poole persisted for seven years in sending genetic samples of evidence collected from the Hires crime scene through the FBI DNA database.

DNA testing did not exist as a crime-fighting tool in 1972, but Poole saw the new technology as chance to solve the mystery of Hires' killing. In 2004, Poole got a match: Edward Dean Richardson.

Martin Hires, 61, who lives in Arizona, returned to Orange County on Wednesday with his son, Scott Hires-Beaty, 36, and spoke about how devastated he was in 1972 when he was treated as a suspect in his wife's killing, first by detectives and then by his wife's family.

He said that his wife's family suspected him for more than 30 years, until the DNA match with Richardson in 2004 proved his innocence.

On Wednesday, he sat in the second-floor courtroom a row behind Donna Purvis and Saundra Beaty, Marla Jean Hires' sisters. It was the first time he had seen the two women in more than 30 years.

When they finished telling the judge how the killing had devastated the entire family for years, Martin Hires got up and gave them both a hug.

Hires and the two sisters said outside court later that they are still working on healing old wounds.

"It's off to a good start," Purvis said.

Hires-Beaty said he remembers when he was about 4 and went to see Santa Claus.

"I sat on Santa's lap, and Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas," he said. "I replied, 'I want my mother back.' "

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