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Glenn Taylor and Justin HELZER






A.K.A.: "The Children of Thunder"
Classification: Spree killers
Characteristics: Extortion plot - Dismemberment
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders: July 30 - August 4, 2000
Date of arrest: August 7, 2000
Date of birth: Glenn Taylor: 1970 / Justin: 1972
Victims profile: Ivan Stineman, 85, and his wife, Annette, 78 / Selina Bishop, 22 / Jennifer Villarin, 45 (Selina Bishop's mother), and her boyfriend James Gamble, 54
Method of murder: Beating - Stabbing - Shooting
Location: Contra Costa County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on March 11, 2005. Justin committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell on April 14, 2013
photo gallery

Notorious killer who murdered five people in bizarre plot 'to speed Christ's return to Earth' hangs himself on death row

  • Justin Helzer, 41, received three death sentences in 2005 for the murders

  • Helzer's brother, Glenn Taylor Helzer, called himself a prophet who wanted to kill Mormon leaders and take over the church

  • The siblings and a female accomplice called themselves Children of Thunder and hatched a plot to extort $100,000 from an elderly couple

April 16, 2013

The death row inmate who killed guitarist Elvin Bishop's daughter and four others in 2000 murder-extortion plot died of an apparent suicide, California prison officials announced Monday.

Justin Helzer, 41, was found dead Sunday night in his single cell at San Quentin Prison, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told NBC Bay Area.

Corrections Lt. Sam Robinson said Helzer used a sheet tied to his cell bars to hang himself. He was found dead during a security check at around 10.17pm.

An earlier suicide attempt two years ago had left the 41-year-old death row inmate blind.

Helzer and his brother Glenn Helzer, who went by his middle name, Taylor, were sentenced to death in 2005 for the murders, which were planned as part of a bizarre blackmail scheme.

Taylor Helzer was a stock broker and self-described prophet seeking to raise money for a religious group he had launched to hasten Christ's return to Earth.

According to court testimony, he dated 22-year-old Selina Bishop so she would open a checking account for him to deposit money he intended to extort from elderly clients of his.

The brothers killed Bishop, her mother and mother's boyfriend along with the clients in the summer of 2000.

An accomplice, Dawn Godman, testified against the brothers in exchange for a prison sentence that didn't include the death penalty. She is serving a 37-year sentence.

‘In no sense of the word was Justin Helzer a victim,’ Contra Costa County Chief Assistant District Attorney Harold Jewett said Monday. ‘Nevertheless, the origin of the obvious torment he experienced in prison, reflected in self-mutilation and now suicide, clearly rests at the doorstep of his older brother, Taylor.’

In 2010, Justin Helzer attempted to take his own life by stabbing himself in the eye with pens and pencils.

He had been under intensified watch since then. After Helzer’s suicide Sunday, his brother has been paced under intensive screening to ensure that he does not attempt to take his own life as well.

In 2000, Taylor Helzer and his two accomplices concocted a plot to train Brazilian orphans to massacre the leaders of the Mormon Church so he could become its leader and ‘transform America’ by bringing ‘joy, peace and love,’ according to court testimony.

The conspirators, who called themselves the ‘Children of Thunder,’ needed money to carry out the bizarre plan, so they decided to extort one of Taylor Helzer's former clients, Ivan Stineman, of Concord, in the hope of getting $100,000.

Justin Helzer ended up beating the 85-year-old man to death while his brother killed his wife, 78-year-old Annette Stineman, by slashing her throat.

The murderous siblings accompanied by their former roommate, Dawn Godman, then killed Selina Bishop to silence her after she collected the money on their behalf not knowing about the homicidal plot.

The bodies if Selina Bishop and the Stinemans were dismembered and stuffed into nine black duffel bags, which were later fished out by divers from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Justin’s brother later shot dead Bishop's mother, 45-year-old Jennifer Villarin, and her boyfriend, James Gamble, 54, for fear that they would go to police.

Taylor Helzer, who was the ringleader of the group and described himself as the ‘No 1,’ had been sentenced to five death sentences. Justin was sentenced to death for three of the murders and life in prison for their other two.

Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, 58 death row inmates have died from natural causes, 22 have committed suicide, 13 have been executed in California, one was executed in Missouri, and six have died from other causes. There are 733 inmates remaining on death row.


Helzer brothers sentenced to death for quintuple murderer (Elvin Bishop's daughter, 4 others)

Bakersfield Californian

March 11, 2005

MARTINEZ, Calif. (AP) - Two brothers were sentenced to death Friday for killing the daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop and four other people during a grisly extortion and murder spree during the summer of 2000.

Judge Mary Ann O'Malley sentenced Glenn Taylor Helzer, 34, and Justin Helzer, 33, in separate hearings, following the recommendations of the two juries that had earlier voted for the death penalty for both brothers.

The Helzer brothers and their roommate, Dawn Godman, killed five people, including 22-year-old Selina Bishop, during a plot to extort $100,000. Glenn Helzer, a former stockbroker, wanted to use the money to start a self-help group he believed would thwart Satan by spreading peace and love.

Glenn Helzer, accused of masterminding the murders, pleaded guilty to all charges against him last year and was recommended to receive the death penalty in December.

"I clearly see now that my actions were horrific. I was under the impression that I was doing a good thing," he said at Friday's sentencing.

In August, a separate jury convicted and recommended the death penalty for Justin Helzer.

"I hope to see the day when our collective spiritual lives ... and love and joy and peace are the only eternal constants," Justin Helzer said.

Bishop's mother, Jennifer Villarin, 45, of Novato, and Villarin's companion, James Gamble, 54, of Layton, were shot to death in Villarin's home because Glenn Helzer feared they would report them for the extortion.

Also killed were the targets of the extortion plot, Ivan Stineman, 85, and his wife, Annette, 78, both of Concord.

"It sickens me to know that the last faces (my parents) saw were evil," said Judy Nemec, the Stineman's daughter.

Justin Helzer received three death sentences for killing Bishop and the Stinemans and life without the possibility of parole for killing Gamble and Villarin. Taylor Helzer received five death sentences.

"We needed this. Now we can go home and try to rebuild our lives," Selena Bishop's aunt, Donna Futch, told the Contra Costa Times after the hearing. "We were just hanging on holding our breath in limbo waiting for justice."

The brothers dismembered the bodies of Bishop and the Stinemans, wrapped the remains in plastic, stuffed them into gym bags and tossed the bags into the Mokelumne River. The bags later floated to the surface. The trio originally bought dogs they thought would eat the bodies.

Godman agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for a sentence of 38 years to life. She is expected to be sentenced later this month.


Children of Thunder: The Helzer Brothers

By Julia Scheeres -

Bags of Bodies

One by one, the black duffel bags bubbled to the surface of the Mokelumne River in August 2000. The scenic river, winding through deep granite canyons and thick pine forests, is a popular site for Northern Californians seeking relief from the baking summer heat.

A man on a Jet-ski spotted the first bag that washed up on the riverbank. Curious, he rode over, unzipped it, and found a human torso inside. A few hours later, a marina employee found another duffel bag floating under a dock a half mile away. This one contained a head. A marine biologist discovered a third during a survey of an island in the river. Nine bags were eventually recovered, some by dive teams.

They contained the co-mingled body parts of three people - an elderly couple, and an unrelated young woman. It took the Sacramento County coroner more than a week to sort through the parts and piece the victims back together.

The grisly discovery was the culmination of a murderous rampage by a trio of former Mormons who killed five people as part of a twisted scheme to start a group that would spread "joy, peace and love."

Glenn Helzer, 30, his brother Justin, 28, and Justin's girlfriend, Dawn Godman, 26, were arrested the same day the first of the bags were discovered. It would take four more years for juries to sort through the tangled details of the case and sentence the last of the trio for crimes they'd committed.

Their victims were Selina Bishop, 22, the daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop - best known for his 1976 hit "Fooled Around and Fell in Love", Bishop's mother, Jennifer Villarin; her companion James Gamble, and Ivan and Annette Stineman, who'd been married 55 years.

The Stinemans were killed first, after the trio extorted $100,000 from them to fund their self-help group. The other three victims were killed because they knew details of the extortion plan.

The trio called themselves the "Children of Thunder" and they believed their homicidal plan had God's stamp of approval.

"Normal" kids

No one who knew the Helzer boys as children suspected they'd grow up to be such callous killers. Raised by devout Mormon parents in Martinez, a cozy town 50 minutes' drive northeast of San Francisco, the Helzers had a relatively normal childhood, according to family, friends and co-workers interviewed by the Contra Costa Times.

Glenn Helzer - who went by his middle name, Taylor - was the charming and gregarious older brother. Justin was more introverted, but he was a member of his high school wrestling team and youth group leader at his church.

Justin looked up to his older brother and actively sought his approval, said those who knew them well. Taylor encouraged these feelings in him, frequently telling him, "I'm No. 1, and you're No. 2."

After graduating high school, the boys fulfilled the Mormon requirement of completing two years in the mission field - Taylor went to Brazil and Justin to Texas. When they returned to California, Justin got work as a cable installer and Taylor as a stockbroker at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in San Francisco.

At about the same time, Taylor started dating the woman who became his wife in 1993. The couple had two daughters, but separated three years later after Taylor decided he was tired of being a good husband and Mormon.

"He wanted to expand his life outside the church," his ex-wife, Ann Helzer, testified at Taylor's murder trial. "He began feeling the confines of his religion and wanted to try the normal life."

The "normal life" meant drinking, smoking and having sex with other women, she said, describing how Taylor started wearing black clothes and showering with less frequency. The church eventually excommunicated him for his profane behavior.

Heather Helzer told the court that her big brother started formulating his own belief system and argued with anyone who disagreed with him, according to the Tri-Valley Herald.

A cousin of the Helzers, Chi Hoffman, 30, told the court Taylor discussed his philosophy that good and evil do not exist when they were both high on drugs.

Taylor believed that "the majority of society was stuck in this primitive belief system that there's right and wrong, and good and evil," Hoffman testified, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Hoffman had been interned in a mental hospital on several occasions and Taylor wanted to know about his stays, he said.

"There was a few times where [Taylor] would act out really crazy, and then stop and ask, 'Was that how the people in the hospital acted?'" Hoffman testified.

Taylor eventually got a disability leave from his job after he reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown. With time, his belief system became more and more erratic. He believed he was a prophet and could receive messages directly from God.

Murder Mystery Dinner

Dawn Godman was as much an outcast as either of the Helzers, according to court documents and press accounts.

Raised in the shadow of the Sierra Mountains in the town of Sutter Creek, population 2,300, Godman was a loner in high school. She married at 18, bore a son who died soon after birth, had a second son who lived, and divorced a few years later. Her ex-husband was granted custody of her son when he revealed in court proceedings that she tried to overdose on pills and was living out of a car, according the San Francisco Chronicle.

She moved in with her relative who was living in Martinez and got a job at a grocery store. She started attending services at the Mormon Church, desperate to find direction in her life. Instead, she found Taylor and Justin Helzer.

The trio met at a fitting event, considering the horrific deeds they would commit: a murder mystery dinner held at a Mormon temple on Memorial Day 1999. At such events, the hosts give guests clues to a murder mystery, which they attempt to solve while they eat. The Helzer boys showed up dressed in black and stood out among the suburban, starched shirt and chinos crowd, Godman later recalled.

She started dating Justin Helzer, although press reports say she was fascinated by his charismatic older brother.

Taylor convinced Godman to sign up for a self-awareness seminar, according to the Chronicle. The group spent four days in a room without windows confronting their inner demons with a tough-talking facilitator whose badgering sometimes made people run sobbing from the room. When Godman had completed two of the three levels of the program, Taylor told her that he would take over her lessons.

He started to offer her spiritual guidance, and eventually convinced her that he was a prophet of God. In January 2000, he drove her to the Mormon temple in Oakland, where he told her his plans to defeat Satan by starting a self-help group. It was his destiny to take over the Mormon Church, he told her, by assassinating the church leaders, if necessary.

"Spirit's telling me it's time you get to know everything," Taylor allegedly told her as they sat in the parking lot, which offers sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay.

He told her his scheme to extort money from and kill an ex-client to obtain seed money for his self-help group. He asked Godman if she'd be willing to kill in God's name, and she told him she'd consider it a blessing, she testified later in court.

"He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world," Godman told jurors, when she testified against the brothers to avoid the death penalty.

Revelations from God

At his murder trial, witnesses said Taylor frequently shushed other people so he could hear God speak.

He often began his sentences with "Spirit says," as his listeners leaned forward to catch the supposedly divine message. Once in May 2000, Taylor ran out into the rain and raised his hands skyward to receive a revelation, according to the Contra Costa Times. Afterward, he told his friends, "If people aren't loyal to me, I'm just going to have to kill them."

He scribbled a list of maxims -- 12 Principles of Magic -- on a scrap of paper and made his groupies -- his younger brother and Godman -- memorize them. Among the principles were "I am already perfect and therefore can do nothing wrong," and, "I gain control by losing control." They believed he was a prophet and obeyed his orders.

The self-help group would be called "Impact America" and Taylor came up with several criminal schemes to finance it. One involved setting up a subsidiary called Intimacy which would sell drugs and prostitutes to wealthy businessmen, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The trio handed out fliers to women at raves -- all-night dance parties -- in an attempt to recruit call girls.

Another tawdry scheme called for importing underage girls from Brazil -- where Taylor had been a Mormon missionary -- to seduce married businessmen, whom the trio would later blackmail into giving them money.

Yet another scheme involved adopting Brazilian orphans whom they'd train as assassins to kill the15 leaders of the Mormon Church in Utah. Once the church leadership was dead, Taylor would take over the institution.

"He believed that by doing that, he was fulfilling a prophecy from the Book of Mormon," Godman testified in court.

Finally, they settled on a far more practical plan -- extorting money from one of Taylor's former clients, a wealthy senior citizen who was an easy mark. Someone who knew and trusted Taylor enough to let him into his or her home. Someone weak enough to be easily killed.

As a stock broker, Taylor managed the money of numerous retirees with posh portfolios; he had a long list of victims to choose from. It seemed like such a simple plan.

Selina Bishop

A key element was missing from the plan: The trio needed a third person to launder the dirty money. Someone who would open a bank account, deposit and cash the extorted checks for them. Of course, they'd have to kill that person too, after they'd used them to hide the money.

Selina Bishop fit the bill perfectly. The 22-year-old was starry-eyed and looking for romance when she met Taylor Helzer at a rave in the spring of 2000.

Taylor was a clichee - tall, dark, handsome. A towering 6'5, he wore his shoulder-length brown hair pulled into a low pony tail and preferred all-black attire. He had an easy smile, but a secretive demeanor. He lied to Bishop from the moment he met her, beginning with his name. He told her to call him Jordan.

Bishop had spent two years at an art school in Pennsylvania before moving back to the Bay Area, according to the Contra Costa Times. She moved to Woodacre, one of several bucolic Marin County hamlets where there's no home mail delivery and everyone knows everyone else. She got a job waitressing down the road in San Geronimo at the Two Bird Cafe, a local hang-out known for its pan-fried trout and egg breakfast.

She told her co-workers all about her new boyfriend. She was completely besotted by him. But her friends and family were uneasy about the man of mystery who refused to tell Bishop his last name, home phone number or allow her to take pictures of him.

"He didnt want to meet any of us," Bishop's aunt, Olga Land, told the Contra Costa Times. "From the people I talked to who he met, he gave them the creeps."

But love blinded Bishop, and Taylor played her for a patsy.

In early July, Taylor helped Bishop move out of her mother's house into a studio apartment. Her mother, Jennifer Villarin, 45, had only met Taylor briefly and was very curious about the man her daughter had fallen so hard for -- he seemed to be avoiding meeting her family and friends. Villarin went so far as to drop in for an impromptu visit at Bishop's apartment when she knew Taylor would be there, pretending she needed to borrow a blouse from her daughter just to have the chance to talk to him.

"Well, he's cute," she told an acquaintance afterward. "He seems like a real nice kid."

Bishop told friends that Taylor was about to inherit money from his grandmother and that he needed to hide it from his ex-wife. She agreed to open four bank accounts in her name for him. It was a ruse; under California law, inherited money is not considered community property in a divorce. The real reason Taylor wanted Bishop to open the accounts was far more nefarious. But she trusted "Jordan" so much, that she gave him a key to her apartment as soon as she moved in.

In her final weeks of life, Bishop became more and more frustrated with her boyfriend's secretiveness, according to the Tri-Valley Herald. He'd be warm and affectionate to her one moment, and cold and distant the next. She wanted him to finalize his divorce from his estranged wife so they could move forward.

But Taylor had more pressing issues on his mind. He had no feelings for her. He had money to steal and people to kill. The reciprocating saw he'd use to cut up his girlfriend's body had already been purchased at the local Sears; the duffel bags that would hold her remains, at the local K-mart.

The Stinemans

Annette Stineman, 78, and her husband Ivan, 85, had been married 55 years and were living out their golden years a few miles away from the Concord house rented by the Helzer boys and Dawn Godman that fatal August.

Taylor had been their stock broker at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and the couple completely trusted the young man. He'd cultivated a friendship with them over the years, dropping in to visit them and even taking them river rafting one summer along with their adult daughter, Nancy Hall.

"I believe they were buddies," Hall testified at the murder trial. "My father didn't have a son, so he liked the idea."

The Stinemans weren't Taylors first choice. He'd written down the names of five former clients, prosecutors told the court, but the first man -- who lived in the nearby town of Walnut Creek -- was not home when the Helzer boys came calling on Sunday, July 30, so they moved on to the No. 2 slot on their list, the Stinemans.

According to the criminal complaint, the Helzer brothers, wearing suits and carrying briefcases, knocked on the door as Godman waited in a white pickup nearby. They'd purchased shackles at an adult bookstore earlier in the day to immobilize their victims, and brought them back to their rental home.

The jurors heard testimony from a manager of the Concord branch of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter who said he received a phone call from a woman saying she was Annette Stineman who wanted to liquidate her investments.

"She sounded nervous," George Cahoun said. "There was a level of tension there that was obvious."

Although the request was unusual, he honored it. Prosecutors believe the trio then forced the Stinemans to drink Rohypnol, a sedative and known "date rape" drug, and made them write out two checks -- one for $33,000, the other for $67,000 -- to Selina Bishop.

As the victims' relatives gasped and cried, Godman told a court in May 2004 what happened to the Stinemans during their final hours at the Helzer residence.

Taylor thought the retirees would overdose on the Rohypnol and die, but they didn't. They nearly slipped into a coma, but kept breathing. The brothers lead the wobbly couple to the bathroom, where Justin bashed Ivan Stineman's head against the tile floor and Taylor slit Annette's throat with a hunting knife as Godman watched.

"I couldn't really believe that this was really happening," she told the court. "The only thing I could do was pray that [the couple] would die, so it would just be done with."

They next day, they hacked the bodies to pieces with a power saw. Taylor had his little brother do most of the dirty work.

"Taylor said he had more important things to do, like sit and meditate and listen to the spirit," Godman testified.

Afterward, the trio knelt beside the body parts and Taylor thanked the Stinemans for "being willing to sacrifice their lives for a greater cause," Godman said, according to the Chronicle.

They tried to feed the Stinemans' remains to dogs they'd adopted from a pound for that purpose, but the plan didn't work. Instead, they stuffed the body parts into gym bags. They gathered rocks and stepping stones from the outside of the house to weigh down the bags.

The next day, according to the Chronicle, Godman rolled into Walnut Creek in a wheelchair wearing a flamboyant gold cowboy hat. She told the teller she wanted to deposit two checks totaling $100,000 into Bishop's bank account. Bishop was getting open heart surgery, Godman explained, and she needed to deposit the money from Bishop's "grandparents" into the account immediately so she could pay for the operation. She was doing the family a favor by agreeing to deposit the funds, she said.

Authorities said the checks were cashed, but didn't divulge who cashed them or when they did it. Sources close to the case theorized that Bishop cashed the checks for Taylor then got cold feet and threatened to report the scheme to police, prompting the brothers to murder her, as well.

Lethal Date

Selina Bishop had her last date with "Jordan" on August 2, 2000, at a trendy bar in Berkeley that was midway between their homes. A bartender at the Bison Brewing Company said the couple often met there during the hot months, huddled at a table among the regular clientele - locals as well as students from the University of California who'd stayed the summer.

Taylor was late to their rendezvous as usual, and the brunette handed the bartender a dollar and asked for change to make a phone call, according the Contra Costa Times.

"I dont know why I go out with him," Bishop told Matt King, rolling her brown eyes in mock exasperation, before walking across the street to a pay phone.

Taylor arrived soon after and the couple sat near a window and leaned into each other to hear themselves talk over the juke box music.

As King poured them draught beers - the chocolate stout and red ale the bar is famous for - he contemplated the pair. He thought their meetings were cute, but found Taylor somewhat aloof and distant in comparison to the bubbly Bishop. It seemed obvious that she was far more enamored of him than he of her.

Bishop was in an especially good mood that night. The next day, she and her boyfriend were planning to drive to Yosemite National Park for a camping trip. No doubt she hoped it would be an opportunity for them to get closer and for her boyfriend to finally divulge more information about himself.

After a short while, King saw Bishop take "Jordan's" hand and lead him out of the pub for the last time.

A neighbor of the Helzers, Kaye Shaman, testified that the next day, August 3, she saw a 1984 Honda Accord drive up to their house. Taylor and a woman with long brown hair got out and he kissed her lightly on the mouth before leading her inside the home, according to Contra Costa Times.

Godman filled in the blanks as to what happened after the couple entered the house of horrors. Taylor offered to give Bishop a massage, according to court testimony, and the two went into the family room.

As she lay face down on the carpet, contentedly yielding herself to her boyfriend's strong hands as he rubbed her back, Justin Helzer walked into the room with a hammer. Perhaps soft music was playing so she didn't hear him approach. Perhaps Taylor was crooning sweet nothings in her ear. She was young, in love, and about to go on a romantic vacation with her boyfriend. She was happy. She never imagined what Taylor was capable of. Whatever was going on, whatever she was thinking as she laid on that carpet, she didn't know what hit her as Justin slammed the hammer into her head several times, cracking her skull.

After Taylor carried Bishop to the same bathroom where the Stinemans were murdered, he noticed she was still alive, Godman testified in court. He pulled her long brown hair back to hold up her head so Godman could see Bishop's face.

"Spirit says you get to know this isn't a dream," Taylor said, before slitting Bishop's throat with a hunting knife.

Godman testified that Taylor had planned to kill Bishop all along, according to the Chronicle. All he wanted from her was a bank account to launder the Stinemans' money.

But the killing spree hadn't ended with Bishop's murder.

The Mother Who Knew Too Much

Bishop had made the mistake of introducing her boyfriend to her mother, and for that, Jennifer Villarin, 45, would be killed. Taylor was worried that Villarin knew his home address and about the bank accounts Bishop opened for him, and would identify him as Bishop's killer.

He also knew that Bishop had asked Villarin to housesit for her while they were in Yosemite. In the pre-dawn hours of August 4, Taylor drove to Bishop's studio apartment. But Villarin wasn't alone that night. James Gamble, 54, a patron at the Papermill Creek Saloon, where Villarin worked as a bartender, was there with her. He also would end up a wayward victim of Taylor's lunatic rampage.

Taylor let himself into the studio apartment with the key Selina had given him. He crept toward the bed that he'd helped Bishop assemble and where they'd slept together on many occasions.

He stood over Gamble and Villarin - who once remarked that her daughter's boyfriend seemed like a "real nice kid" - raised a Beretta 9-mm and shot them both at point-blank range.

Bishop's upstairs neighbor and landlord, James Soladay, woke to the sound of gunshots. A second later, he heard the footsteps racing outside and the roar of the getaway car. With a pounding heart, he walked downstairs and through the door of Bishop's apartment. Two bloody and unmoving bodies were sprawled over the bed. He placed a panicked 911 call.

"I cannot believe this is happening," he told the operator. "I can't believe this happened in my home."

"It's Kool-aid"

The next day, August 4, the Stinemans' daughter reported her parents missing after her persistent phone calls to their home went unanswered. Neighbors had noticed newspapers piling up on their doorstep.

A few hours later, when Bishop failed to show up for her shift at the Two Bird Cafe, her friends contacted the Marin County Sheriff's Department to issue a missing person's report for her, as well.

That same day, neighbor Kaye Shaman testified in court, she returned home and saw her mysterious neighbors in a truck that was towing a trailer with Jet-skis. There were duffel bags in the truck bed and another on the lap of the man sitting in the passenger seat, she said, as the courtroom gasped.

Shaman avoided looking at the Helzer boys until the prosecutor told her to point at her neighbors if they were in the courtroom. She then glanced in their direction and raised an accusatory finger.

A surveillance camera filmed a vehicle similar to Justin Helzer's truck crossing a bridge over the San Joaquin River. The truck was towing a trailer with Jet-skis. Prosecutors maintained that the camera caught the brothers on their way to dump the duffel bags in the river.

On Sunday, August 6, the Stinemans' Chevrolet Lumina minivan was found in an industrial neighborhood in Oakland. A chainsaw and a sawhorse were found inside, and police lifted the fingerprints of Justin Helzer and Godman from the vehicle.

Later that day, a professional carpet cleaner was summoned to the Helzer house to clean a stain in the living room, according to court testimony.

As the man labored to get the large red blotch out of the carpet, Justin and Godman sat in the kitchen, calmly eating a snack and watching him work.

"Maybe it's Kool-Aid," Hazem Belal said as he examined the stain, according to the Chronicle.

"Yeah, it's Kool-Aid," Justin replied. "We spilled some drinks."

The Raid

Early the next morning, a Monday, sheriffs deputies drove to the house on Saddlewood Court with a search warrant. They wanted to look for the gun that was used to kill Villarin and Gamble. Bishop's co-workers had told them about the mysterious "Jordan" and they wanted to question him.

All the tenants were home when they knocked on the door. When the deputies swept through the house, they found ecstasy, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and drug paraphernalia, but no gun, according to the police report. The cops arrested the trio on drug possession charges.

Taylor bolted when investigators werent looking, escaping from the back of the house and leaping over backyard fences. He forced his way into a neighbor's house. The resident, Mary Mizzocchi, quickly complied when the frantic Taylor demanded a weapon and threatened to kill her if she called the cops.

She gave him a steak knife and a pair of sewing scissors. He cut off his ponytail, changed into her husband's clothes and ran into the backyard, according to the Contra Costa Times. When the deputies caught up with him a few blocks away and forced him into the squad car, he dove through the back window and they had to chase him down again.

Investigators found videotaped newscasts about Bishop's disappearance in the Helzer home, as well as evidence linking the trio to the Stinemans disappearance. They also found handcuffs and leg irons in Justin's pickup.

Later that day, the first two duffel bags - one containing a human head, the other a torso - floated to the surface of the Mokelumne River. After the rest of the bags were recovered, experts at the Contra Costa County Crime Lab used DNA analysis to identify the victims, which confirmed preliminary findings made using dental records.

Sorting through the remains took a high emotional toll on the law enforcement officials in the largely agricultural Sacramento County where such ghastly crimes are extremely rare.

"The remains we have found have been dismembered and commingled in the bags," county coroner Paul Smith told the Chronicle. "It's pretty horrific."

Smith speculated that the remains had been mixed together to make it harder to identify the victims.

A few weeks later as he sat in jail awaiting his court date, Taylor tried to sell the story of his murder spree for $400,000 to several magazines. No one wanted to touch it.

Shackles, Ski Masks and a Power Saw

At a two-week preliminary hearing in December 2001 in the Contra Costa County Superior Court, prosecutors carefully laid out their case. The physical evidence included receipts for a hand-held power saw, shackles bought at a sex shop, and ski masks from a sporting goods store, as well as several "plans of action" written by Taylor Helzer that detailed the extortion scheme, according to the Point Reyes Light.

They charged all three roommates with 18 felonies, including murder, extortion, and kidnapping.

A self-described witch and former Mormon, Debra McClanahan, 40, testified that she'd provided an alibi for the trio the night the Stinemans were abducted from their home.

McClanahan had met Godman at a church dance in December 1997 and had taught the younger woman to cast Wiccan spells. On the night of July 30, she bought four tickets to the film X-Men at Taylor's bidding and initially told investigators that the four of them had gone for dinner and a movie.

After realizing what horrible deeds the trio had committed, she told police the truth. She gave investigators a safe they'd stored in her apartment containing a 9-mm handgun, as well as drugs and personal property of the Stineman's. She lied out of "loyalty, fear, love, disbelief, denial" she told the court, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Faced with irrefutable evidence, Godman struck a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty to five counts of murder and testifying against the Helzer brothers, she'd avoid the death penalty and get a sentence of 38 years to life in prison.

People who knew them before they became murderers sobbed as they remembered the Helzers as boys. Family members recounted a history of mental illness that plagued the Helzer gene pool. Several cousins and aunts had been interned in psychiatric wards.

A woman whose boyfriend lived with the Helzers in the spring of 2000 said she once found Justin on his hands and knees on the kitchen floor eating from a plate without utensils and grunting, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Taylor's ex-girlfriend Keri Mendoza, whom Taylor had convinced to get the breast implants that eventually landed her a spread in Playboy magazine using the name Kerissa Fare, testified that she drove to Tijuana, Mexico, with Taylor in November 1999, to buy Rohypnol.

She told the court that he told her his plan to "involve some girl, make her feel like he was the love of her life."

A long-time friend of Selina Bishop read aloud from an unfinished letter Bishop was writing her a few days before her death; it was recovered by investigators.

"I have everything I need right here," Bishop wrote. "I don't know when I've ever been happier in my life."

At certain points during the testimony, family members of the murder victims passed tissues down to members of Helzer's family so they could dry their tears. As an emotional recounting of his life played out in the witness stand, Taylor stared stony-faced down at the table he sat at, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.

In March 2004, Taylor Helzer entered a surprise guilty plea, and his attorney relayed Taylor's impromptu confession to a stunned courtroom.


On June 16, a jury convicted Justin Helzer of 11 counts, including murder, extortion and kidnapping for his role in the killings. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

His defense lawyer tried to portray him as the mentally ill follower of a domineering old brother, according to the Chronicle. A psychiatrist who interviewed Justin in jail told the court that Justin sincerely believed his brother Taylor was a prophet of God and that Justin "was not able to comprehend that the homicides he committed were morally wrong."

The ploy failed. In July, just before the penalty phase of his case began, Justin had an outburst in the courtroom. "I want this life to be over," he said after jurors had taken their seats. "I want to die."

His mother started weeping loudly and Judge Mary Ann O'Malley tried to talk over the outburst as the jurors were escorted from the room, according to the Contra Costa Times.

"I'm just being truthful," he told the judge. "I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be rude - I just want to be free. I want freedom or death."

On August 4, 2004, four years to the day that the last victims were killed, Justin Helzer was sentenced to death for three of the murders he committed and life in prison for his role in the other two. The jurors cried openly as the court clerk read the sentence and the family members of the victims shouted an emphatic "Yes!" each time the clerk read the death verdict.

On December 15, 2004, another jury handed down five death sentences for Taylor Helzer. He comforted his attorney as the first verdict was read, according to the Chronicle, telling her, "It's okay."

Outside the courtroom, family members of the victims greeted the jurors with long hugs.

"[Taylor Helzer] is the second coming of Manson, not Christ," Olga Land, Villarin's sister, told reporters.



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