Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

LA Chef Admits to Slow Cooking Wife, Now He’s in Hot Water

David Viens. Police photo.

In one of the most macabre twists in recent courtroom history, jurors heard an audiotape of accused wife-killer David Viens admitting that he not only killed his wife Dawn, but disposed of her body by cooking her slowly for four days at the restaurant where he worked as chef. He then mixed the remains in garbage bags with other food waste and threw it in a dumpster.

In the transcript (PDF) of his March 15, 2011 conversation with police, the 49-year-old Viens says he was out of his mind on Ambien and alcohol when confronted by his angry drunken wife Dawn, 39. Viens told police he restrained his wife by binding her hands and feet with duct tape — and then took one final piece of the clear tape: “And I put that over her mouth. And that was it. I said, Good night.”

David and Dawn Viens. Personal photo.

But when Viens woke up hours later, Dawn had stopped breathing. Viens took the body to his restaurant — the Thyme Contemporary Cafe in Lomita — and threw it in a 55-gallon pot of boiling water: “I manipulated her so the face is down… weights that we use, and I put them on the top of her body, and I just slowly cooked it and I ended up cooking her for four days.” His wife’s liquid remains were pourned in the restaurant’s grease pit. The rest was thrown into the dumpster. Viens actually told police that he kept his wife’s skull stored in the attic of his mother’s house — police searched but never recovered it.

The fatal argument took place on October 18. 2009, but Viens told people his wife had left him and he didn’t know where she went. In a transcript (PDF) of a December 9, 2009 phone call with police, Viens told a detective that Dawn had come back to the home from October 25-27, but when she left he only received sporadic text messages from her.

There was no murder case to build against David Viens and so just went on with his life — and if he’d been able to keep quiet about it, there might never have been a case at all. But he confessed the killing to his adult daughter Jacqueline one boozy night in October 2009. And while his daughter kept his secret at first — even sending texts from her dead stepmother’s phone to prolong the ruse — she ultimately came forward to police.

In February 2011, Viens discovered his daughter had turned him in — and saw an article about it in a local newspaper — he tried to end his own life by jumping off an 80-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes. Police arrested Viens in the hospital where he was brought for treatment. Police spoke with him twice in the hospital. In a March 1, 2011 interview (PDF,) Viens admitted to unintentionally killing Jacqueline and stashing her body in a dumpster — but there was no mention of the corpse-boiling until the next interrogation two weeks later.

On the stand this week, 22-year-old Jacqueline told jurors that her father once joked that the best way to get rid of a corpse is by cooking it. She said the Viens’ marriage “seemed” loving, but admitted that Dawn had a serious drinking problem — and that her stepmother had done cocaine together. Jacqueline said she loved Dawn, but kept her father’s secret so long because she wanted to protect him.

On Wednesday, David Viens told Judge Rand S. Rubin he would not take the stand in his own defense. Although he pled “not guilty” to the charge and there is no remaining physical evidence of Dawn Viens’ death, defense attorney Fred McCurry may attempt to pursuade jurors that his client was not fully conscious of his actions at the time. He plans to call a medical expert to discuss the potential side-effects of Ambien, which could include hallucinations, aggressive behavior and anxiety.

The defense case continues Thursday.


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