Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Halloween Murder in the Napa Valley

Attack in the Wine Country

Lauren M. noticed the security light come on outside the home she shared with Adriane Insogna and Leslie Ann Mazzara, and, despite her dog's warning growl, she dismissed it as probably just a cat. She heard other noises, but thought that one her of housemates had invited a boyfriend to go upstairs. The three housemates had given out Halloween candy that evening and had gone to bed around 10:30 p.m., Lauren in her first-floor bedroom in the back of the tract house, and the other two upstairs.

Aerial view of Napa Valley
Aerial view of Napa Valley

Awakened at 2:00 a.m. by the sound of breaking glass, Lauren heard a struggle in the upstairs rooms. She jumped out of bed and stood listening for a moment near the doorway of her room. A voice cried out from upstairs.

"Please, God, help me! Somebody help me!" The voice was Adriane's.

Lauren then heard someone rushing down the stairway, and all she could think to do was escape out the back door, leaving her trapped in her fenced backyard. There she hid, listening, as the intruder jumped out the kitchen window in the front of the house and ran away.

Adriane Insogna
Adriane Insogna

Adriane cried again for help, so Lauren went back inside to call 911. However, the cordless phone failed to work, and upstairs she found her friends lying face-down and just barely clinging to life. The floor was a bloody mess, and Adriane was behind her bed, bleeding badly and no longer able to speak. Leslie lay in a pile of clothing, unconscious, with wounds all over her upper body.

Leslie Ann Mazzara
Leslie Ann Mazzara

Lauren realized she could not save them, and, afraid the intruder might return, she left again, getting into her car and using her cell phone to call 911. A police officer patrolling nearby arrived at the scene, but he was too late. The victims were both dead.

After a quick inspection of the house, the officer concluded the killer had forced open the kitchen window to enter and had then climbed the stairs and attacked the girls, stabbing them repeatedly. For some reason, he had not bothered to search the rooms downstairs. He fled the home by the same route, breaking the window's glass and leaving behind some of his own blood.

A task force was quickly formed, recruiting law enforcement officers from the Highway Patrol, the Sheriff's Department, and other police departments near Napa. More than twenty officers combed the neighborhood, looking for anyone suspicious, but they found no one that night to question or arrest. They also found no murder weapon, but at the scene it was clear that the killer had been injured in the struggle and had been bleeding.

News of the crime in the papers the following day, November 1, 2004, stunned area residents. The Napa Valley in Northern California is famous for its many wineries and unique beauty. A tourist destination for millions, it provided resorts, wine tours, and exquisite restaurants. It was not associated with violence, domestic or otherwise, and the Westside neighborhood where the double slaying occurred was considered quiet and safe.

The FBI was asked to help with evidence analysis, and within a few days community leaders offered $100,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Napa police called meetings with residents to reassure them that the attack was unlikely to have been random. Aware of the many single young women who worked in the local tourist industry, they stated they believed the perpetrator knew one or both of the victims, and they asked for assistance. "We want the public to have heightened awareness of any new injuries or change in behavior," said Napa Police Chief Jeff Troendly, "such as missed work, unplanned vacations, events not attended or any unusual anxiety."

What no one knew was that the man they sought was mingling among the mourning relatives, consoling them and attending candlelight memorials. None suspected him, and for a while, it seemed that he'd escaped the net.

 

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