Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

CHARLES NG: CHEATING DEATH

Wilseyville

It wasn't long before South San Francisco police knew that they had more than a simple case of shoplifting on their hands especially when they discovered bloodstains on the front passenger's seat of the Honda, a bullet hole above it near the sun visor and two spent shell casings under the seat. Paul Cosner, 39, the original owner of the Honda and a trader of used cars, had disappeared on November 2, 1984 after he told his girlfriend that he was meeting with "a weird looking guy," to show him the car. He was never seen again.

The car and the property were later moved to San Francisco as detectives from the Missing Persons Unit there were investigating the disappearance of Paul Cosner. Among the property were several bank and credit cards and other documents in the name of Robin Scott Stapley, which had been found in the glove compartment. A check made with San Diego police revealed that Stapley was one of the founding members of the San Diego chapter of the "Guardian Angels," a national organization that had been formed to protect private citizens from criminal attacks and generally aid the police. He had been missing since the previous April.

Another bankcard, in the name of Randy Jacobsen was also found amongst the property as was a Pacific Gas and Electric bill in the name of Claralyn Balasz. The address shown on the bill was a post office box in Wilseyville, California, a region one hundred and fifty miles east of San Francisco at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. After checks with P G&E, police discovered that Balasz was Lake's ex-wife and was living in San Bruno, just a few short miles from the lumberyard where Lake had been arrested.

On Monday, June 3, 1985, two detectives from S.F. Missing Persons, Tom Eisenmann and Irene Brunn, went to interview Balasz. When asked about the Wilseyville address, Balasz told the police that it related to a cabin that her father owned near San Andreas, Calaveras County. When the detectives asked for directions to the cabin, Balasz explained that it was in a remote location and could only be found by someone familiar with the area. The detectives then made arrangements for Balasz to take them to the cabin the following day, as they first required authorization from the Calaveras Sheriffs Department to conduct a search.

The following day, after meeting with Sheriff Ballard and obtaining the necessary clearance, Eisenmann, Brunn and two other officers supplied by Ballard met Balasz and Lake's mother Gloria Eberling at a grocery store located on Highway 88 a short distance from the cabin. When the detectives asked Balasz why she was late for their appointment, she explained that she had been to the cabin prior to meeting them. The police then advised her that if she had removed any evidence she could be found guilty of obstructing justice. Balasz explained that she had been looking for videos that Lake had taken of her in the nude and had only wanted to save herself from embarrassment.

Shortly after, Balasz led them up Blue Mountain road and after just two turns, they drove past a cinder-block structure and came to the cabin. Contrary to Balasz's advice it had been relatively easy to find. After asking Balasz to unlock the cabin, Brunn and Calaveras Deputy Sheriff Varain conducted a search of the interior while Eisenmann and the other deputy looked around the grounds.

The Wilseyville cabin and bunker. (SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)
The Wilseyville cabin and bunker.
(SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)

The cabin was comprised of two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The first thing that Brunn noticed on entering the room was a spray of reddish coloured stains on the living room ceiling. On one wall was a mural of a forest scene, in the middle of the scene was a single, small caliber bullet hole. Entering the kitchen, Brunn found another similar bullet hole in the floor. The master bedroom held a four-poster bed that had electrical cords tied to each of its posts. Bolted through the floor at each corner of the bed were heavy eyebolts and above it, a 250-watt floodlight had been fastened to the wall.

To one side of the bed was a dresser, which contained an assortment of women's lingerie, many of which were soiled with dark red stains. Moving to the bed, Brunn lifted one corner of the mattress. Below it was a second mattress; it too was heavily stained with what looked like dried blood. Returning to the front room she was shown a television and two items of audio duplicating equipment by Deputy Varain. All the serial numbers had been erased. Brunn later found that the audio equipment belonged to Harvey Dubs, a San Francisco resident who, with his wife and baby son, had disappeared on July 24, 1984. The family had last been seen by a neighbor who saw them talking to two men who had come to the house to enquire about the equipment which Harvey Dubs had advertised for sale in a local paper.

Brunn then left the property with Varain and drove to the office of the San Andreas District Attorney and spoke with Assistant DA John Martin who, after listening to their report, agreed that they had sufficient evidence to request a search warrant for the whole property. After obtaining the warrant from Judge Douglas Mewhinney, Brunn and Varain returned to the property and conducted a brief interview with Balasz and Eberling, questioning them about their previous visit to the cabin. Eberling refused to answer any questions and Balasz became evasive stating only that her parents had bought the cabin from "the fat guy."

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