9. Unresolved

On the morning of March 3, 2019, exactly five years after Dana was wheeled from her house on a gurney, armored vehicles and FBI agents swarmed her neighborhood. They weren’t breaking down Huck’s door, however. They were a mere 175 yards southeast of Huck’s house breaking down the door of his neighbor Stephen Beal.

Months earlier, Beal had been investigated in connection with a package-bomb explosion that had killed Beal’s ex-girlfriend, a spa owner named Ildiko Krajnyak. Beal was arrested briefly and released because the FBI didn’t have enough evidence to charge him with a crime.

Beal’s neighbors were eager to vouch for his innocence and good character. “We can’t fathom he would do anything mean, or nasty, or anything else,” one neighbor told the press. Beal was said to be a model-rocket enthusiast who made small explosives to help a neighbor with a “gopher problem.”

Another neighbor told a reporter: “Everyone can see how he was a suspect because of the relationship, but they couldn’t find anything. They gathered the evidence, and the system worked, and there was nothing that could tie him to the explosion. We’re just glad he’s free to have his life back.”

Another neighbor was quoted as saying: “I feel sorry for him. You can be able to build rockets and not be able to build a bomb that’ll blow up in a box.”

Beal was later arrested again by federal agents and charged with “use of a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death,” among other things. He pleaded not guilty. I don’t know if his neighbors still vouch for his innocence.

I mention these expressions of support and sympathy for Beal because I heard neighbors say similar things about Huck. On the night of March 4, 2014, Dana’s neighbors talked to one another, and to me and my family, as police conducted the first search.

One woman told me she was shocked that Huck’s privacy was being invaded. Her husband assured us Huck would be cleared; the search was a routine formality. They were concerned about helping Huck cope with his double-barreled ordeal of losing his wife and being insulted by police intrusion.

An article about my experiences with Dana’s case and the Long Beach Police Department was published in a local newspaper called Beachcomber in May 2018. The article Accident or Unsolved Murder? was written by Stephen Downing, a retired police officer. One of Huck’s neighbors told the paper’s publisher that Huck was innocent; I was out to get him.

Another of Huck’s neighbors sent me a scolding e-mail message. She wrote:

“Your former brother-in-law might have been a liar, a philanderer, a monumental horse’s ass, or whatever, but that doesn’t make him a murderer. And considering that you are energetically attempting to prove him one and publishing your theories on the Internet, it’s not surprising he has changed his name several times.

You are not an objective person, you are very much an advocate; and advocates push their version of events. You have an uphill battle here. As I pointed out to Mr. Downing, your sister’s accidental death—and that is what the coroner ruled it—is a closed case, not a cold case, which might at some point be reopened by the police.

Your sister’s tragic death occurred over four years ago. There is no evidence in police storage which might be reexamined. If Dana was cremated, then her remains are not available for exhumation and reexamination. There is no evidence that your former brother-in-law struck his wife on the head. There are no neighbors’ statements that they heard fighting or any sort of commotion which might indicate that someone was being attacked (e.g., screaming or other unusual noises).

You have theories about blood evidence which you believe existed, but there is no way at this late date to prove or disprove them. I assume the police examined the entire house very thoroughly the night they spent so many hours there. They certainly weren’t inside all that time doing nothing constructive.

They confiscated the video tapes your former brother-in-law had and reviewed them. Have you ever seen them? The police certainly wouldn’t let you review them, so I can’t believe you have. Yet, you state that your sister was never seen moving around the house after a certain hour the night before the paramedics were called. How could you know that? And assuming the police advised you of that, it doesn’t prove anything specific regarding the events leading up to Dana’s death.”

My point is that Huck, like Beal, has many passionate, vocal defenders. Their defenses ring with virtue. They don’t have anything against Dana, if they think of Dana at all. She’s dead and therefore no longer relevant. Rather, they are defending the person they see as the true victim. They are defending what they see as rule of law.

I’d like to emphasize that no public agency or authority has ever given credence to my claim Dana was murdered, and the inquiry was botched. Long Beach police found no evidence of a crime, and no evidence of investigative cock-up. The Los Angeles County Coroner found no evidence of foul play. The California Department of Justice found no credible allegation of criminal misconduct by officers. Prestigious lawyers have heard what I have to say and told me nothing can be done to bring a criminal complaint.

People in a position to do something about Dana’s case are content to remain silent. City officials in Long Beach, for example, are aware of Dana’s case. I say this because several computers using one static-IP address registered to the City of Long Beach have accessed the YogaDeath.com website more than 150 times over the course of a year.

In an email exchange in March 2019, Long Beach City Councilwoman Suzie Price wrote to me:

“I am so sorry about your sister’s loss. I can only imagine how you must feel with the incident being unresolved. It must feel like there is no justice. I am so sorry for that.”

Price’s note is the only communication I have received from a current public official acknowledging that something about Dana’s case is unresolved. I thank Price for it.

Champions of the rule of law should rejoice that one grieving sister can’t bend the system. But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. The system wasn’t made to serve grieving sisters or dead women.

There’s no such thing as a crime against a dead woman. Murder is a crime against “the people,” as represented by institutions of state authority such as police, coroners, and prosecutors. If “the people” perceive no offense, is there a crime? No, at least not in the sense that the criminal justice system can do anything about it.

One of the hardest facts about Dana’s case is that it’s not unusual. It’s an example of how the justice system works in Los Angeles County. It’s an illustration of how Long Beach police kill complaints, bury misconduct, and avoid political consequences. This quote explains it well:

“Government officials had one highly specific and tangible motive for supporting the local police; they wished to avoid liability in case of civil suits for damages. Burying or somehow justifying disagreeable episodes that might be costly in money and prestige would have to be given priority over any sense of moral responsibility. Consequently, at each level of government, the normal practice was collusion. Informal complaints were ignored, thereby never giving them an effective existence. Complainants were referred from office to office until they wearied. Officials at all levels of government united to obstruct or repel formal complaints.”

The quote is from Brutal Justice: The Ordeal of an American City by Henry Cohen, an exposé of misconduct in the Long Beach Police Department published in 1980. Cohen’s analysis was apt 40 years ago, and it’s apt today. Cohen pointed out that only a small percentage of officers engaged in misconduct, but it was enough to corrode the department and drive honest officers out of the force.

I think about all the officers working on Dana’s case, talking to neighbors and filing prompt, informative reports. I imagine it would be disheartening to learn that the lead detective disregarded what they wrote, bungled the case, and was protected by his superiors.

The handling of Dana’s case up the chain of command was and is business as usual in Long Beach. The situation is beyond any good-faith resolution. What’s left for me to do, then, other than tell the story?

Huck’s social profile pic

In 2014, I posted a memorial website for Dana online. When I obtained the audio from Huck’s 911 call, I posted it on the site. When I found out Huck had changed his name again, I included his various names and some biographical details on the site. He was participating in online message boards for widows and widowers, I learned. I wanted the women he wooed with his pitiable tale of personal tragedy to be able to fact-check him. If a woman searched online for him under any of the names of his
that I knew, she would find Dana’s site.

Marian, who had since sold her house in Long Beach and moved to Arkansas, found Dana’s site and posted this comment in 2015:

“there is so much more to the story than stated above. I knew them both well as I was their neighbor and acupuncturist. Hucky treated Dana like a queen she wanted for nothing he provided her with love, a beautiful home, made all three meals, including home made almond milk he made for her, he cleaned the house almost daily took care of the extensive gardens and pond and catered to her every need. ,He ran errands for Dana and did so much more. Dana and I talked frequently and she usually talked about how wonderful and kind huck was to her, she felt safe and loved and told me she loved being married to Huck. She loved that he was able to stay home and be with her and their dog Enzo which he walked several times a day (Enzo is hyper and needed this) Hucky is devastated with his loss he will always love dana and she truly loved him If dana was here she would be horrified with what has been said and written about her love hucky please don’t believe these hurtful cruel statements above there is so much left out. there were written by someone who does not even live in California . I hope you can rest in peace Dana Love Marian”

Marian painted a rosy picture of Dana’s marriage that, unfortunately, did not accord with reality. It strikes me as a statement of wishful longing as much as a defense of Huck. Perhaps Marian dreamed of having this type of relationship with him.

On a website called Second Firsts, I found a “Letter to Heaven” that Huck had written, addressed to Dana. Huck wrote:

“…I never cried when my Mom died and I never cried when my Dad died and I never cried during our 14 years of marriage and now my tears flow daily, my tears hurt as they are like acid. I was supposed to die first not you! You have family here on earth I do not. Your family who for 14 years I thought were my family has abandoned me, now I’m left processing my anger towards them and trying not to let it destroy me. It’s made me see why you chose to live so far from them, they will never be as true as you

Huck’s letter to heaven

For the record, yes, I do see an implicit threat in Huck’s expression of destructive anger toward my family. Yes, I do think he is serious and capable of acting on this threat. Yes, this threat does frighten me. However, I doubt the state is offended on my behalf. As a spokesperson for state authority might say: “No public health hazard to family or community is suspected or discovered.”

The death of Christine Beal is another case in which the state saw no offense. Ten years prior to the bombing that killed Stephen Beal’s ex-girlfriend, the death of Beal’s wife Christine became a coroner’s case. A coroner investigator wrote regarding the woman, who was dead in Long Beach at the age of 48:

“Her medical history was unknown, with decedent’s husband reported as uncooperative, not wanting to ‘reveal’ information to the hospital staff about the decedent. …Additional medical history included a recent fall down a flight of stairs on 02/16/08, as decedent and her husband attempted to move a piece of furniture; the bureau had fallen on her pelvic and hip area.”

Medical examiner Eugene Carpenter, Jr., M.D., noted that Christine Beal suffered from chronic lead poisoning, too. He wrote:

“Death is from pancreatitis, other known factors and other unknown factors. The findings are not sufficient to understand the cause(s) of death. Whether or not trauma played any role is not known. There is no evidence of foul play. Death is probably natural, maybe trauma contributed but this is not known. No public health hazard to family or community is suspected or discovered.”

Christine Beal’s manner of death remained undetermined. No further investigation was pursued. Reportedly, Long Beach police were not even notified about her case. I have little confidence that, if Long Beach police had investigated at the time, they would’ve found foul play. Only in retrospect, after the bombing, did authorities turn a critical eye on the case. I wonder how many deaths by dubious accident or “other unknown factors” in Los Angeles County may one day seem like foreshadowing of dark cases to come.

One bit of good news is that Long Beach police eventually removed Detective Todd Johnson from the homicide squad. A police spokeswoman confirmed this in April 2019 but did not say why or when it happened. Johnson is still on the force, reportedly. I’ve heard he’s assigned to domestic violence cases, but the department hasn’t confirmed this.

As time passes, I give less and less thought to Huck. When I look at family photos, it’s jarring sometimes to see his toothy leer next to Dana’s happy smile. But usually, he doesn’t register. I know he’s out there, lurking like an undiagnosed malignancy. Other matters of life and death are more immediate to me now, and I don’t have the wherewithal to worry about him.

On the night of the Academy Awards in 2019, my brother Stephen and I talked about how we associated the night with Dana. Five years earlier, she was alive; on Monday after the Oscars, she was brain-dead in a hospital.

On Monday after the Oscars in 2019, Stephen called me in distress. He was driving when he lost control of his right arm and leg. He managed to pull into a parking lot. I picked him up and rushed him to a hospital. Was it a stroke or a seizure? Doctors ran tests and discovered a fast-growing brain tumor, a terminal one called a glioblastoma. Doctors don’t know what caused it.

Unscientifically, I wonder whether the unresolved trauma of Dana’s case might have contributed. But that’s just me; he doesn’t blame the police.

Dana continues to be present in my thoughts, as she always has been in my life, even when we lived on opposite coasts. I wish I could see her, but I don’t feel as if she’s gone. In fact, I get the feeling she’s fine. I get the feeling she doesn’t blame the police, either. It’s more like she’s sad they let themselves down.

Case of the demoted detective?