Friday, September 21, 2012

Man Kills, Boils Wife, Jumps Off Cliff

Earlier this week I wrote about the Jeffrey MacDonald murdercase that captured the attention of Americans over 40 years ago, and which has remained a mystery in the minds of many ever since. That case took place in North Carolina. On the opposite side of the country, another horrific story is playing out in a courtroom in California. While presenting the state’s case against the defendant, prosecutors added another layer of incredulity to the story of a missing woman and the main suspect in her death.

The story began in October of 2009 when a young 39-year-old woman named Dawn Viens went missing on October 18. According to witnesses, Dawn was last seen leaving her chef husband's restaurant in Lomita, California. Dawn's husband did not report her missing, which naturally was led to him being considered with suspicion. Her sister and friends eventually went to police after Dawn had been missing for three weeks, and the investigation began on November 18.


Little progress was made in locating Dawn in the ensuing months. Indeed, ten months would pass before the case was turned over to homicide detectives, in September of 2010. David Viens quickly became the primary suspect. He had begun dating another woman by the time detectives began to track his moves.

Dawn had not been seen nor heard from since that day in October of 2009. Then on February 21, 2011, police were following David since he was their only suspect. David led them on a chase that ended with him pulling into a roadside parking lot, getting out of his SUV, jumping over a fence, and leaping over a cliff. He plunged down the steep hillside some 80 feet and suffered a number of broken bones. Upon being taken to the hospital, Viens was put into a medically induced coma for a few days. Eventually his breathing tube was removed, and he was able to talk to police.

A few weeks after the cliff-leap, police suspected that Dawn might be buried under the floor of David’s restaurant. He had recently expanded and renovated the place, including having concrete poured for a new floor. Police got a court order to dig up the restaurant floor in March, but they found nothing that helped with the case. Later that month, Viens was wheeled into the courtroom on a gurney to face murder charges. He plead not guilty.

Over the last year and a half since that arraignment, both sides prepared for David Viens' trial. Proceedings got under way recently, and reports of the state’s case began to surface this week. During the trial, prosecutors played a tape where Viens confessed that his wife died after he, suspecting she was stealing from his restaurant, duct-taped her mouth, arms and legs and left her that way for an extended time so that she would not go driving off while under the influence of drugs. Not only that, but the gruesome details to the cover-up have been revealed. Viens admitted to police (during the hospital room interview after he jumped off the hillside) in a taped interview that he boiled Dawn's remains for four days, probably at his restaurant, until there was essentially nothing left of her body.  He then dumped the remains into a grease pit. All that was left was her skull, which Viens said was in his mother’s attic. A subsequent search failed to turn up the skull.

Viens' attorneys will probably argue that Viens was under the influence of drugs at the time he confessed. After all, he was hospitalized with multiple broken bones. We will have to wait to see what a jury does with the evidence in this case. Either way, this story will certainly end up on Discovery ID in the future.

[UPDATE 9/27: Jury comes back with verdict. Click here.]


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