This is a tale of two sisters as different as night and day.
One, a Fullerton woman with a dangerous penchant for cocaine, has been charged with being so greedy that she allegedly plotted the death of her own sister to avoid sharing an inheritance.
The other is known as a respected Anaheim businesswoman who loved her sister so much, said a prosecutor, that she refused to believe she could be cold-hearted enough to want to have her killed. She even talked a judge into releasing her sister from jail into her custody.
Details of the bizarre case, characterized by Deputy Dist. Atty. Aimee Libeu as “the stuff novels are made of” because of its allegations of greed and betrayal, emerged last week when a mistrial was declared.
But many of those details are sketchy.
The accused, Alice Marie Reidhead, has apparently fled.
And the alleged target, her sister Karen Meadows, declines to comment.
The case began to unfold the night of Oct. 25, 1988. Reidhead, then 34, was arrested at a Cypress motel after she allegedly paid an undercover police officer $800 to kill Meadows, then 35.
According to the prosecutor, Reidhead told a Cypress officer posing as a hit man that she wanted her sister out of the way so she could avoid sharing what she believed to be a $2-million property inheritance from her mother, Lorraine Hulbert. Reidhead also told the officer, according to court documents, that “she felt her sister had been back-stabbing her.”
Reidhead, who also goes by the alias of Alice Marie Witten, had agreed to pay $1,500, with the remaining $700 to be handed over after her sister was killed, police allege.
“She stated she didn’t want her sister to suffer,” undercover Officer Roger Neumeister testified during Reidhead’s preliminary hearing. “I told her I would make it look like an accident.”
The encounter at the motel was the second time Reidhead had met with the undercover officer to discuss the alleged murder plot. Neumeister wore a hidden microphone and their conversations were tape-recorded and monitored by Cypress Police Sgt. Gene Komrosky.
Santa Ana defense attorney Michael Cassidy, who represents Reidhead, said he is confident he has a strong case to prove his client was a victim of police entrapment.
He contends that there was no motive for Reidhead to solicit murder. Her mother was alive and healthy, and there was no expensive property to inherit.
In addition, Cassidy argues that the police tape-recordings aren’t clear as to what his client really wanted from the undercover officer. In fact, during the preliminary hearing, the undercover officer admitted under cross-examination that Reidhead never actually used the words, “I want her killed . . . or I want her dead.”
What she did say, the officer testified, was that “she didn’t want her (Meadows) around.” Neumeister said that when he specifically asked if she wanted her sister killed, Reidhead responded, “That’s a strong word.”
According to Cassidy, Reidhead contends that she paid the undercover officer $800 to purchase cocaine, not solicit the murder of her sister. She claims the officer even showed her the cocaine at the motel. The officer, however, testified during the preliminary hearing that it was Reidhead who brought the cocaine to the meeting and offered him some.
Cassidy said it was Elbert (Chick) Chickelero, an informant and drug suspect seeking leniency in his own case, who set up the initial meeting between Reidhead and the undercover officer. Chickelero told the officer, according to court documents, that Reidhead was looking for a hit man to kill her sister. Cassidy said police contacted Reidhead 24 times before they finally arrested her--she never called them once.
The night of Reidhead’s arrest, Sgt. Komrosky said, he informed Meadows of her sister’s alleged plot against her. Her reaction was one of total “shock,” he said.
Despite the evidence that police said they had against her sister, Meadows refused to believe that Reidhead would do such a thing and was adamantly opposed to her being prosecuted. Libeu says that even though Meadows was the intended victim, under the law she really had no say in whether her sister was prosecuted.
But Meadows, who owns her own business, was so loyal to her younger sister that she persuaded Municipal Judge Alan N. McKone to release Reidhead from jail into her custody.
The idea of an intended victim of a murder plot welcoming the accused conspirator into her home “is very unusual,” said Deputy Public Defender Susan Green, who then represented Reidhead. “At that time, Karen felt Alice was not a threat to her. She wanted Alice to live with her. She was very concerned about her sister.”
According to Libeu, the sisters “had very different lifestyles” and Meadows had long taken a “parental” attitude toward Reidhead, “watching over her and feeling responsible for her.” Meadows had long been concerned about her sister’s drug problem. Reidhead was an admitted cocaine addict, according to her lawyer, Cassidy. Once, Meadows had nursed her through a drug rehabilitation program, Libeu said.
Convinced of her sister’s innocence, Meadows even appeared with her on the “Geraldo” television program in February. The show’s topic was contract killing, and the sisters held hands throughout most of the broadcast. Meadows said she “laughed” at police when they told her of the alleged plot.
Reidhead, who wore long dangling earrings and bore a hard look on her face during the show, denied the charge but admitted that she had been a cocaine addict, using as much as an ounce a week about the time of her arrest.
Meadows, dressed in a conservative gray suit, said she had always been close with her sister, and when host Geraldo Rivera asked Meadows what she would like to tell the prosecution about the charge against Reidhead, she answered, “I’m going to tell them they are full of crap.”
Three months later, however, Meadows’ belief in her sister was shattered.
In May, prosecutor Libeu said she finally showed Meadows the actual transcripts of her sister’s conversations with the undercover officer. Meadows, she said, broke into tears.
“There’s nothing vague about what (Reidhead) says” on the tapes, Sgt. Komrosky said. “You could hear the viciousness in her voice. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out what she wanted done.”
It’s “clear that she was soliciting the murder of her sister,” Libeu said.
The sisters split up, and as Reidhead’s trial date approached, she became increasingly “depressed and fearful,” Cassidy said.
In May, Reidhead pleaded no contest to a charge that she embezzled money from her employer, Western Waste, a Norwalk refuse hauling company, Libeu said. She was ordered to pay $4,400 in restitution for false claims she had processed in the company’s insurance department. She was also sentenced to 180 days in jail, but that was stayed so she could make restitution.
Meanwhile, Reidhead had another misdemeanor case pending against her in Orange County, stemming from her arrest on a charge of being under the influence of drugs.
On July 25, when a jury was selected for her trial on the charge of solicitation for murder, Reidhead attempted to plead no contest. She had come to court that day looking distressed and unkempt, Cassidy said. She wept a lot and was dressed in black spandex pants with spike, turquoise-colored high heels, he said.
As Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan began to accept her plea, he asked Reidhead if it was true that she had tried to solicit the murder of her sister. “No,” Reidhead screamed, and she began to cry.
“She couldn’t choke it out,” Libeu said, “so the judge refused to accept the plea.”
That same day, the prosecutor filed a motion asking that Reidhead be taken into custody and her bail set at $100,000. Cassidy says that may have been the final straw. “She was very afraid of going to jail,” he said.
The next day, a Thursday, Reidhead didn’t show up in court. When she failed to appear again on Monday, the judge issued a warrant for her arrest and declared a mistrial.
Meadows “has no idea where Alice is,” Libeu said. “Meadows is concerned for her safety. She’s under a lot of stress. She’s refusing all interviews.”
Sgt. Komrosky is confident that police will eventually find Reidhead.
“I don’t put anything past her,” he said. “She was sophisticated enough to get away with embezzling money from her company for a long time, and she was sophisticated enough to contact persons in the world of murder-for-hire. . . .
“I don’t know whether she is going to try to get out of the country. But I think I will find her.”