Widower, His Mistress Face Murder Charges in Wife’s Death : Courts: Couple allegedly bludgeoned Joan Dawley after their plot to solicit her slaying failed.


A former Sylmar resident and his prostitute mistress were ordered Monday to stand trial for soliciting the murder of the man’s wife, and when that plot failed, bludgeoning her to death themselves.

Dennis Dawley, 59, and Brandita Taliano, 39, will be arraigned in Superior Court on Oct. 2 on solicitation of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and murder charges in the April 17, 1991, attack on Joan Dawley.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert B. Foltz has alleged special circumstances that could lead to the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole if the pair are convicted.

The ruling by Municipal Judge Lloyd M. Nash capped a five-day preliminary hearing that featured the testimony of two incarcerated felons allegedly hired by Dennis Dawley.


The pair, both from the Oakwood section of Venice, testified that Dawley took them on a tour of the couple’s Sylmar home, showing them entrances, exits and the floor plan.

Dawley then popped open the microwave oven and took out a foil-wrapped stack of $50 bills--$9,000--and handed it to them as a down payment on the murder contract, the men testified.

“He told me he wanted me to kill his wife,” said Gary Lee Ware, 32, at the preliminary hearing. “He said he didn’t care how I did it. I could rape her if I wanted to as long as she was dead when it was over.”

The plan was foiled because Ware was arrested on a parole violation before the hit could take place.


Joan Dawley, 55, a supervisor at a Mission Hills Hallmark store, was slain sometime after returning home from a night of bowling with her husband and 10 a.m. the next morning when her boss and friend discovered her body.

As a starter at Encino-Balboa Municipal Golf Course, Dennis Dawley had been at work for more than four hours when the body was found.

The motive for the crime, Foltz alleges, was money. With Joan Dawley dead, her husband could retire from his second career as a golf course starter with two pensions, two houses and $70,000 in cash left to Joan by her mother.

Though Dawley came under suspicion after taking Taliano, a convicted prostitute and heroin addict, to Las Vegas two days after his wife’s funeral, the case didn’t jell until a new DNA technique linked Taliano to the murder scene. She was identified by an expert as being the source of scrapings found under the victim’s fingernails.

Foltz also linked the defendants together--and linked Dawley with one of the prospective hit men--through phone records. Other records seized from Dawley’s home showed his co-defendant had been listed as co-owner of his new house in Big Bear City, as well as a dependent on his income tax forms.

Attorneys for Dawley and Taliano would not comment on the case, saying it was too early to reveal their defense strategy.