Witness in Serial-Killing Trial Recalls Finding Torso

Times Staff Writer

An Arcata man testified Tuesday that he came across the torso of a woman believed to be the first victim of accused serial killer Wayne Adam Ford while on a kayaking trip in Northern California.

Ford, 44, is accused of murdering four women -- either prostitutes or hitchhikers -- across the state for personal satisfaction and sexual gratification in 1997 and 1998.

Robert Pottberg, a 59-year-old photographer and graphic-arts designer, testified in San Bernardino County Superior Court that he was kayaking through a slough in Humboldt County when he came across the body. He originally thought it was a mannequin.


“That’s what I wanted to think,” Pottberg said on the first day of testimony. “As I paddled closer, it became clear it wasn’t plastic.”

Charles Van Buskirk, a Humboldt County deputy coroner, also took the stand and said the torso matched a set of thighs and tissue found in a nearby campsite.

The victim has not been identified.

Ford, a former truck driver, told authorities of the campsite in late 1998 after turning himself in. That day, he walked into the Humboldt County sheriff’s station with a severed breast in a plastic bag, saying it was “the tip of the iceberg,” San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. J. David Mazurek said.

In his opening statement Monday, Mazurek said Ford dismembered the victim in a bathroom with a survival knife before disposing of her in the slough and campsite.

Flanked by his attorneys, Ford appeared emotionless throughout the testimony, occasionally putting on eyeglasses and sifting through documents.

The other women Ford is accused of murdering are Tina Renee Gibbs, 26, of Las Vegas; Lanett Deyon White, 25, of Fontana; and Patricia Anne Tamez, 29, of Hesperia.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty; the defense is aiming for lesser charges of second-degree murder or manslaughter.

The case is expected to last several months.