Actor is held in the slaying of a Costa Mesa man, 26, and his tutor
Alarmed that he hadn’t been answering his calls over the weekend, Steve Herr drove to his son’s Costa Mesa apartment last Saturday night and opened the door, calling his name. In the bedroom he found the body of Juri Kibuishi, a 23-year-old Irvine woman he said had been tutoring his son in anthropology.
She had been shot in the head, and the circumstances in which the body was found — partly clothed and hanging off the bed — suggested that she had been raped.
FOR THE RECORD:
Costa Mesa killings: An article in Saturday’s LATExtra section about the slayings of a Costa Mesa man and a woman who was his tutor gave the age of community theater actor and murder suspect Daniel Wozniak as 27. Wozniak is 26. —
Police quickly turned their attention to the son, a 26-year-old Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and was attending Orange Coast College. Not only was Samuel E. Herr’s apartment a crime scene, but he was nowhere to be found, and police uncovered text exchanges between his cellphone and Kibuishi’s that showed she had gone to his apartment in response to one of the messages.
The elder Herr said he knew his son was no killer or rapist. “I said, ‘This is not Sam, this is not my son.’ ”
He was right. On Friday police announced that a community theater actor had killed Herr, dismembered his body and then killed Kibuishi, staging the scene as a sexual assault. They said the actor was the one who had invited Kibuishi to the apartment, using Herr’s cellphone.
Daniel Wozniak, 27, who lived three floors below Herr, had recently wrapped up a nearly month-long performance of the musical “Nine” at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company in Fullerton and was to be married Friday at a park in Long Beach, police said. He had financial problems, owed money to several friends and was about to be evicted from his apartment, said Costa Mesa Sgt. Ed Everett. The case broke when they linked Wozniak to ATM withdrawals from Herr’s account, police said.
On May 21, Wozniak and Herr drove to the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, where Wozniak had once performed at the base’s theater, police said. He shot Herr inside the theater and then dismembered his body, leaving part of it in the theater’s attic and taking the remaining parts to El Dorado Park in Long Beach, where he discarded them, police said.
Wozniak then reportedly used Herr’s cellphone to send a text message to Kibuishi, asking her to come to Herr’s apartment. When she arrived, Wozniak allegedly shot her and then removed some of her clothing. Police speculated that he hoped police would assume Herr was the killer.
“It’s a very cold, calculating and heinous crime,” Everett said. “He probably took some time to plan it.”
About a week before the killings, Wozniak was arrested in Costa Mesa on suspicion of driving under the influence. He was booked at the Orange County Jail and released a day later after posting bond, according to Sheriff’s Department records. He was behind on his rent and in the process of being evicted, police said.
The elder Herr said his son had access to $15,000 to $17,000 in his account, and wonders whether Wozniak hatched a plan to kill him to obtain his ATM code. He said police told him Wozniak confessed and revealed the whereabouts of his son’s remains.
Early in the investigation, in tracking Samuel Herr’s activities, detectives learned that his debit card had been used to withdraw about $2,000 from ATM machines in Long Beach. They conducted surveillance and arrested a 17-year-old who told police that Wozniak had given him the card and directed him to withdraw the money. Wozniak was arrested on suspicion of being an accessory to that crime. But after interviewing him, police said, they concluded that Wozniak was responsible for the killings.
Wozniak was charged Friday with two felony counts of murder, with special circumstances of multiple murders, murder for financial gain and the personal discharge of a firearm causing death. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Wozniak’s brother, Timothy, was arrested on suspicion of helping his brother dispose of evidence, police said.
The elder Herr said his son had served with the Army’s 173rd Airborne, with tours in Afghanistan and Germany, and had left the service last summer. He had been attending Orange Coast College on the G.I. Bill, with the hope of earning a college degree and rejoining the Army as an officer.
“We’re just devastated,” Steve Herr said. “He’s our only boy.”