Widow, 96, in financial straits fell prey to fraud and murder-for-hire plot, police say

Mugshots of a woman and two men
From left, suspects Pauline Macareno, Ricardo MartinDelCampo and Henry Rostomyan are being held in Santa Barbara County jail. A fourth suspect, Harry Basmadjian, not pictured, is in federal custody.
(Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office)

Nearly two years after Violet Evelyn Alberts was found dead, detectives say they’ve uncovered an intricate fraud scheme that culminated in a murder-for-hire plot targeting the 96-year-old, who was found dead in her Montecito home.

Santa Barbara County sheriff’s detectives had already arrested 48-year-old Pauline Macareno in June 2022 on suspicion of elder abuse and fraud. But on Thursday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the investigation had revealed a “particularly heinous case of murder.”

Macareno, posing as a real estate agent, used forged documents and fraudulent entities to gain control of Alberts’ money and home in Montecito, Brown said. But once the fraud scheme was put in place, Brown said, Macareno came to a grim decision.


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March 7, 2024

“In the eyes of Pauline Macareno, Mrs. Alberts was living too long,” Brown said. “The assumption was that [Alberts] would die quickly, and then [Macareno] would have obtained this home through fraudulent means.”

On Thursday, Brown said the 22-month investigation into the scheme led detectives to the arrests of three additional suspects believed to have played a role in the deadly plot.

At 96 years old, Alberts continued to have an active life in her Montecito community, where Brown said neighbors knew her for her warm and kind demeanor.

But the widow had fallen into financial trouble, depleting her savings and needing a way to meet day-to-day expenditures. At some point, Brown said, she came into contact with Macareno, who was supposed to be working on a reverse-mortgage deal for Alberts but instead set up a scheme to fraudulently gain control of her assets and home.

On May 27, 2022, deputies found Alberts in her bed, killed by asphyxiation, he said. A window near the rear door of the home was shattered.

Detectives initially found little to no leads in what Brown called a baffling “whodunit,” but investigators soon traced a “tangled web of financial exploitation” that led detectives to Macareno and three men.


Deputies arrested 58-year-old Harry Basmadjian of Van Nuys, 33-year-old Henry Rostomyan of Tujunga and 41-year-old Ricardo MartinDelCampo in the alleged murder-for-hire plot.

Brown would not say how Macareno knew or came into contact with the three men but said the investigation revealed premeditation and planning of Alberts’ killing.

Rostomyan and MartinDelCampo traveled to Montecito in an effort to survey Alberts’ home, Brown said.

Rostomyan and MartinDelCampo are being held in Santa Barbara County jail on charges of murder and conspiracy to murder, according to jail records. Basmadjian was in federal custody at the time of his arrest in an unrelated charge.

Basmadjian, before being arrested in this case, suffered a medical emergency in federal custody and has been left “incapacitated,” Brown said.

Officials are still reviewing the case, and additional charges gainst Macareno may be filed, Brown said.