Advertisement

Trial begins for woman, 70, accused of killing mom in Huntington Beach

Scales of justice
The trial of Cynthia Strange, accused of murdering her mother in 2018 at her Huntington Beach home, got underway this week at Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
(File Photo)
Share

The daughter of a 92-year-old Huntington Beach woman attacked her mother with a knife and then dragged her into a swimming pool for “greed” to collect on an inheritance, a prosecutor told jurors as the defendant’s attorney said the real culprit was her client’s sister.

Cynthia Roberta Strange, 70, is charged with murder with a special circumstance allegation of murder for financial gain. She is accused of killing her mother, Ruth Strange, on Sept. 4, 2018, at 6812 Vista Del Sol Drive. Her trial got underway this week at the Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.

“The defendant — Cynthia Roberta Strange — sitting right there brutally and viciously murdered her 92-year-old mother,’’ Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Nick Thomo said, pointing to the defendant in her wheelchair.

Advertisement

The victim’s other daughter, Amy Hamilton, arrived to pick up her mother for a doctor’s appointment about 10 a.m. that day, Thomo said. She saw a small garage door open and an inner door leading to the house locked, which she thought was suspicious, Thomo said.

Hamilton called police for a welfare check when her mother did not answer her phone calls.

“As soon as they open the door they see the blood” and Hamilton jumped back, Thomo said.

Police asked her to stay back while they searched the house and found a bathroom “covered in blood” and bloody footprints leading to a blood-spattered recliner before a sliding-glass door to the outside patio, Thomo said. When officers checked the backyard they found the victim in the swimming pool, he added.

Cuts and lacerations to the victim’s head were deemed “superficial,” and her death was caused by drowning, Thomo said.

Strange killed her mother to inherit money and to avoid repaying a debt, Thomo said.

In court papers, Thomo said Strange was receiving supplemental income from her mother after she told her she got divorced from her husband. But she never got divorced and continued receiving benefits from the U.S. Navy service member while also getting a profit from selling her Oceanside home and moving to Irvine, which angered her mother, Thomo said in a trial brief.

On Sept. 3, 2018, Strange went to her mother’s house about midnight, prompting her mother to repeatedly try to call Hamilton, leaving voicemail messages begging for help and a call back, Thomo said.

“You have to help me; I’m afraid,” the victim told Hamilton in a voicemail played for jurors.

Eventually, Ruth Strange let her daughter in just before Hamilton called her back and threatened to call police, so the defendant left, Thomo said.

Also, the day before the victim was killed, Strange allegedly made several voice requests of Google and searched the web for information on topics such as the difference between bruises from a fall and a punch.

Strange sought to find out from the web the average age of a woman’s death in the U.S., about smothering, how air in a needle can kill someone and how to break someone’s neck, Thomo said.

Strange also sent her mother a letter saying, “I have done you no wrong — never. When I get the money you will have it,” according to Thomo.

The prosecutor showed jurors a note the victim wrote Jan. 26, 2017, in which she complained that her mother gave her $1,000 instead of a requested $1,200 and called her sister a derogatory insult for women, Thomo said.

After the defendant left the house, the victim and Hamilton spoke for about an hour, and Hamilton advised her mother to call police the next time Strange showed up at her door, Thomo said.

Police made their case against Strange with surveillance video and cellphone tracking, Thomo said.

On the day of the killing, the defendant’s cellphone did not show any movement from her Irvine residence, prompting detectives to think she left it there because surveillance video shows her at a Walgreens at 19581 Beach Blvd. at about 5:32 a.m. where she bought blue latex gloves, Thomo said.

“She went right back to the victim’s house,” when the victim would be typically getting up to grab her morning newspaper, Thomo said.

The defendant is seen on doorbell videos driving in the neighborhood with the headlights off, Thomo said. Then the car isn’t seen again until about 8 a.m. leaving the area, Thomo said.

Strange was seen at her bank at 10 a.m. wearing different clothes than what she was seen wearing at the Walgreen’s, Thomo said.

“After the murder she changed her clothes,” Thomo said.

When Strange went to meet with police for questioning she wore a sling, though a doctor had told her it was no longer necessary, Thomo said.

The defendant’s attorney, Sara Ross of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, said her client’s sister, Hamilton, had “2 million reasons to want her mother dead,” referring to the money she expected to inherit.

The two sisters had a brother, Bobby, who lived in Minnesota, and the oldest sister, Ruthie, who lived in Massachusetts, Ross said.

Cynthia Strange was a geologist who was active in her senior community where she was known as being “kind” and “gentle,” Ross said.

The defendant had a full shoulder replacement surgery shortly before the killing and suffered from arthritis in her right wrist, Ross said.

Hamilton “hates working to an extreme,” so she relied heavily on her mother for income, Ross said.

“She was in significant debt, way over her head,” Ross said. She also said Hamilton was “abusive, aggressive, hostile, lazy and money hungry.”

Prior to 2016, the two sisters got along fine, but that changed in April of that year when Cynthia Strange moved from Oceanside to Irvine to be closer to her mother, Ross said.

“Hamilton doesn’t like this,” Ross said.

In December 2016, Hamilton got her mother to buy a condo for her, but despite the monthly income and no house payment her daughter continued racking up debt, Ross said.

“She’s in so much debt she starts cashing out stock her mother gave her a year before,” Ross said.

The defendant’s father was an engineer who had a knack for building a nest egg with wise investment choices, Ross said.

When Ruth Strange got sick Hamilton convinced her mother that Cynthia got her ill, Ross said. That’s when she got her mother to change the family trust that was set up in by their parents in 1992, Ross alleged.

The house in Huntington Beach was to be split up by the three daughters and the rest of the estate to be divided up by the four siblings, Ross said. But Hamilton convinced her mother to list Hamilton as the beneficiary of a stocks account worth about $1.66 million, Ross said. When adding in $100,000 from an IRA and money from the sale of the house the total inheritance would be $2 million for Hamilton, Ross said.

Cynthia Strange showed up at her mother’s house about midnight Sept. 3 because she had an unpleasant encounter with a “creep,” her attorney said.

Ross said Hamilton acted suspiciously the day of the killing, not calling 911 but the non-emergency line instead when she arrived to pick up the victim who did not answer the phone.

When officers told Hamilton her mother was found in the pool, Hamilton asked, “Was she stabbed?” according to Ross.

“They only knew she was stabbed after the autopsy, but she knew right away,” Ross said.

Ross also said police “failed” to adequately investigate Hamilton, who had a box of latex gloves in her car that were never tested.

The defense attorney acknowledged the “weird stuff,” including true crime stories, that her client searched for online, but Ross said police never bothered to check Hamilton’s search history despite a “dummy” email address she gave investigators.

Advertisement