Woman convicted of killing her 92-year-old mother in Huntington Beach

A gavel and law books.
Although her defense attorney cast suspicions on her sister, Cynthia Roberta Strange was convicted Friday of first-degree murder for killing their mother, Ruth Strange, on Sept. 4, 2018, at her home on Vista Del Sol Drive in Huntington Beach.
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A 70-year-old woman was convicted Friday of killing her 92-year-old mother.

Cynthia Roberta Strange was convicted of first-degree murder for killing her mother, Ruth Strange, on Sept. 4, 2018, at 6812 Vista Del Sol Drive in Huntington Beach. But jurors rejected special-circumstances allegations of murder for financial gain.

Strange is scheduled to be sentenced July 12.

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

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 was locked, which she thought was suspicious.


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

Officers asked her to stay back while they searched the house, and they 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 they checked the backyard, they found the victim in the swimming pool. The cuts and lacerations to the victim’s head were deemed “superficial,” and her death was caused by drowning.

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

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.

On Sept. 3, 2018, Strange went to her mother’s house about midnight, prompting her mother to repeatedly try to call Hamilton, leaving voicemails 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 Cynthia in before Hamilton called her back and threatened to call police, so the defendant left, Thomo said.

The day before her mother was killed, Cynthia Strange made several voice requests of Google and searched the internet for information on topics such as the difference between bruises from a fall and a punch. She sought to find out 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.

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 about 5:32 a.m. at a Walgreens at 19581 Beach Blvd., 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.

Strange was seen at her bank at 10 a.m. wearing different clothes than what she was seen wearing at the Walgreens, Thomo said. “After the murder, she changed her clothes.”

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

The defendant’s attorney, Sara Ross of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, said Cynthia Strange was a geologist, active in her senior community where she was known as being “kind” and “gentle.” She said Strange had a full shoulder replacement surgery shortly before the killing and suffered from arthritis in her right wrist.

However, Ross said her client’s sister, Hamilton, had “two million reasons to want her mother dead,” referring to the money she expected to inherit. 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.” The attorney also described her as “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. In December of that year, 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.

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 by the three daughters — the oldest daughter is living in Massachusetts — and the rest of the estate to be divided by the four siblings (a brother resides in Minnesota), 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.

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 that it was Hamilton who 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. “That’s what you do when you’re scared? You call the non-emergency line, not 911,” she wondered aloud.

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.