Hours before he played the romantic lead in a play opposite his real-life fiancee, authorities allege Daniel Patrick Wozniak shot and killed his neighbor.
Not long after that performance, he slipped out of the Costa Mesa apartment he shared with his then-fiancée, Rachel Buffett, 25, and allegedly killed the first victim’s tutor, according to police, prosecutors and Buffett’s account of events.
Authorities say that when they questioned Buffett, she lied to protect Wozniak, 28. More than two years after the May 2010 crimes, she was charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact.
It is a charge she disputed in a recent jailhouse interview with the Daily Pilot.
“I’m innocent, and he’s guilty, and he confessed to that,” she said, explaining that Wozniak allegedly told her that he told police he killed the two victims.
She said she’s always been straight with police and doesn’t understand why she is facing felony charges and a possible three-year prison sentence.
“You go over it in your mind, ‘How could I possibly give someone wrong information?’” she said. “I was trying to be helpful and give them every conception in my mind.”
Police, however, say their investigation, which included interviews with Buffett and multiple witnesses, indicates she wasn’t truthful.
“She told us a story we know not to be true,” said Costa Mesa Police Sgt. Ed Everett.
Account of events
During a recent interview in Orange County Jail, Buffett gave the Pilot her account of the days of the crimes and the months following Wozniak’s arrest on May 26, 2010.
Dressed in a navy jail jumpsuit, the 115-pound woman with blond hair and blue eyes recalled the last time she saw one of the victims.
Samuel Herr, 26, lived a few floors above the apartment she shared with Wozniak. She spoke with him on May 21, 2010.
Sitting with Herr on a patio, Buffett said she thanked him for lending Wozniak $500, promising to pay him back, if for some reason Wozniak could not.
“‘If you can’t, sweetie, that’s totally OK,’” Buffett remembered Herr telling her. “‘Think of it as a wedding present.’”
Wozniak and Herr then left. Buffett was under the impression they went to a bank to withdraw the money.
That afternoon, Wozniak and Herr headed to the military base in Los Alamitos under the pretense of moving furniture inside the base’s theater, according to transcripts of court testimony reviewed by the Pilot.
As Herr bent over to move furniture, police testified to the Orange County Grand Jury that they believe Wozniak shot him once. Herr turned around, apparently thinking he had been electrocuted, and, according to the transcripts, was shot a second time and died.
Couple on stage
Later that night, Wozniak played Guido in a Fullerton theater’s production of “Nine” opposite Buffett’s performance as his mistress, said the production’s stage manager Kara Kessener.
“The day of the first murder, he actually arrived early,” Kessener said, adding that she thought that was unusual for the sometimes tardy actor.
After the play, Buffett said she and Wozniak returned to their apartment in Camden Martinique on Pinecreek Drive near Orange Coast College to unwind.
She remembered browsing Facebook, using the social network to write her new friend, Juri “Julie” Kibuishi, who had been tutoring Herr, while Wozniak used the phone.
Wozniak suggested a movie. They put in “Men in Black.” Wozniak, Buffett recalled, gave her a massage, and she dozed off on the couch.
Wozniak, she said, then turned on the shower and closed the door to the bedroom adjacent to the bathroom, slipping out of the apartment’s sliding glass doors.
Buffett said she partially recalled some of these events. Her memory was assisted, she said, when Wozniak called her after his arrest and discussed the events after telling her he had confessed the murders to police.
Police and prosecutors allege that Wozniak went to Herr’s apartment early on May 22, 2010. They also allege that he sent text messages to Kibuishi from Herr’s phone.
In the messages, police have said, Wozniak, posing as Herr, urged her to come to the apartment. Kibuishi left her home in Irvine and went to his apartment.
Wozniak, who also knew Kibuishi, allegedly distracted her at Herr’s apartment before shooting her and staging her body to appear as though Herr had sexually assaulted her, according to court records.
Buffett said she told Wozniak that she never heard the gunshot. She said she asked him how this was possible and he replied, “I got lucky.”
Buffett said she slept through the episode. Wozniak woke her when he returned and said she should wash off her stage makeup. The two took a shower together, she said.
‘I was in complete denial’
Prosecutors assert Wozniak went back to the military base on May 22, 2010, to dismember and decapitate Herr’s body, later hiding body parts in a Long Beach park not far from Los Alamitos’ city limits.
Kessener, the friend from the playhouse, saw the couple the next night when they gathered to watch “Lost.” She sat next to Wozniak.
“It kind of brings chills,” Kessener said. “They seemed completely normal. That’s what made it so creepy.”
A few days later, Wozniak went to his bachelor party at a restaurant in Huntington Beach. Police arrived at the party and arrested him.
Buffett said she had a hard time believing the man she was to marry was guilty. She visited him in jail.
“I was in complete denial,” she said. “I thought he went temporarily insane. He was the type of guy who would give you the shirt off his back.”
Wozniak attempted suicide in jail. Afterward, Buffet said he told her that he’d had a vision of God. A Christian, she continued to visit, suggesting Scriptures he should read. During one of the last times, she brought along a pastor.
Buffett grew wary of her boyfriend. On the phone, Wozniak vacillated between being repentant and acting happy, saying he was entertaining other inmates with shows.
“It sounded like he was having so much fun,” Buffett said.
The final straw was when she and Wozniak’s best man, who lived out of state, visited Wozniak in jail.
Wozniak’s friend expressed dismay that he was visiting his friend at jail instead of attending his wedding.
“Dan made some kind of comment like, ‘Oh, it’ll happen,’” Buffett said referring to them getting married.
Which alarmed Buffett, who no longer wanted to marry a man accused of murder.
“I’m trying to help this guy in a save-his-soul kind of way,” she said of the visits.
Buffet’s arrest in H.B.
Police arrested Buffett last month at the Bella Terra shopping center in Huntington Beach.
She lied to authorities about Herr having family problems when they interviewed her following the crimes, according to police and a statement from prosecutors.
“I can’t separate where I got that information,” she said, adding that she believes someone — she cannot recall whom — told her that Herr didn’t get along with his family.
Buffett estimates police interviewed her about the double murder four times.
She said she would have never intentionally told detectives anything false and cannot understand why they think she lied.
Buffett also questioned why police waited more than two years after the murders to arrest her.
“We waited that long basically because we didn’t want to prematurely arrest her for accessory and find out she was complicit in the homicides,” said Everett, the Costa Mesa police sergeant.
Upon hearing about her interview with the Pilot, Steve Herr questioned one claim Buffett made about his son.
“Sam would not hand over $500, I can tell you that right now,” Herr said, adding his son was careful with money. “He would not do that. I know my son.”
Police and prosecutors assert Wozniak killed Herr to secure his ATM card. Herr had saved money from his time in the military.
Wozniak remains in Orange County Jail on murder charges. If convicted, he could receive the death penalty.
Buffett faces three felony charges of accessory to murder after the fact. She faces a three-year, eight-month sentence if convicted.
A ‘sheltered’ Christian
Buffett described herself as a home-schooled, “sheltered” Christian. The Bible passage that speaks to her most is Psalms 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
She says she has lost faith in the justice system.
“I was always raised to think the cops were the good guys, and the system was just,” she said. “That’s another way this has been hard for me.”
Her brother, Nathan Buffett of Long Beach, said when his sister was 8, she won a contest for describing why she loved her mother.
Jail has been difficult. She said she has not been given medicine for her anemia.
"[She is a] sweet, innocent type of girl,” he said.
While Buffett didn’t know either victim well, she described both as “so sweet.”
“I still grieve for them,” she said, noting that she, too, was deceived by Wozniak.
Buffett said she and Kibuishi planned to take dance classes together. She dabbed at tears collecting in the corners of her eyes when speaking of Kibuishi.
And she describes Wozniak as a master manipulator.
“He fooled everybody so much,” she said. “I can’t say, ‘I’m so stupid for hanging out with him’ because he’s fooled everyone.’”
She said her arrest made the suffering her family and others have felt after Wozniak’s arrest worse.
“It’s really sad this whole situation has hurt so many people already,” she said. “I count myself lucky to be alive.”