Children of Thunder: The Helzer Brothers
Shackles, Ski Masks and a Power Saw
At a two-week preliminary hearing in December 2001 in the Contra Costa County Superior Court, prosecutors carefully laid out their case. The physical evidence included receipts for a hand-held power saw, shackles bought at a sex shop, and ski masks from a sporting goods store, as well as several "plans of action" written by Taylor Helzer that detailed the extortion scheme, according to the Point Reyes Light.
They charged all three roommates with 18 felonies, including murder, extortion, and kidnapping.
A self-described witch and former Mormon, Debra McClanahan, 40, testified that she'd provided an alibi for the trio the night the Stinemans were abducted from their home.
McClanahan had met Godman at a church dance in December 1997 and had taught the younger woman to cast Wiccan spells. On the night of July 30, she bought four tickets to the film X-Men at Taylor's bidding and initially told investigators that the four of them had gone for dinner and a movie.
After realizing what horrible deeds the trio had committed, she told police the truth. She gave investigators a safe they'd stored in her apartment containing a 9-mm handgun, as well as drugs and personal property of the Stineman's. She lied out of "loyalty, fear, love, disbelief, denial" she told the court, according to the Contra Costa Times.
Faced with irrefutable evidence, Godman struck a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty to five counts of murder and testifying against the Helzer brothers, she'd avoid the death penalty and get a sentence of 38 years to life in prison.
People who knew them before they became murderers sobbed as they remembered the Helzers as boys. Family members recounted a history of mental illness that plagued the Helzer gene pool. Several cousins and aunts had been interned in psychiatric wards.
A woman whose boyfriend lived with the Helzers in the spring of 2000 said she once found Justin on his hands and knees on the kitchen floor eating from a plate without utensils and grunting, according to the Contra Costa Times.
Taylor's ex-girlfriend Keri Mendoza, whom Taylor had convinced to get the breast implants that eventually landed her a spread in Playboy magazine using the name Kerissa Fare, testified that she drove to Tijuana, Mexico, with Taylor in November 1999, to buy Rohypnol.
She told the court that he told her his plan to "involve some girl, make her feel like he was the love of her life."
A long-time friend of Selina Bishop read aloud from an unfinished letter Bishop was writing her a few days before her death; it was recovered by investigators.
"I have everything I need right here," Bishop wrote. "I don't know when I've ever been happier in my life."
At certain points during the testimony, family members of the murder victims passed tissues down to members of Helzer's family so they could dry their tears. As an emotional recounting of his life played out in the witness stand, Taylor stared stony-faced down at the table he sat at, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.
In March 2004, Taylor Helzer entered a surprise guilty plea, and his attorney relayed Taylor's impromptu confession to a stunned courtroom.