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On April 22, 1991 three young children waited for their mother, Ann Racz, to return with a takeout dinner. Instead, their father showed up with a small bag of cold French fries and said their mother had gone away. Ann's children didn't believe it. Neither did her friends. And neither did the police. But there was zero evidence that anything had happened to ...
On April 22, 1991 three young children waited for their mother, Ann Racz, to return with a takeout dinner. Instead, their father showed up with a small bag of cold French fries and said their mother had gone away. Ann's children didn't believe it. Neither did her friends. And neither did the police. But there was zero evidence that anything had happened to Ann.
No Body. . .
Los Angeles detectives dug furiously into the case, grilling John Racz and searching for clues. But without a body, the investigation stalled, and three children grew up wondering what had happened to their loving mother--and if their father had killed her.
And A Killer In Plain Sight. . .
Fourteen years later, a brilliant female prosecutor defied the legal establishment and delved into the cold case, uncovering shocking information about Ann and her relationship with John. Suddenly, a crusading prosecutor was up against the most difficult kind of murder case of all: to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that John Racz had murdered his wife--despite the fact that her body was never found. . .
With 16 pages of photos
Ann Mineko Racz tiptoed into her daughter's room before dawn, careful to avoid making any sound. She sat near the sleeping girl's pillow and gently touched her shoulder. As soon as the fourteen-year-old stirred, yawned, and looked up, Ann held a shushing finger to her lips and whispered, "Today is the day. We are moving and you mustn't tell anyone where we are going, especially your dad."
Joann Racz frowned and rubbed the drowsiness from her soft brown eyes. She saw the fear in her mother's expression.
Trying to cover her trembling, Ann said, "He's already gone to work, and the moving truck will be here shortly. I didn't want to tell your brother or sister yet, because I don't want them to know about what's happening until later today. I'm scared to death that your father's going to hurt me." Almost as an afterthought, she added, "I will take all three of you to school, pick you up this afternoon, and take you to our new place."
Ann had given Joann some advance warning of her intentions a month earlier with a brief mention of the unsettling plans, but at the time it didn't seem real to the teenager.
The first time Ann brought up the idea, in March, she had tried to make her daughter understand the reasoning for plans to move, but she hadn't been entirely convincing. Years later, Joann would recall it: "My mom had told me a couple of things beforehand that kind of made me feel like she was scared. She comes in my room that morning too, sits on the bed, and says ... 'We're going to move soon,' and 'If you have anything important you want to keep with you, let me know what it is.' I kind of took it that maybe she was interested in what was important to me, like what would I grab if there was an emergency. Like a fire or something. I thought, 'Well, my blanket.' She had knitted a blanket for me, and I realized that if I had to take only one thing, it would be that. And then I realized she was concerned about something. 'We are moving. Don't tell anybody. Don't tell your friends, don't talk about it with Glenn and Kate. Don't tell Dad, and don't tell your teacher. Nobody.' And I kept that secret. I didn't feel like it was a life-and-death situation at that time. I just wasn't able to see all that adult stuff going on, you know.
"I just thought, 'Oh, it's adults fighting, like getting slapped across the face. Pushed against the wall or something.' That's the extent I thought she meant. Her telling me that is still one hundred percent clear in my mind and I never forgot it. And I never really looked down on my dad, like he would hurt my mom. I didn't take it seriously. I understand that she may have meant that my dad said he was going to kill her if she leaves. So, in April, she said that 'Today's the day, we are leaving, we'll get your blanket and some other things. I'll pick you up from school, and we'll go over to the new place.' She didn't tell me more, or give me a schedule. It was like we've had an important talk and that's it. I did not tell anybody."
Even though the anxious forty-two-year-old mother instructed Joann not to reveal the plans to anyone, several of Ann's intimate friends knew of the impending breakup. They knew of Ann's fear, dissatisfaction with the nineteen-year marriage, her husband's demanding sexual habits, and his odd parsimony. Some of her close confidantes even knew of the "other" man in whom Ann saw a soul mate.
Earlier on that Thursday morning, April 18, 1991, John Racz left the house in Valencia for his predawn journey to Compton, more than forty miles away, where he taught elementary school. To wait until sunrise would add at least an hour to the journey through jerk-and-go traffic along five jammed freeways. It was easier to navigate through darkness, following an endless red stream of taillights flowing against the oncoming torrent of bright headlights.
The early-morning departure by Ann's husband created a perfect window of opportunity for moving out of their home on that day. The timing, she prayed, would allow her to avoid his wrath. First she had to take Joann, Glenn, age eleven, and Katelin, age seven, to school.
Escorting the kids into their respective classes, Ann stopped for a brief conference with each teacher to advise them that her children would have a new address. This completed, she returned home and stopped next to a white moving van parked down the block. She glanced at her watch, noted that it was eight-twenty, and apologized for being late.
Both men in the cab had been informed the previous day to wait for Ann's signal before pulling into the driveway of an upscale two-story home near the end of a cul-de-sac on Fortuna Drive. Then, according to their instructions, they needed to perform their task as rapidly as possible. The company owner would later explain, "We was told, when we got there, we just had to move the things that she wanted moved as fast as possible and get out of there.... Mrs. Racz, she was very afraid of her spouse coming back while we was moving her out and she didn't want any problems."
The movers followed as she led them through the spacious house, pointing out the exact items to be loaded. Uneasy about the circumstances, and observing a photo depicting a man wearing the uniform of a deputy sheriff, one of the men asked, "Are you separating or divorcing?"
Ann replied, "We are separating."
"Does your husband know about it?"
"Yes," she answered, "but he doesn't know when." After a slight pause, she added, "I don't want to sound like a bitch, but please get it loaded and get out of here. I need to be out as soon as possible."
Her advance arrangements made it easy for the workers. According to one of Ann's good friends, she carefully planned every detail of the move in advance and made meticulous preparations. Beginning as early as August 1990, Ann surreptitiously placed everything she planned to take with her in the rear of closets and cupboards. These gradual rearrangements of clothing, foodstuffs, cookware, and other essentials would prevent her husband from noticing, and would allow her to grab them quickly for packing on the big day. She acquired boxes and baskets in advance, and stored them out of John Racz's sight, to allow for rapid loading and packing. The majority of items marked for removal were for the children, including clothing, toys, books, a computer, and three mattresses. While the driver and his helper rushed to load the truck, they observed obvious manifestations of Ann's fear. Each time she heard the sound of a vehicle or a car door slamming, she jumped and ran to a window to look outside.
The loading process, including boxes Ann piled into her 1989 white Plymouth Vista minivan, took only about ninety minutes. The truck driver followed Ann's car downhill along the short curve of Fortuna Drive, through a couple of turns, east on Lyons Avenue, and a right turn onto Peachland Avenue. After a trip of less than two miles, they pulled into a sprawling condominium complex, identified by a large sign as Peachland, where Ann had leased a two-bedroom unit. It took about an hour to unload everything. To the movers, Ann appeared visibly relieved and much more relaxed.
Ann paid the men in cash. As part of her meticulous plans to keep any hint of her intentions from John, she had waited until their income tax refund arrived in the mail. After endorsing the check with both of their names, she cashed it and had the money in her purse for payment to the movers. As they departed, she walked across the street to a public telephone located in a medical building. She had chosen not to have a telephone installed in her new residence, fearing that her husband could trace it and discover the address.
A few days earlier, Ann had requested help from two women she trusted unequivocally. One was her niece Katherine "Kathy" Ryan, the daughter of her older sister. The other was a longtime confidante she regarded as her closest friend, Dee Ann Wood.
Kathy had lived with Ann and John for three months in 1988. Their relationship transcended the usual aunt-niece filiation, despite a fourteen-year age gap between them. They talked either in person or by telephone at least weekly and often attended movies together. Ann confided details of her unhappiness to Kathy, allowing the niece an intimate understanding of the fractured marriage. Several aspects of John's behavior bothered Kathy. Among the characteristics she personally observed, or heard about from Ann, Kathy especially deplored his tightfisted control of the family purse strings. Frugality was one thing, she thought, but John's methods were exceptional. She hated the idea that he ordered Ann and the kids not to flush toilets every time they used the bathroom in order to reduce the water bill. And she thought it miserly that he would bundle all of the family trash, toss it in his car, and transport it to bins at supermarkets or behind strip malls to avoid paying for disposal services. Sometimes, Kathy later recalled, John hauled bags of garbage over to the Peachland condominiums and tossed them into the Dumpsters provided for residents.
When Ann told Kathy that she planned to move out and divorce John, it came as no surprise. But she felt a sense of foreboding when Ann confirmed it on Presidents' Day weekend in February 1991. Kathy and her mother, Emiko, along with Ann, had assembled in San Diego to prepare for an upcoming wedding in April, of Kathy's sister, Patty. Ann announced to Kathy and "Emi" that she wanted to file for a divorce right away, but she needed financial assistance. She hoped Emi would see if their mother, Matsue Yoshiyama, could help. The aging woman lived with Emi and her husband in Mesa, Arizona.
Ann had access to her joint bank account with John, plus a few interest-bearing accounts, but didn't dare withdraw money from them because her husband might realize it immediately. She planned to repay her mother after the divorce settlement. Instead of asking for a loan from Matsue, Emi wrote a check to her for $1,500.
Another important revelation came from Ann during the San Diego meeting with her family. She told Emi and Kathy about a male friend named Bob Russell, who lived near San Francisco. She had known him when they both attended Morningside High School in Inglewood, where they graduated in 1966. The friendship had rekindled, she said, and they had been corresponding for some time. While it mildly surprised both Kathy and her mother, they were not shocked. In their opinions, Ann had been deprived of warmth and affection for too long, and if this old high-school pal could provide her with emotional comfort, then it was probably for the best. A few times within the following weeks, Ann called Bob from Kathy's home. Emi and Kathy didn't learn until much later that the spark of friendship with this man had flared into a major bonfire of love.
In early March, Ann asked Kathy's permission to name her as a reference in the application to lease a condominium at Peachland. She also wanted to use Kathy's home address in obtaining a credit card so that nothing would be sent to the residence on Fortuna Drive. Kathy had no objections at all.
Knowing full well how fracturing the marriage would impact her children, Ann took careful steps to ease the way. To prevent the trauma from undermining Glenn's and Katelin's performances in school, Ann consulted with both of their teachers. At Wiley Canyon Elementary School, Ms. Dorrie Dean's second-grade class included Katelin Racz. Dean and Ann were certainly not strangers, since the mother not only participated in Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) functions and regularly volunteered to assist with school projects, but she also visited the classroom every other week to maintain personal involvement in her daughter's work. At a March 16 parent-teacher conference, Ann discussed Katelin's academic progress, then turned to a personal matter. She told Dean that she planned to leave her husband and take the children with her, but she wasn't yet financially prepared. The kids, she said, didn't yet know about it, nor did her husband. As soon as she could, she would let Dean know the facts.
Glenn also attended Wiley Canyon, in Ms. Lois Becker's sixth-grade class. He was an honor student at the top of his class. Ann gave her the same message, that she and her kids had begun the process of moving. "She said there was going to be a traumatic 'upheaval' in her family," and she wanted to be notified of any changes in Glenn's behavior.
Later that same evening, Ann made a confession to her niece Kathy of being "scared to death." The whispered conversation took place at a wedding shower for Kathy's sister. It alarmed Kathy to hear of her aunt's fear; yet she admired Ann's courage in planning to go ahead with the move and the divorce. Hindsight about possibly borrowing money from her mother made her even more grateful to Emi for the loan. The elderly woman might have inadvertently said something at Patty's wedding, scheduled for Saturday, April 13, near San Diego. An innocent slip of the tongue could find its way to John, and all hell would break loose.
Of course, Ann could make the move sooner-at the risk of casting gloom over the wedding, which was unthinkable to Ann. She chose to wait and to hope that nothing leaked to arouse John's suspicion.
As it turned out, the nuptials took place without a hitch. On Friday, Ann left the house with her youngest daughter, Katelin. On her way to San Diego, she dropped a postcard, addressed to Bob Russell, into a mailbox. It contained a cryptic note: Before leaving for S.D. "D" Day is soon. Will give you day-by-day account just to let you know I'm okay.
Ann drove south, about 150 miles, for the rehearsal, enabling Katelin to practice her role as a flower girl.
John Racz brought Glenn on Saturday morning. Festive behavior and smiles masked any underlying worries or turmoil. Numerous photos show Ann in a black-belted magenta dress, with a corsage on her left shoulder. Even with prematurely graying hair, at forty-two, she didn't look her age. By all appearances, it was a happy family gathering.
On the following Monday morning, April 15, after John left for work, Ann implemented the first preliminary steps of her plan by hauling a few boxes over to the Peachland condominium. Kathy helped and brought a small "dorm-size" refrigerator from her garage for Ann's use. While they worked, Ann made an unexpected comment to her niece. She said, "I'd better give you Bob's phone number in case anything happens to me."
Dee Ann Wood, a vivacious, well-educated woman, with a sharp sense of humor and a grin that deepened captivating dimples, had met Ann in the early 1980s through their common affiliation with the First Presbyterian Church.
As Ann's best friend, Dee Ann had known for nearly two years about the crumbling marriage. She heard all about John's frugal ways-taking trash to supermarket bins, disallowing toilet flushing, and other cheapskate methods. Some of his tactics amused Dee Ann, like his habit of getting free coffee at a nearby fast-food restaurant. He would carry in a previously used Styrofoam cup bearing the establishment's logo, then brazenly pretend that he had paid as he refilled it. She had also heard that he wouldn't allow his family to use air-conditioning in the home on blistering days, but instead ordered them to lie down on the cool concrete floor in the garage.
Dee Ann wondered if all of these accusations were entirely true. And she knew that Ann could be quite frugal as well. "I think they spent money on food and furniture. At that time, Vista Ridge was the nicest neighborhood in Valencia. And their house was paid for, but it wasn't well furnished. Not shabby, but not well appointed either. Her clothes were neat and clean, and she always looked nice, but she wouldn't spend money on designer clothing. Not from a thrift shop, but not expensive. She sewed some, I think. She and I would shop at Target, or Sears, or whatever. I don't mean that she was extremely cheap, but was frugal. They didn't have fancy cars, like a lot of people in Vista Ridge would drive, but had reliable, well-running cars."
Certainly, the couple had accumulated some money and made good investments, including full ownership of their home, considering that John didn't earn a huge salary as a sheriff's deputy or in teaching, and Ann had left her teaching job soon after they married. Dee Ann attributed their wealth to a mutual ability for setting goals and formulating sound plans to reach them. She also knew that several years earlier they had bought a condominium at Peachland and eventually sold it for a tidy profit.
Excerpted from YOU'LL NEVER FIND MY BODY by DON LASSETER RONALD E. BOWERS Copyright © 2009 by Don Lasseter and Ronald E. Bowers. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted September 4, 2014
I absolutely love all of Don Lasseter's books, with and without Ron Bowers. Mr. Lasseter writes with great clarity but without repetition, unnecessary details, and filler words. "You'll Never Find My Body" is an excellent true crime book, be an excellent writing team.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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