"Monsters are real and ghosts are real too. They live inside us and sometimes they win."
It was the 3rd of June 1991. 23 year old Denise Huber was on her way home from a Morrissey concert in Inglewood, California. It was just after 2am and Denise had work later that day but that didn't matter as the night had been fun. She was originally supposed to go to the concert with her boyfriend Steven Horrocks. They had only been in a relationship a few months but she had known Steven for years. They met at the Spaghetti Factory where Denise worked as a waitress and Steven worked as a bartender. Steven found out at the last minute that he had to work that night and he asked their friend Robert Calvert if he would go with Denise.
Robert was thrilled and it was easy to see why. Denise was a tall (5'9") and stunning brunette and when she entered a room, all eyes were on her. She was a natural beauty but beyond her looks, she was sweet, kind and full of fun.
Denise got ready for the concert at home. She lived with her parents and brother Jeff in Newport Beach, Orange County, California and she chose a black dress, heels, dark stockings and a little jacket to wear. It was the perfect attire for a Morrissey concert. Denise's parents, Dennis and Ione, loved seeing her have fun. They had such a great relationship. Denise spent a lot of time with them. She loved to go to the beach and lunch with Ione and they spent time cooking different dishes together. Denise also had a very close relationship with Dennis. Every Friday they would have breakfast together and Denise was described as "Daddy's little girl." Just a day or two before she went to the concert, she left a note on his computer that said:
"Hi Dad. I love you. Have a great day. Love, Denise."
She also included a little happy face. That was the kind of girl Denise was. She had a cheeky sense of humor but above all else she loved deeply.
Denise said goodbye to her parents that night and they had no idea then that that would be the last time they would ever see Denise again.
When Denise left her parent's home she took the car and drove to Huntington Beach. Robert lived there and she told him she would collect him and they could then go to the concert in the car. They arrived at the concert at around 8pm, they had stopped to buy some vodka on the way and had a few shots before heading into the concert. They had more drink at the concert but just a few, nothing too crazy.
The concert was great and they had a really good time. It finished around 11.30pm. On the way home, Denise and Robert stopped off at a bar in Long Island and they stayed there until closing time. The time they left the bar was sometime between 1.30 am and 2am and they decided not to go on to another bar as they both had work the next day. When Denise dropped Robert home it was 2.05am.
As Denise drove towards her home on the 73 toll road, her car blew a tire. Denise was just a few minutes from home when it happened. It was a well lit area and there were call boxes along the road and a gas station nearby so it should have been easy for Denise to call someone for help. But no call was ever made. And it was as if Denise just disappeared.
Ione and Dennis were frantic when they discovered Denise had not returned home. It was out of character for Denise to stay out and they contacted her friends. At 6pm that evening, they called her friend Tammy Brown. Tammy drove to Huntington Beach and on her way back, around 10pm that night, she saw Denise's Honda sedan parked at Corona del Mar 73 Freeway and immediately noticed the rear passenger tire was flat.
When Ione and Dennis heard that Denise's car had been found they felt as though they had been kicked in the stomach. They went to see the car and the car was unlocked and had the blinker lights on but there was no sign of Denise or any of her belongings and there was no key in the car. That caused alarm. It was as if Denise just got out of the car to go for help but where exactly was she ?
The days, weeks and months that followed Denise's disappearance revealed no clues. Her parents, her brother Jeff, friends and members of the public all looked for Denise. Her parents couldn’t eat, sleep or work. Their lives had been turned upside down. But despite the numerous searches and appeals, there was nothing found that even provided some sort of indication as to what happened Denise. There were posters in the area, fliers and a billboard and TV appeals as it was a story that had the whole community in Orange County gripped. The eeriness of how Denise seemingly just vanished was terrifying for everyone in the area and they all wanted to know what happened. But with no clues, the police could do little with the details they had and it was a complete mystery. The trail ran cold and it would be three years before Denise's family and police would get their answer.
On the 13th of July 1994, just outside Prescott in Arizona, Elaine Court went to the home of John Famalaro to buy some paint. John was self employed and worked as a house painter. He also sold some paint at a local market and it was at one of the markets that he met Elaine. He told Elaine she could call over to pick up some more paint. It was a brief and simple exchange when they had met at the market but one that would ultimately cost him his life.
John Famalaro had moved to Arizona so that he could be close to his sister and her children. He loved them and treated them to great gifts and fun days out. John didn't have a fun childhood. He was the youngest of three children and had an older sister called Marion and an older brother called Warren. His parents, Ann and Angelo, were completely different people. Angelo was kind and caring but Ann was domineering and controlling and used religion to try to keep them under control. She would warn them if they misbehaved that they would go to hell.
The children were not allowed to date or even to spend time with friends. She insisted on washing them, paying particular interest to what they described as their special areas. Her controlling nature continued even as they got older and she would listen to their calls and follow them if they went out. This all had an impact on John and he became very involved in rituals.
If someone touched him on his left side, he had to touch his right side so that things would be “even”. His head and neck twitched constantly. Yet those who knew him described him as well mannered, fun and intelligent but most admitted he was a little secretive but they had no idea just how secretive he could be.
When Elaine arrived at John's house, she had goosebumps. She didn't know why but the large Ryder truck in his driveway caused her concern. It seemed out of place. John lived in a three bedroom home and his mother lived in a house on one side of his backyard. John was a hoarder just like his mother was although he was quite an organised hoarder. Everything was in boxes and stacked. Elaine does not know why the truck caused her to feel uneasy that day but the feeling was so bad that she took down the license plate and contacted police. Ione and Dennis would later refer to this as being divine intervention.
Police stopped by the house and ran the number plate through their system. It matched a stolen truck from Orange County. It had been reported as stolen some six months earlier. They noticed that a power extension cord ran from John’s house to inside the truck. As it was padlocked they had to break it open. Inside they found cans of paint but the cord itself was connected to a freezer. Believing it contained drugs, they contacted the narcotics division. But there were no drugs in the freezer. Instead they found a body.
Inside the freezer was a naked body of a young woman in a semi fetal position. Three bags covered her body and her hands were handcuffed behind her back. Another three white plastic bags were over her head. It looked like she had been gagged and her face was covered with duct tape. It went from her eyelids down to her mouth. The skull was shattered and some bits of the bag were embedded in indentations in the skull.
A hairdryer was used to thaw the body so that vital evidence would not be destroyed. The body was Denise Huber. Denise was identified through fingerprints.
The cause of death was multiple skull fractures caused by blunt force trauma and it was determined there was a minimum of 31 blows to her head caused by a nail remover being slammed into her skull. She had also been sexually assaulted.
Police believed that as the body was stored in a freezer in a truck on John’s driveway that in all likelihood John was involved. As John was a hoarder, police didn't need to look too far to confirm his involvement and they found the murder weapons in his house. He had kept Denise's clothes, her belongings, his clothes and the weapons used that night in a box.
Police now had to determine how and why Denise's body was found in Arizona some three years after she disappeared and they wanted to know how John and Denise had crossed paths.
In 1991, John operated a painting business in a warehouse in Laguna Hills in California. He lived in the warehouse. Police went to that warehouse and new tenants used it and it had been cleaned since John was there but they did remove some of the drywall and found blood. That blood was matched to Denise's DNA. It was a match. Police were convinced Denise was murdered in the warehouse but how did she get there?
Police believed that when Denise's car blew a tire that night, she got out of the car to walk along the roadway to make a call for help. While she was doing that, they believe that John saw her , pulled up alongside here and instead of helping her, he kidnapped her. They based that around the condition of Denise's shoes. Her shoes were found in one of John's boxes at his home, a box marked Christmas. The shoes had marks all over them and the tip of one of the heels was missing. All of Denise's friends and family confirmed she would have never worn shoes that damaged.
John then took Denise to his warehouse where he tied her hands behind her back. Denise's death was brutal. The handcuffs were so tight that there was no room to even put one finger through them. He then wrapped duct tape around Denise's head from her mouth to her upper eyelids.
John put plastic bags over Denise's head and sexually assaulted her. She was struck at least thirty one times over the head with a nail puller and claw hammer. It may have been more as there may have been fractures over fractures. Her skull was described as being “basically shattered”. There was blood tissue visible through some of the lacerations. Her death had been violent, savage and brutal.
The nail puller, duct tape and a blood stained hammer were found in a box in John's house. The keys to his handcuffs were found in John’s desk drawer and there were paper clippings in his house in relation to Denise’s disappearance. He had kept articles about Denise's disappearance and had also recorded an appeal Ione and Dennis made on TV asking for any information in relation to Denise's disappearance.
John was charged with the first degree murder of Denise Huber. Two special circumstances were listed as part of that charge and they were that the murder was committed during the commission of a kidnapping and that the murder was committed while engaged in the commission of the crime of sodomy. For the first degree murder charge, the evidence was compelling. Denise's body was found in a freezer that John had bought days after Denise's disappearance. They knew this as John had kept the receipt for the freezer. That same freezer was then found in a truck that was parked on the driveway of his home. Inside his home, John had carefully kept all of the items that would almost be certain to guarantee a conviction. He had the clothes he wore on the night Denise was murdered, Denise's clothes and her belongings and the handcuff key to the handcuffs that were on Denise.
The kidnapping and sodomy charges were a little bit more circumstantial. Yes, it was likely that Denise was kidnapped due to the circumstances but it would be for the Jury to determine if there was enough evidence. In relation to the sodomy charge, Denise's body had been frozen so it was difficult to get the DNA that they needed.
While John's hoarding had left him with no room to argue any sort of first degree charge, his defense focused on the strength of the evidence supporting the kidnapping and sodomy allegations.
They argued that there was no sign of a struggle in Denise's car or in the area around the car. It was their case that Denise could have left the elevated freeway and went down the embankment to street level and that was what caused the damage to her shoes. However an Investigator did this wearing similar shoes and agreed with the prosecution that while there was damage on the shoes, there was more damage on Denise's shoes.
The Jury found John guilty of the first degree murder and found both of the special circumstance allegations were true.
At the penalty phase of John's case, it was revealed to the Court that John had a terrible childhood. It was so bad during his formative years that there can be doubt that it had an impact on his adult life. His mother made him fear women and sex and made him believe that it was a sin to be with a woman. She stopped him developing his own sense of being and even when Denise's body was found Ann was still controlling John's life. The Jury sentenced John to death.
Denise's disappearance highlights that when something like this happens, there is never just one victim. When Denise went missing, the entire community was worried. They could not understand how a young woman simply driving home from a concert could be taken. The greatest impact Denise's disappearance and murder had was on her parents. Ione and Dennis spent three years wondering if Denise was alive or dead or if she was suffering or being tortured somewhere.
During the three years Denise was missing, her parents effectively stopped living. They stopped doing things like putting up a christmas tree and didn't touch her bedroom. Every time a body was found, they had a sickening feeling in their stomach and each time had to wait for days until the body was identified. Both of them suffered with their health in the years that followed. They had Denise's headstone inscribed with the words:
"You will always be loved."
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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