"Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale."
-Hans Christian Anderson
It was the 16th of November 1995. Linda spoke with her mother on the phone from her home, a small cottage, in Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, California, United States where she lived with three friends. Linda had a great relationship with her parents, Elaine and Bob, and brother Steve. They loved hearing the stories Linda had to tell. She lived every day to the fullest.
Linda told Elaine about some exciting news. She was due to audition for a part in a TV show later that day. It was hardly a surprise. The 27 year old was a stunning blonde and a very much in demand model. It also helped that she was eager to work and said yes to most shoots to further her career and portfolio. Employers adored Linda. She was reliable , professional and hard working. That day she also agreed to a shoot before the audition. It was a last minute shoot and she didn't tell Elaine who it was with or who had asked her to do it because she was running late but she did assure Elaine she would call her later that day. Linda and Elaine didn't know it then but that would be the last time they would ever speak to each other.
When Linda left school, she decided that she wanted to be a model. There was just one problem though. She was 5 foot 3 inches so needed a little extra something to get noticed in a world where most models , certainly at that time, were really tall. She auditioned for the Los Angeles Raiders' cheerleading squad and despite fierce competition, she was chosen. She worked as an NFL cheerleader for around 5 years. She then left and started getting modeling jobs-mostly catalogue work, ads and magazines. In 1995 she got a small role in Married with Children and that made her consider taking acting seriously. So between modeling and acting, Linda's days were extremely busy. So it was not unusual for her to have a hectic schedule like the one she had on the 16th of November.
Linda and Elaine planned to meet that weekend. The family were due to have a barbecue. That's why Linda told Elaine she would call her later that day. When she finished the call that morning, Linda picked out some clothes for the shoot and left.
Later that day, Elaine never received that call from Linda. While that may not be alarming for most given everyone's busy lifestyles, Elaine knew instantly something was wrong. It was not like Linda not to let Elaine know that everything was good. Linda's brother Steve told Elaine that Linda was probably just still woking but Elaine called a few of Linda's friends to find out if anyone knew where she was.
When Elaine discovered that Linda had not shown up to any of her other meetings and auditions that day, she knew she was right to be afraid. Linda's family and friends wasted no time. They reported Linda missing, printed off posters and even offered a reward for any information. The problem they had was that nobody knew where Linda's shoot was that day or who she was meeting. So they worked even harder in the search for her. They contacted media outlets and her disappearance was featured on some channels. This led to a break in the case. A man had found photographs of a blonde girl at the Angeles National Forest. The National Angeles Forest is 25 miles north of Los Angeles.
When he saw the news about Linda a few days later, he believed the girl in the photographs he found was Linda. He went to the police station and gave police the photographs.
Angeles National Forest
Another man, Charles Rathbun, called police a couple of days after Linda went missing. The 38 year old shared some vital information. He saw Linda that day. In fact, he met her at Denny's. They were discussing her modeling portfolio. He was a photographer so had some details to share on how to improve her portfolio. After their meeting, they left as they both had other meetings that day. Police went to Denny's and found Linda's car there. If Linda left Denny's, why did she leave her car behind?
Police searched the trash from Angeles National Forest as that was where Linda's photos were found. They found some further evidence. Along with a day planner, they found a car rental agreement and the name on it was one they were familiar with. Charles Rathbun.
Police searched the car Charles rented. It was a Lexus SUV and looked to be in good condition but a thorough investigation revealed that there was a small amount of human blood on the back seat.
El Mirage , Mojave Desert
Police interviewed Charles. His story was no longer consistent with the first account he gave to police. Armed with the knowledge that police had found evidence, he told them that he had asked Linda to work for him that day. He hired the car as he was doing a shoot for Autoweek magazine and wanted some images of the car. He told police that he hired Linda for that shoot as he wanted a model in some of the car shots.
Charles told police that Linda agreed to do the shoot so they drove a couple of hours to El Mirage in the Mojave Desert. Charles wanted some photographs of Linda driving the car, he wanted her to drive in circles and showed her how he wanted it to look. It was then that Charles revealed something that changed the course of the investigation. While Charles was showing Linda how to drive the car, he lost control of the wheel and crashed into her. The impact caused her to die. Charles didn't know what to do so he put her body in the car, drove to Angeles National Forest and buried her. Police now knew suspicions they had were accurate. They were now looking for a body. Linda was dead.
Charles led police to where Linda's body was. It was in a shallow grave in the Angeles National Forest. They had Linda's body but police were not convinced that Charles told the truth.
The car he rented showed no signs of damage and did not look like it had crashed into anybody. So they needed to ascertain what happened to Linda through the injuries on her body. It had been some nine days since Linda had died. The autopsy revealed that Linda was sexually assaulted before her death. Furthermore there were no signs of any injuries to her body that would have been consistent with the story Charles provided. Instead the official cause of death was confirmed as asphyxiation and the likely method was strangulation. There were also defensive wounds on Linda's body. The model had tried to protect herself from the 6 foot 3 inch photographer. Linda loved her life. She loved every day that she was alive and she wanted to continue pursuing her dreams and continuing her journey. It was too good to let go of but despite her best efforts , she was no match for Charles. Linda's fairy tale was over.
Police needed to find out more about Charles Rathbun. On the surface, he appeared like a hard working photographer. He was seen as somebody people could count on to hire to do shoots for advertising agencies and manufacturers. He had emerged of late as one of the top photographers in the automotive field. But beyond that professional surface lay a darker side. He was known to have a bad temper and could not handle things going wrong. There were also rumours that he was coming on to some of the models who were hired for shoots. So much so that two particular models refused to work with him. Charles had also been accused of rape in 1979 but found not guilty.
At his Trial , Charles insisted that Linda's death was accidental. However the fact that he changed his story each time further evidence was found did him no favours. Charles had first said that he and Linda met but parted ways, then he claimed he accidentally killed her by driving into her when he lost control of the Lexus. At his Trial, he claimed that while this had happened, Linda in fact did not die as a result and had instead panicked . When he tried to calm her down, he accidentally suffocated her. He insisted he did not want to kill Linda and there was no sexual assault, the sex was consensual. He said there were photographs that would prove that it was consensual. His brother Robert found five reels of film in the desert. Four of the films showed modeling shots of Linda. The fifth film was pornographic in nature. These images Charles claimed confirmed that their sexual encounter was consensual. This was not the case though. Aside from the fact the images did not reveal the face of the woman whose body had been photographed, they had also been taken in a different car, not in the Lexus car that Charles had with him that day.
Charles Rathbun was found guilty of the first degree murder and sexual assault of Linda Sobek. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is clear that Charles made up a story to try to explain away some of the evidence but the reality was that he wanted Linda and when she didn't want him, he raped her and killed her. Linda went to Mojave Desert that day to do something she did every day. Pose for photos. Charles wanted more and was determined to make sure he got what he wanted which is no doubt why he chose that location. The question that remains is, is Charles Rathbun responsible for other murders?
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"My family and myself are good, decent and very honest people."
"He is the single most blatant, arrogant, yet curiously effective liar and manipulator of the truth.”
- Deputy District Attorney Christopher Evans
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