Only the night light illuminated David Werner when his daughter discovered him, a foot-long kitchen knife plunged in his neck, a pool of blood beneath his deathbed.
Deborah Ann Werner would tell police that she came home that April night to find their Mission Viejo townhouse helter-skelter--a toppled chair blocking the front door, lamps knocked down, the kitchen table upturned.
But even murder has a certain sensibility to it, and what Orange County Sheriff's Department homicide detectives were seeing didn't add up.
This appeared to be a violent burglary, yet nothing was stolen. Why did every room look like someone had struggled in it when the 72-year-old Werner clearly never left his bed? There was no sign of break-in, so how did the killer enter?
Then came the alibis, which unraveled like a cheap sweater. People weren't where they said they were. And in less than a week after the April 15 slaying, Werner's attorney said, two suspects admitted their involvement. One was the accused killer.
A case for Columbo this was not.
In all, four people have been charged in what prosecutors say was a plot to kill Werner for his money--an estate estimated by authorities at "several hundred thousand dollars."
Sewn together from court records and interviews with attorneys and others, a story unfolds with a cast of characters who have little in common except unhappy childhoods.
* Deborah Ann Werner, a 40-year-old liquor store clerk whose former boss remembered her calling the victim "daddy," is accused of master-minding her father's killing. Werner and her two brothers, neither of whom are suspects, are the beneficiaries of his estate. She has steadfastly denied any role in the murder plot.
* Charles L. Clemmons, a 20-year-old Anaheim construction worker, is charged with smothering and stabbing Werner to make sure he was dead. Clemmons, who grew up in Los Angeles on welfare and bounced from job to job, allegedly received a $3,000 check from Deborah Werner after the killing.
* Carrie Mae Chidester, a 21-year-old telemarketer from Garden Grove and Clemmons' former girlfriend, is also charged with murder.
* Cynthia Diebolt, 20, Deborah Werner's daughter, was charged with solicitation for murder after she allegedly tried unsuccessfully to get two other men to kill her grandfather on behalf of her mother. Now expecting her second child, Diebolt is the only suspect not in jail.
It is unclear exactly what defense each suspect will offer as the trial unfolds. The three murder defendants are being tried together and have a preliminary hearing scheduled on Monday in South Orange County Municipal Court in Laguna Niguel. Diebolt will be tried separately.
But Werner has been seen by a psychiatrist "in order to help prepare her defense through psychological testing and interviews," her attorney, Jack M. Earley, wrote in a court document.
And Earley and other attorneys involved in the case suggest that Werner's defense may include tales of a daughter pushed to her limit in trying to care for an aging and alcoholic father who could be incredibly demanding, especially when he drank.
"This," said one attorney involved in the case, "is really the sorriest, most pathetic cast of characters you will ever see. If you didn't know they were accused of murder, you'd feel sorry for them."
For, ultimately, killing the Werner patriarch for his money appeared to be utterly unnecessary.
Now fierce enemies who are kept apart during trips from jail to court, the suspects met through a series of intertwining relationships.
Charles Clemmons met Carrie Chidester at a bar. Diebolt was a friend of Chidester, who also worked at one time with Deborah Werner, a bookkeeper who also had done stints as a department store clerk.
Werner and Diebolt, the mother and daughter, had seen each other no more than half a dozen times in the 19 years since Werner and Cynthia's father had divorced. But more than a year ago, the relationship was rekindled when Cynthia Diebolt called her mother before giving birth to her first child, Cheyenne.
The plot was first hatched last March, when Diebolt allegedly asked two men, who had been arrested with her earlier this year during a Westminster methamphetamine raid, to kill her grandfather, according to records filed by the Sheriff's Department in West Orange County Municipal Court in Westminster.
She told them her grandfather was "worth some cash" and had a life insurance policy from which her mother would pay them for the murder, according to the court records.
The men, both of whom were awaiting trial on the drug charges, declined the offer, according to the records.
At about the same time, Clemmons was unemployed and spending a lot of time at a Garden Grove dance club called Faces, according to his lawyer, Donald G. Rubright. It was here that he met Chidester and they began dating.
Where Diebolt had failed, two sources close to the case said, her friend Chidester would succeed: she allegedly found Werner's hired gun.