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Crime's Other Victims : Denise Huber's parents are getting some answers now, three years after their daughter disappeared. John and Genelle Reilley of Laguna Beach, whose daughter was slain in 1986, are still hoping for a break in her case. But, like many families in similar situations, the Reilleys have directed their grief and anger into activisim.

August 19, 1994|BRAD BONHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John and Genelle Reilley have been coping with a living purgatory of grief, frustration and confusion for 8 1/2 years.

Their grief is over the loss of their 23-year-old daughter, Robbin Brandley, who was stabbed and left to bleed to death on the campus of Saddleback College in Mission Viejo in 1986.

They are frustrated because whoever killed Robbin has escaped detection. Although the case is still being pursued by Orange County Sheriff's Department detectives, solid leads have become increasingly scarce as the years have passed.

And, like many families of crime victims, the Reilleys are confused over why violence seems to be tolerated, even celebrated, by American society. They wonder why violent criminals are released from prison at all.

Since the death of their daughter, the Laguna Beach couple have shared deeply in both the heartache and occasional ray of hope--new evidence, an arrest--experienced by other crime victim families.

With the breakthrough last month in the Denise Huber case--the body of the Orange County woman missing since 1991 was found in Arizona--the Reilleys revived their hopes for a break in their daughter's case.

Although the two murders have many important differences, they have certain similarities. Both Brandley and Huber were returning home from nighttime concerts when they were last seen alive, and both were 23 years old. Both were white women who lived in southern Orange County. Huber had graduated from UC Irvine a year before she disappeared; Brandley was a college student.

The Reilleys hope that prosecutors will ultimately be able to prove that one person committed both murders.

"That way, there weren't two maniacs out there; there was just one," said Genelle Reilley, who had written a letter of commiseration to the Hubers after their daughter's disappearance. "I'm absolutely delighted that . . . the (Huber) family doesn't have to wonder anymore where their daughter is, if she's alive or dead."

Orange County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Dan Martini said that when Denise Huber's body was found, a detective was sent to Arizona to investigate if John Famalaro, who has been charged in Huber's death, is linked to any other crimes. Martini said Famalaro has not been connected to any other case.

There have been no breakthroughs in their daughter's case, but, the Reilleys point out, there were none in the Huber case until Elaine Canalia of Phoenix, on a hunch, wrote down the license number of a moving van that she said "just seemed out of place." Her tip to police led to the discovery of the body and the arrest of Famalaro.

"This Huber thing turned on just that one woman," John Reilley said. "Thank God that this woman put two and two together, gave a damn, told of her suspicion and then the police officers followed it up. The clue didn't fall through the cracks.

"Robbin's killer came out of nowhere, killed her in a quick amount of time, with such passion, and then disappeared. It's hard to believe that he, or she, did not commit a similar type of crime."

*

Early on the morning of Jan. 19, 1986, the Reilleys were awakened at their home by sheriff's deputies who brought them the devastating news.

The body of their daughter had been found in a dimly lighted parking lot on the Saddleback campus, near the Doyle G. McKinney Theatre where she had been working as a student usher. There were multiple stab wounds to her upper body; there was no sign of sexual assault or robbery.

Robbin was a communications and fine arts student at Saddleback and a disc jockey at the campus station, KSBR. She had planned to to pursue a degree in broadcasting at San Francisco State. On the night of her death, she had worked as an usher for a jazz performance and attended a small reception afterward. She was last seen about 10:30 p.m. as she left that event for home.

It is the Reilleys' hope that their daughter's attacker has boasted of the stabbing and that someone who has information will be attracted to the reward the Reilleys are offering. At $25,000 two years ago, the reward now stands at $50,000. Anyone with information they believe is connected to the case should contact the sheriff's department.

"Murderers talk to each other about their crimes, and brag," Genelle Reilley said. "I pray that someone will come forward."

Martini said that after Brandley was killed, "there were hundreds of leads and phone calls that developed at the onset of the case. And, as is typical of human nature, (the reward offering) did generate more calls. We pass those leads around to detectives. Any new lead that comes in, we follow."

The Reilleys have spent nearly $50,000 on their own private investigation. In 1988, they took the Sheriff's Department to court in an unsuccessful bid to gain access to the coroner's report and complete crime scene information. The Sheriff's Department argued that certain aspects of the case are known only to the murderer and that the investigation would be compromised if the reports were released.

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