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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

6 Indicted in Grisly Slaying of Ventura Girl

Crime: Investigators suspect members and associates of white supremacist gang in '98 kidnapping and stabbing of 17-year-old in motel.

August 22, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Six people linked to a white supremacist gang were indicted Monday on murder and related charges in the fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old Ventura girl whose remains were dumped in a steep ravine in the Ventura County back country.

The indictments cap a nearly two-year investigation into the death of Nichole Lee Hendrix, a student at Pacific High continuation school in Ventura. Hendrix disappeared Oct. 15, 1998, after telephoning her parents from a Ventura motel room to say she would be home soon.

But instead, authorities say, she was kidnapped, robbed and stabbed to death in the motel room. Her killers then packaged her remains and left them outside an Oxnard home before removing the body four days later and dumping it in a ditch northwest of Ojai.

"It was a very gruesome murder," Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Bamieh said. "The method in which she was killed was vicious, and the way they treated her after she was dead was also shocking."

Bamieh declined to reveal a possible motive. But the indictments all focus on a Ventura white supremacist gang--the Skin Head Dogs--whose members have faced assault, murder, rape and witness-intimidation charges over the last decade.

A critical break in the Hendrix investigation came as prosecutors were building an unrelated murder case against another member of the gang, Justin Merriman, who is accused of raping and killing 20-year-old Katrina Montgomery in 1992. A witness in that case provided information that led detectives to the suspects in Hendrix's slaying.

Last week, prosecutors presented evidence of her killing to the Ventura County Grand Jury, which returned indictments against four men and two women late Monday morning.

Indicted for murder were David Ziesmer, 27, and Michael Bridgeford, 24, both of Oxnard; and Bridget Callahan, 28, of Ventura. They each face special allegations that the slaying occurred during a robbery and a kidnapping. All are being held without bail.

Three other people indicted on felony charges of helping cover up the crime by hiding or destroying evidence were James Daniel Bowman, 21, of Ventura; Roy Ashlock, 28, of Ventura; and Kellie Rangel, 30, of Camarillo.

Ziesmer is accused of using a knife during the killing. He also is charged with soliciting the murder of unidentified witnesses in the case and conspiracy for allegedly trying to cover up the stabbing.

Ziesmer and Bridgeford were identified as active members of the Skin Head Dogs and parolees who had been released from state prison a week before Hendrix's slaying. Callahan, described by authorities as a friend of Hendrix and an associate of the Skin Head Dogs, is accused of committing murder to benefit the gang.

Bowman, also a member of the gang, was indicted on two counts of being a accessory to murder and two counts of perjury. He is being held in lieu of $250,000 bail.

According to a statement released by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, Ziesmer and Bridgeford were arrested by Ventura police Oct. 20, 1998, five days after the slaying, in an unrelated incident.

Authorities say Ziesmer and Bridgeford then called Bowman from jail and asked him to dispose of Hendrix's body, which Bowman, Callahan and an unidentified person allegedly did.

Ashlock was indicted on one count of conspiracy and one count of being an accessory to a felony. He was not in custody as of Monday night.

Rangel was indicted for perjury and conspiring with Ziesmer, her longtime boyfriend, to commit perjury. Her bail was set at $70,000. The indictment alleges Ashlock and Rangel committed the crimes to help the Skin Head Dogs.

Sheriff's deputies arrested the defendants over the last five days.

Ziesmer, Bridgeford, Callahan, Bowman and Rangel appeared for arraignments in Ventura County Superior Court on Monday afternoon but did not enter pleas. They are scheduled to appear for separate arraignments later this month.

Ashlock is scheduled to be arraigned today.

Hendrix's mother, Shelly Holland, sat silently in court Monday as, one by one, her daughter's alleged killers stood before a judge. Holland declined to comment.

Visibly distraught at her Oxnard home, Ziesmer's mother, Linda, said her son couldn't have stabbed Hendrix to death.

She described her oldest son as a racist who spent much of the last 12 years in prison because of an unfair justice system, but she said, "he was not a violent person."

She said two of her sons have been involved with a white supremacist group that she knows little about.

"David is racist, I'm sorry to say it, but he is," she said in a shaky voice. "But he has never beat anybody up. I think he is just taking the blame for other people. I know he didn't do it."

Ziesmer's brother, Bryan Boggs, 23, said that he and his brother have been involved in different branches of a group he called "the Skins" for the last 11 years.

The Skin Head Dogs have been active in Ventura for about a decade, authorities say.

Many of the original members are now in prison for various felony offenses, including attempted murder and assault. Law enforcement officials say they also have been linked to hate crimes, such as vandalizing local synagogues.

In 1995, Bridgeford was sentenced to six years in state prison after pleading guilty to assault with a deadly weapon in a Sept. 10, 1994, attack on a 21-year-old man outside the Metro Bay Club in downtown Ventura. Police said the victim was confronted at the club and chased outside, where he was stabbed and beaten with clubs. Other gang members also were charged in the incident.

"I know that from the cases I've worked, they are extremely violent," Bamieh said of the gang members. "We now believe they are responsible for two extremely violent murders of two innocent young women."

*

Times Community News reporter Catherine Blake contributed to this report.

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