Monday, May 28, 2007

Wasted Lives: A Classmate on Death Row

John Famalaro, also known as the “Cold Storage Killer,” was a classmate of mine. We both attended St. Michael’s Prep, a very strict Catholic boarding school in the city of Silverado, Calif. In 1975, we were roommates and got to know each other fairly well. Although he was a strange and sometimes very arrogant guy, I never suspected for a moment that he would go on to commit one of the most heinous crimes in Orange County’s history.

Now he sits on death row in San Quentin, awaiting execution. Living in San Francisco, I drive by the prison often, and every time I do I think of John. I think about how he wasted his life and ruined so many others. I wonder how he must feel sitting in a cell waiting to be put to death.

With the California death penalty enforced the way it is today, Famalaro will most likely die of old age before being executed. I’ve heard from some of my fellow classmates that he has embraced his Catholicism and is trying to counsel other inmates. He has found God a little too late.

I am disgusted, yet also intrigued by John’s story. If I could speak to him, I would ask him so many things. What led him to commit this unspeakable crime? Why did he keep the body in a freezer for so long, taking it with him from Orange County to Arizona? Did he feel remorse after he committed the murder or was he just numb? And how does it feel to be living in a cage, knowing day after day that the State of California wants you dead? Sometimes I feel like I should write him a letter, thinking that I might feel better if I can get some answers. But, I never will and I know it.

Here is John Famalaro’s story:

On June 3, 1991, 23-year-old Denise Huber pulls over on the side of
the Corona Del Mar Freeway in Orange County, Calif. to mend a flat
tire. She disappears without a trace. Lt. Ron Smith with the
help of the Costa Mesa Police Department, along with family and friends, search desperately for the young Californian native as this disappearance is in stark contrast with her character. Yet, like so many missing persons cases, all leads run dry and the investigation into Denise Huber's disappearance goes cold.

In 1994, a local paint shop owner, Elaine Court, makes an
arrangement to purchase paint from Prescott, Arizona local John
Famalaro. Upon this visit, Court notices a Ryder Truck in the
driveway. Finding the truck to be mysterious, she contacts local
police and asks them to investigate. What begins as a routine
follow-up quickly turns into a case of homicide. Police converge
on the Famalaro home only to find that located in the back of the
truck is a freezer. Its contents...a body...later identified as
23-year-old Denise Huber.

Inside the house, detectives find more evidence the home had been
visited by murder. A box marked "X-Mas decorations" contains a
bloody hammer and nail puller. Guns and handcuffs are strewn
about the home. Inside a closet, detectives discover an LA
Sheriff's Patrol Shirt——all signs that Famalaro abducted Denise
by gaining her trust posing as a cop.

Detectives embark on a forensic mission to re-trace the footsteps
of a cold case killer. The first step in this journey is to
determine the manner in which Denise Huber died. Averaging
85-degree temperatures, Maricopa County rarely deals with frozen
bodies. They resort to an old fashion technique. A hairdryer is
used to successfully thaw the frozen corpse, taking special care
not to destroy the fingerprints.

Forensic anthropologist Laura Fulginetti reconstructs Huber's
skull to find that she was bludgeoned to death with both the
hammer and a crowbar found in Famalaro's home. Detectives also use
luminol, a chemical spray that makes body fluids glow, to
determine exactly where the scene of the crime took place.

In 1997, the trial against John Famalaro begins. Famalaro pleads
not guilty...but remains silent in his convictions of innocence.
After deliberating for less than three hours, Famalaro is convicted
of first-degree murder with a death penalty sentence. He
currently sits on death row at San Quentin Prison in California.