O.C.-Based Stories From Podcast “My Favorite Murder”

Karen Kilgariff and Irvine native Georgia Hardstark cohost the humorous and irreverent true-crime podcast, “My Favorite Murder,” covering everything from the mysterious disappearance of a Malaysian plane to serial killer Ted Bundy. There are several episodes that discuss crimes, cases, and deaths that happened in Orange County. Here’s a summary of those episodes.
Illustration by Andrew Hart.

The Murder of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi

“This is fucked up shit,” Kilgariff says, introducing the episode. “Mostly because it involves community theater.” In 2010, Sam Herr, a 26-year-old former combat veteran, enrolled at Orange Coast College and moved into the Camden Martinique Apartments in Costa Mesa. His family was excited to have him home and was expecting him to visit for the weekend. When he didn’t show up, his father, Steve, went to Herr’s apartment. In Herr’s bedroom, Steve found a dead woman kneeling against the bed.

The police identified her as 23-year-old Julie Kibuishi, Herr’s tutor and close friend. They suspected that Herr, suffering from PTSD, had killed Kibuishi and fled. Steve assured the police that that wasn’t true. Meanwhile, Steve noticed that money was being withdrawn from his and his son’s shared account and had been used to purchase pizza. They traced the order to a home in Long Beach where police waited for the next pizza delivery. Inside, they found a teenage boy playing video games with his friends. “And I’m sure smoking a ton of weed,” Kilgariff says. The boy said his mom’s friend from community theater had instructed him to take out the cash—Herr’s next-door neighbor Daniel Wozniak.

On May 26, police picked up Wozniak at his bachelor party. “They came in in cop outfits—it writes itself,” Hardstark says. Wozniak admitted to killing Herr and Kibuishi. He’d discovered that Herr had a sizable savings and lured him to a community theater in Los Alamitos where he took Herr’s life. He later staged Kibuishi’s murder. Wozniak was convicted of first-degree murder, sentenced to death, and sent to San Quentin.

Disneyland Deaths

“I can finally share this weird fascination with everyone. … (These are) the deaths that have happened at Disneyland,” Hardstark says. Ten people died at Disneyland between 1964 and 2003. In 1964, a 15-year-old boy was killed when he tried to stand up on the Matterhorn bobsleds. “See, this is why 15-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed out of the house,” Hardstark says. In 1966, a 19-year-old man was killed during grad night when he climbed onto the monorail tracks and was struck by an oncoming train. In 1967, a 17-year-old boy was killed when he exited his PeopleMover car and slipped. In 1973, an 18-year-old man drowned while trying to swim across the Rivers of America. In 1980, a recent high school graduate was killed when he was climbing from car to car on the PeopleMover during grad night. In 1983, another 18 year old “drowned in the Rivers of America during another, say it with me, grad night incident,” Hardstark says. In 1984, a 48-year-old woman was killed when she was thrown from her bobsled on the Matterhorn. It’s believed that her seat belt wasn’t properly fastened. “This is the one I have nightmares about,” Hardstark adds. In 1998, the rope that was used to secure the Sailing Ship Columbia broke, which tore the cleat off the ship’s hull, striking the heads of two guests and killing a 33-year-old man. In 2000, a 23-year-old woman complained of a headache as she was exiting the Indiana Jones ride. She later died due to cerebral aneurisms, which were speculated to be set off by the jostling of the ride. Finally, in 2003, a 22-year-old rider died when a locomotive separated from the train in the tunnel section on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. “I was barfed on on that ride,” Hardstark says.

The Murder of Denise Huber

“This is a murder that turns out is one of my top hometown murders that I completely forgot about,” Hardstark says in the episode. “… It happened next door to Irvine where I grew up.”

In June 1991, Denise Huber, a UC Irvine graduate, was driving home from a Morrisey concert when her tire blew out on an off ramp, minutes from her home in Newport Beach. When she didn’t come home the next morning, her parents called the police. Her worried friend drove around and found Huber’s car, which didn’t have signs of a struggle. “My mom … remembers the bumper stickers, and the fucking billboard, and just people being so worried about this really normal girl who just vanished out of thin air,” Hardstark says.

The trail went cold until 1994 when Elaine Canalia and her husband met John Famalaro at a swap meet in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Famalaro told them he had been a painting contractor in California and moved to Arizona for a fresh start, but business hadn’t been going well so he wanted to sell them his surplus paint. The couple went to his home, and Canalia noticed a 24-foot GMC Ryder rental moving van, partially covered by a tarp. “To Elaine’s cautious eye, it was also covered in a million red flags,” Hardstark says. “Elaine is nosy as fuck and doesn’t mind her own business, and I love her.” Canalia wrote down the plate number and the rental company’s serial number, which she shared with a detective friend. He called the rental company and learned the vehicle had been missing for six months. The company reported it to the O.C. sheriff’s department so the truck could be searched. Within the truck was a freezer chest that had a large object inside covered with black trash bags. It was later identified as  Huber’s body.

Famalaro had been driving that night when he saw Huber on the road. He later killed her and kept her body in the freezer for three years. He was found guilty, got the death penalty, and was sent to San Quentin.

To read more stories from our Law issue, check these out:

Law and Order in O.C.: Six Nationally Known Cases

Criminal Justice Clinic at UC Irvine Law School Hits Stride

Chatting With Cofounder of Veterans Legal Institute

O.C. Judge David Carter Takes on National Cases