In May 2010, Daniel Wozniak was a community theatre actor with a wedding to pay for. He needed money, so he plotted to use his dramatic skills to pull off a gruesome double murder that would see him pocket thousands of dollars. But his performance was fooling nobody…
Struggling actor Daniel Wozniak, 32, was used to playing dramatic roles.
But on a Friday in May 2010, he set out to star in his biggest yet, as the killer in his own real-life version of a Hollywood crime movie.
Wozniak, from Costa Mesa, California, was set to get married to his actress girlfriend in late May. But with the escalating costs of his fancy wedding, plus rent and bills to pay, Wozniak needed cash fast.
Most people would borrow from family or maybe take on some extra work. Wozniak instead plotted something far more sinister.
His Army-veteran neighbour Sam Herr, 26, had once let slip he’d saved up $60,000 (around £50,000) while serving his country in Afghanistan.
Enough cash to see Wozniak get married in style and clear his mounting pile of bills…
So the cold-blooded killer set his sights on stealing the money, in a plot that had more twists and turns than most blockbusters.
First, he invited Sam to Liberty Theater on the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California, under the guise of needing help to move some boxes.
But when Sam – who was known for being generous and kind – arrived, Wozniak mercilessly shot him in the back of the head.
Pocketing Sam’s mobile and wallet, he then brutally hacked apart his body and hid different parts across the city, including at the local park.
Then, almost as if nothing had happened, Wozniak performed as the lead character in a musical in a local theatre that night. The curtain came down a few hours later and Wozniak lapped up the applause of the audience – but his performance wasn’t complete yet.
To avoid arousing suspicion, Wozniak knew he had some covering up to do.
So, using the phone he’d stolen, he sent a text to Julie Kibuishi, 23, pretending to be Sam.
Julie had been tutoring Sam for a college class and the pair had become close friends.
It was nothing romantic – Sam told his dad he thought of Julie as ‘like my kid sister’.
Pretending to be Sam, Wozniak’s message asked Julie to come to Sam’s apartment.
Can you come over tonight at midnight alone… very upset. Need to talk, he wrote.
He then sent another text.
I’m hurting with some family cr*p. I can’t be alone. No sex. Please I’m begging as a brother, it said.
Keen to support her friend, Julie showed up as instructed.
But of course Sam wasn’t there.
Instead, Wozniak was waiting – and so was his loaded gun.
He shot Julie in the head, just like he had with Sam.
Then he tore off some of her clothes to make it look like she’d been raped, and left her half-naked body in Sam’s bedroom.
His hope was that when she was discovered, all fingers would point at Sam, leaving Wozniak to get off scot-free.
It was to be the ultimate killer performance. And, initially, the plan paid off.
When Julie’s remains were found, police launched a manhunt for Sam, who was nowhere to be seen.
‘We believed Sam Herr was our guy,’ said Lieutenant Ed Everett, who was investigating for Costa Mesa Police Department.
However, the story began to unravel when it was noticed that withdrawals had been made from Sam’s bank account.
When police checked CCTV, they saw that it wasn’t Sam making them – it was a teenage lad.
He was promptly arrested, but he had an explanation.
He said Wozniak had posed as a bailiff and told him to withdraw nearly $2,000 (around £1,600) using Sam’s bank card.
‘He gave me the instructions to withdraw the full amount, and to make sure I wore a hat and glasses,’ the teenager said.
The net was closing in on Daniel Wozniak, and soon afterwards, police brought him in for questioning.
Wozniak tried to spin detectives a story – but, this time, his acting skills just weren’t cutting it.
Pretty quickly, he crumbled.
‘I’m crazy and I did it. I killed Julie and I killed Sam,’ he said.
‘I don’t know why I did it,’ he added. ‘Mainly it was the money, and it seemed so easy.’
Armed with Wozniak’s confession, police were then able to recover Sam’s remains.
His severed head was found on what would have been his 27th birthday.
A rucksack containing the murder weapon and the clothes that Wozniak wore when he murdered Sam was also recovered.
At the trial in December last year, prosecutor Matt Murphy told the court that Wozniak had hoped to ‘use his magical acting powers to trick the dumb police’.
‘The plan has now crashed into the rocks of reality,’ he said.
The jury quickly convicted Daniel Wozniak of two counts of first-degree murder.
At his sentencing this September, it was decided that he should face the ultimate punishment – the death penalty.
It would be his final curtain call.