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Friday, December 14, 2018

Wasted Lives: A Classmate on Death Row

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John Famalaro, also known as the Cold Storage Killer, was a high school classmate of mine. We both attended St. Michaels 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 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 (pictured above). 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.

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Ed Attanasio is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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23 comments on Wasted Lives: A Classmate on Death Row

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By buckaroo on February 16, 2008 at 03:38 am

xx

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By buckaroo on February 16, 2008 at 03:44 am

John Famalaro was bullied as a child, but he also had an absolutely hellish home life - abuse, incest, a crazy mother, etc. He also is severely mentally ill. There is not always a "reason" for a spontaneous murder like this - it will NEVER make sense, because he was out of his mind while committing the murder. He is VERY sincere about his faith, and spends his time helping to educate other inmates. He has a brilliant mind, when it is working properly. I KNOW that all of this is true, but that's all I can say here.

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By Mikey T on February 19, 2010 at 08:55 pm

I just started reading the book and it is chilling and sad.

Frome what Francine and George said in the book the upbring and what John faced with lovers is great responsibile for how John turned out.

Not only did it result in Denise Huber's tragic death it has also wasted John's life.

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By devinereciprosity on April 04, 2010 at 10:05 pm

As an Orange County native, I felt an odd connection to this case from the time Denise disappeared. I thought it was because I had young daughters at the time. As time progressed, I discovered the Huber family frequented a business managed by my husband. I obessed on the "if onlys" of everything that went wrong that night. I sobbed the day Denise's body was found.

When I picked up The Register that awful Sunday morning and the headlines blazed that Denise had been found in Prescott - I raced to the phone to my best friend: "Oh, PLEASE tell me that Warren Famalaro does NOT have a younger brother!!" - The connections to this case got even more odd, as one of the DA's on the case had been one of my law professors. My father remembered being one of the contractors on the Famalaro's Victoria Drive home (not a pleasant experience)......only 2 blocks from our own family home.

Having been raised in North Santa Ana, most of us knew the oddities of this family. We had heard the neighbor's stories and the neighborhood kids knew to keep their distance. I went to high school with Warren . While his mother describes him as the "toast of the town" at Santa Ana High School, I never encountered anyone who didn't think of him as odd and weird and, ironically, all the adjectives he has used to describe his brother, John. Let's just say no one at his 1980 reunion was surprised at the then-current headlines.

Upon reading the book, "Cold Storage" recently (not an easy read) - a lot of my sympathy went to the Famalaro sister, Marion. It is the opinion of many that when she married, it was her goal to estrange from the family. I was chagrined to learn of her ex-husband's continued relationship with the family and of the area she chooses to reside in near them.

As a Christian, I don't find it unusual that John has had the luxury of time to pursue his spiritual faith. I have no doubt that God has/will forgive him. However, John Famalaro is where he belongs.....forgiven or not. The Bible is clear on accountability and the consequences of our actions. Part of God's instructions is to seek forgiveness and repent TO the people we have wronged. I hope that John's repentence includes writing a letter to Ione and Dennis Huber - not to ask their forgiveness but to show sincere remorse by admitting his guilt directly to them and offering to answer their questions. The recognition of his guilt during the trial was only a manipulation on the defense's part to focus on disproving the kidnapping and sodomy charges. If successful, Famalaro would have avoided the death penalty. Admitting guilt and asking God for forgiveness in the privacy of a dark prison cell should not be the end of his journey, if he is sincere.

As I observed, John Famalaro is exactly where he belongs.

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By T. G. on June 04, 2010 at 12:58 am

What do you mean he didn't know what he was doing? He knew perfectly well. Because anyone who can put on a policeman's uniform and kidnap another person for murder is highly calculating and highly motivated.

And also, there's a name for these people.They're called psychopaths. Someone who knows the difference bewtween right and wrong but chooses evil anyway. As in cold-blooded, calculated murder.

So, in this case, Denise's life didn't matter to Mr. Famaralo. And so much so, I'd say, that in the act of bludgeoning her he shattered her skull into nearly hundreds of pieces. Making it an act of sheer overkill. And therefore, something he must have derived great satisfaction from doing. Even going as far as keeping her body in a freezer as a trophy.

So, what can you say? Other than someone like Mr. Famaralo is dangerous. And must be locked up for the rest of his life.

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By california on June 23, 2010 at 11:18 am

Wow. "He embraced his Catholicism a little too late." Emrbracing Catholicism is the worst thing anyone can do...it ensures you eternal damnation.

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By sidvicious on September 12, 2010 at 03:50 pm

Mr. Famalaro may have had a horrible childhood and I completely understand that BUT, I clearly remember my childhood and it was pretty bad too and guess what? I haven't kidnapped, raped & murdered anyone. I went to college, married had a wonderful child and have continued my life. The abuse excuse has gotten so old and the courts are sick and tired of hearing it. Mr. Famalaro carefully planned each and every step of this crime which disposes of the excuse of "he didn't know what he was doing".

Regarding the death penalty - shouldn't he have to pay for his crime in the same way he committed it? An eye for an eye is very fair in this situation. The Huberts will never speak to Denise again, will never see her marry, have children and live her life to a ripe old age. She had so much to offer society and no one will ever get to see that. What does Famalaro have to offer? What value does he hold in society? I think you know the answer to that. He chose to take a life in such a brutal way that Denise's friends and family will never get that picture out of their minds and because of this and many other reasons, he deserves to pay the ultimate price. Think about how he went about committing this crime: he dressed in a police uniform, cruised the roads and found Denise. He then knocked her unconscious, handcuffed her, placed tape over her mouth after stuffing her mouth with a rag. Then he began beating her to death with a crowbar. What part of any of that did he not know what he was doing? This is a very calculated, well thought out crime. What about the freezer and the moving truck? Yet another thing he planned out. The bad childhood excuse just doesn't work here and he got exactly what he deserved and he's where he needs to be.

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By Libdrone on September 12, 2010 at 04:46 pm

@Ed "was a mouthy little prick"

WAS?????

@TG-- you seem to have zero understanding of mental illness.

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By l0oree on September 12, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Yes during mental illness you can do things you are not aware of or have control of. I have had two physchotic episodes personally in my life. If I had not been physchotic at the time I would not of been walking outside my apartment in a see thru shirt talking to God. If anyone sees me streaking naked down the streeet please call the cops......:)but please tell them nicely not to put the shackles and cuffs too tight.

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By Rebelchick on December 03, 2010 at 02:38 pm

Sorry but there's no sympathy here for this pig. Wah, wah, wah about the childhood. I didn't have the best childhood either but I don't go around raping and killing people and freezing them for later use or whatever this scumbag kept her body for. I hope he burns in Hell and suffers eternally! Don't even try to feed us that crap that he didn't know what he was doing! He knew it was wrong to bash her head in, didn't he? He took precautions to hide the body, did he not (albeit not very well which just proves he's stupid as well as a cold blooded killer and rapist)? Puhhhleeease! You're defending him makes you as bad as he is!

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By DonnaM on December 05, 2010 at 10:55 am

I completely agree, this guy doesn't deserve any sympathy at all. My childhood was also riddled with abuse, both mental and physical, as was my sister's and brother's, too. We all have our problems, but none of us have turned into psychopaths. I personally have worked very hard at not repeating with my son the mistakes my parents made in raising myself and my siblings. Famalaro chose to take out his inner anger on others, through uspeakable cruelty. I wonder how many other women he might have victimized before or even after he kidnapped, raped and murdered this poor young girl? He actually was very good at it - no one ever suspected him, and if that couple in Arizona who bought those cans of paint from him hadn't been astute and proactive in reporting that Ryder truck that clearly had been sitting in his driveway for months, he might never have been caught. Psychopaths like this one deserve everything they get. I myself am on the fence about the death penalty, but when I learned this guy had been sentenced to death, I couldn't help but say silent hooray! The world will be a better place without his vicious, narcissistic evilness. Good riddance, I say.

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By DonnaM on December 05, 2010 at 10:58 am

To Denise's family, I send my heartfelt sympathies. Their daughter's death was not in vain; it resulted in this SOB being locked away forever, where he can't do any harm to anyone else. Let's hope they can take some small comfort in that.

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By LionHart on March 14, 2011 at 10:07 pm

You people who say this man had a tough childhood and back off need psychological help. He killed this poor woman, who didn't deserve to die. If I had a minute with this sick bastard, whether he thinks hes saved by God or not, I'd love to be the one to stab him and send him straight to hell.

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By Squeeky on July 06, 2011 at 03:44 pm

"He embraced his Catholicism a little too late." I'd say he embraced it too early. That stuff will drive anybody nuts.

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By buckaroo on August 04, 2011 at 01:14 am

This crime was not premeditated. I am amazed at how some of you people have never even met the man, but you somehow know exactly was he was thinking and what his motive was for keeping her body, etc. If you don't understand the havoc that severe mental illness can wreak, you should feel SO blessed that neither you nor your loved ones have had to live with it.

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By LincolnDidn'tLie on August 04, 2011 at 09:13 am

I had no idea this article was here until today when it was commented on. I do not know this person or any details about him or his mental health past, present or future. I do not know of his horrid childhoods, but to say "mine sucked too and I didnt bludgeon anyone" is not a fair statement. Individuals react different ways, some can bounce back, some cannot. It is sad but not a fair statement. I can say this with certainty though...there is a difference between criminal and criminally insane. Neither deserves a reprieve from consequences, but if one could do what the reports say this man did, he is obviously criminally insane..should he be let out into the streets? No. Way. Never. But..since when did mental illness become a crime that justifies hate? Didnt we move beyond that notion in the 80s? Oh wait, we closed down all the state hospitals and let those with severe mental illness roam the streets and end up commiting heinous crimes. Now, more victims and now more prisons...

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By olderoftwo on September 04, 2011 at 10:31 am

I would bet the ones that synpathize with this murdering waste of humanity, would not be so quick to do so if he brutally murdered their mother, or daughter, or child, etc. & kept her in a freezer for three years. If you can commit an inhuman act such as this, not get caught while doing so & keep it hidden like he did, you are well aware of your actions.

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By MSCHICKIE007 on September 04, 2011 at 03:55 pm

I am against the death penalty but for predatory and serial killers I have to make an exception, they can never be rehabilitated and are just taking up space on this planet. I think this guy should be hit in the head first with that nail remover just to have a taste of what he did to that beautiful girl,then execute him.

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By Angelsings on February 23, 2012 at 04:44 pm
Dear Mr. Attanasio, My sister, who lives in Prescott, Arizona, phoned me this morning to say that on a local radio station they were talking about the Famalaro murder. She said that a woman who called in had the date incorrect, so, I researched it on the Internet & ran across your interesting article. My oldest daughter was the best friend of John's niece, Angela Thobe (Marion's daughter), at Prescott High School. John lived at his mother's house in Prescott Valley but frequented his sister's house in Prescott. How vividly, I remember when the story broke in Prescott & the surrounding area. Besides the moving truck & electrical cord running to the freezer, they discovered that John had dug numerous holes in the ground underneath the house; perhaps, to bury Denise, who knows. At first when we heard the story on the news, we didn't 'connect the dots' because of the last names being different. For some reason, I perused some back issues of the local newspaper, The Prescott Courier, and found out that John & Angela were related. My heart SANK. I've, always, been very cautious about with whom my children associate & instructed them that they were never to be alone in a house w/o adult supervision, even, as older teens. I questioned my daughter about if she'd, ever, been around him & she said that she had a few times. I shudder to think what might have happened to her. This time frame would have been after he murdered Denise Huber. You posed some questions in your article but said you never expect to get the answers. I read another article (read it if you haven't; it's in the LA Times) on the Internet just now re his mother attempting to kill a girlfriend of his brother Warren. It's clear that the mother had severe mental illness. From what was said, she had OCD & was 'overly religious'/fanatical, etc. She, apparently, did not have good parenting skills, even, verging on abusive. There were accusations of sexual molestation/abuse, also, but I'm not certain on whose behalf. I remember that John, supposedly, painted houses & was in the process of painting Marion's house. I couldn't understand what he was doing though. The house was beige & he had placed large red dots all over it. Can't fathom what that was all about! You, no doubt, know this and more but, to me, it's all too surreal, even, all these years later. I thank God for watching over & protecting my daughter. As is said, " Truth is stranger than fiction" Genia Stephenson, Phoenix, AZ gssanginheaven@yahoo.com //
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By Angelsings on February 23, 2012 at 04:52 pm
I didn't, fully, realize that this case had garnered so much attention. It came to fruition in a smaller, relatively obscure, rural community but I had forgotten that its' inception was in largely populated So Cal. Your article, along with the comments, should give insight into this case. Often, inmates 'find religion & Salvation' while incarcerated. It may be easier to do when facing execution or lifetime imprisonment. Hopefully, it's genuine but it gives pause for skepticism. Hopefully, they HAVE repented & are remorseful. We can, always, have hope for them. In the final analysis, God is the judge & jury. Nothing gets past Him; He can't be manipulated or cajoled. The old movie, The Bad Seed, starring Patty McCormack presented the theory that some people are just, plain born BAD from the start. It's ' Nature vs. Nurture' causing us to question which came first, the chicken or the egg? There is another old movie starring Gene Tierney & Ray Milland entitled Close to My Heart aka A Baby for Midge & As Time Goes By which explores the possiblity of a baby being born defective/bad. In the conclusion, the woman who is the director of the adoption agency/orphanage explains that she believes that expecting/watching for a child to 'go bad' may facilitate it. Personally, having a background in child development & science/genetics, I believe that there is the possibility of a 'defective gene' but, for the most part, I believe that how we behave is how we were raised/treated/taught growing up & the many influences/experiences we had. Your article had a link to information re ' The Killer Gene'. While that idea can't be discarded, it is far from having substantial credibility. My sister remarked that, perhaps, just like other murderers, Famalaro may have killed others. That's just too awful & creepy to think about but there are many unsolved murders. Dave Reichert, the law enforcement officer, predominantly, responsible for his tireless pursuit of The Green River Serial Killer who murdered 50+ women in Washington State is, now, a Congressman. I'm one of his staunch supporters & admirers although not a constituent. Had it not been for him, these families wouldn't have had closure. Also, my sister reminded me that, at the time, one of us told her that John's sister said that she had had much of the reponsibility for raising him. She, possibly, had OCD like the mother appeared to have. My daughter told me that John's sister would cut up her salad greens into precise, little pieces before consuming them & would exercise excessively even though she was slender. I remember the sister had a little Poodle that she bathed every day & had potty-trained to a litter box. All these obscure things are rushing back to me. I'm sure, I will remember more as I think about this but I'd put it behind me after all these years. After the case became public, John's sister & her children moved away to the San Francisco area. John's niece, Angela Thobe, who had been my daughter's best friend, didn't stay in contact. Years later, my daughter looked her up in the San Francisco area & they did have a visit but I don't think they mentioned the case. I wonder if John, ever, will confess to his heinous, dastardly deed but it's doubtful unless it's the typical 'death bed confession'. I hope the Huber family, already, has closure. Personally, I wouldn't John's confession and/or execution/death be my/my family's defining moment. A day or so ago someone was discussing some well-known prisoner that had, finally, confessed. I, only, caught the end of it, so, I don't know who it was but the impetus was that this prisoner is, still, getting wanted attention by confessing. That to ignore/disregard him/his admission would benefit all involved. However, in the case of the Green River Killer, the documentary showed that the families were, in a manner, relieved to know what happened to their family members. At Prescott High School, my daughter did a report on Charles Manson. I helped her with the research & came to the conclusion that, if he had of been raised differently, he would not have turned out the way he was. He had a terrible upbringing. He said that he felt more 'at home' in the penal system than not & didn't want to be released as a young man. That's a sad commentary on poor/bad parenting. When Manson Murders happened, I was a teen & lived in the vicinity. It was a terrible 'rein of terror' experience. Perhaps, these murderers enjoy terrorizing. Usually, I try to avoid any TV programs, movies, media, articles, etc. involving murder/violence but this one does create interest, probably, because we have a little bit of a vested interest in it.
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By disturbed on February 25, 2012 at 04:50 am

i read a couple comments and some said about poor poor guy, he was soo mistreated & also one about being psychotic & how its incontrollabe. just a HYPATHETICAL test for anyone who truely wants to know what this man, john & denise actually experianced. get yourself a hammer & nail puller and dont tell anyone of your plans, but whoever you live w/or are closest to, try this experiment on. go about your daily life as normal & at an unexpected moment, put a VERY SERIOUS face on, grab your hammer, and take a half of a swing at your chosen partner. you wont have to freeze time to remember the reaction/expression on their face because it will forever be embedded in your memory!!! but wait..he didnt stop there, he took his full swing plus many many many more...& then what, did he actually take time to switch to the nail puller, or did he take a break to continue his torture, or did he have one in each hand???..whatever the case i think the point is addressed & you should know that even people in there wrong mind cant take a full swing, it takes a heartless, souless, person w/o a care in this world to be able to commit these horrible acts! just for closing...when i was a child, i was beaten horribly bad everyday,the thought of coming home made me wana jump off a bridge..i felt like i had psychotic episodes everyday of my life, the worst was when i was beaten w/an extention cord,the little thin brown ones bc they hurt & left badddd marks..i was also beaten w/a board that had rusty nails hammered thru it..& if they hit my bare butt,oh well bc that was my daily life..but having both of your parents tell you they hate you & wish you were dead& wish abortions were an option at that time, hurts more than all of that!!! im 33 now & a very responsible adult who has raised 3 great boys & i still get mentally an=bused by my parents, as well as my boys do now also..but i have no thoughts in the world of harming some1..i'd sooo much rather help them, than to see any1 hurting in any way!!! abuse is only an excuse..& that excuse becomes what you make of it, it should never be..that poor guy..bc the victim was denise& her family,not him!!!

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By Angelsings on February 27, 2012 at 09:07 am

To: Disturbed I am greatly saddened at the horrendous things you have experienced during your 33 years. Things so awful that, to this day, they are indelibly etched in your memory. Just because we are related to someone by blood, doesn't me we have to remain, figuratively, tied to them. As an adult, you & only you, can make the consicious & concerted decision to distance you & your three sons from your parents. I hope you do this !!! My youngest daughter is a happy, healthy 33. She would, gladly, share a portion of her upbringing with you were it possible. Remember, you have endured the storm & emerged the other side of it stronger & wiser; a VICTOR. Take that to heart & use it to your advantage. Please, take care & know that someone CARES about you.

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By This is for Denise on October 23, 2015 at 10:31 pm

I would love to be locked up in the same room as this animal. And tell him "This is for Denise". Just start kicking the shit out of this piece of shit. I see her scrawling on the ground in that wherehouse screaming "Why are you doing this"? And he's enjoying himself doing this to a woman. I'm going to write the Death Penalty Board. And ask why is this animal still breathing air in Death Row. Love to piss on his grave. I knew her dad.

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