Dana Ewell biography
SynopsisIn 1992, Dana Ewell orchestrated the murder of his parents and sister in order to become the executor of his grandmother's trust account. It was assumed the family had had a break in, but when homicide detective John Souza entered the crime scene, he felt there was something staged about it. Ewell was eventually convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Early LifeDana Ewell was a spoiled, Armani-clad young man who lacked nothing in life, certainly not materialistically. His father, Dale, was known to be a strict father and hard-nosed businessman who built his fortune by setting up the company Western Piper Sales, Inc. selling small aircraft. Dale had been brought up in the Depression, and later joined the U.S. Air Force. After starting up his aircraft business, he invested his money in several farms and accumulating great wealth. His empire at the time of his death was worth around $8 million. Dana’s mother, Glee, was a respected and much-liked civic activist, and had once been a teacher in Fresno, California, where the family lived. From the outside, the Ewells appeared to be the perfect, American success story.
At an early age, Dana showed a tendency to lie and fabricate stories. Having a comfortable home, money, expensive clothes and a secure future wasn't enough for the well-educated and highly intelligent child. He was ambitious, like his father, but unlike his father wasn't prepared to work to gain status and wealth.
Even during his time as a student at the University of Santa Clara, Dana felt the need to fabricate vainglorious stories about himself and achievements that simply didn't exist. As a compulsive liar, he managed to con fellow students and staff members into believing that he owned a company, which he said grossed $2.7 million. Part of his web of tales included the impression that he had become a stockbroker at 18 and an aircraft salesman, eventually leading him to the position of 'president' of his own aircraft company.
The lies were supported by Dana’s conspicuous use of wealth. He obsessed over money and designer clothes. He had a BMW at his disposal, and enough money to spend at a whim. But what outsiders weren't aware of was the reality of a father-son relationship that was strained to the point of non-communication. There is little doubt that revelations about Dana's concocting of absurd tales about himself embarrassed his father, and may have led to confrontations.
There is no evidence of physical abuse, or any allegations that Dale beat his son. There was also no indication as to why a compulsive liar with a fertile imagination, and an IQ of 180, could be capable of plotting the slaying of his own family. Whatever the cause, no doubt the fact that he would inherit $8 million and become the executor of his grandmother's $400,000 trust account on the death of his parents, fueled his deadly fantasies.
CrimesOn Easter Sunday, April 19, 1992, Dale and Glee Ewell, along with Dana’s sister Tiffany, were fatally gunned down in their home in Sunnyside, California. The Ewells had returned home from a holiday weekend at their beach house in Pajaro Dunes, California. Glee and Tiffany were the first victims, as they had driven back home while Dale flew their private plane back to its hangar. Dale was shot after entering the house about 30 minutes later. Dana was two hundred miles away at the time of the crime, on vacation with his girlfriend and her father, F.B.I. agent John Zent.
It was assumed the family had disturbed a burglary on their return home, but when homicide detective John Souza entered the crime scene two days later, he felt there was something staged about the incident. The killings were efficient and methodical—perhaps too methodical, as the murderer had waited on a sheet of plastic to avoid leaving clues. The intruder also calmly retrieved all the bullet casings from the scene, which indicated that the killer did not feel particularly rushed.
Dana appeared to have a tight alibi, having been 200 miles away at the time of the slaying. However, Souza and his fellow detectives weren't convinced that the intruder theory was cut and dry. Adding to their suspicion was the fact that Dana seemed oddly unaffected by the brutal killings, and instead demonstrated annoyance that he would not immediately receive his family's entire multimillion-dollar fortune. Dana also kept a receipt for some candy that he bought from a grocery store with his American Express card. He used this artifact as a means of proving a paper trail that, in his eyes, would exonerate him from the murders. His retention of the receipt just made the police even more suspicious. Despite Dana's alibi, he immediately became a suspect. But while Souza felt certain that Dana had something to do with the crime, there was no evidence that could link the young man to the killings.
While Dana didn’t fake compassion and shock at the slaughter of his own family, he did feign concern by offering a $50,000 reward for the killer's capture. His main worry, however, was how to get his hands on his father's business and assets. One frustrating problem for Dana was that his father's family, mainly his three brothers, prevented their nephew from receiving any of the funds and access to his father's wealth. This meant he had to plunder funds elsewhere, such as his Grandmother's $400,000 trust account.
In the meantime, Dana continued to live life as he always had, while Souza and his fellow detectives kept tight surveillance. They had Dana's pager and cell phone “cloned”, and they set up wiretaps to his landline. As far as Detective Souza was concerned, the main motivation was money. He saw Dana as being a callous sociopath who wasn't prepared to wait for his inheritance, which was stated in his father's will to be distributed to his son on his 25th, 30th and 35th birthday.
Supporting these allegations were documents uncovered during the investigations into Dana's involvement in his family's deaths. They revealed that Ewell had plundered his grandmother's account, leaving only $2,000 out of an original fund of $400,000. Transactions took place over a three-year period, and supported his and girlfriend Monica Zent's expensive lifestyles. A $17,000 check was made out to Zent’s San Diego University—where somewhat ironically she was studying law—as well as $11,000 to pay for flying lessons both for Ewell and friend Joel Radovcich, who was also suspected of being involved in the murders. At the height of his spending spree, Ewell had more than 24 accounts in 14 different banks, some held jointly either with his grandmother or girlfriend.
Arrest & TrialFinally, in 1995, a breakthrough came for Detective Souza when a friend of Radovcich, Ernest Jack Ponce, provided a detailed account of the killings as described by Radovcich. Ponce, 27, agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for immunity. He admitted that he bought the murder weapon for Radovcich, who he thought was going to sell it for a profit. Due to Ponce's testimony, both Ewell and Radovcich found themselves tried on three counts of first-degree murder.
Superior Court Judge Frank J. Creede, Jr. banned television cameras from the trial, but did allow a radio station to cover court proceedings. The court case was a sensational affair due to the nature of the crime, its wealthy suspects and the fact that it had taken so long to bring the criminals to justice.
Deputy District Attorney Jim Oppliger of the prosecution stated to the jury that Dana Ewell hired former roommate Joel Radovcich to kill Ewell’s family at their home while Ewell, the planner and operator, vacationed in Morgan with his girlfriend and her father in order to acquire alibis.
Oppliger said he would need 2 hours to describe the complex evidence gathered in the more than five years since the killings of Dale Ewell, his wife and their 24-year-old daughter, Tiffany. His witness, Ponce, told the court that Radovcich put on several layers of latex gloves and sat on plastic sheets waiting for the Ewells to come home from a weekend trip. Using a silencer, he first shot Tiffany. Glee was then shot four times. Dale was shot just once from behind, as he walked into the house from the garage 30 minutes later.
Also called to testify during the trial were Dana's uncles, who recounted how their nephew had become upset when he learned his parents' will was structured to release half of the estate when he was 30 and the remainder when he turned 35.