Two men await sentencing for the 2006 murders of a family-of-three whose charred bodies were found in and near their California home.
It was in June of this year when Robert Lars Pape, 30, and Cristin Conrad Smith, 29, (pictured right, left) were convicted of the first-degree murder of Vicki Friedli, 53, and boyfriend Jon Hayward, 55. Pape was ultimately acquitted of first-degree murder for killing Vicki’s daughter and his ex-girlfriend, Becky Friedli, 18, but was convicted of second-degree murder; Smith was acquitted of the teen’s first- and second-degree murder, according to The Press-Enterprise.
A medical examiner testified in April that the three bodies were left unrecognizable due to the blaze that leveled their Pinyon Pines home in September of 2006. The newspaper reported that it was a neighbor who spotted the fire engulfing the single-story home that night and began to investigate—as Becky’s charred remains sat in a wheelbarrow nearby.
Vicki and Hayward’s bodies were later found in a kitchen. The medical examiner revealed they had been shot to death.
Meanwhile, Becky’s remains were too damaged to ascertain how she died.
“The left side of her body is missing,” Riverside County Chief Pathologist Mark Fajardo said of the slain teen’s remains, according to The Press-Enterprise.
In 2015, CBS’ “48 Hours” laid out the case that continues to play out 12 years after the grisly slayings. To this day, investigators can’t be certain of the motive, though one of the killers was obsessed with the teen victim.
At one point, rumors swirled that the trio had been killed by someone with a grudge against Ron Friedli, Vicki’s ex-husband who she had been married to for 13 years. Ron had retired from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department a year before the murders. Investigators quickly ruled out that vendetta theory and began investigating Ron’s possible role in the slayings. However, Ron was eliminated as a suspect when phone records showed he was 11 hours away from the home when the murders took place.
Friend Jeanie McDaniel said she immediately knew Pape played a role in Becky’s death. She told “48 Hours” that the pair dated in high school for more than a year and that Pape quickly became possessive of Becky.
“When her and I went on vacation about 10 months before she died, he called about 20, 30 times in a night. Just harassing her, wanting to talk to her while we were hanging out with friends,” McDaniel said.
The couple had broken up in January 2006. Three weeks before the murders, Becky came to McDaniels home and claimed that Pape threatened to kill her, McDaniels said.
“She said because he wasn’t taking the breakup well and he wanted her and didn’t want anybody else to have her. That’s what she said to me,” she told CBS’ Troy Roberts.
McDaniels had reportedly gone to the police about Pape and learned that he was already being investigated for his role in the murders. Friend Javier Garcia Jr., told investigators that, on the night of her death, Becky told him that she was going hiking on her property with Pape and Smith. Becky’s sister, Tanya Friedli, told “48 Hours” that she believes Becky wanted to rectify things with Robert that night.
Though Garcia’s revelation placed the pair at the scene of the crime, Tayna said years went by without police identifying—or arresting—any suspects.
Six years after the murders, a fed-up Ron solicited the help of a private investigator who swiftly put up billboards urging the public to come forward.
“We wanted to do a before and after. A beautiful picture of Becky…and then a picture, a simulated picture of Becky in the wheelbarrow on fire,” investigator Luis Bolaños explained to CBS. “It really, really pulled at heartstrings and sickened people.”
Soon after, Becky’s cousin revealed that she had spoken to Becky a night before the murders and learned that Pape had come into her job at Denny’s and had harassed her to the point that he had to be removed. The cousin claimed they planned the hike after that incident.
Near the eighth anniversary of the triple homicide, a prosecutor had dropped the charges against the pair, citing issues during the grand jury proceedings.
But in 2016, prosecutors said an informant revealed that Smith had made an incriminating comment and that a business card left at the crime scene was linked to him. The State also reportedly said better cell phone tracking technology contributed to the rearrests in June of that year.
It took a jury 10 days to come back with guilty verdicts. Sentencing is scheduled for August 10.
“Justice in this case, in particular for the family and friends of Jon Hayward, Vicki Friedli, and Vicki’s daughter Becky, has been a long time coming,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in a news release obtained by The Press-Enterprise.
“It is clear that jurors were meticulous in their examination of the evidence in this complicated multiple defendant case and we are pleased with their verdicts. We hope the verdicts help in the healing process to those who knew the victims and to the Coachella Valley community as a whole.”
[Featured image: Cristin Smith and Robert Pape/Riverside Couty Sherrif’s Department]