Southern California

Ex-Marine Andrew Urdiales Sentenced to Death for California Serial Killings

The case went cold for years until a traffic stop in Indiana allowed investigators make the connection that led them to Andrew Urdiales

What to Know

  • The serial killings between 1986 and 1995 began with the stabbing death of a college student
  • The case went cold for years, during which the bodies of several women were found in Riverside and San Diego counties
  • Andrew Urdiales, 54, was arrested in three Illinois killings in 1996, then connected to the Southern California killings

A former Marine who killed five women in Southern California was sentenced to death Friday in a case that spanned more than three decades and went cold for years until a traffic stop in Indiana provided investigators with a break.  

Andrew Urdiales, 54, is already serving a life prison term in Illinois for three murders in Chicago. He was convicted of the Southern California killings May 23 by the same jury that deliberated for about a day before recommending in June that he be put to death for each of the five murders.

Judge Gregg Pickett agreed Friday, sentencing Urdiales, discharged from the military in 1991, to death on all five counts of murder. Speaking in the courtroom, Urdiales said he respects the jury's decision and probably would have done the same thing.

"I understand how they voted," he said. "If I were a juror on my case I would probably have done the same thing. There's no hard feelings."

He went on to speak to victims' families.

"I'm a little shaken actually, a little nervous," Urdiales said as he offered "sincere apologies" to jurors, the judge, prosecutors, victims' families and his own family for having to hear the "gory" details of his crimes.

Three people delivered victim impact statement in court Friday, including the father of Tammie Erwin. His daughter was killed in Palm Springs in April 1989.

"I know that I miss her every day of my life," he said. 

Urdiales "not only killed my daughter, but he killed me inside," Erwin said. "This has ruined my life. It has turned my physical being into pieces, my mental being into pieces."

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a statement that the death penalty was the only just punishment for Urdiales.

"When you think about the serial killings and terrible things he did, it's hard to think of Urdiales as a person — he's a human monster," Rackauckas said. "He doesn't deserve to be in the planet with the rest of us."

Urdiales killed five women in Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties between 1986 and 1995, but it was an Illinois triple-murder case that brought him to the attention of investigators looking into the Southern California killings.

The California serial killings began with an attack on a 23-year-old Saddleback College student, according to investigators. The body of Robbin Brandley was found in a school parking lot, stabbed 41 times. She had been working earlier than night as an usher at a campus event.

Over that past three decades, her father's memories of the day Brandley left for college and never came home have mingled with frustration and anger. Her mother died in 2011.

"It just takes a terrible toll, 32 years of anger and mistrust, anxiety and pain," said Jack Reilly, the victim's father, after the June hearing. "I think that's what finally did my wife in — couldn't take it anymore."

The case went cold for years, during which the bodies of several women with ties to prostitution were found in remote and secluded parts of Riverside and San Diego counties. A break came in 1996 when Chicago police investigating the deaths of three women in Illinois learned that a man later identified as Urdiales had been pulled over with a revolver in his car in Indiana.

That revolver was matched to bullets found in the bodies of the three victims in Illinois.

Urdiales told Chicago detectives that they also might want to ask him about people in California, Orange County prosecutors said in opening statements at his trial. He subsequently spoke with Orange County investigators, and he was arrested in 1997 on suspicion of killing an Orange County woman when he was a Marine at Camp Pendleton. He killed the four other women, in Riverside and San Diego counties, when he was stationed at Twenty-Nine Palms.

Urdiales had been sentenced to death in Chicago for the Illinois murders, but when the death penalty was abolished in Illinois he was re-sentenced to life without parole. He was brought to Orange County in 2011 to be tried for the five murders in Southern California.

Urdiales' attorney, Denise Gragg, argued in court that brain scans and psychological tests showed her client had symptoms of someone afflicted with partial fetal alcohol syndrome. The killer's mother was a steady drinker and imbibed when she was pregnant with Urdiales, she said.

That brain damage combined with a childhood of traumatic events left him with trouble managing his anger and emotions. The U.S. Marine Corps veteran performed well in the structured environment of the military, she argued, but did poorly in less-stable conditions.

Urdiales told investigators that he got into spats with many of the women before he snapped and killed them. Gragg said he would dissociate at times so that he wouldn't even be present consciously during the murders.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy argued there was little evidence to prove Urdiales' childhood was as unhappy as his defense attorneys claimed. There also wasn't as much childhood bullying as the defense alleged, he said.

Urdiales was convicted of killing:

  • 23-year-old Robbin Brandley, who was attacked as she walked to her car following a concert on Jan. 18, 1986, at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo
  • 29-year-old Julie McGhee on July 17, 1988, in Cathedral City
  • 31-year-old Maryann Wells on Sept. 25, 1988, in San Diego
  • 20-year-old Tammie Erwin on April 16, 1989, in Palm Springs
  • 32-year-old Denise Maney on March 11, 1995, in Palm Springs

Urdiales was previously convicted of killing Laura Uylaki, Cassandra Corum and Lynn Huber, who worked as prostitutes in Illinois in the mid-1990s.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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