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David Alan Westerfield is an American man convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Danielle van Dam.

Background[]

Westerfield was born on February 25, 1952. He was married and had two children (including a son named Neal, who was 18 at the time of the murder) who went to college, but was later divorced. His niece (19 at the time of the trial) at one point alleged that when she was seven, Westerfield entered his daughter's room while she was spending the night with her parents while attending a party, and awoke to find him rubbing her teeth. She said she bit his finger as hard as she could, then went downstairs to tell her mother. Westerfield was questioned about the incident at the time by his sister-in-law, to which he explained that he had entered the bedroom to check on the children and was trying to comfort her. The incident was eventually forgotten about. Westerfield was a self-employed engineer and held several patents for medical devices. Westerfield lived just two houses down from the van Dams and also owned a motor home. At one point the van Dams sold cookies to Westerfield and van Dam's mother, Brenda, got a look at Westerfield's kitchen. One year later and roughly three days before van Dam's disappearance, van Dam and her mother Brenda had sold girl scout cookies to Westerfield. He invited them into his house and Brenda asked to see his kitchen, as Westerfield was remodeling it at the time.

Kidnapping and murder of Danielle van Dam[]

Danielle van Dam

Danielle van Dam

On February 1, 2002, Brenda and two of her friends (and Westerfield) went out to drink at a bar called Dad's in Poway. While she was gone, van Dam and her two brothers were looked after by their father, Damon. He put her to bed at 10:30 p.m. and then went to sleep himself until Brenda came home at 2:00 a.m. with four friends from the bar. It was then that she noticed the house's security alarm system was flashing and discovered that the side door to the garage had been opened. Brenda, Damon, and Brenda's four friends talked until around 2:30 before they left and the van Dams went to bed. At around 3:30, Damon woke up and saw an alarm light flashing and discovered that the sliding glass backdoor was opened. He closed it and returned to bed. The following morning, they discovered their daughter was missing and at 9:30 called the police. Hundreds of volunteers helped search throughout numerous highways, deserts, and other remote areas over the course of several weeks. The Laura Recovery Center (LRC) even joined in the search for van Dam and created a Danielle Recovery Center and set it up in a real estate office in Poway in an effort to coordinate the search for van Dam.

Van Dam's naked and badly decomposed body was discovered on the 27th by two searchers near a trail located in Dehesa, California. The decomposition was so severe that the coroner had to identify her using dental records and was never able to determine the precise cause of death (or any evidence van Dam had been sexually assaulted). 

Several of the van Dam's neighbors were interviewed on the morning of van Dam's disappearance, and it was then that Westerfield was found to have not been home. On the morning of the disappearance, Westerfield retrieved his motor home from somewhere else in town, stocked it with supplies, and left just 20 minutes after Brenda had called the police (at 9:50 a.m.). Both Westerfield and several witnesses told police that he had driven his motor home around the desert and beach before staying at a beach campground. This statement was backed up by the aforementioned witnesses, as well as several cell phone records, gas receipts and credit card records. Westerfield claimed he intended to head to the desert until he realized he forgot his wallet. He instead went to the campground at Silver Strand State Beach and paid in advance for a two-night stay there. He left after the weather proved to be too cold for him and returned home to search for his wallet. He then returned to the desert. Despite this claim, one witness later testified that he saw Westerfield with his wallet at the beach. While there on a Sunday morning, Westerfield's motor home got stuck in the sand and he was freed with help from a tow truck.

Westerfield, looking sleep-deprived and wearing no shoes, stopped at the dry cleaners he normally frequented and dropped off two comforters, two pillow covers, and a jacket that would later yield traces of van Dam's blood. When Westerfield was questioned by police, he detailed almost every one of his stops except for the dry cleaners. On February 4, Westerfield was placed under 24-hour surveillance and was observed having his RV cleaned, which he claimed was a regular occurrence. Several of Westerfield's possessions, including his SUV and motorhome, were impounded for testing a day later. He denied any knowledge of van Dam's disappearance. During one interview, he suggested to a guard to leave his gun with him for a few moments, seemingly a gesture that Westerfield wanted to commit suicide. At one point, he told police that he felt emotionally unstable. Westerfield once took a polygraph test and failed. And when he was told this, he demanded a retake and claimed to have had nothing to do with the disappearance. Traces of van Dam's blood were found on Westerfield's clothing and in his motorhome, resulting in his arrest.

Arrest, Trial, Sentence, and Aftermath[]

Westerfield was arrest on February 22, just three weeks after van Dam's disappearance. The trial began on June 4 and lasted until January of 2003. During pre-trial motions, Westerfields' lawyers charged that Westerfield had been unfairly interrogated for more than nine hours by detectives who never read him his rights, gave him a lawyer, and ignored his repeated requests to call one, take a shower, eat, and sleep. And as a result, they moved to have Westerfield's statements to the police excluded. The interrogating officers did not testify to this. The prosecution (led by Jeff Dusek) presented numerous pieces of forensic evidence that van Dam had been killed in Westerfield's motorhome. Another woman claimed she had left the back door open (which was presumably Westerfield's way of entry). However, Dusek was more concerned on the assumption that the kidnapping happened rather than how and felt the prosecution did not have to demonstrate how. The defense suggested that there was other evidence that police were overlooking because they were in a hurry to solve the case. They pointed out that the van Dams lived a high-risk lifestyle (they were swingers, used marijuana in their garage regularly, and that their marriage was an open one), and that due to these activities, it was possible that someone else could have entered their house on the night of the kidnapping. Violent child pornography was also found on Westerfield's computer, supposedly downloaded by Neil Westerfield according to Westerfield's defense. Neil Westerfield denied any involvement in the case. The defense attempted to establish an alibi for Westerfield by having a team of three entomologists to determine when insects first colonized van Dam's body (supposedly sometime in mid-February). The plan failed when it was discovered that the colonization could have occurred as early as February 2. The defense's closing argument was that there was no evidence to suggest that Westerfield had ever been in the van Dam home at the time of the kidnapping, or that a hair found under van Dam was not Westerfield's. But Dusek countered that it was possible for someone to take countermeasures to assure that no DNA evidence was left behind, and (controversially) argued that the forensic evidence left no other possibility than Westerfield's guilt. On August 21, over six months after the kidnapping, Westerfield was found guilty of murder, kidnapping, and possessing child pornography. The penalty phase ended on September 16 when a death verdict was rendered by the jury. Finally, in January of 2003, Judge William Mudd sentenced Westerfield to death. Westerfield showed no signs of fear or emotion throughout the entire trial. The van Dams sued Westerfield but the case was settled out of court. Several insurance companies insured Westerfield's motorhome, SUV, and personal home and garnered $416,000 for the van Dams. This also prevented Westerfield from ever making any sort of profit from the murder.

Westerfield is currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison while appeals are being pended. Due to numerous legal issues and arguments on whether the death penalty in California is constitutional, it is unknown when or if Westerfield will be executed.

Modus Operandi[]

Since Westerfield only killed one victim, the term "M.O." is somewhat misused. When he killed Danielle van Dam, he abducted her from her bedroom (presumably entering through an opened backdoor), then presumably took her to his motorhome, and killed her there by unknown means. He then left her body near a trail in Dehesa, California, an unincorporated town east of San Diego.

Known Victims[]

  • February 2, 2002 (date of disappearance): Danielle van Dam, 7

Notes[]

  • A man named James Selby wrote a letter to the police claiming responsibility for van Dam's murder in 2003. Selby was a registered sex offender arrested in five different states (including California). At one point he even claimed to be responsible for the JonBenét Ramsey case. Selby committed suicide by hanging himself on November 22, 2004 while awaiting sentence.
  • In addition to being mentioned in the episode, Richard Allen Davis is also mentioned. The two are very similar - Both men have similar names (Alan and Allen, David and Davis) kidnapped a girl from their rooms at night and later killed them, were active in California, were sentenced to death and are both currently incarcerated at Quentin State Prison. Even their physical appearances are very similar.

On Criminal Minds[]

  • Season Three
    • "Seven Seconds" - Westerfield was mentioned by Morgan when he mentions that Westerfield kidnapped van Dam as revenge for her mother rejecting him.

Sources[]

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