These days, the forensics-tinged true crime shows are all the rage, often out-performing the fictional network crime series. But what happens when the PERPS of a senseless homicide are employees of the local forensics lab? Add to this a love triangle, drugs, feuding families, and a perverse fascination with a perverse flick, and you have the so-called American Beauty case of San Diego, CA.
In February, 1995, 21-year-old Gregory de Villers meets 18-year-old hazel-eyed blonde, Kristin Rossum in the border town of Tijuana, Mexico. Kristin, already deep into a serious methamphetamine habit, needs a friend, and from that moment, they are rarely apart. By all accounts, Greg is madly in love with her–some say obsessed–and they get married in June, 1999.
At the wedding reception, Greg gushes, “Kristin is the most wonderful person I’ve ever met, incredible in so many ways … so intelligent, kind and caring … I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her.” As noted by San Diego TV reporter Kevin Cox, de Villers does spend the rest of his life with her–all 17 months of it.
On November 6, 2000, Greg is found dead in their suburban La Jolla apartment, and the case is initially treated as a suicide. But when an autopsy indicates that the cause of death is an overdose of the uncommon but extremely potent (80 times stronger than morphine) chronic pain drug Fentanyl, and that Kristin works in the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office, where she has the keys to the drug locker, and at least 15 skin patch doses of Fentanyl are missing, the case becomes a homicide, and she is the only suspect.
As far as motive, Kristin is having a nice sleazy affair with her married boss, Michael Robertson, manager of the forensic toxicology lab, and not only has Greg discovered this, he intends to rat them out on the drug angle. You might ask why Robertson would hire a known druggie to work for the ME’s office, and then give her the keys to the candy store. So does the County, which fires them both.
The answer, of course, is that Robertson is unable to resist the, uh, charms of a drug addled user, who is not above resorting to horizontal favors to get her way, nor lying and stealing to support her habit, for that matter. It makes one wonder about the validity of her summa cum laude graduation from San Diego State University, albeit not one of California’s most eminent institutions of higher learning.
The suicide scenario, sad to say, favored by the authorities until objections are raised by de Villers’ family, presents itself as a lifeless Greg, lying next to a wedding photo, and surrounded with rose petals, à la the dreck movie American Beauty (1999), a favorite of Kristin’s. It is difficult to understand how a young woman could like anything about this film, that not only is sickeningly exploitative of youth, especially women, but is unrelentingly negative in its view of all aspects of American life, except homosexuality. Furthermore, the rose petal scene represents an adult male’s fantasy about a nude teen-age girl, covered only by the flowers. Then again, this could all have some deep meaning to a meth freak, but maybe she forgot that she was staging someone ELSE’S death.
Fentanyl is chosen as the instrument of murder since it is such a regulated substance and rare enough, that the ME does not test for it in autopsies. This, of course, is well known to Rossum and Robertson, but their little plan is foiled when a third party lab performs the autopsy. Robertson flees to his native Australia a few months after the killing. The official reason is that without a job, his visa would expire, but the timing of his exit looks pretty coincidental. Although the prosecution theorizes that both Kristin and her lover conspire to kill Greg, they don’t indict him.
On November 12, 2002, Kristin is found guilty of murder one in the death of Gregory de Villers, with sentencing set for December 12th. She faces life with no parole.
A few thoughts…
The amount of denial on the Rossum side is prodigious, and not just because her parents didn’t seem to notice or react to the fact that their daughter was a major drug addict. Their version of events is that a despondent Greg killed himself after learning that Kristin was leaving him. This they maintained despite considerable testimony that Greg de Villers did not seem suicidal or despondent to anyone else. Then again, they also said that Greg may have felt that if he couldn’t have her, no one will. That this theory would imply that Greg should kill Kristin was somehow beside the point.
It doesn’t take much analysis to realize that Kristin, talented though she may have been, was overindulged as a child, developing into a garden variety blonde chick with a ‘tude, finding out a bit late that she got in way over her head. An American beauty? Only to some impaired members of the media.