Alameda County Sheriff's say they have solved a murder and arson case that has shocked suburban Castro Valley, where Barbara Latiolais was found inside her home on October 18th, brutally strangled and burned beyond recognition.
On Friday they laid out in cold detail Friday how Christian Birdsall, 16, and Cody Nicosia, 18, plotted to rob her and then strangled her and burned her body -- pausing between those two acts to have lunch.
“I’ve been doing this 29 years and this is the most callous crime I’ve been associated with,” said Sgt. Dave Dickson, who led the briefing with reporters Friday.
He said the pair have spelled out how they carries out the robbery, murder and arson.
“We don’t use the term ‘confession’,” Dickson said, adding, “Both subjects were cooperative with detectives.”
According to police, Birdsall and Nicosia lived in Hayward with Nicosia’s father. Birdsall was distantly connected to Michael Rice, 60, who was Latiolais’s long time partner. Rice and Latiolais shared the house on 2431 San Carlos Avenue in Castro Valley where the crimes occurred.
Police say it all began when Rice hired Birdsall to do some yard work at the house. When the teen expressed interest in joining the Marines Rice, who owned several handguns and rifles, promised to take him shooting after he returned from a trip.
It was these two facts –that there were guns in the house and that Rice was out of town – that led the teens to plan a robbery that turned into a murder and arson, detectives said.
The day of the crime
Dickson said on Wednesday, October 17th, the two teens walked to the house and hid on the property from about 8 am until noon, waiting for Latiolais to go out so they could carry out the robbery.
When she failed to depart they created a new plan, Dickson said. Some time between noon and 1 pm, Birdsall knocked at the door and told Latiolais that he was there to do some more yard work. Once inside he opened the back door and let in Nocosia.
Dickson said Nicosia got Latiolais in a choke hold that rendered her unconscious without killing her, at which point the duo began stealing guns, jewelry and money.
In the course of these thefts, Latiolais began making sounds as she slowly regained consciousness. Hearing her, the teens then got a rope, put it around her neck and strangled her together, detectives said.
“Why two teenagers would do something like this is beyond imagining,” said Sheriff’s department spokesman J.D. Nelson. “A woman in the sanctity of her own house, violated by someone she knows and trusts .”
The strangling occurred within 20 minutes of the two men entering the house, but they lingered there until about 5 pm, when they left with more than seven guns and at least $800 of cash apiece, detectives said.
Stopping for lunch.
The suspects, who had walked to the house, drove away in the 2006 black Volvo SUV that belonged to Rice and Latiolais, police said.
They then had a late lunch in Castro Valley – investigators did not say where – and drove to the Pleasanton area.
Around 10 pm, detectives said the alleged killers returned to the house on San Carlos. The soaked the victim’s body with gasoline and set her and the house ablaze. They left the house about midnight on Wednesday the 17th.
Firefighters responded to the blaze in the wee hours of Thursday morning, discovered the body and set the investigation into motion.
School the next day.
On Thursday the 18th, detectives say Birdsall drove the stolen SUV to Castro Valley’s Redwood Continuation School, where he was a student. In between classes he ditched the vehicle up the road slightly at the end of Brookdale Drive.
Detectives got a big break when a witness in the vicinity noticed Birdsall and gave police a description. That description was issued to the press Tuesday.
Detectives say after that sketch was released one of Birdsall’s relatives called to say they thought it was him.
Detectives arrested Birdsall and also got a warrant to search the home on Rex Road in Hayward where the 16-year-old was living with Nicosia and Nicosia’s dad.
Dickson said that when detectives came to the home Thursday to question Nicoscia, the teen’s father told him to come clean if he had done anything wrong.
At that point, Dickson said that Nocosia looked at his father and said, “We killed someone.”
Detectives said the motive for the crime was the guns and money that Birdsall knew to be in the house. The suspects told detectives where to find seven guns buried at Carlos Bee Park .
Because of the nature of the crimes, the District Attorney has told lead investigator Lt. Colby Staysa that Birdsall will be tried as an adult.
“This is the kind of case that fears and nightmares are made of,” Sgt. Nelson said Friday.