It was a Saturday night in May 2010 when 23-year-old Juri “Julie” Kibuishi received a strange text from her friend, 26-year-old former Marine Sam Herr.
It read: “Can you come over tonight at midnight alone? Going out for a bit. Very upset. Need to talk.” Concerned, Julie told her friends good-bye and headed out into the night.
The next day, Sam’s father Steve Herr became alarmed after his son failed to respond to repeated phone calls. After entering his son’s apartment in Costa Mesa, California, he was shocked to find Julie’s body in a pool of blood.
She appeared to have been shot in the head — and had a message scrawled on her sweater reading “All Yours. F*ck You.”
This was only the beginning of a bizarre and gruesome story that is the subject of the “Final Curtain” episode of Unusual Suspects: Deadly Intent on Investigation Discovery. Watch it now on ID GO!
According to Julie’s family and friends, Julie and Sam struck up a friendship at college after she arranged to tutor him. They said the relationship was not romantic: Sam had a girlfriend in Germany, and Julie was in a committed relationship with her boyfriend.
After investigators at the gruesome scene discovered that Sam’s checkbook, phone, and car were all missing — but there was a gun in his apartment — police immediately zeroed in on him as a suspect. They theorized that Sam may have lured Julie to the apartment — and put out an all points bulletin for Sam and his Pontiac Trans Am.
Investigators then spoke to Sam’s friend, Daniel Wozniak, who lived in the same apartment complex. Wozniak claimed that Sam had been acting strangely and talking to a stranger dressed all in black, and wearing a black cap.
Police did a background check on Sam, and shockingly found that he had been a suspect in a previous murder. Their suspicions increased once they learned that the former Marine had suffered from PTSD following his deployment.
But Julie’s autopsy revealed that she had been shot twice with a .32 caliber gun, which did not match the magazine found in Sam’s apartment — and that she had not been sexually assaulted. At that point, investigators began to suspect that the crime scene had been staged.
Meanwhile, Steve Herr was conducting his own investigation. After accessing the joint account that he and his son shared, he discovered that Sam’s ATM card had been used being used for multiple withdrawals in the Long Beach area. Detectives got security photos from the bank, and quickly discovered that the man using the card was not Sam.
After a card was used for a pizza delivery, police tracked the order to a local high school student, Wesley Freilich. Freilich told investigators that he had been given the card by Daniel Wozniak, who had told the teen he was a bail bondsman.
The student claimed that Wozniak told him to withdraw the maximum amount from the account each day, and that he went along with the plan because he believed that this was part of a legitimate debt collection.
Police were surprised. Wozniak, who had met Freilich through the local Orange County community theater scene, had not been on their radar.
He was an unemployed telemarketer with aspirations of becoming an actor, and lived with his fiance Rachel Mae Buffet a few floors down from Herr. Police arrested Wozniak at his own bachelor party and charged him with being an accessory to murder.
Wozniak first told police that Sam had confessed to the murder, showed him Julie’s body, and asked him to help by withdrawing money.
But police were able to determine that Wozniak knew details about the crime scene that had not emerged until the autopsy, including how many bullets Julie had been shot with, and after he gave a writing sample, detectives noted that his handwriting was very similar to the message on Julie’s body. At that point, Wozniak broke down.
“I’m crazy, and I did it,” Wozniak told police before confessing that he killed both Sam and Julie. His motive, he said, was getting his hands on the $60,000 that Sam had received following his deployment in Afghanistan. More specifically, he answers, “Money and insanity,” before releasing an unsettling giggle.
At the time of the murders, Wozniak was in major debt and was also facing eviction from his apartment that he shared with his fiancé Rachel Mae Buffet. Wozniak planned to use the money to pay for his upcoming wedding to Buffet and their honeymoon.
He said that after luring Sam to the theater on May 21, he shot his friend, hid the body— and then performed in a musical.
During a break, he texted Julie with Sam’s phone from backstage. Wozniak said he later got a hacksaw and hammer, and used the tools to decapitate and dismember his friend. “I was actually smiling and laughing,” he said.
Wozniak told police that he buried some of the body parts in a nature center in El Dorado Park. Sam’s head, hands, and one arm that had a distinctive tattoo were hidden in the theater.
“On the surface it’s a very provocative case, you have an actor literally beheading a victim in the theater,” author Keith Elliot Greenberg, who write the true crime book on the case Killing For You, told CrimeFeed.
“But once I got to know the victims, the sensational part of the case faded away.”
After more than five years of court deliberations, Wozniak was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death in September 2016, and is currently behind bars at California’s San Quentin prison.
But questions about the brutal murder remain — including what Buffett’s role may have been. Buffett, an actress who once worked as a princess at Disneyland, was charged in 2012 as an accessory for allegedly lying to police multiple times in an attempt to protect Wozniak.
In one instance, prosecutors said, she repeated a fake story that Wozniak had told police about a mystery man being with Herr on the day he was killed. In 2013, she told Dr. Phil that she was innocent — and had had no idea that Wozniak was a double murderer. Buffett is still awaiting trial.
Greenberg, who visited Wozniak in prison, told me that the former actor appeared to be “detached from reality” — and that the most frightening thing about him was his apparent normality.
“He was in jail, but he was acting as if he was having a conversation in his apartment. He was telling me that he’s an artist, because he’s an actor,” Greenberg said.
“I’ve interviewed other killers, and even when a part of me thought fondly of them, there was a sense that under the wrong circumstances they could do something really bad,” he said. “Despite the fact that Daniel is physically a large man, there was no undercurrent of violence.”