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Abduction the minivan mu.., p.4
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       ABDUCTION: The Minivan Murders: Killer Couple Michelle Michaud and James Daveggio, p.4

           R. J. Parker
 
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  People who are familiar with the area of Pleasanton, California, describe it as being a relatively safe and close-knit community where previously such crimes were unheard of. The Samsons were like any other typical all-American family, enjoying a quiet life in the suburbs. It was Thanksgiving time, and the family had all gathered together to celebrate the occasion. The mother, Christina Samson, was overjoyed that all of her family had come together to spend time.

  Her children, Vanessa, Nicole and Vincent, along with her husband, Daniel, would finally be able to get away from all the hassle of work, study and other activities for a short while. It was going to be a good, relaxing vacation for the Samson family. However, things took a turn for the worse just a few days after the holidays ended. Unknown to the family, they were already in town and had claimed an innocent victim in an area not far away from where they lived.

  Just a week prior to Vanessa Samson’s murder, the couple, who had checked into a motel, abducted and assaulted a young teenage girl. The victim later recalled that both Michelle Michaud and James Daveggio had stated something along the lines of attacking another girl next. She admitted that Daveggio had raped her and then let her go. However, she had heard him saying that the holidays would make up for the biggest ‘shopping days of the entire year and would be best for killing somebody.’ The authorities discovered that, just a few days later, the pair were on the hunt for their next victim.

  This one would not be so lucky. The couple drove around various markets and went to Hayward Kmart where they purchased curling irons and duct tape. Their van, which also served as a torture chamber, was fitted with ropes and other tools that were used to subdue the victims. Michelle Michaud and James Daveggio took their purchases to a Motel 6, situated in Pleasanton, and checked into Room 137. On November 30, 1997, they were spotted outside the motel with Michelle Michaud’s green minivan being parked outside.

  The police who were rushing against time to catch the serial raping and killing couple revealed that they stayed close to Foothill High School where it was easy to scout potential victims. On the very same day, Daveggio and Michaud were also caught on tapes within an adult toy shop. They made various purchases, including a cassette of a pornographic video titled ‘Submissive Young Girls.’

  On the fateful day of December 2, 1997, Vanessa Samson was about to go to her job she had landed just a few weeks before. At 7:30 in the morning, she stepped out with her lunch and backpack, bidding farewell to her mother. Samson was already used to walking short distances and did not mind the walk from her home to the offices of SCJ Insurance Services. Her sister, Nicole, was staying with a friend and had offered her a ride to work that day; however, she had not responded back so Samson had chosen to walk.

  It seemed as if nothing was going right for her that day. An unsuspecting Samson walked on Singleton Street and then onto the road that would intersect Kern and Page courts, leading her to Gibraltar Drive. This was when she heard the wheels of a van crunching past her. For about a minute, Samson did not pay any attention to the green minivan until it turned around and stopped right in front of her. A man stepped out and dragged her inside.

  Roofers working at a nearby house heard a loud and desperate scream, which was quickly muffled. A green minivan was also spotted driving away.

  What happened with Vanessa Samson includes gruesome details of torture and continuous abuse, after which, despite being told that she would be let off, she was brutally murdered. As it was revealed later, Samson was strangled by a rope and her body dumped near an embankment. Her body was discovered half-frozen a couple days later, by which time the two had already been apprehended, but their involvement in her murder was unknown.

  The police had caught the couple at their motel and arrested them on charges of assault and abuse. However, since the whereabouts of Vanessa Samson were still unknown, the truth about her murder was yet to surface.

  According to case details, it was revealed that Vanessa Samson had been tied with a rope and repeatedly assaulted for almost half a day. She had been tortured with the cords of the curling irons and other tools that the couple had in their minivan. After the assault in the van, they brought their victim to the Sundowner Motel at South Lake Tahoe. They checked into Room 5, and nobody spotted anything suspicious. It was revealed that this was the motel where Samson’s abuse and torture carried on for long hours.

  She may have been told that she could go free when the couple took her along Highway 88, but the brutality knew no end. Samson was strangled with a rope and her body was dumped in the snow on an embankment. The police later found it in such a terrible condition that nobody would be able to forget it for years to come.

  Vanessa Samson was a girl who was loved and adored by one and all. Her family and friends were in a frenzied state of panic when she failed to report to work and return home. Her coworker knew that it was not at all like Samson, who had hardly ever been late to her job, to not show up at all. She immediately informed the family who began a search for their beloved family member.

  Her friends and family called up every known acquaintance and hospital in the area but could not obtain any knowledge of her safety. The last anybody had seen of Vanessa was her walking out the door for work. Christina Samson had a horrible ‘sinking’ feeling in her stomach, yet she hoped and prayed for the best. Her mother wanted to believe that she might have gone to visit her close friend, Raul Guilliarte in Davis; he was supposed to come down during the holidays but had not been able to make it. However, all her hopes were shattered when Guilliarte revealed that he had neither heard from nor seen Vanessa Samson.

  As time passed, Samson’s friends and family became increasingly disturbed. They were almost certain that something terrible had happened to her. Vincent, Samson’s brother, took off from his job in San Francisco and organized a search party for his sister. He even took help from the authorities and had fliers posted. Yet all of this was to no avail. Vanessa Samson had been dead for many hours, and her body was lying cold in a nearby area.

  Vincent Samson felt directly responsible for his sister’s disappearance and wanted to do everything that he could to find her. As the details were revealed later, he believed that he had failed his sister at the time. Despite everyone’s best efforts in finding Vanessa Samson’s trail, nothing could be turned up. Her assailants were already in police custody and charged with rape and assault. However, Samson’s death was still not linked to them.

  On December 4, 1997, Vanessa Samson’s body was discovered and the police began investigating. Along the way, it began to look like the murder could be connected to the pair. They had been examining the objects in the couple’s minivan, and things were getting more suspicious with each discovery. As the police and investigators stripped down the van, they found various tools of torture, a few of which had blood on them that looked fairly fresh. Vanessa Samson had already been missing for two days, and it was looking more like a certainty that these two were directly involved in her kidnapping.

  After her body was discovered, the police and investigating officials found evidence that indicated that she was murdered by one or both of the killers. Vincent Samson was the first to be notified of his sister’s unfortunate demise. A trucker had spotted the body at 10:45 a.m. on that fateful day, and later on Vincent Samson was the one who had to break the news to his family. He told the police that all that was going through his mind at the time was he will have to deliver such news to his family, which was going to alter their lives in every possible way.

  When he arrived home, his mother, Christina Samson, instantly knew that something was wrong. Her daughter had been ‘taken away’ and nothing was going to be the same again.

  Later on, during the investigation, she said that ‘a part of her died’ that day, and she was going to cry over it for the rest of her life. Her precious daughter, who had held so much promise, was taken away brutally and made to suffer immensely due to no fault of her own. Vanessa Samson had only been the ‘pretty girl
with black hair’ who suddenly caught the eye of the burly, bearded man with several tattoos. Daveggio then made his partner turn around, pick her up and force her into the van. The only mistake that the unsuspecting girl had made that day was to walk to work.

  The Investigation and Arrest

  After brutally torturing and assaulting Vanessa Samson, James Anthony Daveggio and Michelle Lyn Michaud drove around Highway 88, possibly looking for a dumping ground. They settled on an embankment and, after tying and gagging her, Daveggio strangled her with a black nylon rope that the couple had purchased a few days before. Before selecting Vanessa Samson as their next victim, the two had already decided that they were going to take it up a notch in their crime spree.

  The police were hot on their heels and closing in, while drugs and methamphetamines were spurring their erratic behavior more so than ever before. Their green Dodge Caravan had been spotted in the parking lot of the Motel 6 in Pleasanton; hence, it was only a matter of time before someone reported it.

  Despite the investigating authorities being so close, they could not manage to save Vanessa Samson’s life. There was perhaps a chance that the couple may have escaped the police for a longer time, even after murdering Samson. However, a mistake on Michaud’s part was all it took for the police and detectives to corner them and take them in. Michelle Michaud was due for a court hearing in Sacramento on account of her being indicted for writing bad checks. She was supposedly going to meet her mother on the way as well.

  On December 2, 1997, just a few hours after Vanessa Samson’s murder, Michelle Michaud made the grave error of stopping to collect her welfare check. She also made a trip to a check cashing store and was instantly spotted by the local police. While she continued on her way to South Lake Tahoe, where her hearing was scheduled at a nearby court, the authorities were informed immediately.

  The police followed the trail to Lakeside Inn, situated within Stateline, Nevada. Officers had questioned her mother, who also gave up her daughter’s whereabouts, and they were able to pinpoint a location. A young girl had also come forward with the information that she had been the couple’s victim in a minivan that was very similar to the one parked outside the motel’s casino. Special Agent Ferrin led the hunt, ordering all the police officials to spread out and cover as much ground as possible. The parking area, restaurant and casino were all swept thoroughly and, within minutes, the police arrested Michelle Lyn Michaud from Room 133.

  James Anthony Daveggio was playing slots at the casino and was instantly handcuffed and taken away as well. They were charged with assaults and kidnappings at the time, pending a trial which sentenced them for these crimes in 1999. The police were definitely relieved that after a month-long chase, they had finally caught these two monsters who had been terrorizing people across California and Nevada.

  Yet more horrors were about to unfold. As the investigating team examined the van and each piece of evidence in detail, they discovered a few objects that were indicating something sinister. The authorities had already started to investigate any possible links to the couple and Vanessa Samson’s murder. It turned out that Michelle Michaud, who was being held in Douglas County Jail, saw the news about the 22-year-old’s body being discovered off Highway 88, and she blurted out to a friend of hers in prison that they might be responsible for it.

  The authorities immediately began to question her further until she waived her rights and started answering their questions. During her interviews, she mentioned Vanessa Samson quite a few times and appeared to trail off while recalling some of the details of her kidnapping. Her behavior indicated that she was involved in Samson’s kidnapping and definitely a murder suspect. The authorities spurred their investigation further and tried to find evidence which could possibly connect the two to Samson’s abduction. The team soon came across the gags, bloodied ropes and white towels, evidence of a struggle.

  They questioned Michaud again and she revealed that one of the gags had Samson’s saliva on it as neither she nor her partner had wiped it off. The police soon found it along with a curling iron that had a severed cord and duct tape. Everything was sent to the laboratories for testing, and the results shocked everyone.

  The curling iron was bloody and contained other bodily excretions as well. It was revealed that the tape also carried Michelle Lyn Michaud’s right thumbprint. There was obviously no doubt in anyone’s mind that they had made the authorities’ worst fears come true and claimed the life of an innocent victim.

  Vanessa Samson’s murder was what led to the couple being handed out a death sentence. Their act was referred to as ‘demonic’ and ‘vicious’ with Vincent Samson openly addressing James Daveggio and Michelle Michaud in court and referring to them both as nothing but evil. There was no doubt that the death penalty was justice served and this twisted couple deserved nothing less.

  Police and investigating officials were astounded by the gruesome details as they came to light, with some even stating that the notorious couple was a ‘match made in hell.’ Daveggio and Michaud had inflicted torture and abuse on all of their victims, going to another level of extreme with Vanessa Samson. While they had managed to evade the police on countless occasions, Pleasanton, California, was the end of their crime spree.

  The police across Nevada and California began to search for the couple after identifying them. Investigating officials had already started building a case against a male-female team of attackers in Reno when Juanita Rodriguez reported her rape and assault at the Placer County Sheriff's Department. While the sketches were somewhat hazy, the police across the two states were on alert and looking out for any such suspicious couple. At the time, luck somehow sided with Daveggio and Michaud, and they managed to keep themselves out of sight.

  After hearing the victims’ accounts, the police hastened in their efforts to catch the rapists. The law enforcement agencies had seen first-hand the carnage that the two had left behind. It now became even more certain that this couple was unhinged and capable of the worst.

  Investigating officials finally tracked down the couple and cornered them in Pleasanton, California. At that time, the charges against them consisted of assault and rape. When Vanessa Samson’s body was discovered, the police began to search for the perpetrators. This was when the Daveggio and Michaud case became a murder investigation. While the former’s mate had brought the information regarding her involvement in the murder, it wasn’t until two days later that the evidence proved what everybody had already assumed. The news report had mentioned that the murder weapon was a black nylon rope. Michaud saw this and started to fear that she was going to be implicated once the police found conclusive proof.

  After long, intensive interviews, the officers managed to put together a clear picture. The woman had claimed that there was some evidence of the murder on a few tools and torture objects found in the van. As it turns out, she was right. James Daveggio was also questioned and it was learned that he had indeed repeatedly assaulted and then murdered Vanessa Samson by strangling her. While Michaud later contested her statements, the jury and court held fast to her testimony and even brought it to Daveggio’s trial.

  She was sentenced to death for murder and found guilty on all counts of rape and assault. Her partner met the same fate, and eventually, the twisted two were separated from each other. Michaud was transferred to federal custody and assigned attorneys. Eventually, the two were handed over to Alameda County where a grand jury indicted them for the abduction and brutal murder of 22-year-old Vanessa Samson. During the course of their trials in 1999, they were also handed out sentences for assaults and rapes across Nevada and California.

  Perhaps their sentencing gave closure to their victims who had been waiting for justice to be served. The terrified girls who had been afraid to come forward mustered the courage to open up about their suffering to the authorities. Some of their victims testified in front of the jurors at the trial. Patty Wilson, who had been scared into silence until their arrest, finally ma
de her story public. She revealed the atrocities committed against her when the couple kidnapped her from the parking lot and then later threatened her to force her to lie.

  As further evidence surfaced, it was claimed that Daveggio, who was already a registered sex offender prior to meeting Michaud, might have been involved in a few other rapes and killings before going on the crime spree with his partner.

  Trial and Further Details

  The arrest of Michelle Michaud and James Daveggio may have brought peace of mind to the authorities, but there was a lot more still to come. Vanessa Samson, who had been reported missing for two days, was found dead with visible marks of abuse and torture. Once it was proven that they were behind her murder and assault, their five-year-long tedious trial began. The death sentence was justly handed out, and the family of the victim had some satisfaction in that the killers of their beloved family member got what they deserved.

  However, during the trial, there was nothing but pain and difficulty for not just Vanessa Samson’s family but also the couple's numerous rape victims. The girls who had suffered abuse at the hands of Daveggio and Michaud had to recount the horrific details of their ordeal and relive it. Meanwhile, Samson’s family and friends had to sit through the court proceedings which focused on the torture and abuse that the girl had to endure before she was killed so brutally.

  Christina Samson and her husband stated that they would forever be ‘haunted’ by what happened to their little girl. The mother also said that she was going to mourn her daughter’s death every day as her suffering was so great that it could never let her live in peace. Vanessa ‘Ness’ Samson was ‘defenseless and alone’ as well as ‘frightened beyond words.’ During the court proceedings, Vincent Samson addressed James Anthony Daveggio and placed a framed picture of his sister beside him.

 
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