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DNA Solves Cold-Case Murder

Murder victim Brent S. Tobey

Prosecutors filed charges this week in a 1978 cold-case stabbing of a Laguna Beach architect, charging a Connecticut prison inmate with murder with special circumstances, the district attorney’s office said.

Walter Lawrence Dalie, 52, already serving a 50-year sentence for the 1985 murder of a girlfriend, is expected to be extradited to face the new felony charge in Orange County, though no arraignment was set, a spokeswoman for the district attorney said. If convicted, Dalie faces life in state prison due to the special circumstances allegation involving a deadly weapon.

Prosecutors allege Dalie, then 19, intended to rob Brent Stapleton Tobey on Nov. 20, 1978, in his Carmelita Street home, but instead stabbed him with a knife 17 times and fled. The 55-year-old architect was discovered in a pool of blood in his own bedroom, a crime whose brutality shocked the community and lacked investigative leads for more than three decades.

Neighbor Michael Tillman told the Independent that Tobey lived with his mother. After her death, Tobey’s behavior became more unconventional, including entertaining young men and washing his car in leopard print speedos, Tillman recalled.

A roommate, who had made plans to join Tobey for dinner, discovered the body, said Laguna police Lt. Jason Kravetz. Though unspecified evidence was collected at the crime scene, no fingerprints were found and the roommate, who was detained for questioning, was released without charge the following day, he said.

In a twist worthy of a Raymond Chandler novel, Tobey and his roommate, the late Roger Hylback, had planned dinner together to celebrate a murder conviction rendered by a jury earlier that day in the slaying of their friend Albert Willard. The year before, the pair discovered Willard’s murder in his Temple Hills home when he, too, had missed a dinner engagement, Kravetz said.

In 2002, Laguna police sent evidence from their “cold case” homicides to the county’s crime lab for analysis, which detected foreign DNA on one item, though without result. “The case hit a dead end again,” Kravetz said.

Last August, though, police were notified of a possible match to Dalie, a prisoner convicted in the 1985 death of Mary Carrington, who was bludgeoned in the office of her family’s restaurant, Mr. Steak, in Newington, Conn. Her parents declined to comment.

Connecticut prison officials had recently added newly collected DNA samples from current inmates to a national database, Kravetz said.

In three interviews in a Somos, Conn., prison, Dalie told Laguna police investigators he knew the victim, but declined to describe the nature of the relationship, said Kravetz, who worked on the reopened investigation with Sgt. Robert Rahaeuser. “We don’t know why i

t happened,” said Kravetz of the stabbing.

Murder suspect Walter Dalie

Dalie, who attended Dana Hills High, was raised in south Orange County and had ru

n-ins with law enforcement as a juvenile, Kravetz said. He lived in both Newport and Laguna Beach late in the 1970s and moved to Connecticut in 1979 or ‘80 with his wife, who he divorced shortly thereafter, Kravetz said.

Tobey left no survivors. Kravetz did share news of the pending charges against Dalie with a friend of the victim, now in her 80s, who was a beneficiary of his will. “She was surprised it hadn’t been put on a shelf,” he said.

Four other unsolved Laguna Beach murder cases remain open; the oldest occurred in 1992 at Aliso Beach. One is being actively investigated, Kravetz said.

Still Unsolved Laguna Murders

Prior to 2005, Laguna Beach detectives kept tabs on seven unsolved murders. Suspects in three have since been identified, including in the most recent case involving victim Brent Tobey, according to police.

In 2005, James Paul Snider of Holland, Mich., was arrested and sentenced to 15 years to life for the December 1983 murder of Ronald Murphy at the Inn at Laguna.

In 2006, John Whitaker Betances was arrested in Oregon. He is still pending trial in the murder of Patricia Carpenter and charged with another murder in Santa Monica.

Four murders remain unsolved:

The 1992 gang shooting of Jeffrey Wilson, on a church group outing at Aliso Beach.

The same year, Julie Ravenna was found drowned and strangled in a Jacuzzi of a Thalia Street home.

Lillian DeVilla’s body was dumped in 1998 alongside Laguna Canyon Road near former horse stables. She had been strangled.

Also in 1998, Juan Morales’ rock-bludgeoned body was found in brush near 2345 Laguna Canyon Road.

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