The Crime Story of the Year

The sordid saga of musical theater actor Daniel Wozniak finally comes to an end.

On May 6, 2010, OC Weekly theater critic Joel Beers reviewed a community theater production of the musical Nine at the Hunger Artists Theatre in Fullerton, Calif. The musical, inspired by Federico Fellini’s film 8 ½, first ran on Broadway in 1982 with Raul Julia in the lead role of film director Guido Contini.

From Beers’ review:

Dan Wozniak’s Guido is superb. Though his character should be an unlikable pig – he’s self-obsessed, egotistical and a liar who uses women as checkers pieces – Wozniak somehow manages to make Guido eminently likable and even sympathetic. This is a man absolutely into himself – both his virtues and his flaws. And Wozniak captures the angst of a man staring into the abyss of his own being and seeing his own frailty.

Now… Theater reviews can become infamous for all sorts of different reasons. But in this horrifying case, the idea that Wozniak could make a despicable character seem “eminently likable and even sympathetic” was being borne out in real life and about to be murderously punctuated.

On Friday, May 21, prior to that evening’s performance of Nine, the generally well-liked Wozniak lured his 26-year-old Army vet neighbor Sam Herr to another stage location, the Liberty Theater at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, where he shot and killed him. Later that same night, following the performance, he tricked a friend of Herr’s, Juri Kibuishi, led her to the dead neighbor’s apartment and killed her.

And on Saturday, May 22, prior to the final two performances of Nine’s brief Friday-to-Sunday spring run, Wozniak dispersed Herr’s decapitated head and several other body parts at El Dorado Park in Long Beach. Some may remember that locale for its use during the 1984 Summer Olympics as the site of archery competitions.

The Orange County Register has been doing a good job of covering the case, which took five long years to come to trial but mercifully ended quickly this past Wednesday with a guilty verdict. Wozniak may get the death penalty.

The case has also generated a fair bit of national media coverage, from People magazine earlier this year to the New York Post, via AP, yesterday (minus a halcyon days headline like “Headless Body in a 16-Bar”). But what this outlandish depravity may ultimately require is its own theatrical treatment.

Among the many other hard-to-believe elements of this American crime story are the idea that Wozniak killed Herr and then Kibuichi to finance his wedding and honeymoon cruise; hired a 16-year-old to make the daily maximum-amount ATM withdrawals from the dead man’s account; was arrested for the murders during his bachelor party; was set to marry his Nine co-star Rachel Mae Buffett, who also performed in Anaheim as a Disney princess; and once played the patriarch in a stage production of The Sound of Music.

[Photo courtesy: Hunger Artists Theatre]