We seem to be on a roll with young psychopaths who murder their entire families at home. Not surprisingly they share a few traits. They are:
- motivated by greed
- filled with rage
- unsuccessful at “getting away with murder“
- use a violent means to murder their kin
More than anything, these people are cowardly. They usually slay their families while they sleep (consider the White House Farm Murders and The Amityville Horror, among others). They refuse to encounter their family members during the daytime and be met with resistance, or the possibility their kin just might escape. Even more pathetic is that some of these pathological people don’t want their family members looking at them during their last violent moments of life. Cowards.
Dana Ewell was one such greedy, cowardly killer. He pursued a slightly different approach however by hiring his best friend Joel Radovich to kill his family in 1992. A well-known and Fresno family, Glee, Dale and Tiffany Ewell were murdered 20 years ago on Easter in 1992. The case initially targeted a third defendant being the man who admitted to buying the murder weapon and later burying it. Prosecutors gave Ernest Jack Ponce immunity in exchange for his testimony but the jury didn’t trust Ponce. He described the murders in great detail and had a Freudian slip while talking about how Dale Ewell died. He described the murders from Joel’s standpoint but he said, ‘and I saw the eye,’, then corrected himself. Several jurors at the Dana Ewell murder trial believed Radovcich was not alone at the Ewell house but because of Ponce’s immunity they couldn’t stop him from walking. Ponce even passed a lie detector test. Two decades later he is an attorney in Orange County. He never responded to repeated requests for comment on the case. His true role may always remain a mystery.
From a very early age Dana Ewell was obsessed with money. He was ambitious, like his father but unlike his father wasn’t prepared to work to gain status and wealth. In his freshman year at San Joaquin Memorial High School Dana had been lying to his friends claiming he was financially successful. He dressed in Armani suits and carried a briefcase. He regularly flashed $100 bills. At times he bought everyone in the school cafeteria hamburgers and gave out $100 bills at parties. Dana claimed his goal was to be a multi-millionaire by age 25 but at age 21 he was still being supported by his parents. Dana claimed to be a stock-market wiz and he claimed to own his own airplane transport company. The relationship between Dale and Dana was odd. Dale was a hard-nosed businessman who built his fortune by setting up the company Western Piper Sales Inc. selling small aircraft. Dale was known to be a strict father yet he indulged Dana by providing
him with expensive toys. Dana drove a Mercedes and when he demolished it in an accident, Dale simply bought him another one even taking the blame for the accident .At the same time the reality of a father-son relationship was strained to the point of non-communication. There is little doubt that revelations about Dana’s concocting of absurd tales about himself embarrassed his father and led to confrontations. In fact after Dale found out Dana was lying and bragging about his supposed business successes he promptly told his son he was cutting him off financially that summer when he was expected to graduate from Santa Clara University. This must have caused Dana considerable stress and confusion and small wonder. Dale’s behavior was highly inconsistent. He spoiled Dana to the extreme then refused to support Dana when he discovered his son was a braggart. Dana was very angry and allegedly this was what led him to plot the murders.
On Tuesday April 21, 1992, the Ewell’s housekeeper arrived to begin her usual work day. She entered the kitchen and found Tiffany lying in a pool of blood on the floor. She lay face down with her hands beneath her. The housekeeper turned around and fled to a neighbour’s home who called the police. When police arrived they discovered the bodies of Dale and Glee. The house was ransacked but it appeared to be staged. Bureau drawers were left open suggesting the killer had opened the drawers from the top to the bottom whereas most burglars open bottom drawers upward so no drawers have to be shut in order to access the rest. In these bureaus some drawers were closed, some were open and some were partially open. There was no sign of forced entry although the house was always locked and protected with a combination code. Someone either had a key or knew the combination.
Just as telling was Dale’s absence during the murder of his wife and daughter. He was at an airplane hangar flying his own plane. He didn’t arrive home for 40 minutes after the crime and he was shot as he walked through the door. It became more obvious to investigators that burglary wasn’t a motive. No burglar ransacked a house, murdered two of its occupants then waited for the third to return home. This was strictly a triple homicide. The murder of an entire family is rare and very unusual. Police conducted background checks on all family members and discovered Glee was a former member of the CIA. Glee was a task leader and not involved in espionage.
Initially Dana wasn’t a suspect. Dale advertised a $50,000.00 reward to anyone with tips that might lead to an arrest. His iron clad alibi was impossible to refute. He spent Easter weekend with his girlfriend and was seen by many people. He didn’t have a volatile relationship with his family and wasn’t a violent man. He had no reason to dislike his mother or sister. The tension between Dana and his father appeared to be typical of most father-son relationships.
Dana stood to gain significant money when his parents and sibling were dead becoming the sole heir to an $8 million fortune. In an ironic twist after his death Dale Ewell had the last laugh. At the reading of the will Dana discovered he’d have to wait nine years before controlling most of the money. Upon hearing the news he exploded. He punched the table with his fist and blurted, “how could my father do that to me?” Indeed. Another frustrating problem for Dana was that his three uncles prevented their nephew from receiving the funds and access to his father’s wealth. Dana’s furious reaction to not gaining his full inheritance and his lack of grief over the deaths of his parents and sister led to his uncles suspicion that Dana was behind the murders. Naturally they communicated their suspicions to the police.
It was at this point that Joel Radovich was brought into the case. Radovich was a born loser. He was kicked out of his dorm for stealing furniture. He did strange things such as picking up a head of lettuce meant for everyone to eat, smelling it, then throwing it back into the bowl. He wasn’t especially intelligent.When investigators eventually approached Radovich and stated they knew he was a good friend of Dale’s Radovich’s first comment was, “what are you going to do, arrest me?” His alibi on the day of the murders didn’t check out. Radovich became the prime suspect in the murders. He vanished for several weeks after his initial questioning until police discovered he was living with Dana in the same house as the murders.
Jeff Hammerschmidt was the junior prosecutor in the murder trial. He traced activity in Ewell’s 47, yes 47 bank accounts to prove Dana was funneling money to Radovcich, a person he claimed to barely know. Detectives kept tight surveillance on both men and had Dana’s pager and cell phone “cloned.” They set up wiretaps to his landline. They soon learned Dana had plundered his grandmother’s account leaving only $2,000 out of an original fund of $400,000. Transactions took place over a three-year period and supported his and girlfriend Monica Zent’s expensive lifestyles.
Although Joel Radovcich was the trigger who shot and killed Dana’s parents the jurors at Dana’s murder trial actually sympathized with Radovich. They saw him as a broken being and someone Dana Ewell simply used as means to an end, very generous of them since the second victim Glee Ewell caught a glimpse of the killer, a man who was a guest in the house a month before. Ballistics studies proved Radovich straddled her and shot her at close range. Jury foreman Mike Elder told Action News that the jurors could sense Dana was an evil man. “Dana actually scared people,” Elder said. “They would look over at him and he had this look on his face. You just thought any minute these horns were going to come up.” Without any evidence jurors couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on whether the killers should be put to death. After 10 days of deliberation the jury convicted Radovcich of first-degree murder and Dana of conspiracy to commit murder. They received mandatory life sentences but were spared the death penalty. Both men have now exhausted their appeals and will die in prison.
Instead of becoming a millionaire Dana Ewell is isolated at Corcoran State Prison. Kraig Hanadel has written a biography about Dana Ewell, detailing the case, titled Catch Me if You Can. Carlton Smith wrote a non-fiction work detailing the case titled Seeds of Evil.