Digital evidence leads to clues in death of friends dumped outside LA hospitals
▶ Watch Video: Sneak peek: Christy and Hilda’s Last Dance
Hilda Marcela Arzola-Plascencia, a doctor in Durango, Mexico, was used to handling medical emergencies. But nothing prepared her for the call she got about her eldest daughter and namesake Hilda Marcela Cabrales.
Dr. Hilda Marcela Arzola-Plascencia: I received the phone call in the middle of the night saying that she was so ill, she was very bad, she was intubated.
The 26-year-old architect was fighting for her life in the ICU at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Los Angeles.
Jonathan Vigliotti: You are a doctor, what was going on in your mind at the time?
Dr. Hilda Marcela Arzola-Plascencia: What happened? What — what happened to her? Why is she that bad?
Another mother in Corner, Alabama, was also getting shattering news. Dusty Giles’ daughter Christy was in the ER at a completely different Los Angeles hospital — the Southern California Medical Center.
Dusty Giles: I was just told, “I’m very sorry to inform you, Ms. Giles. … But she was dropped off at our hospital on the outside, kind of like a bag of garbage.” And, um … “she didn’t make it.” … And I said, “what do you mean she didn’t make it?”
Dusty Giles: And they said … “it is now a police matter.” … I hung up and I fell apart.
Christy Giles, who had just turned 24, was dead of a drug overdose. But when detectives heard how she was dropped off, they immediately suspected foul play.
Hospital staff told investigators a black Prius without license plates pulled up to the ER entrance. Two men told the staff they found the woman “passed out on the curb somewhere nearby …” and were trying to be good Samaritans by bringing her to the hospital. They left without giving their names or phone numbers.
Barry Telis: It was appalling to me.
Barry Telis, a former Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective and CBS News consultant, says nothing about that story made sense.
Barry Telis: Nobody just drops somebody off and says, “Hey, by the way, we were driving down the street. We found this girl passed out on the sidewalk.“
It was an unfathomable ending to a life bursting with exuberance.
Misty Weldon: When Christy came into a room she was like a tornado. Her personality was big, it was loud, and you just couldn’t help but love her for it
Her big sister, Misty Weldon, says life for Christy was one big adventure.
Misty Weldon: There was nothing in the world that she was afraid to do.
Misty Weldon: Christy went skydiving. Christy rode camels in Morocco. We rode donkeys around the Grand Canyon.
When not out adventuring, Christy was traveling the world as a high fashion model for Wilhelmina. The onetime soccer star traded in her cleats for a pair of heels at age of 15. She ultimately made L.A. her home.
At 21, her life took a dramatic turn.
Misty Weldon: I got a text message from her that said, “I did something. Don’t tell Mom.” … I thought, “Oh no What has she done?” And I got a text message … that said, “I got married.” And I thought, “To who?”
To a South African born artist, photographer and special effects editor 17 years her senior named Jan Cilliers. They met through friends at an art gallery in L.A.
Jonathan Vigliotti: I understand that before all of this, you were not the marrying type.
Jan Cilliers: I don’t know where you heard that, but it’s true … once I was with her, you know … it was different.
Jan planned to pop the question just seven months after meeting at the Burning Man arts festival in the Nevada desert. But, in the moment, they figured why wait.
Jan Cillier: Instead, we just decided to elope. We just got married right there.
Christy’s mom and dad Leslie never expected to hear their daughter’s name in the same sentence as elope and Burning Man. Needless to say, it did not go over well.
Dusty Giles: “Christy, I can’t believe you’ve done this. Your dad didn’t even get to walk you down the aisle.” And she goes, “Oh, no, no, no, no. We got married. But we are full-on having a wedding in Alabama.”
The newlyweds came to Alabama, and Christy and her mom found the perfect wedding dress to wear at a later date.
Back in L.A., Christy started studying interior design, which led to a new friendship with Hilda Marcela. Hilda was an architect from Mexico who had just moved to L.A to start her dream job in interior design.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Do you remember when she said she wanted to go to Los Angeles? And how did you feel when she told you that?
Luis Cabrales: I feel very happy for her, but very sad for me, because we are — we are very close.
Luis Cabrales checked in with his daughter every day she was in L.A.
Luis Cabrales: Message, “Daughter, I miss you.” “I miss you, too, father.” Never told me daddy, always told me father.
No one was surprised that the summa cum laude graduate of the prestigious university in Monterrey, Mexico, was thriving in L.A. Fernanda Cantisani and Alan Betancourt, who called her Marcela or Marce, were two of her closest friends in Monterrey.
Fernanda Cantisani: She always gave her 100 percent in everything she did … in her … friendships with her family, with her job, with herself, too.
She had already lived in South Korea and traveled the world.
Jonathan Vigliotti: how many countries in all?
Luis Cabrales: Twenty-two countries.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Twenty-two countries for such a young girl.
Alan Betancourt: She was very determined. … she also knew how to have a good time.
Fernanda Cantisani: She loved to dance. … she loved to dress up. … every single person that met her loved … loved Marcela.
Including her dog — a Weimaraner named Tomas. She left him with Alan when she moved to L.A. but planned to call for him when she got her bearings.
That call would never come. Just four months after moving to LA, Hilda was in a coma — her life in the balance. Her frantic parents and sister Fernanda racing to her side.
Fernanda Cantisani: … and I thought, when we are there, things will change. She will, she will wake up.
FENTANYL-LACED OVERDOSES AND THE DATE RAPE DRUG
Hilda Marcela, the vibrant young architect who loved laughing with friends, traveling the world with her sister and playing with her dog Tomas, looked nothing like the Hilda Marcela her family saw when they arrived at the hospital in Los Angeles.
Luis Cabrales: My heart broke in thousand pieces. Because I saw … my baby, unconscious, and … fighting for her life.
Dr. Hilda Marcela Arzola-Placencia: I said, “is this real? Am I dreaming? … I took her hand and I said … “Mom’s here with you. You’re not alone.”
Fernanda Cabrales-Arzola | Hilda’s sister: I was very shocked, very impressed. I never expected looking at her like this.
Like Christy, Hilda had suffered a drug overdose. Toxicology reports would later reveal that she had cocaine, MDMA or ecstasy, and elevated levels of fentanyl in her system. But her friends and family were sure that this early to bed, early to rise, health-conscious young woman would never have willingly taken such a toxic cocktail of drugs.
Jonathan Vigliotti: When you heard overdose, you immediately thought drugged?
Fernanda Cabrales-Arzola: Yeah, drugged … I was sure someone did this to her.
Jonathan Vigliotti: When you were told that the cause of death was an overdose, did that add up to you?
Jan Cilliers: Absolutely not. … definitely not something that she would have done to herself ever. … that’s just not her.
Christy’s autopsy showed she had cocaine, fentanyl, and GHB — known as the date rape drug — in her system. In the hours and days after Christy’s death, Jan was determined to get to the truth.
Jan Cilliers: I wanted to get to the bottom of … what exactly what happened that night.
Jan began putting the puzzle pieces together starting on the evening of Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 — the night of the warehouse party. He made a timeline based on what he knew about Christy’s plans, conversations with Christy’s friends, and the digital trail she left behind.
Jan, who had gone to San Francisco to visit his dad, says Christy spent the early evening doing what she loved most.
Jan Cilliers: She was enjoying a lovely sunset. She took our cat for a walk on the beach
Jan Cilliers: Those were the last pictures she sent me of this herself. And she said, “I wish you were here,” and I will forever wish that I was there, too.
Christy, Hilda, and a friend who does not want to be identified, had planned a girl’s night out. They kicked it off at the Soho House in West Hollywood, then moved onto a warehouse party after midnight where photos were taken.
Cellphone video posted on social media shows Hilda and Christy dancing in the VIP section.
Jan Cilliers: An area which is more protected and safer to be in.
By then, Jan had gone to bed. When he woke up the next morning – it was now Saturday, November 13 — he saw that Christy had texted him.
Jan Cilliers: I texted her back and sort of didn’t hear anything from her.
At first, he just assumed she was sleeping in. But after a few hours with no word, he noticed something strange. They shared locations on their phones.
Jan Cilliers: I saw that she was at a location that I didn’t recognize.
Her phone was located at 8641 West Olympic Boulevard.
Jan Cilliers: So … a little orange flag at the back of your head.
Jan Cilliers: I still hadn’t heard back from her, and I saw her location had suddenly moved … to the hospital.
Jan Cilliers: I called the hospital. They told me that she was in the emergency room and at that point, like, I’m in real panic.
Jan raced to the airport to catch a flight back to LA.
Jan Cilliers: I called her parents … let them know that something terrible had happened and that she’s in the emergency room … and then, her mom called the emergency room and called me back probably five minutes later, letting me know that Christy passed away.
Jonathan Vigliotti: In less than 24 hours, your world was turned upside down.
Jan Cilliers: Shattered.
Jan went straight to the hospital. Christy and Hilda’s friend who had been at the warehouse party with them, but left early, was already here. She had been desperately trying to get in touch with Hilda but couldn’t reach her. They were about to find out why.
Jan Cilliers: She … got a call from a different hospital like two hours later saying that Hilda was just checked in there … And then — like, obviously, all our alarm bells are going off in our heads when both girls are dropped off at two different hospitals, two hours apart. Like something terrible happened that night.
And Jan believed, whatever happened, took place at that mysterious address on Olympic Blvd. He put it on Instagram asking for help.
Jonathan Vigliotti: You blast out this address and very quickly, you got responses.
Jan Cilliers: Yeah.
Jonathan Vigliotti: What are those responses?
Jan Cilliers: That there’s somebody that lives at this location that is very unsavory person, um, that there’s a lot of stuff out on the Internet about him.
His name was David Pearce. Hilda and Christy were believed to have met him for the first time at the warehouse party.
Barry Telis: David Pearce flew under the radar … for a long time.
But his past was about to catch up with him as he faces serious charges, says former prosecutor Mary Fulginiti.
Jonathan Vigliotti: So, at best, a con man. At worst?
Mary Fulginiti: A criminal, a sexual predator … a drug dealer.
Jonathan Vigliotti: A murderer?
Mary Fulginiti: A murderer.
RETRACING CHRISTY AND HILDA’S NIGHT OUT
As Hilda Marcela lay in a hospital bed fighting for her life in LA, Dusty and Leslie Giles were preparing to bury their daughter Christy in Alabama.
Half her ashes would go to Jan to scatter in the places they loved. Dusty placed the rest in an urn inside a butterfly box and gently wrapped it in the wedding dress she never had the chance to wear.
Dusty Giles: It was important because I know how happy she was when she found it. She swirled like a princess literally in it.
Within hours of Christy’s death, detectives on the case were following clues from Christy herself. Her pinging phone had led them straight to the apartment of David Pearce at 8641 West Olympic Blvd.
Barry Telis: Police drive over there. Oh, my God. There’s the car. Boom. There’s the car. … Same car.
Telis says police believed it was the same black Prius with no license plates that dropped Christy off at the hospital.
Barry Telis: And it’s like, OK, I think — I think we have our man.
They retraced the movements of the women that night, which would become the basis of a police affidavit. When they combed through those pictures from the party at the warehouse, there was David Pearce with Hilda partying it up in the VIP section.
Jonathan Vigliotti: it sounds like VIP access gave David Pearce … instant credibility.
Barry Telis: Absolutely. It’s all part of the manipulation … He must be a good guy. He’s in the VIP section.
It was likely all part of a plan to meet women — a plan that included drugs, says the retired detective.
Barry Telis: Based on the witnesses’ statements and the police investigation… David Pearce comes with a bag of cocaine — an ounce estimated — and David Pearce came here to share it with whoever he could meet.
According to Telis, cocaine is a hot ticket at these parties, at least on that night, even for Hilda and Christy. The police recovered this text exchange between the two women starting at 4:21 a.m. while still at the warehouse party: “Do you want coke?” asks Hilda. “Yes,” replies Christy. Hilda texted back “I’m in the kitchen. Let’s do a line.”
According to the police affidavit, a witness “observed Pearce provide what looked like cocaine to Giles and Cabrales who consumed it.”
Police say half an hour later, surveillance video obtained by “48 Hours” shows Hilda and Christy leaving with David Pearce and two other men — his roommate Brandt Osborn and their friend, photographer Michael Ansbach. They all get into Osborn’s car.
At 5:11 a.m., according to the police affidavit, surveillance video — which has not been released because of the ongoing investigation — shows Osborn’s car arriving in front of the apartment. According to the affidavit, several people got out of the vehicle and headed to the entrance of the residence.
Nineteen minutes later, at 5:30 a.m., Christy sends — from inside Pearce’s apartment — a wide-eyed emoji text to Hilda saying, “let’s go.” Hilda replies “I’ll call an Uber 10 min away.”
Thirteen minutes later, according to the affidavit, a car, believed to be the Uber, pulls up. After waiting five minutes it drives away without Christy and without Hilda.
Jonathan Vigliotti: How did you process that?
Jan Cilliers: I mean it’s just confirming my worst fears again that they were there at that place against their will. They didn’t want to be there. They wanted to leave.
Mary Fulginiti, a former federal prosecutor and defense attorney and a CBS News consultant, has reviewed the police affidavit and court documents. She says this text is an important piece of evidence.
Mary Fulginiti: Something or someone stopped them in their tracks because they never got out and they never left.
No one knows exactly what went on inside that apartment for the next 13 hours. But, according to the affidavit, a neighbor heard someone “in pain and moaning on-and-off during the hours of 10:30 a.m. …until 4 p.m.” For reasons not known, the neighbor did not call police.
Mary Fulginiti: She’s clearly in a distressed state that everyone seems to just be ignoring. And when I say everyone, not just Pearce or Osborn, but there’s a third individual that appears to have been at that apartment, at least for part or all of the night, and that’s Michael Ansbach.
Whatever happened inside the apartment was hidden from public view, not so outside the apartment. Another key piece of evidence: images captured on security cameras.
Barry Telis (standing outside Pearce’s apartment): But the cameras are in the adjacent building right next door, pointing right in this direction.
Although Telis has not seen the video, the police affidavit describes it in detail. At 4:19 in the afternoon — 11 hours after they’d arrived at the apartment — Pearce and Osborn are caught on camera carrying Christy down the back stairs.
Barry Telis: It shows Pearce exit the door … the back door, looks … in both directions.
Barry Telis: Making sure the coast is clear … making sure there’s not gonna be any witnesses that sees me carrying this body to my car.
Both men get in the Prius. According to the affidavit, the men are captured on security cameras trying to disguise themselves.
Mary Fulginiti: You see them putting on a hat, a mask and a hoodie. And then they drive away, and they drive to a hospital. Southern California Medical Center.
Shortly after, according to police, Ansbach leaves the residence carrying bags “of unknown items.” Pearce and Osborn return to the apartment to get Hilda. They carry her partially clad body out to the Prius.
Mary Fulginiti: And again, they leave … They don’t go to the same hospital. They go to a different hospital, Kaiser Permanente.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Why not bring them at the same time to the same hospital?
Barry Telis: Who knows? They’re trying to conceal their actions. They’re trying to keep the police at bay, and they don’t want to hit the radar.
Mary Fulginiti: And they do the same thing … They drop the body, they tell the same story, and then they take off without leaving their name, their phone number or anything to identify themselves with.
Jonathan Vigliotti: And Hilda … what is her state at this point.
Barry Telis: Hilda was still alive … when they got her to the hospital … and then she was declared what we call brain dead.
Jonathan Vigliotti: How did you process that when you heard that news?
Luis Cabrales: The worst day of my life.
A BREAK IN THE CASE
After almost two weeks on life support, it was time for Hilda Marcela’s family to say goodbye.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Hilda, what were your final moments with your daughter?
Dr. Hilda Marcela Arzola-Plascencia: Oh, they were so hard you know … and I just was asking God to not let her suffer more.
Fernanda Cabrales: I remember telling her that you can leave … and just thanking her for being my sister.
Luis Cabrales: I told her … “baby, when I pass away, I will see you again and I give you a big hug, a kiss.”
The family decided to donate Hilda Marcela’s organs. Her mom remembers the medical staff lining the halls as the family accompanied Hilda to the OR.
Dr. Hilda Marcela Arzola-Plascencia: The medical team was clapping … to honor her, to say thank you for giving life to others.
Hilda Marcela Cabrales was pronounced dead one day before her 27th birthday. Back in Monterrey Mexico, her friends gathered to remember her all dressed in white at her favorite park.
Fernanda Cantisani: We brought her favorite thing to drink and her favorite cake … at first … we were crying. … But at some point … we put her favorite music on … and we just started dancing and we were laughing and hugging. And it was beautiful. … I felt, like, she was there.
Three weeks after Hilda’s death, a break in the case.
NEWS REPORT: 40-year-old David Pearce has been charged with murder in connection with the women’s deaths.
After a seven-month investigation, the DA had enough evidence to indict David Pearce on two counts of murder, claiming David Pearce gave Christy and Hilda lethal amounts of fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid drug dealers often mix with other drugs, unbeknownst to the user.
Jonathan Vigliotti: It took months before David Pearce was charged with murder. What was your reaction?
Jan Cilliers: I mean, definitely relief, but also very sad.
The police did not find any fentanyl-laced drugs in Pearce and Osborn’s apartment, just drug paraphernalia. But Osborn, who has been charged as an accessory to murder after the fact, may have unwittingly explained why. According to the police affidavit, Osborn told coworkers if cops had found the “drugs hidden underneath the cash” inside the car they would’ve been in “big trouble.”
Not finding fentanyl-laced drugs creates a big challenge for the prosecution, says Fulginiti.
Mary Fulginiti: They’re going to have to prove that David Pearce gave the girls these drugs and he knew at the time that it could harm them, and he did so with conscious disregard. … so, they’re gonna have to prove that David Pearce intended to kill these young women. That’s not an easy threshold to overcome.
Especially in light of witness statements that the women were doing drugs willingly — cocaine at the warehouse and earlier in the evening, as well. Friends told police Christy and Hilda both had taken cocaine and ketamine, a popular club drug.
Jonathan Vigliotti: How does this work in the defense’s favor?
Josh Ritter: Because fentanyl is a problem in this country … And people are dying from fentanyl that they take recreationally because they believe that they’re only taking cocaine.
Josh Ritter: If you’re the defense, that’s the point you want to continue to drive home. It’s, how do you hold these two men responsible for an epidemic that’s really plaguing the entire country?
That does not mean it will be an easy defense, says Josh Ritter. The former Los Angeles Assistant DA is advising Jan on legal issues and is now a practicing defense attorney.
Josh Ritter: The problems that they’re going to have, though, is … how do you get around … how those girls were treated afterwards. And how do you get around the history that this man has?
And how do you get around the fact that Christy had the so-called date rape drug, GHB, in her system?
Jonathan Vigliotti: Is GHB, is the date-rape drug something these women would have taken knowingly?
Mary Fulginiti: Absolutely not … that is a drug that’s usually used by sexual predators, guys that want to, you know, take advantage of women and don’t want them to remember and know about it.
Hilda and Christy were still coherent at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday morning when they exchanged that text about calling an Uber — the text punctuated with a wide-eyed emoji.
Jan Cilliers: Something happened inside those 10 minutes between them calling the Uber and the Uber leaving that incapacitated them.
According to the timeline in the affidavit, Christy remained in that apartment for the next 11 hours, Hilda for 13, with one of them, according to a neighbor, moaning and groaning in pain most of the day.
Barry Telis: These two women could still be alive had David Pearce or Mr. Osborne called 911. Three digits on a phone. That could have changed everything.
If found guilty of all charges against him, David Pearce could face 128 years to life in prison.
Jonathan Vigliotti: What is David Pearce currently charged with?
Mary Fulginiti: David Pearce is charged with 11 counts, seven counts of drugging and sexually assaulting, forcibly raping and/or sodomizing several women, two counts of murder and two counts of providing a … controlled substance, that being fentanyl.
In a bold decision, the state will combine the sexual assault and murder charges in one trial.
Jonathan Vigliotti: Why include sexual assault charges in a murder case?
Mary Fulginiti: If you look at this case in its totality, I mean, this is David Pearce’s MO. … He lures women back to his apartment. He provides them with a drink. … And then they start to feel dizzy or they blackout, and he sexually assaults them.
While Christy and Hilda’s autopsy stated there was no physical or sexual trauma, nurses who treated Hilda noted slight bleeding in her vagina, and a review of her sexual assault examination found a small abrasion.
Jonathan Vigliotti: I know this is a difficult conversation. Do you think Hilda and Christy were potentially raped that night?
Dr. Hilda Marcela Arzola-Plascencia: Of course, I believe that. … That’s the reason why they drugged them.
Josh Ritter believes the testimony of the women who were allegedly drugged and raped by Pearce will help jurors see a dangerous pattern of behavior.
Josh Ritter: Their testimonies are going to be huge … one woman … perhaps the defense can poke holes in that. … Two women, it begins to sound like … is this really a coincidence or not? But three or four women or more and you realize you’re dealing with … with a monster.
It turns out David Pearce had been on the police radar for years. According to the police affidavit, he was arrested in 2014 for sexual assault, along with an additional rape case. But these cases are often difficult to prove and were ultimately rejected by the District Attorney’s Office — something Christy’s sister Misty finds unforgivable.
Misty Weldon: To know that … he had been arrested and had been released … is just appalling to me … It’s really sad that two beautiful girls had to die in order for him to be in jail right now.
David Pearce has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
Brandt Osborn, who is charged as an accessory to murder after the fact, has also pleaded not guilty and is out on bail. “48 Hours” caught up with him outside of court.
GREG FISHER | “48 Hours” producer: Do you have any comment?
BRANDT OSBORN: I have no comment. I’m innocent.
Pearce’s lawyer also had no comment, but at the time of the incident, Pearce told detectives, “At the end of the day, I didn’t do anything wrong … I just tried to make the situation, you know, right.”
So far, the prosecution has “declined” to charge Michael Ansbach. “48 Hours” has learned that he’s cooperating with prosecutors and will likely testify against his two friends.
But until the case goes to trial, Dusty and Leslie Giles — thanks to a social media campaign — will be at every court hearing, never letting David Pearce forget that Christy was more than just a name on a court docket.
Dusty Giles: She was a real person. She was a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter. She was her daddy’s best friend.
Leslie Giles: I miss my daughter.
In Mexico, Hilda Marcela’s friends and family cherish the mementos she left behind.
A lock of hair. A diploma.
Jonathan Vigliotti: So, she wasn’t just smart. She was the top of her class.
Luis Cabrales: She was the top of the top.
And a dog named Tomas who now lives with Alan.
Fernanda Cantisani: The love we have for Marce. … It’s going to Tomas. … he reminds us about her so much.
Alan Betancourt: And he has become my emotional support, my emotional fortress … Um, I would be very lost, so yeah.
Dr. Hilda Marcela Arzola-Plascencia: Here is always and will always be a hole and nothing can fill it … she loved to live. And I think that’s the way we can honor her, living our lives in the best way.
Dr. Hilda Arzola: This is a tragedy. But maybe this was the way to stop them.
Jan Cilliers: That’s the only justice we can get.
A trial date has not been set for David Pearce or Brandt Osborn.
Produced by Liza Finley. Alicia Tejada is the field producer. Michelle Fanucci, Greg Fisher, and Michelle Sigona are the development producers. Diana Modica, Michael Baluzy, Gregory F. McLaughlin and Gregory Kaplan are the editors. Lauren Turner Dunn is the associate producer. Anthony Batson is the senior broadcast producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer