Helzer guilty of murdering Bishop and 4 others

Killings part of 'War on Satan'

Point Reyes Light/June 17, 2004
By Scott M. Bruner

It only took seven hours for the jury at the Justin Alan Helzer trial to decide what had been obvious to witnesses at the 32 year old's murder trial.

All three suspects were responsible for the murders four years ago of Selina Bishop of Woodacre, her mother Jennifer Vallarin, a friend of her mother James Gamble, and Ivan and Annette Stineman of Concord.

During the trial, witnesses, including both the family members of victims and Justin's own mother, heard attorneys dissect the brutal details of the murders, the trio's motives and the ghastly ambitions. On Wednesday afternoon, the jury returned their verdict.

Guilty on 17 of 18 counts

Justin, who had pled innocent by reason of insanity, was found guilty on 17 of the 18 felony counts against him. Only a minor drug charge was not included.

Justin's brother, Glenn Taylor Helzer who is known as Taylor, delivered an unexpected guilty plea shortly before his own trial was to start. The third person implicated in the murders, Dawn Godman, 30, avoided the death penalty in exchange for her testimony. She will spend 38 years to life in prison.

The second part of Justin's trial, which begins immediately, will determine whether Justin was sane at the time of the murders. Like his brother, he faces possible execution - if he is found sane.

When the verdict was read, Justin reacted with the same lack of emotion he had displayed throughout the trial. The guilty verdicts seemed inevitable based on the mountain of evidence, as well as the horrific testimony.

"Three people were brutally, mercilessly, selfishly killed&actively by the hands of Justin Helzer," said prosecutor Harold Jewett during closing statements.

The 'Children of Thunder'

Calling themselves the "Children of Thunder," the trio murdered five people as part of a bizarre enterprise that would fund a self-help group the Helzers envisioned would spread "peace, joy and love."

Defense attorney Dan Cook countered that Justin was merely a pawn of his brother. and several witnesses testified those in Taylor's circle saw him as a "prophet of God."

Implausible schemes

Attorney Cook during the sentencing hearing is likely to also cite the myriad of implausible schemes that Justin fell for. In addition to having plans for kidnapping young children from Concord's Todos Santos Plaza and use them as prostitutes, Taylor had plans to murder the leaders of the Mormon Church, take control himself, and thereby hasten the return of Jesus Christ. Taylor had previously been excommunicated from the Mormon Church for undisclosed reasons.

The bizarre plans of the Helzers came to an abrupt end when the dismembered bodies of Bishop and the Stinemans were found in duffel bags that had been dumped into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Victim Selina Bishop, 22, the daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop of Forest Knolls, worked at the Two Bird Café in San Geronimo. Her mother, Jennifer Villarin, bartended at the Papermill Creek Saloon in Forest Knolls. She and a friend, James Gamble, were shot to death in Bishop's Woodacre apartment, allegedly because she could identify Taylor.

Bishop duped

The Stinemans were killed after the trio extorted $200,000 from them. Bishop apparently was killed because she had unwittingly agreed to launder the $200,000 through her bank account after being told it came as an inheritance and that Taylor wanted to keep it away from an ex-wife.

While not disputing the prosecution's claim that Justin Helzer took part in the killing and dismemberment of Bishop and the Steinmans, attorney Cook insisted there was no evidence he had anything to do with Vallarin's and Gamble's deaths.

Godman had testified the younger brother was asleep at the time, but prosecutor Harold Jewett said that by taking part in the overall conspiracy, Justin shared guilt in all five killings. He noted all three had taken part in cutting up bodies with a reciprocating saw and stuffing them into the duffel bags after unsuccessfully trying to feed the body parts to a dog.

Case was about 'power'

During closing arguments in the Bishop-murder trial, the prosecution Friday said that just before the three killers went on their murder spree, they prayed on their knees for success in a war against Satan.

Jewett told jurors, "This case comes down to one simple idea, power. That's what the war on Satan was all about."

Among the unlikely witnesses testifying during Justin Helzer's trial were a Playboy Playmate, who had lived with them, and a "good witch," who described Taylor as charismatic.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.