People vs. Hans Reiser
THE CASE SO FAR
Hans Reiser and his wife Nina were embroiled in divorce proceedings on the Labor Day weekend in 2006. Their marriage bliss ended bitterly (no final divorce has yet been entered), and there have been struggles with support and custody. According to family law sources, Nina obtained a temporary restraining order against Hans in 2004, after accusing him of “pushing” her; he later agreed to a one year, no harassment order.
On the Sunday of that weekend in 2006, Nina dropped off the couple’s two small children with Hans when he was alone (Hans lived with his mother who was then attending the burning Man Festival in Nevada).
The time was mid afternoon. Nina has never been seen since. Her empty car was discovered later with bags of rotting groceries, intact purse and cell phone from which the battery had been disconnected.
In the absence of a corpus delicti, Mr. Reiser is being tried for the murder of his wife.
After a long holiday recess, the case is about at its half way point in the Oakland courtroom of Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman before a jury of seven women and five men.
Mr. Reiser, born in December 1963, is a genius; he was involved in the development of Linux, the open source operating system, and he has created two file systems (ReiserFS and Reiser4) for that increasingly popular alternative to Microsoft-based operating systems and software. Hans Reiser is famous in certain circles. His company, Namesys Inc, is soldiering on in his absence, but there are rumors that it may be sold to help defray its founder’s growing legal expenses.
Reiser was working in Russia when he met a young medical student, Nina, whom he married there. The Reisers had two children, the boy, R…, and his younger sister, N…
Reportedly Nina once dated one of Reiser’s colleagues, one Sean Sturgeon who reportedly has confessed to several murders, but emphatically not that of Nina.
One of the continuing mysteries surrounding the current case is why Reiser’s lawyer has not been allowed to do much with this relationship in open court. I must assume that DuBois has been ordered not to do so, and that – for reasons best known to the authorities and the parties – Mr. Sturgeon has been ruled out as a suspect.
So far, the DA has not yet articulated a single detailed theory to explain how the defendant has eluded every attempt to uncover Nina’s body.
The couple was in marital trouble before Mrs. Reiser’s sudden disappearance (yes there are blood traces in suspicious places), and their children have been spirited away to Russia by “grandma” who lives there.
To follow the action hour to hour, I recommend the blog by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry K. Lee. The link is www.sfgate.com/ZBLH .
I interviewed with Henry Lee today for a Chronicle article to appear Monday.
As I have already pointed out in this space, the case is nicely balanced, with a tilt towards the prosecution. Here is the key and what to watch for:
What will the jury hear – or be able to infer – about the character of the defendant, Hans Reiser?
To prevail, the defense team will need to fill in the blanks about this man. Who is he really? Is he capable of murder? What makes him tick?
If Reiser is ready and willing to testify in his own defense, it would be a mistake – in my armchair opinion – not to put him on the witness stand. Evidently, defense attorney Bill DuBois intends to put his client to the test. Yes, there are always pitfalls with that approach, and any cautious defense counsel is always tempted to run the classic “reasonable doubt” gambit without exposing the defendant to cross examination. But I have a gut feeling that close-to-the-vest approach will not work here.
Will Mr. Reiser be able to undergo cross examination without doing harm to his own case?
In this atypical murder case, the DA will need overwhelming evidence of at least three things:
that Mrs. Reiser’s sudden disappearance was due to foul play; that Hans Reiser is the only plausible culprit, in effect, that – absent a miraculous violation of the laws of common sense – he is the only one who could been responsible for the foul play; and that the totality of the circumstances effectively exclude any realistic possibility that Nina Reiser survived the foul play.
This is not a slam dunk case even if the DA carries the day on all three lines of proof.
It may turn on how prosecutor Paul Hora succeeds in addressing the huge hole that remains:
How, plausibly and realistically, could Nina Reiser’s body have been disposed of so effectively that now, more than a full year after her disappearance, the authorities remain stumped?
Hans, a Linux software guru, famous enough in his field that WIRED is following the trial, and Nina, a young Russian woman, were married in her home country in 1999.
Flash forward to 2006. The cast of characters (minus Nina’s mother) now lives in the Bay Area, USA. There are two children, now the objects of dispute in a bitter divorce that Nina initiated in 2004 because hubby was too distant. There are charges of about $12,000 unpaid child support; the custody struggle between the parents is ongoing. Mr. Reiser is living with his mother in Oakland. Nina Reiser is living with the kids in Oakland as well as reportedly enjoying the romantic attentions of Sean, her loosely wrapped paramour.
Nina has just gotten Russian citizenship for the two children.
On or about Friday, September 1, Hans and Nina bitterly argue – with the help of lawyers – over how their kids’ time would be sent on the coming Labor Day Weekend. An agreement is reached that the time would be split between the parents.
On Sunday, September 3, 2006, Nina takes the children with her to the Berkeley Bowl grocery store, where she is caught on the security camera. She places two very brief cell calls to Hans, then shows up at Hans’ place (actually his mother’s home, the so called “Exeter house”) to drop off the children, presumably per the agreement reached on Friday.
Throughout, Nina is driving her 2001 Honda Odyssey Van.
The Reiser’s son, R… – age about 6 – once said (in evidence now left ambiguous) that he saw Mom depart after he and his sister were dropped off. Rory also once said that he had a dream or a vision of someone carrying a large, heavy object down the stairs the night of September 3. That, too, is in dispute.
Hans’ mother was not home at the Exeter house on September 3. She was at the “Burning Man” festival in Nevada.
It was not until Tuesday, September 5 that someone reported Nina missing. Nina’s friend Ellen, called the police after picking up the two kids at school, apparently around 5:30, but can’t locate Nina. She called Hans, told him that Nina is missing and asked him o keep the kids.
His reply: Uh uh” (that I take to be a negative).
Then Ellen told Hans that she knows Nina was at his house Sept 3.
Hans’ reply: “I need to talk with my attorney.”
On that same date, Hans was seen hosing down his driveway at about 11 PM. It is a warm evening; Hans is wearing a HUNTING jacket.
On September 6, Nina’s van is discovered parked on the street about three miles from the Exeter house; this is on a path not consistent with driving directly to her home – about 5 miles from the Exeter place.
This is what police discovered in the Odyssey van:
Nina’s cell phone with the battery disconnected; The groceries, rotting and in disarray; Nina’s September 1 rent check to her landlord; Nina’s books; Nina’s apparently undisturbed wallet with cash, grocery receipts, driver’s license, and so on. No blood, so signs of a robbery or struggle, and No car keys.
When Police finally obtained a search warrant, they searched the “Exeter house” (shared by Hans and his mother) September 13 and 14.
There was a floor-to-ceiling post near the front entrance. There were one blood spot & two smears about 3 and ½ feet from the floor. Most of the blood was ID’d as Nina’s and some of the blood as Hans’.
Hans’ car is a Honda CRX, “missing” for some time after suspicion focused on him, but located by police on September 18 after surveillance and a chase. It was parked on street. The front passenger seat was missing; the floorboard was saturated with water. The socket wrench set used to remove the seat was recovered from the car (later traced to a purchase by Hans in Manteca, CA, an inland community about an hour away).
Other interesting items recovered included a siphon pump, trash bags, masking tape, paper towels, a copy of Masterpieces of Murder, and Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. [The books were purchased by Hans on September 8.]
Traces of Nina’s blood were found in Hans’ car. It is still unclear exactly where in the vehicle the blood was found, but the DNA match was solid.
When Hans was brought in for a DNA sample, his fanny pack was searched. He had $9,000 cash and his passport. His cell phone had its battery removed.
The Reiser son, now 8 years old, has testified. Young R… unequivocally stated that he had no contact with Mom since the day she disappeared; there were no letters, phone calls, nothing whatever from her. This alone was worth the trip for the prosecution because it will make it next to impossible to persuade the jury that Nina is alive and well in Russia.
After a colloquy about unanswered correspondence with Dad, R… was allowed to recount his vision, dream or recollection (not at all clear which) that on the night Mom vanished Dad was carrying a heavy bag down the stairs that might have contained Mom.
I have to assume that DuBois objected to this testimony (if it was a dream it is clearly inadmissible, for example) but made his arguments in chambers outside the presence of the jury. If, after cross examination, it develops that the stairs testimony was just a dream I would expect the defense to request a strong admonitory instruction and – failing that – a mistrial. I can only infer from the ruling that Judge Goodman thinks the account will qualify as the recollection of a real event.
Cross examination of a sympathetic eight year old is full of many traps. The last thing that the defense wants to do is to elicit even more damaging testimony or – by engaging in a heavy cross examination that doesn’t shake the witness – to strengthen the testimony against the defendant.
But DuBois could not just let it go. He asked the eight year old son of Han Reiser about the boy’s account that on the day of Mom’s disappearance; young R… he was disturbed by the image of Dad carrying “something big” down the stairs in a bag. He asked whether the boy was dreaming.
[Defense cross examination handbook, Rule One: never ask a question for which you do not already know the answer.]
The answer was a defense nightmare – “I was not asleep”.
This jury obviously likes the Reiser boy. DuBois was placed in the unfortunate position that, having asked for it, he must devote the rest of the defense case to discrediting the answer.
Recall that the DA, wisely, did not portray this eight year old witness as necessarily having a perfect grasp of events. As of the ‘nightmare’ question and answer, the defense was in the unenviable position of having made things worse.
In repair, DuBois asked: “You remember you saw your mom go up into the street?”
But on redirect, the DA partially rehabilitated the witness.
Hora: “Do you remember whether your mom even left after she gave you a hug?”
Witness: “No…. She left.”
“How do you know?”
“What can she do?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“No one stays in a house if they say goodbye.”
“Do you remember your mom saying goodbye?’
“So you think if she said goodbye, she must have left?”
Later the jury heard from Ron Zeno who runs something called ‘Safe Exchange’ a place where estranged parents pick up and leave their children. Though innocuous, I suppose it has a sort of Berlin Wall flavor in a murder case. Nina and Hans used Safe Exchange a lot, apparently, and the owner, Ron, was clearly on Nina’s side. The children always ran to her and, in his opinion, she would never abandon them.
This sort of thing is just opinion, of course, but it the kind of opinion that juries tend to trust because it accords with common sense and ordinary experience.
An Alameda County Child Support officer confirms that Hans now owes more than $30k in child support.
A teacher at the children’s school testified that, in her opinion, Nina would not abandon her children – ‘Those kids were her life.’
Former O.P.D. officer, Ben Denson, who saw the couple frequently during child exchanges at the police station said –
“He never put his hands on her but, you know, I could tell by the way he was looking at her, there was menace in his eyes…It was very hostile….I told her, ‘You need to get yourself a gun.’’
That had to hurt.
DuBois did the standard cross examination – designed to remind the jury that a police witness is probably pro-prosecution and so on, but the damage was done. Most members of the jury will not believe that former officer Denson was imagining things or making things up just to support the DA’s case.
As I have already observed, the defense has been gradually losing ground here on the character issue:
Nina is looking (at the moment) less and less like someone who would have voluntarily vanished from her children’s lives for a whole year, and —
Hans – while not yet portrayed as the homicidal character the DA would prefer – is looking just a bit more dangerous.
THE TIMELINE ISSUES
Recall that Nina is last seen alive (by anyone except her killer) at approximately 3:00 PM on September 3, Sunday of the Labor Day weekend. We know it was some time after 2:02 PM because it was then that she called Hans, probably to say she was running late to deliver the kids. In the mid afternoon Nina does leave both kids with Hans per their agreement. Flash forward. Hans – or his mother – takes the kids to school in Oakland on September 5,
Tuesday. Nina’s friend picks up the kids in Oakland at 5:30 PM., by prior arrangement with Nina or because she hasn’t materialized. Either way, Nina is now missing and the police get involved.
What happened between 3 PM Sunday, September 3 and the time Hans’ mother returned from that weekend? What did Hans’ mother observe from the point she arrived?
The jury will soon be trying to imagine a scenario in which Hans’s could murder Nina out of sight of any witness, then dispose of the body in the hours following 3 PM September 3.
At this point in the case, the DA may be able to argue that Hans accomplished two things that weekend: (1) He put Nina’s body in the passenger seat of ‘his’ car (a Honda CRX registered to his mother, Mrs. Palmer) and drove to a secluded place, where he temporarily left it hidden. (2) Then he moved Nina’s car to the place where it was eventually found. (3) He disposed of the body somewhere. (4) He washed his car in an attempt to remove all Nina traces (the corpse might have begun to deteriorate by then).
Days later, as police attention on him intensified, Hans removed and disposed of the CRX passenger seat.
How long would all that take? How much ‘alone’ time did Hans have? It is very hard to conceal a human corpse for more than 12 hours without generating horrendous odors.
Han’s mother, Beverly Palmer, testified that she returned to her home (having been at the ‘Burning Man’ festival in Nevada) on Tuesday, September 5th. Hans said nothing about Nina. On Wednesday the 6th, after she had rested, Hans told her that Nina was missing. ‘He didn’t seem to know anything about it,’ she testified.
The Honda CRX (owned by Mom but usually driven by Hans) was missing.
Mrs. Palmer’s favorite car is a Honda hybrid. Hans borrowed her favorite car – sometime around Sept. 6-8 – leaving Mom ‘stranded, without any car.’ Hans refused to reveal where her favorite car had been taken. Apparently Mom rented a car, assuming that Hans’ car (her CRX) wasn’t working.
On September 10, Hans called Mom from San Leandro, requesting a ride. Ever resourceful, Mrs. Palmer used the occasion to search for her favorite car; and she found the hybrid parked on a side street. Mom then hid her car from Hans!
The CRX was recovered by police (who were tailing Hans) on September 18. The passenger seat was missing. Mom can’t really remember whether she ever noticed the missing seat at any pertinent time because she rarely drove it.
Mrs. Palmer answered a phone call from Hans about three weeks after Nina ‘vanished’. The conversation was wiretapped. Hans told Mom that his wife was a liar, loose with money, that she was a danger to her children, that she had kicked him once. After his tirade, Mrs. Palmer repeatedly asked whether she ‘deserved’ what had happened to her and repeatedly Hans avoided agreeing with her. On cross examination, DuBois got Mom to say that Hans was not – in her opinion – a violent person.
The defense has now fully opened the issue of whether the defendant has a propensity for violence. A door has opened—I wonder if the DA has anything to drive through it.
But the defense did make headway with Mom on the blood issue. According to her, the post in the front room where traces of blood identified to both Nina and Hans were recovered was bumped by most everyone at sometime. Moreover, the smudge from which the blood traces were recovered looked the same before she left town for Nevada and after her return. Nina’s blood traces recovered from a sleeping bag in the CRX could be explained, it was suggested during her cross examination by DuBois, because the couple had shared the bag, and Nina might have experienced a nosebleed.
Forensic Note: Expect additional blood evidence.
Today, the jury heard sympathetic testimony from Nina’s boyfriend, Anthony Zografos, a engineer with a doctorate from UCB who had spent the day with Nina and the kids in Alameda on September 2. He last saw her on Sept. 3, 2006, when he dropped at her home. The same day he got a text message from Nina. The time was at 12:55 P.M. ‘Love you lots’ her message said. The jury saw home movies of the couple and Nina’s children. The DA asked Anthony whether Nina just vanish and abandon her kids: ‘Absolutely not.’ The jury, in my opinion, does not think so either…
During these three days, a stage is being set for a performance. In the end it will be Hans himself who pulls this case out or drags it down.
As additional evidence comes in, keep the timeline in mind.
What happened between the afternoon of September 3 and the time that Mrs. Palmer, having returned the previous day, awoke to learn that her daughter in law was missing?
One more thing about the emerging timeline: Yesterday, it was revealed that Nina’s recovered cellphone number (recall that it was found in her car – battery removed) had several unanswered messages from friends. For this, the jury will reasonably draw the inference that she was out of the picture sometime on the afternoon of September 3, the day she said goodbye to her kids and happily text messaged her boyfriend.
At a Montessori School party, Hans shocked two fellow parents when he said ‘that his family and Nina were a financial burden to him and that he felt he would be fine financially if he did not have to take care of them…He was complaining about Nina.’ The witness opined that ‘it was a strange thing to say. It really stood out to me. I thought it was inappropriate.’ Then that parent’s husband, who also heard Hans vent, added, ‘His tone was kind of vehement. It was not the kind of thing you’d expect to hear at an occasion like this, a casual social occasion.’ No kidding. And note the thematic link to the police officer’s testimony who advised Nina to get a gun to protect herself from Hans. The jury will neither forget nor discount this stuff. But they will discount the defense suggestion that all is explained by his client’s social ineptitude, the so called, ‘social retard’ defense.
A month before her disappearance, Nina met with a bankruptcy attorney. She was deep in debt. One asset was her community property interest in Hans’ company, but her overall position was so bleak that she couldn’t possibly get a ‘fresh start’ without filing. She told the attorney that she was to start a new job at the end of September. They discussed whether Hans would do a joint filing with her. She vanished before the follow-up appointment.
DECEMBER 13, 2007
Wednesday, the DA called Nina’s girlfriend Ellen (she was the friend who picked up the children from school when Nina vanished). Her testimony shed light on the timeline and I suspect the effect on the jury was devastating.
It seems that, on the day Nina vanished, she was to meet Ellen at 6 PM for dinner, after dropping off the kids with Hans and picking up groceries. Nina apparently changed her mind, taking the kids with her to Berkeley Bowl before going to Hans. When Nina didn’t show for dinner, Ellen left a message on Nina’s cell phone (now recovered and messages retrieved). That was 6:30 PM. When she called Nina again at 9 PM., Nina’s cell was turned off (consistent with having the batteries removed).
Ellen picked up the kids at an Oakland elementary School (the kids attended the Montessori School earlier in the day). This is when she called Hans to ask about Nina. When Ellen told him (with police listening in) that she was last seen at his place, Hans said ‘I need to talk to my lawyer’. Hans didn’t ask about Nina at all in that conversation.
You can be certain that, after hearing this testimony, not one juror is willing to believe that Nina had just decided to abandon her children and flee to Russia, leaving behind her car, wallet, money and driver’s license.
DuBois attempted with little success to use his opportunity to cross examine Ellen (she to portray Nina’s relationship with her nice boyfriend (Mr. Zografos) as less than fully trusting, and to draw out derogatory information about the ‘bad’ boyfriend, Mr. Sturgeon. Neither effort yielded anything materially useful to the defense.
Dubois asked Ellen whether she had talked to the Reiser boy about his statement at the preliminary hearing before judge Conger (not before the jury) where he described Mom as having actually left the Exeter house after saying goodbye. This, of course, is absolutely crucial to the defense, because if Nina got to her car, it becomes difficult to imagine how Hans could have gotten away from the kids, killed her (presumably not in front of the neighbors) and spirited the body away.
Ellen couldn’t recall anything like that. But DuBois persisted in the line of questioning, hoping to imprint the matter in the jury’s mind. This was a high stakes moment in the trial. It appears that the boy’s prior testimony is not going to be read to the jury, so the defense is stuck with the more ambiguous version he gave in this courtroom.
WHERE IS THE BODY?
The jury now knows vividly what it earlier only heard in outline. The cumulative power of this evidence continues to shift the inquiry and focus to – How could Hans have pulled this off?
If Hans killed his wife, his behavior at the after school program not long after Nina was last seen alive was consistent with someone who had just realized that he’s ‘solved’ his marital problem only to acquire a new one: What do I do with the body?
When this jury retires to deliberate some time next year, they will ask for a map and a calendar.
At this stage in the trial Hans is looking to this jury more and more like the one person who can answer the question: What really happened to Nina? The jury will probably never buy Hans’ conspiracy defense, leaving his lawyer to develop an effective reasonable doubt argument in spite of his client’s ‘KGB’ theories.
The things that Hans must sell personally, while getting through a long and challenging cross examination are:
That Nina left alive
Why the blood traces were found where they were.
What happened to the car seat.
A serious failure on the witness stand by this defendant could greatly help the prosecution. But – unless Hans actually confesses – the DA still has an evidentiary hole to close.
To convict Hans of killing Nina, the prosecution will need to advance at least one plausible theory, consistent with all the evidence and supported by at least some of it, covering the following questions:
Where and when did the killing probably happen? When did Hans have ‘free’ time after Nina was at his door, time when he was unobserved? What method of body disposal would be capable of frustrating the authorities for all this time? What access did Hans have to that method?
But some of the heavy lifting has already been done. All members of this jury now understand why Hans would want to kill Nina, and many of them are beginning to get used to the idea that he was actually emotionally capable of doing it.
For now, let’s ask ourselves the question that the DA must eventually try to answer.
How could Hans have disposed of Nina’s corpse by himself?
I see six possible means, listing them in ascending order of likelihood:
Burning. [This would be much too hard to conceal, I would think.] A chemical bath. [Same constraint.] Burial. [A classic means, but one that can attract dogs.] Remote storage. [The problem is that the killer probably could not accomplish this unnoticed within a two day time window.] Interment in a construction site, a la Jimmie Hoffa. [One doubts that the killer had the necessary union contacts!] He left the corpse weighted down and secured under water. [See my thoughts below.]
A cursory review of the literature on women’s diving equipment yields the information that the natural buoyancy of a living woman’s body (remember her lungs would be holding air) is easily overcome with about 40 pounds of additional dead weight. A cursory review of salvage companies dealing in wrecked automobile parts suggests that the Honda CRX passenger seat would weigh enough to cancel the natural buoyancy of Nina’s corpse.
A quick look at a Google satellite map of the area north of Skyline Drive in Oakland, i.e., north of Hans’ location when Nina became “missing”, reveals a convenient body of water easily accessed by driving through the adjacent Redwood Regional Park. One easily gets to Chabot Reservoir, 315 acres, average depth 27 feet, with miles of water access from the road. Also in the running is the upper San Leandro Reservoir. Map at — http://maps.yahoo.com/#lon=-122.121706&lat=37.78235&mag=3 . Click on satellite view & note that Hans would be somewhere near the lower left corner of the map.
If Hans is guilty, it is manifestly in his interest to get this trial over with (prevailing of course) before Nina’s body breaks free and floats to the surface, turns up in a remote storage bin or landfill. Jeopardy will have attached and he could not then be retried (assuming an acquittal of course).
THAT TIMELINE AGAIN
The critical time period is about 50 hours: starting from when Nina left or didn’t leave on dropping the kids about 3 PM on September 3 and when Hans picked up his returning mother at about 10 PM on the 5th.
What follows is offered as a guess, only:
Re the first critical 50 hours – it appears that Hans was alone with the kids from say 3 PM on disappearance day, until Sept.5 when he picks up his mom at 10 PM. Assuming, arguendo, he killed Nina on the 3rd, when the children were otherwise occupied with, say, video games, he had to work on the coverup while the kids were asleep, presumably using the nights of the 3rd and the 4th, which is consistent the report that he seemed very tired when he arrived to pick his Mom up.
JANUARY 11, 2008
ONE HYPOTHETICAL TIMELINE
I’m indebted to Professor Maria Chang (political science, University of Nevada) who sat in on the DA’s opening statement and provided me with the basic outline for this hypothetical sequence.
Recall that two days after Nina’s last visit, on Sept 5, Hans gets a call from his mother at around 3-4 PM; she has returned from the Burning Man event in Nevada & she wants Hans to pick her up from her friend Mark’s house.
If – as we will assume for purposes of this hypothetical narrative – that Reiser has killed Nina but hasn’t yet figured out what to do with her remains, Hans knows he must now quickly dispose of the body. And he has but a few hours to accomplish that.
So he drives the CRX somewhere within a 2 to 3 hour perimeter & accomplishes at least a temporary disposal. [I note that this theory would then entail a further attempt to move the body to a more secure location still – say outside the Tahoe area?]
This urgent drive is stressful & exhausting. This theory explains why – when Hans shows up at Mark’s house that night, driving not the CRX but Mom’s hybrid —he is so exhausted that he must lie down on Mark’s couch in the living room to rest before he can drive his mother home.
After his mother goes to bed, Hans then takes the CRX out onto the driveway to hose it down – presumably to wash away incriminating evidence. This soaks the car floor & possibly gets water into the gas tank. That may explain why, on Sept 10, Hans buys a bottle of Valvoline fuel-dryer at Kragen Auto in San Lorenzo. That same day, Mom repossesses the Hybrid from Hans; so he must have the CRX in running condition.
The jury will probably assume that Hans had not yet removed the passenger seat on Sept 5 when he is seen by neighbor Jack Stabb hosing something in his driveway. [Hans may still think at this early point that he can wash away all the incriminating evidence, but seat fabric can retail biological traces.] The officer who gives Hans a ticket on Sept 12 does not report seeing anything unusual about the car. This is a close call – assuming Hans is the killer. The jury will also likely infer that Hans is so spooked by this encounter that he resolves to not drive the CRX.
Did Hans take – or plan to take the car to Manteca?
Hans may well have removed the passenger seat on Sept 17. That day, he was in
Manteca where he bought a 40-piece socket set from Kragen Auto Parts. He would have used the socket set to take out the four bolts that anchored the passenger seat to the CRX’s floor. Hans had probably planned to rent a storage locker in Manteca because when he was taken into custody on Sept. 28, police found advertising flyers from a storage facility in Manteca; Hans had circled two locker sizes — 10’x15′ and 10’x20′. DA Hora has already suggested to the jury that the CRX (which measured 10×12) would have fit into the 10×15 locker.
Apparently Hans changed his mind about renting a locker to store the CRX. Instead, he rented a U-Haul truck for a one-way trip from Manteca to Oakland. Was he transporting the CRX? Some jurors will suspect that he intended to transport a body – and not necessarily to Oakland. The next day, Sept 18, Hans unknowingly led police to his CRX parked on Acton Street near the Claremont Hotel. He got into the car & drove it to Monterey Blvd. Then he left the car parked & jogged the 2+ miles back home to Exeter Drive.
When the CRX was recovered, the police noticed that the passenger seat was missing. It was taken to crime technicians the next morning who eventually found traces of Nina’s blood and that of the defendant.
Was the Manteca rental space really intended for a car that Hans eventually parked in Oakland?
We can reasonably suspect (again as we pursue the hypothetical path of a killer seeking to hide evidence) that Hans’ goal was to move something from somewhere near Manteca to a still more remote location. In this connection we note that, in the prosecution’s opening statement, Mr. Hora asserted that on Sept. 24, Hans Reiser was in the Tahoe region. Reiser withdrew cash from 3 ATMs in Truckee. He also bought a phone card in Roseville on Sept. 27. Wherever Nina’s remains are, the much larger perimeter suggested by Hans’ presence in Truckee/Tahoe has created an impossibly large search field, especially if the body has been well hidden from causal observers.