Dr. Villarreal debuts on The Oxygen Channel’s Snapped! Killer Couples: Dawn Godman and Justin Helzer

Dr. Christina Villarreal was enlisted as a psychological expert and consultant for the production and filming of the Oxygen Television Series: Snapped! Killer CouplesDawn Godman and Justin Helzer.  This is an American television series currently airing on the Oxygen Network. The program details couples who commit crimes together. The program is a spin-off of the Oxygen series Snapped and has a similar format to the Investigation Discovery program Wicked Attraction.

The episode Snapped! Killer Couples: Dawn Godman and Justin Helzer is the story of two brothers who were once upstanding members of the Mormon faith, whose lives spin out of control along with girlfriend Dawn Godman, resulting in the disturbing and gruesome murders of five innocent people.

In August 2000, a man on a Jet-ski spotted a duffle bag that washed up on the bank of a Bay Area, CA river. Curious, he rode over, unzipped it, and found a human torso inside. A few hours later, a marina employee found another duffel bag floating under a dock a half mile away. This one contained a human head. A marine biologist discovered a third during a survey of an island in the river. Nine bags were eventually recovered, some by dive teams.  They contained the co-mingled body parts of three people- an elderly couple, and an unrelated young woman. It took the Sacramento County coroner more than a week to sort through the body parts and piece the victims back together.

Coroner with duffel bags
Coroner with duffel bags

The grisly discovery was the culmination of a murderous rampage by a trio of former Mormons who killed five people as part of a twisted scheme to start a group that would spread “joy, peace and love” and to bring about the second coming of Christ, according to statements made in court during their trials. Glenn Helzer, 30, his brother Justin, 28, and Justin’s girlfriend, Dawn Godman, 26, were arrested the same day the first of the bags were discovered. It would take four more years for juries to sort through the tangled details of the case and sentence the last of the trio for crimes they’d committed.  Their victims were Selina Bishop, 22, the daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop – best known for his 1976 hit “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”, Bishop’s mother, Jennifer Villarin; her companion James Gamble, and Ivan and Annette Stineman, who’d been married 55 years.  The Stinemans were killed first, after the trio extorted $100,000 from them to fund their self-help group. The other three victims were killed because they knew details of the extortion plan.

The trio called themselves the “Children of Thunder” and they believed their homicidal plan had God’s stamp of approval.  No one who knew the Helzer boys as children suspected they’d grow up to be such callous killers. Raised by devout Mormon parents in Martinez, a cozy town 50 minutes’ drive northeast of San Francisco, the Helzers had a relatively normal childhood, according to family, friends and co-workers interviewed by the Contra Costa Times.

Martinez locator on California map
Martinez locator on California map

Glenn Helzer, who went by his middle name, Taylor was the charming and gregarious older brother. Justin was more introverted, but he was a member of his high school wrestling team and youth group leader at his church.

On August 4, 2004, four years to the day that their victims were killed, Justin Helzer was sentenced to death for three of the murders he committed and life in prison for his role in the other two.  On December 15, 2004, another jury handed down five death sentences for Taylor Helzer.  Dawn Godman was considered to be an accomplice in the murders, and testified against the brothers in exchange for a prison sentence that didn’t include the death penalty. She is now serving a 37-year sentence.

In 2013, Justin Alan Helzer committed suicide by hanging himself in his San Quentin death row cell.  Helzer at the age of 41, used a sheet attached to his single-cell’s bars to hang himself.  Helzer had  tried to kill himself three years ago by jabbing pencils and pens into his eye sockets. He had been under more intensive watch since then, but showed no recent signs to indicate he was at risk of another suicide attempt, Robinson said.  Helzer’s brother, Glenn remains under intensive screening on death row to make sure he also is not at risk of killing himself.


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