California waiting to try serial killer with ties to 29 Palms

Andrew Urdiales confessed to killing eight women, five in California. (, Special to The Desert Trail)

MORONGO BASIN — The serial killer who confessed to murdering two women while he was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms and later kidnapping a 19-year-old from Joshua Tree will face trial in California, but not until he has exhausted his appeals in Illinois, where he sits on death row.

Howard Gundy, the senior deputy district attorney who is coordinating the case in California, said he does not want to give Andrew Urdiales a reprieve from the court system in Illinois, where he was convicted of killing three women. An extradition to California now would play right into the confessed killer’s hands, Gundy said. After all, the only thing Urdiales has to look forward to in Illinois is death.

“If I were Mr. Urdiales’ defense attorney in Illinois, I would want him to come to California, because every day he’s in California is a day his appeal is stalled in Illinois,” said the prosecutor.

Gundy, who works for Orange County, recently discussed the Urdiales prosecution with district attorneys from San Diego and Riverside counties; the former Marine is wanted for killing a total of five women in all three jurisdictions.

“We agree at this point that Mr. Urdiales has a right to be in the state of Illinois,” Gundy said in a telephone interview Friday, June 26.

“What we are looking for is a window where we can bring Mr. Urdiales to California to stand trial that will not interupt Illinois procedings. That window will come,” Gundy said. “When, I don’t know, but that window will come.”

A trail of death across two states

Arrested in Illinois in 1997 after he called the police to complain a prostitute had stolen his money, Urdiales quickly confessed to eight murders, describing how he began killing women while he was a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton and then Twentynine Palms.

Once discharged from the Marine Corps, he moved to Illinois and took a job as a security guard, enabling him to secure another gun for his murders.

He also took vacations to Southern California, and kept a storage unit in Twentynine Palms with weapons and mementos from his victims. During those visits, Urdiales killed two more women and kidnapped a 19-year-old from Joshua Tree.

“This guy was unbelievable the manner in which he planned these kidnappings and murders,” Chicago prosecutor Jim McKay said in a telephone interview Monday, June 29.

Illinois documents prepared by McKay and others, based upon Uridales’ confessions, detail the actions of a man who told a court-appointed doctor he was excited by watching women suffer.

• January 1986: Robbin Brandley of Laguna Beach is stabbed 41 times in a parking lot at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. Urdiales told police he saw her in the dark lot and spontaneously decided to kill her. Afterward, he returned to Camp Pendleton, where he was stationed.

• July 1988: Julie McGhee is shot to death and her body left in a remote area of Cathedral City. Urdiales later admitted he took her to have sex with her and then shot her with a .45-caliber pistol. He was stationed in Twentynine Palms at the time.

• September 1988: Ur-diales picks up Mary Ann Wells and takes her to a deserted industrial complex in San Diego, where he shoots her, takes back $40 he paid her and returns to Twentynine Palms. He leaves DNA at the scene, but it will not be identified as his until almost 10 years later, after he confesses to her murder.

• April 1989: Urdiales picks up Tammy Erwin in Palm Springs, drives her into the remote desert and shoots her three times, using the same gun that killed McGhee and Wells. He then returns to the base.

• September 1992: After being discharged from the Marines and settling in Chicago, Urdiales flies to Southern California. In Palm Springs, he gives 19-year-old Jennifer Asbenson of Joshua Tree a ride from work. He restrains her, assaults her and puts her into the trunk of his rental car. She manages to free herself, unlatches the trunk and runs away. He returns the car and flies home to Chicago the same day. Asbenson eventually will be the only one of Urdiales’ victims to survive to testify against him.

“She presented some compelling testimony at the trial here in Chicago,” McKay said. “The jury was clinging to every word.”

• March 1995: On another vacation to California, Ur-diales sees Denise Maney on a Palm Springs street. He drives her to deserted area, ties her up, assaults her and then shoots her to death.

• April 1996: Urdiales drives Laura Uylaki to Wolf Lake on the Indiana-Chicago border, where he shoots her and throws her body into the water.

• July 1996:    Urdiales picks up Cassandra Corum in Livingston County, Ill., res-trains her and kills her at the Vermillion River.

• August 1996: Urdiales takes Lynn Huber to Wolf Lake, where he shoots her three times and stabs her 28 times. Her body is found floating yards away from where Uylaki’s body was discovered.

• November 1996: Ur-diales is briefly arrested in Hammond, Ind., for carrying an unliscened handgun. Police release Urdiales, not knowing he used the gun to kill the three Illinois women.

• April 1, 1997: Urdiales calls police claiming a prostitute stole a check from him. The woman describes for detectives Urdiales had handcuffed her and duct-taped her wrists and wanted to drive her to Wolf Lake. Recognizing the characteristics of the unsolved murders of Uylaki, Huber and Corum, detectives arrest Urdiales and match the gun confiscated from him a year earlier to the casings found in the women’s bodies.

Once he was connected to the three Illinois murders, Urdiales confessed to all eight murders and Asbenson’s assault.

“He’s proud of these murders,” said Gundy. “That’s why he confessed to them, because he’s proud of these things and he wants people to know.”

In trials in Chicago, Urdiales was found guilty and sentenced to death for Yulaki’s and Huber’s murders. A Livingston County jury then sentenced him to death for Corum’s murder.

While Urdiales was on death row for the first two convictions, the governor of Illinois commuted all death penalties in the state to sentences of life without parole. Both McKay in Chicago and Gundy in Orange County point out the governor, George Ryan, later became a convicted felon himself on federal corruption charges.

“It was very frustrating, especially in light of the fact that a convicted felon was responsible for giving Ur-diales this break,” said McKay. “Fortunately, the people of Livingston County put Andrew back where he belongs — death row.”

Today, Urdiales is appealing his death sentence, arguing he was improperly tried and is not guilty by reason of insanity. In earlier court actions, his defense team has said he was dropped on the head and sexually abused as a child and was schizophrenic at the time of the murders.

Prosecutors argue Urdiales could not have been insane and kept the jobs he had in the Marine Corps and civilian life at the times of the murders. Gundy is content to let Illinois have Urdiales for now and confident when he is brought to California, he can be prosecuted successfully.

After all, two juries already have accepted his guilt for the California murders during the penalty phases of his trials in Illinois.

Comments? Questions? E-mail Stacy Moore at

(1) comment

Bob Mateski

I commented on an earlier story about this cold blooded murderer, my proposal was to keep this guy on death row in Illinois. Only bring him to California for trial if he wins a reprieve from death row in Illinois, lets not pour good money after bad in this case. If he gets the needle in Illinois then justice will have been served for all the victims families, dead is dead and he can't be killed twice. With states in financial trouble it makes sense to hold off on more trials, I do hope he gets his just reward in Illinois.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.