The California Cowboy- SEX AND MURDER IN THE DESERT by Jim Nichols
|Jim Nichols "the lawyer"|
“What are you writing about Honey?” my wife asked as I feverishly pounded away on my 40 year old Olympia typewriter I keep at my remote ranch in the High Sierra Mountains. “Um I’m writing about how to prepare Cowboy Jim mountain oysters” I lied hoping she wouldn’t hover over me and see I was writing about sex and murder in the desert. “Bridle and Bit is a respectable family oriented magazine so don’t say anything which could offend” she cautioned. “Never” I again lied. Here is the deal my faithful readers (all three of you). When I get a story in my head it starts banging like a church bell until I get it out. I know Bridle and Bit is written to and for the horse community. This piece is obliquely grounded in the world of cowboys, Indians, western museums, parades and collectibles. It is venued in the desert and mountains north of Los Angeles. The events are true. One must appreciate memory fades with time but I’m laying it on the plate as accurately as I can.
Phil Spangenberger, who writes for TRUE WEST MAGAZINE as well as other magazines introduced me to Charles Rathbun in or around 1989. Phil is a world renoun specialists on all things western. Over several decades he has performed in wild west shows, shooting exhibitions, motion pictures, television, many parades (including the Rose Parade 19 or 20 times). He buys sells and evaluates western memorabilia for private collectors and museums. Phil and I put together a Tournament of Roses group called the Spirit of the West Riders to ride in the Tournament of Roses New Years Day Parade for the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. We were a colorful collection of cowboys Indians, Mountain Men, Canadian Mounties and Mexican vaqueros. The Museum loved us and had photos taken of us with Gene Autry standing on the Museum lawn. They blew up one or more of the pictures poster size to put in the museum lobby. The photographer who took the pictures was Charles (Charlie) Rathbun.
Charlie was a respected professional photographer. He loved taking pictures of the cowboys and he had a passion for western guns, mostly Civil War era up to World War Two. He received checks from prestigious magazine publishers including those who owned Guns and Ammo. He also loved photographing automobiles vintage and modern. He owned a home in the Hollywood Hills and, I’m told, pulled in a hundred thousand dollars a year when I met him.
I invited Charlie to back yard parties at my home and ate dinner and lunch with him on more than one occasion. I liked him.
Linda Sobek was a beautiful five foot four inch, 105 pound model who was every parents dream. She was sweet and kind. She loved her friends and family and they admired how hard she worked to promote her modeling and acting career. On November 16, 1995 the 27 year old went missing. Vanished A true “Gone Girl”. No one knew what happened to her. As expected family and friends, along with the Hermosa Beach Police, launched a frantic search. But where to start? Her last contact was with her mother, Elaine, who briefly spoke to her at 10:45 the day of the disappearance. Her mom was told, by Linda, she was meeting a photographer named “Chuck” for a modeling shoot for a car company. It was not supposed to take long and she would be in touch shortly there after.
Linda’s disappearance quickly became news worthy because she had been a popular cheerleader (Raiderette) for the Los Angeles Raiders football team. At the time of her disappearance she was living in Hermosa Beach so their police department took the lead on her missing persons case. Her face was splashed all over the newspapers and television. The police got hundreds of tips from San Diego to San Bernardino. None panned out. Then on or around November 19 a community service worker, assigned by the court to work off his sentence, was picking up trash at a roadside turn out on the Angeles Crest Highway in the Angeles Crest Forest. As he was sacking the waste he noticed photographs of a beautiful blond in various poses. He also came across an appointment book. That night while watching T.V. he saw Linda’s face appear on the screen. He knew immediately it was the same women in the photos he had pocketed. He called the police and they burned the tires off their cars rushing to the trash site. The garbage had been moved to a dumpster yard and the cops went through the refuse one piece at a time. More photos of Linda were found along with a loan document for a 1996 Lexus 450 owned by Toyota and given to Charles Rathbun (address and telephone number included) for a promotional photo shoot. Charlie was contacted by phone and asked if he knew Linda Sobek? A nervous Rathbun answered he did and volunteered he was going to do a shoot with her on November 19 but she didn’t look right for the part so they parted company in a coffee shop parking lot. LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE!!!
He was asked to come to the police station for an interview and he said he would but didn’t.
Not long after, a hard working trial lawyer (that would be me) got word from my secretary at the end of a trial day Charles Rathbun desperately needed to speak with me. I was given a number to call and got his answering machine.
At home that evening Shannon Meyer, a close friend of both Charlie’s and mine, knocked on my door and said she was faxed what appeared to be a suicide note from Charlie. She called his home and got no answer. Shannon was (and still is) a Reserve L.A. County Deputy Sheriff. We jumped in my car and drove to Charlie’s house. His car was in the drive way and his front door was locked tight. Shannon called several times and told him via his answering machine, to come out or she was calling the police and an ambulance. A few minutes later his door flung open and out he came with a .45 semi automatic pistol in his hand. Shannon retreated to my car to call the police. I started quietly telling Charlie to “put the gun down”. I said it several times before it discharged belching flame and causing Shannon to scream “I’m hit”. I turned around and sure enough she had blood running down her arm and dripping from her fingers. “Charlie, put the gun down” I kept telling him. He had blood shot eyes like a werewolf and seemed to be dazed. I learned later he was plastered. It’s been 21 years and I don’t recall if I took the gun from him or if he set it down. I do remember having it in my hand and popping out the magazine and throwing it in the bushes. Stupidly I jammed the pistol in the back of my pants believing I was safer having control of it than putting it down. In retrospect I should have tossed in on the roof. Charlie scurried back into his house with me on his heels. I put my arms around him and fell onto his couch almost on top of him. That is when I noticed vomit on his shirt and whisky on his breath. “What the hell is going on?” I yelled at him. “I killed her” he said. “I didn’t mean to but I killed her” he repeated. He then blubbered about trying to show Linda how to spin a car in a dry lake bed while shooting a Toyota commercial. He claimed the car accidentally whacked Linda knocking her unconscious. However he soon learned she was dead and he panicked and buried her. MY HEAD WAS SPINNING. The phone started ringing and I heard a helicopter overhead circling. Police cars were skidding to a stop in front of the house....... Just like in the movies…”Watcha gonna do when they come for you bad boys bad boys” the voice on the phone said “come out with your hands on your head and lay down spreading your arms and legs. I said, perhaps foolishly, “I’m this man’s lawyer and don’t shoot him or me”. I had seen the cop shows where the snipers dropped the perps with a head shot through the window. They had me describe my self to distinguish me from Charlie to the Reserve Deputy shooter. I cajoled Charlie into walking out with me where we were both put on the ground and cuffed. Unfortunately, I was the one with the .45 stuck in his pants. We were both hauled off to the poky in separate police cruisers. The police had probable cause to keep me in jail on a concealed weapons charge but Shannon the deputy explained to them I was like a toddler playing in the surf when a tsunami rolled in.
That night I was invited to ride with Charles Rathbun on a search for Linda’s body. Technically I was still his attorney having foolishly declared that fact when the cops showed up. I did make efforts to contact the Public Defenders office so Charlie could be represented by a criminal defense attorney who knew what they were doing. They never returned my calls although later I heard the police made sure I didn’t hook up with them. After many hours in the police car driving all over the desert and mountains no body was found. The cops were agitated and annoyed. The sun was coming up when the officers dumped me in front of Charlie’s house where my car was parked. The next day I took him some clothes and his glasses which I found in his driveway . I told him to keep his trap shut until he got a real lawyer. I told the police not to interview him or take him anywhere until he was represented by a criminal defense attorney who knew what they were doing. The next thing I knew Charlie had attempted to commit suicide by slitting his wrists in jail. The cops had him stitched up and then threw him into a helicopter to resume the search for Linda’s body. They were like sharks on chum balls. Charlie refused to talk to them or cooperate until his attorney (that would still be me) was present. So, they sent a chopper for me and flew me to a ranger station where a dejected Charles Rathbun was handcuffed to a chair. One may assume (I can’t violate attorney client conversations) Charlie was strongly urged to take the police to the body and be done with it. If it was an accident, an autopsy should clear things up, I reasoned. Charlie and I were loaded into a giant Sikorsky sheriff's helicopter and flown around for several hours all over the remote mountains. You may assume I said “ Charlie take them to the body. If they find it without your help and the autopsy doesn’t go your way they will argue you refused to cooperate and will go for the maximum sentence.” As the sun was going down he guided them to where Linda was buried and they flew Charlie to the County jail and me to the airport near my home. I was exhausted and depressed.
Charles Rathbun was tried for first degree murder, convicted and sentenced to life witihout the possibility of parole.
He is presently incarcerated in the California State Penitentiary at Corcoran California. The same prison where Manson resides. So where does the SEX in your title come in you are undoubtedly asking? Being sensitive to my young readers I will simply say that Linda had ligature marks on her wrists and ankles and there was a claim she was tied up and assaulted before murdered.
Uh oh , she is hovering behind me. SO MY TWO FAVORITE WAYS TO PREPARE THE OYSTERS ARE, AT THE BRANDING FIRE THROW THEM IN A SKILLIT UNTIL BLACKEND, A SPRINKLE OF SALT AND PEPPER AND A JALAPENO ON TOP AND DOWN THE PIE HOLE.
THE SANTA FE STYLE IS TO TURN THEM INTO OBJECTS WHICH LOOK LIKE CHICKEN FRIED STEAKS. 1 /2 CUP OF FLOUR, 1 CUP OF CORNMEAL, 1 SLEEVE OF CRUSHED SALTINE CRACKERS, 1 TEASPOON OF SALT, 2 TEA SPOONS OF GROUND PEPPER, 1 TEA SPOON OF GARLIC POWDER AND TWO POUNDS OF CALF TESTICLES (SKIN REMOVED). Dump those babies in some canola or peanut oil and heat to a high temperature. Dipping sauce will enhance the experience perhaps a cup of Ranch Dressing, Blue Cheese or a combo of mayonnaise and mustard?
Bon Apatite Mon Amie!
|Charlie Rathbun mug shot|
|People Magazine cover story|
|Crime scene in California|
|Charlie Rathbun in court|
|Linda Sobek LA Raiders Cheerleader|
|She is found|
|Linda Sobek Football Team Cheerleader|
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