NS-VO: Chapter 26. A quiet country lane.
Neil Strauss: You have your gun with you?
Jayden: I’m not carrying it at the moment.
Neil Strauss: Well, all the days to forget your gun.
Jayden: I’m going to have it.
Neil Strauss: Oh, okay.
Jayden: I just don’t usually sit with it …
Jayden: Not when I’m driving six hours in a car.
NS-VO: Jayden and I are in Wheatland, California and arriving at the home of Chris Marez, the biological father of Chris Spotz. We’re retracing Chris Spotz’s exact movements from February 23, 2018, the day he picked up the fellow acting student he was having an affair with, Adea Shabani, and then took her on a seven hour drive to his father’s house, from which she never returned.
NS-VO: What’s significant about this part of our route is that we believe that Adea Shabani was killed somewhere near Chris Marez’s property, if not on it. So, we’re calling Chris Marez in order to meet with him in person for the first time, and try to find out what really happened.
Chris Marez: This is Chris from (beep). If you’d like to leave a message, do so, then I’ll get back to you, and have a blessed day. (beep)
Jayden: So, we’ll give him a few minutes.
Neil Strauss: …sit here and wait a couple minutes, or just start driving, or …
Jayden: Yeah. I guess. Where’s the …
NS-VO: We wait a few minutes for Chris Marez to call back, then continue following Chris Spotz’s drive.
NS-VO: With Google Timeline, it’s possible to track his movements minute-by-minute. So, we’re able to get a very detailed snapshot of Chris Spotz’s activity in the area. At 7:53 PM, Chris Spotz drives past the access road to his father’s house, and doesn’t stop. We believe, based on the additional fact that Chris Spotz only stopped briefly at two gas stations on the way up here, that Adea Shabani is still in the car with him.
Neil Strauss: He passed Chris Marez’s house by pretty far, it looks like, because he went around this corner and made the U-turn, right?
Jayden: Right. So, he went all the way up here, around the left turn …
Neil Strauss: Right.
Jayden: Basically, kind of the end of the [horn 00:04:14].
Neil Strauss: This far?
Neil Strauss: So, let’s time that distance to Chris Marez’s, because this … You’re not accidentally [inaudible] passing your dad’s place at this point.
Jayden: No. So, we’re going to be about less than a mile. So, we’re .7 miles from Chris Marez’s place.
Neil Strauss: Okay. He overshot it by a decent amount?
Jayden: Oh, by almost a mile.
Neil Strauss: Here again …
Jayden: But at night, you’ve got to remember, I mean, if it’s late …
Neil Strauss: Right.
Jayden: It’s going to be dark.
NS-VO: At this spot, where Jayden and I are driving, Chris Spotz makes a U-turn and passes by his father’s house again. We’re examining Chris Spotz’s movements in such minute detail because if something did indeed happen to Adea up here, every turn and every move tells us something, because prior to this trip, nobody, neither Chris Spotz nor Chris Marez, ever said that Adea was up this far north, yet it was up here that her body was found.
Jayden: Alright, so, we’re back to Chris Marez. So, that’s Chris Marez’s house right there to the right.
Neil Strauss: He overshoots the house this time, by more than a mile and a half. At first, it seems like he’s lost.
Neil Strauss: So, he’s driving back now, saying, “Trying to find my dad’s?”
Jayden: Maybe. Maybe he’s driving, she’s … Maybe she’s asleep.
Neil Strauss: Remember, it was this … right here on the right. I think.
Neil Strauss: But then he passes a random driveway, turns around, and pulls into it.
Neil Strauss: This looks desolate.
Jayden: So, we think this is it, right?
Neil Strauss: Right. So, let’s see. There’s a sign here that says what?
Jayden: Private pheasant club.
Neil Strauss: He drives about 350 yards, toward what appears to be a shooting club and private residence, then he stops and sits there parked for 21 minutes. It’s worth noting that according to the Google Map, after about 12 minutes Chris’ activity in and around the truck appears to increase.
Neil Strauss: What are possibilities for him pulling off here, on this kind of [double] lane?
Jayden: The possibility is this is where he actually committed the murder, one. I would say alternative possibility would be, you know, prior to arriving at dad’s, some sort of romantic encounter, maybe just an argument.
NS-VO: Jayden looks up the owners of the residence at the top of the long driveway and calls them.
Speaker 7: Yeah?
Jayden: Yeah, not sure if you’re familiar with … There’s a homicide case down in Los Angeles, but it actually occurred up in this area. Did you hear about that case?
Speaker 7: Not really, no.
Jayden: I’m up here today, just looking into a few things. Are you available to meet for just a second?
Speaker 7: Yeah. I suppose so.
Jayden: Okay. Great. Are you at your residence now?
Speaker 7: Yes. We just got back in.
NS-VO: We enter the driveway that Chris Spotz parked in on February 23rd. We meet with the family that owns the property.
Jayden: So, why we’re here is because we’re trying to piece this together. We got some new information. We actually discovered he pulled down your driveway, not very far, about two-tenths of a mile. He stopped there for exactly 21 minutes.
Speaker 7: You know more about it than I.
Jayden: How we know that is the danger of the cloud, which keeps tracks of all of us.
Speaker 7: We have people pull in the lane, not realizing it’s a private driveway. It’s not an uncommon occurrence.
Speaker 7: It happens regularly, occasionally. They don’t leave trash out there so often anymore, but … What time of day was it?
Jayden: It was about 8:00 at night.
Speaker 8: Oh. I was going to say, because sitting here, yeah, you could see headlights, if there were headlights.
Speaker 8: But that’s about it.
Speaker 7: The 23rd, I have on my calendar there’s a legal services dinner that we probably were cooking for. If I drive in or out the lane and somebody’s there, I always stop them, driving by.
Jayden: What’s the usual person that pulls in there and just stops?
Speaker 7: Somebody … A guy who’s had too much beer and needs to pee.
Speaker 8: I have come across a couple of kids, finding a private place …
Jayden: Yeah, that’s what I [inaudible]
Speaker 8: Or what they thought was private [crosstalk] midday.
Speaker 8: More than likely, I would have been home. But like I said, I mean, nine times out of 10, we don’t even know anybody’s here until they knock on the door.
Neil Strauss: His biological father is … Do you know someone named Chris Marez, who lives up here?
Speaker 7: That name sounds familiar. I can’t picture them offhand, no. The name rings a bell, but nobody I’ve …
Neil Strauss: The driveway is about three-quarters of a mile long.
Jayden: So, we’ll follow you out. [crosstalk]
NS-VO: So, we get in Jayden’s truck, and follow the owner to the exact spot where Chris Spotz parked that night.
Neil Strauss: Yeah, I think we said it was between tree five and six. It would be … Just to confirm this, because we didn’t ask it directly, LAPD never came out here and talked to you, or a local sheriff?
Speaker 7: No. I’m personally acquainted with the local sheriff, and well acquainted with him and with the local DA.
Neil Strauss: It’s a shame we weren’t here right after, because you could just see the tracks so clearly.
Speaker 7: Right.
NS-VO: It’s a gravel driveway, surrounded on both sides by an empty field. The area where Chris Spotz stopped is just beyond a small rise in the driveway, that conceals it from the main road. But it’s also far enough from the house, at the other end of the driveway, that it’s not visible from there either.
Though I’ve been describing it as a driveway, because there’s no gate or real markings around it, at night it can just as easily look like a quiet country lane.
Speaker 7: Somewhat sheltered from the road.
Jayden: Oh, this is very private. I mean, I think once you come in this far, you’re enough off the street … I mean, we’d have to see a car go by, but boy, I don’t think anybody would think twice about …
Speaker 7: No.
Jayden: Seeing a guy.
Speaker 7: 8:00 at night, he would realize there’s light down … There would be lights on by that time in February.
Jayden: But that’s pretty far.
Speaker 7: I probably came home that night about 9:00.
Neil Strauss: Wow.
Speaker 7: Most likely.
Jayden: A near miss.
Neil Strauss: At 9:00, you came home? 40 minutes … like, a span of 40 minutes.
Speaker 7: Had I …
Jayden: Been driving by …
Speaker 7: Had I … Because I would have stopped, and that would have interrupted whatever, and … So, this is all the help I can give y’all.
Neil Strauss: We appreciate it. [crosstalk]
NS-VO: At 8:21 PM, Chris Spotz pulls out of this driveway and texts his father, then he heads directly to his dad’s property. Again, the details here seem significant. He drives up the access road and into his father’s driveway, then immediately turns around and heads back the way he came. Either he’s lost again, or maybe trying not to be seen from the main house.
He then calls his father, and starts driving back toward the house. Here’s what’s strange. Instead of taking a right and parking in his dad’s driveway, he takes a left and pulls into an empty field, directly across the access roads from the house, and he parks in the middle of it.
Jayden: No, I think what’s really interesting is that he pulls into the dad’s street, he stops there, and even turns around a bit. Right? He backs up a bit. Then he calls his dad, and then immediately proceeds to what appears to be driving to this field.
Neil Strauss: What you’re saying is his dad told him to do that.
Jayden: Well, I think … Yeah, it’s either his dad said, you know, “Pull into the right, to the field,” or, you know, “I’ll meet you at the field,” or he said, “I’m going to pull over into the field. Meet me over there.” Whatever it is, it takes it from being a secret trip to the field to maybe conceal something from his dad, to being a more, you know, deliberate act in conjunction with his dad. I think that’s the difference.
Neil Strauss: Good point.
Jayden: It’s as simple as that phone call, prior to getting to his house. That’s the thing.
NS-VO: Jayden’s words hit me hard. I think because I’d heard only negative things about Chris Marez, and mostly positive things about Chris Spotz, from people who knew them both. I was leaning in another direction prior to this trip, but now that I’m here it’s starting to seem more and more like this may not be a question of whether Chris Spotz or Chris Marez did it, but a scenario involving both Chris Spotz and Chris Marez.
The moment after Chris Spotz parks, his Google GPS tracking stops, and for the next few hours, the data is very sporadic. But whenever it does flash on, we can see Chris Spotz moving back and forth from the field to around Chris Marez’s house, to around the neighbors’ homes.
Neil Strauss: You were talking about how GPS might be different than the cell signal. How does that work? What about when he’s up at his dad’s house, we lose two or so hours of GPS information?
Jayden: I mean, that’s weird. I don’t know. I don’t have an explanation for that.
Neil Strauss: Here’s another argument. Chris Spotz is only turning on his phone when he needs to make a call. He gets to his dad’s, his dad says, “Is your phone on? You’re an idiot,” and he’s only turning on the call … only when he needs to make a call?
Jayden: That’s probably a pretty good explanation.
NS-VO: One thing that we know happens here is that Chris Spotz’s mother, who’s been calling and texting, worried about him, calls when his phone is on, and he speaks with her for two minutes just to let her know he’s okay. However, he doesn’t tell her where he is or what he’s doing. This is at 8:54 PM. There’s only one number that Chris Spotz calls, and only one number that Chris Spotz texts during this time. It’s the same number, and it doesn’t appear on his phone bill at all for the month, until this point.
NS-VO: At 10:26 PM, he calls this mysterious number, which is in the 424 area code for Los Angeles, twice, and then he tries it again 20 minutes later. It’s not clear whether he reaches this person or not, but 40 minutes later Chris Spotz texts this number.
Jayden: When were those calls at?
Neil Strauss: 10:26 and 10:47.
Jayden: Oh, man. Dude, those are so … Those are the critical calls. How long were the calls for him?
Neil Strauss: [I’ll] check that right now. Can we track where that [phone] is?
Neil Strauss: I mean, if we can track it now, and it says it’s in this spot, we just drive to that spot.
Jayden: Right, but chances are like, why would it be a 424 number?
Neil Strauss: Because you don’t live in the 424 area code?
Neil Strauss: So, he calls. It’s a one minute call, 10:26.
Jayden: And the other one?
Neil Strauss: They’re both 10:26. One minute, one minute, one minute. They’re all one minutes. 10:26 and 10:47.
NS-VO: While Jayden traces the phone, I try the number, but I get an automated voicemail greeting, followed by a message that the mailbox is full. So, I call Mary to see if she has any idea who that number might belong to. She thinks it may be a secondary number for Chris Marez.
Neil Strauss: I then speak with Jade, Chris Spotz’s mother. She has another theory.
Jade: Okay. I believe that he is Samuel Marez, M-A-R-E-Z, and he is Chris’ older brother. I only met him one time when Chris was like, nine and I took him to California, to Sacramento. He had just been released out of prison. He was in prison when he was a youth. He was involved in a murder.
NS-VO: Jade doesn’t have Sam’s number and doesn’t recognize the 424 number. So, this is just speculation, but it’s based on the fact that just before his final trip from Colorado to California, Chris Spotz mentioned Sam Marez to his mom.
Jayden: Our 424 number, the mystery number that he called twice, came back, Verizon burner phone.
Jayden: Pre-paid, no name, no address, no identifying information. So, it’s one of the ones you buy the card.
Neil Strauss: It was the last two calls.
Jayden: It’s a burner phone. Like …
Neil Strauss: Mary said she checked her phone bill. There are no other calls to that phone.
Jayden: Who the fuck is it?
NS-VO: Jayden and I are back on Google Maps, trying to determine exactly what time Chris Spotz leaves his father’s and where he goes next. We know that he checks into a hotel in nearby Sacramento, just after 4:00 AM, but that leaves a large swatch of time unaccounted for.
Neil Strauss: First of all, it covers a lot of time, but you can see his overall location history, so we can see when he was in Sacramento, other time what he was doing? So, maybe we can see if he’s been to that area before.
Jayden: Oh, yeah. Interesting. Okay.
Neil Strauss: So, here’s more trips. So, 2018, he went … trips to West Hollywood, Malibu, Culver City, Sacramento. We can see how much he was at Adea’s too, which was quite a bit, almost every day.
Neil Strauss: But, I mean, according to this, he’s never been to his dad’s before this stuff. Right?
Neil Strauss: I don’t know if that’s true or not.
Jayden: Well, I mean, either way it’s sort of interesting, right, because he doesn’t go up there all the time. It’s interesting that he’s up there …
Neil Strauss: This time.
Jayden: Again, it just goes to show you, he was going for a reason.
NS-VO: That’s when we notice that immediately after Chris Spotz leaves his father’s place, instead of following the main road to his hotel in Sacramento, or even home to Los Angeles, he turns off onto a back road, less than 200 meters away from his father’s place.
Jayden: Yeah. See, that’s what’s interesting. Like, what is this?
Neil Strauss: Yeah. There we go. What is that?
Jayden: That might be it. That was Camp Far West Road.
NS-VO: This road is significant, because it leads directly into the Spenceville Wildlife Area.
Jayden: I don’t know, but look. That seems like that’s the way.
Neil Strauss: Yeah, hold on. Let me take another screenshot.
NS-VO: At 1:20 AM, as he’s going around a bend in the road, Chris Spotz’s Google data suddenly stops again. Coincidentally, in this exact window of time, Mary is repeatedly trying to call Chris. He doesn’t answer, or maybe the calls don’t go through, and she soon gives up.
Jayden: We might need to check that spot out. Wait, wait. Unless that’s where he lost data. Oh, okay. Wait. That’s the river.
NS-VO: If you continue following this road, right after the spot where Chris Spotz’s phone loses signal, it forks into a dirt road that leads directly to the river, actually a creek, that Jayden is talking about. It was on the banks of this creek that the body of Adea Shabani was found.
Jayden: I bet if we went down there with my phone … I bet we would lose signal right there.
Neil Strauss: So, basically, he never turned off his phone. He just lost signal.
Jayden: He just lost signal. So, he did go down that road. That’s it.
NS-VO: Chapter 27. Horseback people.
Jayden: Alright, so, there’s lots of good spots here to kind of do whatever you want, but we have noticed …
Neil Strauss: Fences on both sides.
Jayden: There are fences on both sides. We also should be … I don’t know if there’s hunters out here.
Neil Strauss: I mean, here’s another thing. It’s not an abandoned road. People are coming up and down it.
Jayden: Right. When [crosstalk] they’re finding us.
Jayden: Oh, Chris Marez is calling me. Hello? Hello? Hey, Chris.
Chris Marez: What’s up, can you hear me?
Jayden: Hey, Chris. Yeah, sorry. It’s Jayden.
Chris Marez: Hello?
Jayden: Can you hear me? Yeah. Can you hear me?
Jayden: Okay. I have no signal anymore. Zero.
Neil Strauss: Okay. Let me see how little signal I have.
NS-VO: We drive back to get phone reception, and instantly try Chris Marez, but he doesn’t answer, so eventually we press on. Just past the spot where our phones go dead, the pavement ends, and we push deeper into the forest, along a narrow dirt road.
NS-VO: There’s nothing on either side of us, just what looks in the moonlight like dark forest for miles, as we approach the spot where Adea Shabani was found.
Neil Strauss: There’s no … There’s no possibility that anyone outside of Chris Marez, Chris Spotz, or someone who lives here and who knows Chris Marez …
Jayden: Knows about this location.
Neil Strauss: Right.
Jayden: Yeah. Nobody comes out here. Like, this … he … I agree with you. It had to be somebody that knows these roads.
Neil Strauss: This is dark. I mean, dark in the sense of like, you fucking have a body in your car, you’re driving out here …
Jayden: At 1:00 AM.
Jayden: This is like the worst thing ever, if you’re … I agree.
Neil Strauss: Yeah.
Jayden: Green gate. This is us right here.
Neil Strauss: Yep.
Jayden: Okay. So, this is our green gate.
Neil Strauss: Yep.
Jayden: So, we feel like that’s it though, right? We’ve got to go in there and walk, right?
Neil Strauss: Right.
NS-VO: Jayden and I arrive at an open, desolate, and overgrown field, protected by a barbwire fence. There’s not a single person or car around, except for an old trailer, rusting in the middle of the field. There’s a metal gate along the side of the dirt road, that Adea’s killer or killers must have driven through.
Neil Strauss: Alright, so, there’s the green gate here. They could have even driven through the gate. There’s a gate … There’s a fence walkthrough near the river on the left side. We’ll find the area. I wonder, also, why you choose this exact place?
Neil Strauss: Okay, we’re crossing this kind of fence here. Coming toward the river now.
NS-VO: On the far side of the field, just before a muddy creek surrounded by dying trees, there’s another fence. This one, impassable to vehicles.
Neil Strauss: So, at this point, they must have pulled here.
Jayden: Maybe over there? I don’t know. I see more rocky.
Neil Strauss: Adea must have been unloaded here, and then carried just a few yards to her final resting place.
Jayden: Look. Right here. That’s got to be it.
Neil Strauss: That’s it, because look, it’s dark. That’s 100% it. Probably parked right there, if not on the roadside, but they probably just drove in, right? They don’t want to be seen.
Jayden: Tracks are all the way in, where that guy went.
Neil Strauss: Yep. Kept the headlights shining, so they could see what they were doing.
Jayden: Yeah. But this just goes to show that like, somebody knew this area. I mean, this doesn’t seem like you would drive six miles down that dirt road, in the middle of the night, hoping to find this location.
Jayden: The only thing is, with this, is that it is a campground.
Neil Strauss: Right.
Jayden: So, you do run a risk of having somebody discover it.
NS-VO: There’s just a small indentation in the ground here, where the hole was dug, which has already been filled in with soft soil. There’s nothing here, not even a candle, to mark a life that was taken too soon.
Jayden: But somebody could know that the river runs through here, on this side, and the dirt is soft. In fact, while this is an easy place to bury, it’s going to get discovered with the water. Like, I don’t care if you put her at two foot depth. It’s still going to be a problem at some point.
NS-VO: The monstrosity of this act really hits home when we stand over this anonymous burial site in the middle of nowhere, where the body of Adea Shabani was supposed to remain concealed from all those who loved her and were worried about her. To even call it a burial site is wrong. It’s a dumping spot, and no human being deserves this.
Jayden: Our work here is done. We’ve located it. I wish we could have located it before she went in there.
NS-VO: As Jayden and I take one last look back and prepare to leave the area, we notice a truck pulling into the field. It parks and someone steps out.
Jayden: Hey, excuse me, sir!
Neil Strauss: Excuse me!
Jayden: Sir! Hey, excuse me! Can I ask you a question?
Jayden: He’s an old guy.
Neil Strauss: Yeah.
NS-VO: Perhaps this person knows something about what this remote area is generally used for, and what kind of people know about it.
Neil Strauss: A girl’s body was found out here. Do you know about that?
Speaker 10: No, I…. I’m from Reno, Nevada.
Neil Strauss: Oh, got it.
Speaker 10: I’m over here hunting turkey. So, I just … It opens tomorrow for me. [crosstalk]
Neil Strauss: So, would the only people who know this area be hunters, in this area? Who know this area?
Speaker 10: A lot of these horseback people. They come … You know, they’ll be here about noon, ladies with their horses. They keep these God damn horses and the ride them maybe for an hour, and they brush them all down. Man, I grew up on a ranch. Our poor horses didn’t … If I die I want to come back as one of those ladies’ horses.
Neil Strauss: And so, do the horses take this path, or there are different paths for the horses?
Speaker 10: No, they park right here. This is the only campground in the entire unit.
Neil Strauss: Oh, this is only campground?
Jayden: Right, yeah.
Speaker 10: This is the only one.
Neil Strauss: And how about for the … Five miles down there, there’s other campgrounds though, right?
Speaker 10: No more campgrounds.
Neil Strauss: So, I could go all the way back to the main road and this is the only campground?
Speaker 10: This is the only one.
Neil Strauss: Oh, really?
Jayden: And all the rest is state owned.
Speaker 10: Spenceville Wildlife Area.
Jayden: Right. We saw that on the way in.
Speaker 10: Well, that’s it. This goes clear back, almost to the main highway back there.
Neil Strauss: It really explains a lot.
Jayden: That’s awesome
Neil Strauss: So, basically, this is the only campground …
Jayden: Right. The horse folks know this area.
Neil Strauss: It happened somewhere else.
Speaker 10: Hey, listen. This is the only place where you can pull over. You can’t go on any of these other roads.
Jayden: Yeah, we noticed, because when we went back, we had to go a little bit before we could turn around when we saw you.
Speaker 10: I’ve seen sites here that you can’t believe. You’ll see a lone gal there with a 12 pack of beer, over there just getting drunk out of her mind, over on the … So, I could see where anything could happen.
NS-VO: Given that Chris Marez owns and sells horses, it’s very likely he knows this spot, so close to his home. But we still need to figure out if there’s any possibility that Chris Spotz independently knew about this location.
: From my interviews so far, it seems that Chris Spotz only visited his father in Wheatland one other time, about five months before Adea disappeared, and just for a day, to pick up what his dad described as, “pre-workout supplements, and that kind of shit.” But whatever the case may be, I can’t even fathom an alternate explanation for why Chris Spotz was in this desolate area in the middle of the night.
Neil Strauss: I mean, you’ve found a lot of bodies.
Neil Strauss: Have you ever been anywhere creepier?
Neil Strauss: Where?
Jayden: Angeles Crest Highway.
Neil Strauss: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Jayden: I mean, we had a guy with his two daughters, digging their own graves.
Neil Strauss: So sad.
Jayden: At the bottom of the thing, with his wife dead in the trunk. That was disturbing.
Jayden: The biggest thing that creeps me out here is what was Chris thinking. You know, I mean, most of the homicide cases that I was ever involved in were all like, a drug guy shot another drug dealer. Not that it’s like, whatever, but this is so different.
Jayden: What was going through Chris’ mind? What jam did he feel that he was in, that he had to basically destroy his life?
NS-VO: Though we’re trying to save the analysis and conclusions for when we’re back home, so far on this road trip, here’s what Jayden and I are thinking. It’s not a conclusion yet. This is just where the evidence is pointing us.
Neil Strauss: It’s that at least two people know what happened to Adea Shabani, Chris Spotz and his biological father, Chris Marez. Both of them were likely involved, in some way, in hiding her body here.
Jayden: Why would big Chris help? Do you think he would just say, “I’ll help you because I’m the man?”
Neil Strauss: Say, “Dad, I got myself in some trouble [over] this girl. She’s trying to blah, do all these things. Like, I’ve tried to do everything with her, dad. I need your help.”
Neil Strauss: I don’t know. Why would you risk everything to help your son like that?
Jayden: We’ve heard stories of … Right? Violence with women.
Neil Strauss: Yep.
Jayden: Father, son bonding.
Neil Strauss: This was also poorly fucking planned.
Neil Strauss: I mean, literally picked her up, like …
Jayden: Told a bunch of ridiculous …
Neil Strauss: Lies.
Jayden: Lies to everybody.
Neil Strauss: And then at the same time, he’s juggling. He’s got Mary calling, “Where are you,” Jade …
Jayden: I mean, I would …
Neil Strauss: Jade saying, “How could you do this to Mary?”
Jayden: I would …
Neil Strauss: Like, he’s got all this pressure going on.
Jayden: I would lose my mind. No, that’s true. He was calling his mom …
Neil Strauss: Yep.
Jayden: To try and get her to smooth things over. Yeah. He was just juggling so much stuff.
Neil Strauss: Yeah.
Jayden: It’s just crazy.
NS-VO: As long as we’re speculating, I ask Jayden who he thought gave the police the tip that led to finding Adea’s body here.
Jayden: I doubt there’s anybody driving here at, you know, 1:00 in the morning.
Neil Strauss: Yeah. I mean, that could have been the tip. “Hey, I saw a car out here,” and then they returned the next day and found it, in the daytime. I guess her boot was sticking out [inaudible]
Jayden: I heard the same thing, but I just assumed …
Neil Strauss: You saw the grave and how shallow it was.
Jayden: So, does that bring into the realm of possibility that somebody saw it? Are we all the way back … Are we back to the road almost?
Neil Strauss: I think so, yeah.
NS-VO: Soon Jayden is back at the bend in the road where Chris’ phone lost signal, and while it could have been a fluke, or a wrong turn, that led Chris down this road when leaving his father’s house, as we resume analyzing his data, we learn that it wasn’t. Because just after 3:00 AM, Chris Spotz’s Google tracking turns back on, and his car is on the same road, exiting the Spenceville Wildlife Area and returning to the main street where his father lives.
Jayden: But then he didn’t go back. So, does that mean he didn’t drop Chris Marez off? It would have shown him back at Chris Marez’s at some point.
NS-VO: Once Chris hits the main road, instead of turning back to his father’s house, he turns in the opposite direction and heads toward Sacramento.
Neil Strauss: Here’s what he did. He’s running low on gas. We’ll have to check the mileage on his car, but literally, he filled it up way back.
Jayden: And we have no other stops since.
Neil Strauss: And so, he’s probably like, literally on empty, and wants to find a gas station, but like, has to wait to turn on his phone to find a gas station until at least he’s a couple miles away. We’ll see where he turned on his phone.
Neil Strauss: Right?
NS-VO: 20 minutes down the road, Chris stops at a Chevron station and uses a credit card for the first time, putting $11 in gas on Mary’s credit card.
Neil Strauss: Should we go in and ask the ask?
Jayden: Yeah. So, it was right after it happened.
Neil Strauss: Yep. Like, this is literally, like …
Jayden: Yeah. This is moments … Hey, how you doing, sir? Hey, got a question for you.
NS-VO: Jayden gets the same and number of the gas station manager, to follow up with later. Then we continue following Chris’ route to his next stop, the Super 8 Motel in North Sacramento, where Chris stays for just a couple of minutes.
After entering the reception area, we quickly realize that Chris left the model because it was too seedy and run down, and went to the nicer La Quinta Inn nearby.
Jayden: This is the closest …
Neil Strauss: Decent…
Jayden: Decent place.
Neil Strauss: Yeah.
Jayden: If I’ve pulled off the freeway …
Neil Strauss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jayden: And I’m in the stress mode that he’s in…
Neil Strauss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jayden: You want to … You’re not going to get back on and drive somewhere else.
NS-VO: At 4:04 AM, Chris pulls into La Quinta Inn and Suites in North Sacramento. He enters his room 12 minutes later, and appears to go to sleep around 4:55 AM, ending what must have been one of the longest days of his life, and what we can now say with a reasonable degree of certainty, was the last day of Adea’s life.
Jayden: Alright, should we check in here and talk to him?
Neil Strauss: Let’s do it. Yeah.
NS-VO: Chapter 28. The Rolex.
NS-VO: Just before 7:00 AM, on the morning of February 24th, 2018, the day after Chris took Adea on that fateful drive, Mary wakes up in a panic in North Hollywood. Chris hasn’t returned her calls from the night before, and she has no idea where he is. She goes through their shared phone and credit card bills to find him, and she discovers that he’s not in, or even really near, Gilroy, California, as he’d told her.
Mary: I couldn’t get in touch with him at all, and he had access to my credit cards, and that’s what he was using. So, there was a charge for … You know how they hold your credit card for a room? That was the pending charge that kind of like, “Hey, he’s in Sacramento. He’s probably at his dad’s.”
Mary: So, and I did call his dad that morning. He said the same thing to me that he did to Jade about that he was only here for 15 minutes, and that he didn’t stay with him, and then he did say that they got into a fight, and he didn’t stay there that night. He did ask me for Adea’s number. I don’t recall in what context. It was more like, “Hey, I don’t know where he is. Haven’t been able to get in touch with him. I’m really worried about him. He’s been really suicidal lately.”
Mary: So, he asked for her number, I guess, to try and reach out to her. I don’t know. I don’t know what his purpose was, if …
Neil Strauss: You want to know what his purpose was?
Neil Strauss: The purpose was to pretend like he thought Adea was still alive.
Mary: I think … I think you’re probably right. None of us can figure out like, why Chris didn’t stay with him … our Chris didn’t stay with Chris Marez, and why he wasn’t there. That part doesn’t make sense to me at all.
NS-VO: Not only did Chris Spotz never take Mary to visit his biological father during the entirety of their four year relationship, but this was the first time Mary had even spoken with Chris Marez.
As for Chris Marez, as you may recall, he already had Adea’s phone number because Adea gave it to him two days before her disappearance, when she reached out to him on Facebook, looking for Chris Spotz.
Around 7:30 AM, after speaking with Chris Marez, Mary, concerned, asked the hotel to do a welfare check on Chris Spotz. They wake him up, and he calls Mary right away. They speak for nine minutes, and he tells her that he went to see his father instead of going to Gilroy, so that he could understand himself better, and why he cheated. After hanging up with Mary, Chris Spotz immediately calls Chris Marez for three minutes, then checks out of the hotel.
Neil Strauss: I just got a text from Mary, who said, “Number only appeared that month I sent you,” that one number he called. We’ve got to figure that out.
NS-VO: This is where Jayden and I resume following Chris’ route, but first, we have a phone call to make. We need to know who the 424 number that Chris was repeatedly calling in the middle of the night, belongs to, what that person knows, and if they were involved in any way. So, we try it again.
Speaker 11: Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system. [inaudible] is not available. The mailbox is full and cannot accept any [messages 00:37:42].
Neil Strauss: Damn. Okay.
NS-VO: I save the number and plan to just keep trying it. We head down to the hotel lobby and ask about their security camera footage. So far, we’ve struck out everywhere, due to the fact that most places don’t store these recordings for more than 30 days.
Speaker 12: Morning!
Neil Strauss: Hey, morning.
Jayden: Hey, good morning.
Speaker 12: May I help you?
Neil Strauss: Yeah.
Jayden: Is Tony … Hey, Tony. How are you?
Jayden: Hey, we’re … I’m an investigator. We’re looking into … didn’t happen here, but a homicide that happened up a little bit further north. One of the suspects …
Speaker 12: I know who you’re talking about.
Jayden: Yeah. Did …
Speaker 12: Christopher …
Neil Strauss: Spotz.
Speaker 12: Spotz.
Jayden: Yeah. Did LAPD get footage from here…
Jayden: When they did … Okay. Alright. Good.
Tony: They came and copied that off of this flash drive … off a flash drive.
Neil Strauss: Great.
Neil Strauss: Do you still have the flash drive here?
Neil Strauss: Oh, good.
Jayden: Is it possible to get a copy of that?
Tony: Do you have your flash drive?
Jayden: Sure, yeah. I do.
Tony: You guys have to have your own.
NS-VO: There are 10 different cameras, showing 10 different, slightly grainy angles of Chris and his truck. We see him check into the hotel, wearing the same hoodie, jeans and bomber jacket he was wearing in the elevator with Adea, except his sneakers have now been replaced by boots. We see him check out, wearing the same clothing, except the hood on his sweatshirt is now over his head.
Jayden points out that if Chris doesn’t have a change of clothes, then he probably didn’t bring a suitcase for the night. We see Chris’ Toyota Tacoma in the parking lot, close enough to notice there’s nothing in the bed of the pickup truck, but the footage is too low resolution to see the condition of the truck. It doesn’t appear to be excessively dirty though, which is notable because of what we discover is Chris’ next stop.
Neil Strauss: Okay. So, I think next stop … I think next stop’s the car wash.
NS-VO: The car wash is basically a block away from the hotel, and although Chris was driving down a dirt road the night before, and the care is likely dusty or even a little muddy, it seems like a suspicious first stop on the morning after you’re suspected of murdering someone.
Neil Strauss: So, Chris washes his car, drives back there. So, he’s not planning on returning to the site, because he’s washed his car.
NS-VO: After leaving Bubba’s Car Wash, Chris drives back to his father’s house. When we spoke to Chris Marez, he did tell us that his son returned in the morning to get his sneakers. Chris stays there though for half an hour. According to the Google data, Chris Spotz appears to remain in and around his truck the whole time.
Mary: Yeah, and he had told me that Chris Marez, I think, gave him cash when he was there as well.
Neil Strauss: Oh, he said Chris Marez gave him cash?
Mary: Yeah, for the way back. Because I asked him like … because I didn’t see … I didn’t see the gas stations on there, but again, maybe I was just crazy and didn’t see what was in front of my face.
NS-VO: We try Chris Marez a few more times.
Jayden: Okay. We left a message last time. I don’t feel like he’s going to be responsive, unless he calls back. It’s just weird that he calls back. Like … You know what I mean?
Neil Strauss: And when there’s still no answer, we continue on our route.
Neil Strauss: You don’t want to do a drop by?
Neil Strauss: Okay…
Jayden: Stopping by unannounced is heavy.
NS-VO: After Chris Spotz leaves his biological father’s house, he goes to Raj’s Mini Market in Wheatland, and appears to get gas. What’s odd is that he stays in this area for 20 minutes, but his Google GPS cuts out, so it’s not clear where else he goes.
Neil Strauss: There’s also a car wash here. So, he could have gone to the car wash.
Jayden: How far away is the car wash?
Neil Strauss: I mean, it’s right here, and here’s the Mini Mart. Same kind of like, little area.
Jayden: Oh, well, he might have gone to the car wash. The car wash is actually closer to where he dropped, right?
Neil Strauss: I mean, that’s what it looks like, yeah.
Jayden: Oh, so, he probably went to the car wash. Man, he’s washing his car like …
Neil Strauss: If he did, we’ll have to find out.
NS-VO: Instead of taking the same route home that he took to his dad’s, the I-5, Chris Spotz takes another road back to Los Angeles, Highway 99. His first stop is a very unlikely one. He pulls off the highway in Florin, California and drives out of the way to go to a somewhat squalid, desolate, mini mall.
Jayden: But basically, we’re looking for 6618 Florin, which is going to be this crappy, rundown shopping center right here.
Jayden: Dude, this is it. This is where he stopped. I mean, there’s nothing. No … No reason to stop here.
Neil Strauss: This is insane. Why would he come here?
Jayden: I don’t know. I don’t get a lot of pedicures. Do they … Would they be able to remove dirt? I don’t know.
Neil Strauss: I mean, you would just wash your hands.
Jayden: Just wash your hands. Okay. Garara Palace, eyebrow threading. Samosa Garden. You’ve got to really want a samosa. Alright. Cleaners, one day. One hour, I would think, would be good, but no. Hair salon? No…
Mary: So, the only thing that he mentioned to me, which I kind of talked him out of, was possibly the pawn shop, and that was regarding the Rolex, and that Rolex, I know he had after the fact. So, I don’t know if like, he thought maybe and then changed his mind? I mean, I know, according to Chris, he said that his dad gave him some money. So, maybe he gave him something to pawn or actual cash. I don’t know, but this is … The pawn shop is the only thing that I can think that maybe he went in, or thought about, but I don’t know the reason for it, because he still had that watch.
Neil Strauss: When Adea left her apartment, she had a red suitcase and two like, designer black purses, handbags. Did she … Did he say did she leave the car with all her stuff, except for the watch?
Mary: Yes. Yes.
Neil Strauss: So, she left the car with everything but the watch?
Mary: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
NS-VO: Jayden and I follow Chris’ footsteps into the pawn store and ask them if they saw Chris Spotz, or have any surveillance video of that day.
Jayden: Hey, how you doing?
Speaker 14: Good.
Jayden: We’re investigators, looking into a missing person’s homicide case. It happened up north.
Speaker 14: Okay.
Jayden: Wonder if you’ve ever seen this guy.
Neil Strauss: It would have been around this time on February 24th.
Jayden: On a Saturday.
Neil Strauss: He likely … We definitely know he had a Rolex that he was trying to sell.
Speaker 14: No, I didn’t have any Rolexes come through at all.
Neil Strauss: Yeah. You don’t remember seeing any Rolexes or …
Speaker 14: No. I don’t get very many in this neighborhood. Not too …
Neil Strauss: He could have maybe … Another thing is he could have come in and said, “Oh, you know, what’s a process for pawning stuff? Do you take someone’s ID when they pawn something?”
Speaker 14: When I heard the last name, I thought, “That’s a pretty odd name.”
Speaker 15: It’s a possibility that he asked.
Speaker 15: You know? I mean, we get people [crosstalk]
Speaker 14: I mean, sometimes we get real busy and there’s, you know, five or six people in …
Speaker 15: Exactly.
Speaker 14: They come in and then they leave too.
Speaker 15: Yeah.
Speaker 14: I’ve had people do that too.
Neil Strauss: Yeah, and it is a Saturday.
Speaker 15: [inaudible] waits too long.
Speaker 14: My camera’s not working or I’d roll it. I’d roll it back and see.
Neil Strauss: Oh, that would have been great.
Speaker 14: Yeah.
Neil Strauss: It wasn’t … Was it working February 23rd? It wasn’t working, huh?
Speaker 14: No. I’ve got a new one I keep on trying to get my son to come down and hook up [inaudible 00:45:09].
Neil Strauss: Alright, cool. Alright, thank you guys. I appreciate it. [crosstalk]
Jayden: Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.
Neil Strauss: Totally. Yeah. [crosstalk]
NS-VO: Chris’ drive from Adea’s house to his father’s, with the two gas station stops and the one suspicious driveway stop, took him seven hours. This drive home, just from the moment he leaves his father’s house, takes over nine hours.
Jayden: I’ve got a question. I’m an investigator, looking into a missing person homicide …
Neil Strauss: This is because he makes at least 11 stops, that I can confirm, along the way.
Jayden: I’m just wondering if you pulled footage … No?
Neil Strauss: He doesn’t use his or Mary’s credit card at any of these stops.
Jayden: Hey, how you doing? Hey, I’m an investigator, looking …
NS-VO: They’re mostly gas stations, and as Jayden and I drive back …
Speaker 17: Can I help you?
Jayden: Hey, how are you doing, sir? I’m an investigator looking into a …
NS-VO: We stop at each one and examine Chris’ movements.
Jayden: Have you heard anything about this, or has any other law enforcement agencies been in to talk about it? No?
NS-VO: As for Chris’ phone calls, he only speaks with two people after leaving his father’s: his mother Jade, and Mary. In fact, he speaks with Mary more than 10 times, and he doesn’t text anyone on the ride home. Where Chris’ stops off the freeway on the way to his father’s house were very purposeful, on the way back, he seems to meander around the town at many of the stops.
Jayden: That’s the other thing, yeah, I mean, he’s going to gas stations, like, nobody stops at gas stations over and over again. He’s got no plausible story for that. Every gas station has tons of security camera.
NS-VO: Two of these stops in particular stand out. The first is in Turlock, California.
Neil Strauss: He did some crazy shit in Turlock. I don’t know what the Hell is going on here.
Jayden: What’s the …
Neil Strauss: He stopped at a car wash. There’s our car wash.
NS-VO: Here, he goes to the Main Street Car Wash. If he’s washing his car for a second time in one day, or possibly a third time, this is beyond suspicious.
NS-VO: The second is in Selma, California. At the Star One Mart there, he appears to walk around the gas station to the dumpsters behind the store. He then returns to his truck and then back to the dumpsters again. Jayden believes the reason for all these stops is that Chris Spotz is slowly unloading all of Adea’s possessions, her bags, their contents, her neck pillow, piece by small piece.
Jayden: So, why is he doing this?
Neil Strauss: Why are you doing all these little stops?
Jayden: Yeah. Like, why not just throw the shit on the side of the highway?
Neil Strauss: Because on the side of the highway … I mean, you’ve got to put it somewhere where it’s going to disappear from sight.
Jayden: You’re looking at risk, reward. It’s going to disappear from sight, but you’re going to get caught on camera doing it, versus it …
Neil Strauss: Right, but who’s going to be looking at these cameras here, in his mind. Like, he thinks he’s footloose and fancy free. No one’s watching him. He doesn’t know he’s being tracked by Google.
NS-VO: After three more gas station stops, Chris finally returns to the home he shares with Mary in North Hollywood, at 7:45 PM on the night of February 24th, and his trip, and whatever may have happened on it, is done.
Neil Strauss: When Chris came home, was he just exhausted?
Mary: He was exhausted, and I mean, of course, like, we were still kind of fighting. Pretty sure I made him sleep on a dog bed, too, that night. But again like, the next morning we still went to church together.
NS-VO: Chapter 29. The accomplice.
NS-VO: I’m about to call the mysterious 424 number that Chris called, right before he went down that long trail where Adea’s body was found.
Speaker 11: Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system.
Neil Strauss: I wonder if it’s like, deactivated or something.
NS-VO: The call to the 424 number goes directly to voicemail, without even ringing this time. Now that we’re back in Los Angeles, there’s a lot to do to research and follow up on the information that Jayden and I have discovered.
For starters, I reach back out to the owner of Anawalt Lumber, and he emails me immediately. “Sorry to say,” he responds, “But I showed everyone who worked on that day the picture of the guy in question, and no one can remember his face. Also, no credit card transactions for either of the names.”
I ask him to look for cash receipts from that time, and then I take stock of where I stand, as of now, on what happened to Adea Shabani, which is that I believe she was bludgeoned to death somewhere in Wheatland, and then buried in the Spenceville Wildlife Area on the night of February 23rd, and that two, or possibly three people, know what happened, Chris Spotz, Chris Marez, and possibly the owner of the 424 burner phone that Chris Spotz called that night.
One of the first things Jayden and I want to do is share the information we have so far with Adea’s loved ones, as well as with Chris’ loved ones.
Neil Strauss: Do you want a tissue, by the way?
Neil Strauss: This looks so good.
Nora: Sushi is her favorite food.
NS-VO: Our first visit is to Nora, Adea’s mom. When we arrived to see her, we find her sitting with Adea’s ex-boyfriend, Ivan.
Neil Strauss: I’m trying to tell what’s true and what’s not. Tell me what you think. You guys would know better. I don’t think she really loved him. I think she just got obsessed because she was trying to figure out all his lies.
Nora: I mean, she loves people. You know? She doesn’t get into relationship for selfish reasons. She always wants to give something, that’s for sure. This is the reason that even after she gets out of relationship, she stays in touch with people.
Nora: There is nothing calculated with her.
Neil Strauss: Yeah.
Nora: So, even if she didn’t love him, she would have seen a reason to be with him, to help him to do something, and then she gets fed up, and then she moves on. But she still stays connected, you know? She stays connected with everyone.
NS-VO: Jayden shares the information we’ve collected so far with Nora, and she listens attentively.
Nora: Chronologically, what happened? She left from here …
NS-VO: Ivan interrupts from time to time with his thoughts and opinions.
Nora: Washed the car, headed back to LA, and then he was …
NS-VO: Nora updates us on her conversations with the police, and what they’ve been doing. I realize that one of the factors that complicated this investigation from the beginning, and even to this day, has been misinformation supplied by Chris Marez.
Nora: The same thing that Chris Marez told us, he told the police. Basically saying that he has a friend who is … who has been with him all of his life, and he calls brother, and he could be the accomplice. This is our assumption.
NS-VO: Nora is referring to Chris Spotz’s friend, Brian. I tell her that I met Brian at Chris’ funeral, and have spoken to him several times since. Brian actually left LA before Adea’s disappearance, so he couldn’t possibly be an accomplice. Not only that, he’d been distancing himself from Chris Spotz over the last year, because it seemed to him like Chris Spotz was getting lost in ego and ambition in LA.
Jayden and I then share our thoughts and suspicions about Chris Marez, as well as information about the mysterious 424 calls, and Sam Marez.
Nora: No, but this makes sense. This uncle that you mentioned … It could have been this uncle, because you remember when we called Chris Marez? Chris Marez told us that his brother is city council member.
Nora: Not a criminal. Maybe he has another brother.
Nora: So, this story, as you said, will go on, on podcast, with episodes, and then?
Neil Strauss: So, yeah. We’ll go on with the podcast over several episodes. So, hopefully people really …
Neil Strauss: Connect to the story and … I guess I was going to ask you, what are some of your goals? I’ll make sure that …
Nora: I don’t know. Long term, I would like to keep the memory. I mean, I want to describe her the way she was, and I think the story is going to resonate with many people in the world.
NS-VO: In the days that follow, I keep trying that 424 number. I try it from a block number. I try it from a 424 area code. I try it from a burner phone, and then one day, just when I’m beginning to worry that I’ll never find out who that number belongs to, I’m at home in Los Angeles, working with Alex.
NS-VO: We’re preparing for a new interview with Chris Marez, now that we have all this information. I try that number again.
Neil Strauss: Should I try to call it for fun?
Neil Strauss: Just a random phone number. Not my own phone number, then?
Alex: I guess you could do your own phone number. Would you want that number to have your number? Just use that.
Neil Strauss: Message… Hello?
Speaker 22: Hello?
NS-VO: Make sure you tune in next week, to the season finale of To Live and Die in LA. We plan to release it on Friday, May 17th, and there are a lot of people we need to prepare for it behind the scenes.
NS-VO: If you’ve been listening, and you’ve been sitting on information and wondering whether you should reach out to us, now is the time. You can call us completely anonymously at 213-204-2073, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NS-VO: To Live and Die in LA has been a production of Tenderfoot TV and me, Neil Strauss, in conjunction with Cadence13. The Executive Producers of this podcast are myself, Donald Albright, and Payne Lindsey, along with producers, Alex Vespestad and Mike Rooney.
NS-VO: The music and score that you’ve heard in this podcast is by Makeup and Vanity Set. Our theme song is Love and War by Fleurie, and our show art and design are by Trevor Eiler.
NS-VO: You can follow us on social media at livedielapod, or you can find our website with bonus content at livediela.com.
NS-VO: The editing is by Alex Vespestad, with additional mixing by Resonate Recordings.
NS-VO: Special thanks to Rich Burner, Kevin Richter, Chris Cororan, Oren Segal, Brian Fishbach, Oren Rosenbaum at UTA, Eric Lin at Shangri-La, and The Nord Group.
NS-VO: Thank you for listening, and for your support.