Neil-VO: I’m watching these videos with Dr. Stephen Porter, one of the researchers on the study. He says he was shocked by how easy it was to just implant these false memories. Though the study has become controversial in the scientific community, one thing is clear. If we don’t have objective proof, like a video or audio recording, then even our most vivid memories may never have actually happened.
Stephen Porter: Ultimately, we want that belief to transform into sort of a visual sensory memory. Those are really the three steps, could’ve happened, okay, it did happen, okay, I remember it happening. Unless you have corroborating information, there is no way of knowing whether it’s true or not. Sometimes my opinion in legal cases is I don’t know if this is true or not, but because of the techniques that the police interrogators used, it’s very likely that this is bullshit.
Neil-VO: And he’s right, because it turns out that not only was Angel wrong when he described a tip about a day of being drugged and coerced into a truck outside her apartment, but that the tipster himself was experiencing false memory syndrome and also wrong. I’m able to state this for a fact because I now know with 100% certainty exactly what happened outside Adea Shabani’s apartment on the day she disappeared.
Neil-VO: Chapter 5, The Video.
Jayden: We’d been trying to get video from the apartment building from that day. LAPD apparently got a warrant, finally got the video. Specifically, it shows the garage. The video shows had some suitcases, her, and Chris.
Neil Strauss: Hold on. She had suitcases with her?
Neil Strauss: How many suitcases did she have?
Jayden: They together, I think, had two suitcases.
Neil Strauss: That sells the story that she’s going to this funeral with Chris, of his uncle.
Jayden: Yeah. As far as they’re saying, it’s she went down there of her own free will, got into his truck, into the passenger side.
Neil Strauss: She got in the passenger seat of his truck, not into the back of the truck.
Jayden: Yeah. No, no. Yeah, this is refuting that story.
Neil-VO: It’s only been a few days since I started investigating the disappearance of Adea Shabani and things are happening so quickly that I can barely keep up. Today, I’d intended to investigate the discrepancy between the tip that Angel, Adea’s friend and employer, said he received and the tip that was actually given, but there’s been new information. Jayden, a private investigator, recently obtained surveillance video from Adea’s apartment building that shows Adea with suitcases very comfortably getting into the passenger seat of a truck belonging to her boyfriend and fellow acting student Chris Spotz on the afternoon of her disappearance. She doesn’t appear to be drugged or coerced at all, and certainly isn’t being thrown into the bed of the truck. What I want to know is why would Angel mislead both of us?
Jayden: My suspicion is, and not really in a bad or evil way, but I think Angel got this story and I think he put it in maybe a different context to try to get more interest from PD to make it look like something really happened, and tied it back to Chris because I think he really believes that Chris was involved in her disappearance. I think it’s one of those cases where you’re just hearing what you want to hear and then you kind of manipulate the story to fit a narrative that gets you more traction.
Neil-VO: Even if what Jayden is saying is true, it doesn’t explain why the tipster was wrong.
Jayden: Either the tipster called in and the tipster was wrong because he put what he saw into context and he saw the flyers and said, “Oh, this must have been what happened,” or he called in and said, “Hey, I saw this one day. I don’t remember when it was,” and now all of a sudden that got transformed into, “It happened that day.”
Neil Strauss: Right. He told me it was the same day.
Jayden: Who did?
Neil Strauss: The tipster.
Jayden: Okay. Then maybe he tied it together.
Neil Strauss: I discover that Jayden’s theory is actually correct when Adea’s friend Boyana from Macedonia shows me her texts with Adea. Turns out that Adea and Chris were in an argument a week before she disappeared and he got into his truck and locked the door. At that point, Adea jumped into the bed of his truck and he pulled out of the garage with her inside, so it appears to be a case of false memory syndrome. The tipster likely conflated this event with Adea’s disappearance and then became very confident in this richly accidentally constructed story.
Neil Strauss: What are the police doing about Chris now?
Jayden: I think it’s getting stronger and stronger. Now, you’re placing him and her together leaving on a trip. That’s pretty strong to be looking at him.
Neil-VO: What’s the next move then on our part?
Jayden: Well, I think we’ve got to continue to try and establish what he’s doing now and try and make contact because that’s the one thing that, throughout this process, except for that first day, nobody has been able to make contact with him.
Neil-VO: Chapter 6, Young Frank.
Chris Merez: I’m going to be honest with you, he’s dating this Adea, whatever her name is, Adea. I didn’t know her until he started telling me something …. “Well, she fell in love with me, dad. She’s this, she wants me to move in with her.” I’m like, “Really, son?” I said, “You can’t do this to Mary. She’s a wonderful girl.” He’s just kind of going, “You know, Dad, what do you think I should do?” I said, “Well, you need to be honest with these girls and tell them, hey, whatever you want to do.” He liked Mary because she was funny. She’s not a very beautiful girl but she’s very … She’s got a lot of money and she took care of my son.
Neil-VO: The voice you hear is that of Chris Merez]. He’s the father of Chris Spotz. He lives in the countryside outside of Sacramento, California, and operates a laser light company and sells horses. I’m trying to find out where Adea went with Chris after they left her apartment. According to Adea’s friend from acting class, Christiane, Adea said she was going with Chris to his uncle’s funeral in Sacramento. Now that I’ve seen the suitcases, the story seems to check out, so I’m speaking to Chris’ dad to find out where this funeral was in Sacramento and if Adea was there.
Chris Merez: I didn’t know anything about that.
Neil Strauss: Supposedly, she was going to … Like you probably know, going to your brother’s funeral.
Chris Merez: What the fuck? My brother’s not dead. That doesn’t even make sense. Why would he tell her that we’re coming up here … If he brought her up here, she’s going to a funeral and the fucker is not dead, he’s not even in the hospital. Doesn’t make sense. It’s … Fuck.
Neil-VO: Just to be completely sure that this uncle story is a lie, I ask Chris Merez if his son could have been going to the funeral of another uncle, like maybe his mom’s brother, but Chris Merez tells me that his ex-wife and her family all live in Fort Morgan, Colorado, and have no connection with Sacramento otherwise. He also tells me a lot more about his ex-wife.
Chris Merez: She did all this shit. She changed my son’s name illegally, she put an ad in the paper saying if I don’t respond … Well, of course I’m not going to respond because I lived in California. She married this crazy guy. But I’ll tell ya, he got her a gift because when he turned 18 years old …
Neil-VO: I interrupt him after a while and ask him if he thinks his son had anything to do with Adea’s disappearance. He tells me he’s not sure, but then curiously he directs me to a video of his son acting.
Chris Merez: Go on YouTube and look at him. One, there’s one that he talks about how he loves this girl. It’s crazy, It’s mind-boggling when you watch it. It’s kind of talking about how this girl wants to ruin his life. This was six … This was a year ago when he did this part. You gotta look at it, dude. It’s on YouTube. I don’t even know what to say, dude. I saw it and I was like, “Are you fucked …” It’s too unreal, man.
Chris Spotz: I threw away my gun once to get her love, and I was going to do it again now because I know that’s what she’d want me to do. I was going to do it. You know, if I picked up the gun, if I made the sacrifice, my life would be given back to me.
Neil Strauss: Did you know that he was bringing Adea up to see you that day or not at all?
Chris Merez: No, but he … That’s the thing. He didn’t tell me any of that. He was coming up to see me by himself. He said, “Dad, I just want to get away,” and I…and I…nothing. Yeah, then Monday when he told me that her friends … I asked him, I said, “Well, what happened?” He goes, “Well, I didn’t want to tell you over the weekend but we got in a fight. I want to break up with her, give her a key, and she said, “Give me a ride,” and then she started hitting me, and then I told her to get the fuck out of the truck.” That was it.
Neil-VO: We’re starting to narrow in now on a specific window of interest. First, we have surveillance cameras showing Chris and Adea leaving her Hollywood apartment that Friday afternoon at 1:20 p.m. Now, according to his father, Chris then arrived in Sacramento around 7:00 p.m. that evening without Adea, so somewhere in those roughly six hours something happened between Chris and Adea. I asked Chris’ dad exactly what kind of condition his son showed up in that night.
Chris Merez: He just came up, came in the house. Dude, if you would have seen him. Fuck, he was normal. There was nothing. Fucking sitting here watching a Western, drinking some wine. Then, he started fighting with me and, “I’m just going to go stay in a hotel.” It was like, fuck. Then, he took off. That money, I knew nothing about this.
Neil Strauss: What were you guys fighting about that night?
Chris Merez: About his mom. I told him that I had full custody, the judges gave me full custody of him, and she … Mom said, “If you get back with me, I’ll get back with you if you drop the attorney,” and I did. He never knew that from Ariel. He said, “Dad, why didn’t you take me? I wouldn’t have had to go through the shit I had to go through with my mom,” but I didn’t know if he had this whole plan that he was going to get in this fight and take off and go to the hotel. You know what I’m saying? It was kind of weird.
Neil-VO: Things are starting to look very bad for Chris Spotz. My impression after speaking to his father is that his father actually suspects his own son. Notice the way he said that Chris might have pre-planned the fight. And why did Chris Merez direct me to watch his son’s acting reel? That clip, which is called “Young Frank,” almost sounds like a confession. When I check the date it was uploaded, it was just six weeks before Adea’s disappearance.
Neil-VO: Chapter 7, Above the Law.
Neil-VO: Imagine now that you are the mother or father, brother or sister of Adea Shabani and you now know for a fact that, on the day she went missing, she was going on a trip with her boyfriend Chris Spotz. You now know for a fact that Adea told her friends she was going with Chris to the funeral of his uncle. You now know for a fact that this is a lie because Chris’ uncle isn’t dead. You now know for a fact that the story Chris gave Adea’s friends that they broke up around her apartment building that morning and she said she was going to harm herself is completely false because not only did they get into the car together afterward, but on video they looked completely amicable.
Neil-VO: This is Adea’s mom Nora.
Nora: We have this person who knows something. I’m not saying he knows everything, but knows something. We cannot get access to this person.
Neil Strauss: You don’t think he knows everything?
Nora: Maybe he knows. I just want to believe … Actually, I want to believe that he knows everything, but I’m also considering other possibilities, if he dropped her, if left her on the highway or left her somewhere, maybe something bad happened to her afterwards. In any case, she was in the car with you and you know where you dropped her. Where, when, we need this information. You get a sense that you have a person who is above the law and can go anything to play with all of us. Even as a human, I think he should pick up the phone and say, “This is what happened.” There are many questions that need to be answered.
Neil Strauss: Do you feel that there is sort of an arrest coming or do you feel like it’s just, the further time goes away, that more is getting further away?
Nora: I don’t see the arrest coming because I don’t have any information that would make me believe that the arrest is coming. I only fear that he is gaining time to build a strategy to hide the evidence and to basically walk out free from this thing.
Neil-VO: Things start to look even worse for Chris after I speak to Jayden. It turns out that, after calling and texting Chris multiple times, Jayden finally gets a call back, but not from Chris, but from a lawyer who says she’s now representing Chris. The lawyer offered up yet another story, that Chris and Adea were on their way to Magic Mountain that day when they got in a fight and Chris supposedly dropped her off in Santa Clarita.
Jayden: That’s the story she told, was that they were going to Magic Mountain. The attorney told that story. She didn’t say, “What did you tell them?” Because that story just doesn’t make any sense. Even she should have said, “Hey, that story doesn’t make any sense.” Right? That’s what I would ask my client. I’d be like, “So you went to Magic Mountain then by yourself? So you went home back to Hollywood?” “No.” “Oh, you just drove to Sacramento for a trip? Yeah, okay. That’s real … That makes a lot of sense.”
Neil-VO: When someone is deliberately avoiding the police, changing their story, and now lawyering up, it seems that this would give law enforcement some reason just to bring him in for questioning. If he is not hiding anything, why is he being so evasive and telling so many different versions of the story and not helping anyone at all?
Jayden: He says that he’s running around because she went missing and he’s afraid of her family. That’s what the attorney said, and to PD.
Neil-VO: “Her family?” I asked Jayden. “Yes,” he says. Supposedly, it’s because her father is affiliated with the Albanian mob.
Neil Strauss: If he really believed that her dad was part of the mob, wouldn’t it just be a death wish to do something to her?
Jayden: I would agree. The thing is he didn’t make that up. If he were the only person that ever said that and everybody just categorically denied it, then I would say he just made … That was just cover story for acting the way he did, but everybody knew that.
Neil Strauss: How did … Wait. First of all, how did you first hear this?
Jayden: Through Angel.
Neil Strauss: Why would Chris think this?
Jayden: I think she told him.
Neil Strauss: I’d assume it’s a family, and if someone is a suspect in your daughter’s disappearance and they’re not getting arrested by the police, maybe you would ask for a favor from somebody.
Jayden: That’s what Angel came to me and said was going to happen. He said that the dad was sending people to deal with it, and that he was going to meet with Nora to discuss it. Then, I subsequently found out that she said no.
Neil Strauss: Well, there we go. That kind of answers it, then, right?
Jayden: Yeah. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Everybody talked about it so there has to be something to it.
Neil-VO: Let’s review the three completely different stories that Chris Spotz has either directly or indirectly told others about the last time he saw Adea. The first is from Adea’s friend Emma.
Emma: He’s like, “I went to her apartment.” I said, “When?” He said, “Friday.” He said, “So I broke up with her, and the only thing she was telling me all the time, that she’s going to hurt herself and that she’s never going to see me again.”
Neil-VO: The second is from Adea’s friend Christiane.
Christiane: I knew, I knew that she had to go to Sacramento. She did mention that she was going to go probably to the funeral of his uncle.
Neil-VO: And the third one is from his lawyer.
Jayden: What’s the story, then? They were going to Magic Mountain and then he dropped her off at Magic Mountain?
Neil-VO: Everything Chris Spotz has said through his lawyer and to Adea’s friends about the Friday she went missing seems to be inconsistent, in conflict, and, for the most part, provably false. Only this new Magic Mountain hasn’t actually been disproven but it seems highly suspicious. He’s so sloppy with his alibis that, at this point, it’s hard to see him as anything but guilty.
Jayden: We’re getting word that Chris is apparently up in Colorado. He’s in kind of the town where his family lives. It’s about, I don’t know, maybe 90 minutes kinda northeast of Denver. That’s what LAPD is telling me. We’ve been kind of talking about some options for that. Obviously, Nora wants me to make some big moves. I think that trying to talk to him may be one of those moves. LAPD continues to say that he’s basically stonewalling. Other than the first time that he talked with him, he’s uncooperative. I’m trying to talk to detectives over there and want to get their blessing to go up there and try and talk to him. I think it’s a good option.
Neil-VO: But first we need a good plan to get him to talk. We have to figure out an angle or a ruse where it’s actually in his best interest to speak to Jayden.
Jayden: Forget the police, convince me that you had nothing to do with it and I’ll go back to the family if that’s truly what you’re worried about. I can tell her father, “This guy had nothing to do with it,” and I can say, “Yeah, her dad is a dangerous dude, no question about it.” How do you think … you know… how do you think it looks? I’m here so that you can convince me so that I can tell them, “This guy didn’t have anything to do with it.”
Neil Strauss: Yeah.
Jayden: I’ll tell him, “Because you look like a nice guy. You’re just a regular guy. You’re not going around killing people.”
Jayden: All right, man. I appreciate it.
Neil Strauss: All right, man. Have a good trip.
Jayden: Yeah. I land at 1:00 so I might give you a call.
Neil Strauss: All right. Cool, man. All right, okay.
Neil-VO: Jayden flies to Denver, Colorado, then drives 90 minutes northeast to Fort Morgan for the big showdown with Chris. That evening, he calls with an update. Turns out he has a showdown not with Chris but with Chris’ mom Jade, who just recently lost an election for the local city council.
Jayden: All right, man, look. I don’t know what’s going on. I talked to her through the door. She’s like, “Come back tomorrow.” I’m like, “Please, I came all the way out here. Let me talk to you just for a few minutes. I’m trying to help.” Then, I get on the phone with Chris Merez. He’s like, “Oh, he’s not even there. She’s just stonewalling you. She’s just trying to delay you from figuring out what you’re going to do. That’s what she wants you to come back tomorrow.” I don’t fucking know anymore.
Neil-VO: Jayden goes on to tell me that Chris’ father believes that Chris is actually back in LA. The LAPD, on the other hand, seem to be giving mixed signals.
Jayden: They continue to tell Nora that they have all these detectives, all these units working on it, but there’s nobody else here. I’m looking around his house. There’s no surveillance units, there’s nothing. I don’t know whether LAPD is telling me this just to lead me on some wild goose chase or they have no clue where he’s at. Now, it’s like, what the fuck? What do I do? Do I stay up here? There’s a blizzard coming into town. There’s no hotel rooms here. I don’t know whether I’m going to stay tonight and then try to meet with her tomorrow or get back and try to figure out if he’s back in LA.
Neil-VO: Chris’ fiancee Mary has been on the run with Chris pretty much this whole time. Right now, Jayden and Adea’s friends believe that either she’s in on this with him or he’s confessed something to her. Whatever he knows, Mary likely knows as well. It seems like the only person who has been cooperative in Chris’ inner circle in any way with Jayden or the police or me is his father Chris Merez. Everyone else just seems to be protecting him.
Jayden: She has not been there. The last thing I’m going to do before I make my decision, I’m going to put a ping request in. We have a service, obviously, that gives us the pings. I’ll put a request. It takes about usually 30 minutes to get that back. I’ll see if they can get a ping on the cellphone. Then, I guess, depending on where it shows, we’ll make a decision. I’ll let you know.
Neil Strauss: All right. All right, man. Okay. All right. Sounds good, Jayden. I’ll talk to you later.
Neil-VO: If you’re not already worried about your privacy, you should be. Jayden has just made a deal with a company in Canada and, as a private investigator, he can give them any phone number, get them to ping that phone, and the company will then give Jayden the exact location of the phone, even if it’s off. It’s a massive privacy violation but it also happens to be really useful right now so I’m a little bit conflicted, especially when Jayden calls back with Chris’ location.
Neil Strauss: You said you pinged his phone. Where is it in California, his phone?
Jayden: Santa Monica.
Neil Strauss: Where … Do you have an address in Santa Monica? I’m driving that direction right now.
Jayden: It’s on Pico. It’s on … 3200…
Neil-VO: The police can’t talk to Chris Spotz because he has a lawyer. Adea’s friends can’t talk to Chris Spotz because he’s not returning their calls. Jayden can’t talk to Chris Spotz because he’s in Colorado and Chris is here in LA at this address in Santa Monica. Not only am I the only person left here who can possibly speak with him, but I just happen to be one mile away.
Neil-VO: While I am driving to Chris’ location, Jayden and I discuss a plan to reach out to the only other person we really need to speak with right now, Mary. Jayden texts her saying he has important new information to share that may help her understand what’s going on, but Mary doesn’t text him back.
Jayden: At least it’s in her ear. I actually like the fact that she didn’t respond. It’s better than, “No.” Do you know what I mean? At least she’s leaving the door open a little bit. I know she’s getting my messages.
Neil Strauss: We’re surveilling her for a couple days-z
Jayden: Oh, no. Wait, no. She did respond to me.
Neil Strauss: Shit.
Jayden: She said, “No thank you,” and, “Don’t contact me.”
Neil Strauss: Wow.
Jayden: Well, there you go. Beautiful. Like I said, you know. I just skewer these people.
Neil-VO: As we’re speaking, I pull up outside the building where Chris is believed to be staying. It’s five stories with maybe about 15 apartments on each floor.
Neil Strauss: All right, man. I’m going to go do this. Man, nerve racking.
Jayden: Let me know what goes down. I’m around.
Neil Strauss: All right, cool. All right, talk to you in a little bit. Bye.
Jayden: All right. Thanks, man.
Neil Strauss: All right. I’m in my car, man. I don’t do this. I’m terrified. All right. So… and I am going to ask him.
Neil-VO: I reach the call box, I find the unit where Chris is staying, and I dial the code.
Neil Strauss: Hello?
Neil-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. Because this is an open case, anything you know about Adea Shabani or anyone mentioned in this podcast, we want to know. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 213-204-2073.
Neil-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. You can follow us on social media at LiveDieLAPod, or you can find our website with bonus content at LiveDieLA.com.
Neil-VO: We want to extend a special thanks to Brian Fishbach, to Rich Burner, Kevin Richter, Station 16, Oren Rosenbaum at UTA, Eric Lin at Shangri-La, and the Nord Group.
Neil-VO: It helps a lot when you subscribe, rate, and review the podcasts that you enjoy and listen to. Our hope is to expose these stories so the missing can be found and so the perpetrators can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Neil-VO: Thank you for listening and for your support.