18 • Wishful Thinking
19 • Shallow Grave
20 • Remembered
One big break is interrupted by another. The LAPD break their silence.
The golden rule in search and rescue is you always find a body you’re not looking for.
Jayden Brant, Private Investigator
There could be nothing worse than that, when you don’t have anything but you just make up stories.
Nora, Adea’s Mother
VO: The events in the following episode took place on the days between March 25th and March 27th, 2018.
NS-VO: I’m reluctant to share this piece of information, because it was so essential to this case, that I don’t want the knowledge widespread. But go to takeout.google.com on your computer. There, you’ll see a list of everything that Google is storing about you. Your emails, your contacts, your web searches, your browsing history, your app activity, your device information, and most chillingly of all, your location history. Click a button, and you can get it all sent to you in one easy set of zip files. Unless you’ve personally gone into your account and modified these specific options, all this activity and more is being tracked and stored about you.
Any embarrassing video you’ve ever watched, any late night rendezvous you’ve ever had. Any website you’ve visited that you don’t want anyone else knowing about. Even from the days when you cleared your browser history. It doesn’t matter whether you did it online or in the real world. If you had your phone with you, nothing is secret. Of course, other companies like SnapChat, Facebook and Apple, are also tracking your location and data in a variety of ways. But for our purposes, we’re interested in Google, because it just so happens that when Chris Spotz picked up Adea on the day she disappeared, his phone was on and Google was tracking his every move.
NS-VO: Due to the sensitive nature of this episode, we’re presenting our ads here at the beginning. I want to thank our sponsors for understanding, and please listen, as they are supporting the production of this podcast.
NS-VO: Chapter 18: Wishful Thinking.
Nora: Adea is a responsible kid. I cannot imagine that she would do something … She never mentioned anything else to me. The fact that she was last seen with Chris makes me strongly believe that something happened after she got in his car.
Nora: I mean, this is my main suspicion.
NS-VO: This is Nora, Adea’s mom. I’m filling her in on the results of my phone calls over the last few days with Chris’ family. Ever since Chris died, there’s been increasing desperation from Adea’s family and friends and some concern that she might never be found.
The police remain focused on the Lake of the Woods State Wildlife area, which is about an hour into what would have been a six and a half hour drive from Adea’s apartment to Wheatland, California, where Chris’ father lives. Yesterday, the police escalated their search in Lake of the Woods, and began sending divers into the waters there. But so far, there’s been no result.
Nora: That’s why I’m desperately trying to find out what happened during that journey from LA to wherever he was going. I don’t get that information. It’s killing me, it’s killing everyone, to just sit here and wait for any leads, for any evidence, because people call and they say, “Any progress?” And I get frustrated with this question, but then I say, “It’s logical to ask the question.” Because from where she was last seen, she could be seen somewhere else or, you know, there are always next steps. But here? Everything stops after she gets in the car. I mean, that’s it. I mean, even the traces, they fade. It’s been one month. There are cameras, then this evidence doesn’t exist anymore. So I think it’s really a matter of urgency to everyone, for everyone who has seen her or has seen him to get back to us and tell us, “Okay, this is what I saw, this is what we know.”
Nora: Because right now, it’s been really one month in the dark. And we are working with all possible scenarios. There could be nothing worse than that, when you don’t have anything, but you just make up stories.
NS-VO: We talk about next steps and I tell Nora that Mary has made a generous offer that may solve the mystery of that journey with Chris. Mary is going to open up Chris’ accounts to me, so that I can see the activity that Google and perhaps other apps have been tracking of his. Mary believes that Chris and Adea got in a fight in the car and Chris kicked her out in Santa Clarita, which is about half an hour outside LA. If this is true, we might be able to find that exact location, and if Chris stopped off at the Lake of the Woods area for 40 minutes, as the police believe, we might be able to find that location too. Either way, we may finally know, once and for all, what happened on that fateful drive.
Neil: We’re going to start just gathering as much data as we can. There’s a lot of things you can put together that can create a timeline. Let’s start with the Gmail. Okay, what’s the email?
Mary: It’s [redacted]
Neil: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh, that’s it. Got it.
Mary: And just a sec, let me make sure what his password is. I’m going to turn on his computer.
NS-VO: This voice is of Chris’ fiance, Mary.
Mary: Okay, so both are now changed.
Neil: Okay, good, you just got a text message.
Neil: It works. Okay, so basically we’re going to get a zip files with whatever Google is collecting.
Neil: Cool, it says it may take a long time, hours or possibly days to create. You’ll receive an email when your archive is complete. All right, so that’s one thing, and we’ll start doing the next one.
Mary: Okay, and is that going to go to his or yours?
Neil: It should go to both of ours. See in Chris’ email you’ll get a confirmation link and then I should get the confirmation. Then if you get it, forward to me, if I get it, I’ll forward it to you.
Mary: Thank you.
Neil: Yeah, it’s crazy. I never knew Google collected all this, on the maps.
Mary: Me either.
Neil: While we’re waiting for the full archive, we’re actually able to look immediately at some of the activity that Google has stored on Chris, including his locations.
All right, so I guess we’ll start February 23rd. It may not say anything.
Mary: No, I see him going exactly to, I assume his father’s address. Then to a hotel and driving straight down. I’m assuming we’re seeing the same thing.
Neil: Yup. At La Quinta Inn, right?
Neil: I guess, let’s see, I’m trying to … Now, this is crazy, right? All right, is that your place?
Mary: Yup, that’s our apartment. And that’s when he came home.
Neil: …no one can find? Is-
Mary: Is where he dropped her off.
Neil: Yes. Looks like the 76 Station in Gorman, California?
Neil: So that could actually be the place, ’cause that’s where he went over to get gas.
Mary: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Neil: So that actually could be the place.
Mary: And this makes sense, he only stopped for five minutes.
Neil: At his dad’s house?
Mary: No, at the pit stop in between.
Neil: Yup, yup.
NS-VO: This is not matching the police story.
This is really surprising. According to Chris’ Google location tracking, not only did he never stop anywhere for 40 minutes on his way to his father’s house, but he didn’t even go to the Lake of the Woods wilderness area. He just stopped at a gas station one exit before Lake of the Woods, for five minutes. I need to let [Jayden Brandt] know this, and see if this is something the police should know too.
The reason I don’t believe the police have this information is that they’ve been searching Lake of the Woods, based on Chris’ cell phone tower pings, and that data can be imprecise and inaccurate, especially in rural locations, where there are few or no working towers. On the other hand, Google is tracking the exact location of your phone, even when there’s no cell service or it’s in airplane mode. While I’ve been talking to Mary, Jayden Brandt has actually been trying to call. I quickly check my texts, then tell Mary I’ll call her back, because Jayden Brandt has just texted the worst news possible.
Neil: Oh no. Oh no. They got a body.
Jayden Brandt: Yeah. They’re waiting, they’re going to need forensic anthropologist to ID.
Neil: Oh wow.
Jayden Brandt: So …
NS-VO: The location where it was found is not Lake of the Woods, it’s in Nevada County, over three hours away. And the reason the police went there, Jayden Brandt tells me, is because someone either accidentally came across the remains or tipped the police off. Information is still coming in.
Jayden Brandt: No, they’re holding off on identification right now, ’cause there’s nothing to ID, but …
Neil: What do you mean by there’s nothing to ID?
Jayden Brandt: Well, there’s nothing other than … You know, I mean, I’m sure it’s likely skeletal remains.
Neil: Have you told Nora?
Jayden Brandt: Yes.
Neil: How was Nora doing?
Jayden Brandt: Not good.
Neil: Yeah. Yeah, oh my god, poor Nora.
Jayden Brandt: But again, I would tell, there is a possibility that it’s not her, and the golden rule in search and rescue is you always find the body you’re not looking, so I wouldn’t say that’s … You know, I wouldn’t say that’s out of the realm of possibility.
Neil: Right, but I wonder if she has identifying jewelry or things that they could tell Nora if she has it or not.
Jayden Brandt: I mean, they’re not going to tell her that, I don’t think. They’re going to wait until they know 100%, but you know … Fuck, man. There’s a possibility that we could be back at square one at some point today, you know?
Neil: Oh, if it’s not her?
Jayden Brandt: Yeah.
Jayden Brandt: I mean, I know everybody wants to speculate and say, “Oh, it’s her, it’s her, it’s her.” But you know …
NS-VO: Jayden Brandt is leaving open the possibility that this may not be Adea. That’s what a police detective, or a former police detective does. But it seems very likely that this is her. Why else would they be contacting her mother, Nora? When I hear the news, I’m not shocked. I’m just saddened. So sad for Nora, for Angel, and Emma, and Adea’s friends. But especially for Adea.
When we spoke earlier about hope that she’s still alive, when we said that we couldn’t call it a homicide, because no body had been found, it wasn’t really hope. I see that now. It was wishful thinking. On some level, we all knew the truth.
Jayden Brandt: Hey. Yeah, so they made a positive ID, and they just told Nora.
NS-VO: Chapter 19: Shallow Grave.
Jayden Brandt: At the end of the day, even though he’s no longer alive, they’re still going to try him at the press conference.
NS-VO: Jayden Brandt is referring to Chris Spotz.
Jayden Brandt: They’re going to come on there and they’re going to say, at the final press conference, they’re going to say, “Cell phone information led us to this area, because that’s where he went.” And the reason they’re going to do that is because they’re going to want to explain that she was dead the day she went missing, and there’s was nothing they could do.
Jayden Brandt: ‘Cause if I were them, I would say, “Hey, we were investigating this case, but it doesn’t matter, we could’ve never recovered her alive, because she was dead the moment she went missing.” So you know, if that comes out, then … I mean, the only thing in there is saying that he was never named as a suspect. Yeah, sure, but that’s just for investigative purposes. He was a suspect to everybody. You know what I mean? Just ’cause he wasn’t named as a suspect, doesn’t mean he wasn’t.
NS-VO: Jayden Brandt’s predictions turn out to be pretty accurate. At the press conference later that day, at the LAPD Headquarters, the tragic news and the details of the police investigation are publicly announced.
Police: Today I’m here to discuss some developments in the missing person investigation involved Adea Shabani … Shabana. This is a rather complex investigation and it is a little convoluted, so if you’ll bear with me what I’m going to do is go through a timeline of significant events during the course of the investigation that has led us to where we are today. As most of you are aware, on February 23rd at approximately 1:15 P.M. Miss Shabani left her 1700 Wilcox Avenue apartment in the company of a young man by the name of Christopher Spotz, of Studio City.
Over the next couple of days, her family did not hear from her and her friends did not hear from her as well, so they became concerned, and on February 25th, her friends reported her missing to Hollywood Division. Based on that, Missing Persons Section of the Los Angeles Police Department began an investigation into her disappearance. Based on information we developed over the weekend of March 10th and 11th, Robbery Homicide Division detectives and over 100 volunteers from the Sutter County Sheriff’s Department searched the area of the Lake of the Woods Wildlife Area near Nicolaus, California, for signs of Miss Shabani.
At the same time, Robbery Homicide detectives had traveled to Fort Morgan, Colorado. Their efforts were in an attempt to locate Mr. Spotz and have a conversation with him to get more details about the disappearance of Miss Shabani and also take a look at his 2015 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, as that was the last vehicle that she had been seen in. They were unable to locate either, so they returned. We placed a want on that vehicle to locate the vehicle and recover the vehicle so that we could look at it for investigative purposes and on March 22nd, San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department deputies located Mr. Spotz in that vehicle in the area of the 10 and the 15 freeways.
After stopping him to recover the pickup for Robbery Homicide Division detectives, Mr. Spotz fled the scene. California Highway Patrol pursued Spotz in his vehicle, ultimately stopping it at the Green River Road, exit off the 91 freeway in Riverside County. Christopher Spotz remained in the vehicle and at some point in time, committed suicide, dying as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Based on information we had gained over time and learned, we wanted to return to that area that I spoke of, the Lake of the Woods Wildlife Area in Nicolaus, California.
So on March 24th and 25th, we sent divers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Metropolitan Division Dive Team, up to that area to search it. They searched it over the course of the of the weekend, and were unsuccessful in locating any remains or any indications of Miss Shabani. Over that weekend, though, however, Robbery Homicide Division detectives were in the area, and they gained some additional information that caused us to want to search the area of the Spenceville Wildlife Area in Nevada County, California. On Monday, March 26th, in the morning, Los Angeles Police Divers were searching that area and walking the shores. There was a water’s edge where they found what they believed to be a shallow grave.
When we checked it, we were able to determine that it contained human remains. But because of the condition of the area, we were not able to recover the body immediately and we requested the assistance of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department and their Coroner’s Office, as well as the assistance of the Chico State Forensics Anthropologists. They came up today and we were able to remove the body. It’s a rather slow and laborious process that is meant to preserve any evidence there and recover the remains as gracefully as possible.
Those remains were recovered today and tomorrow the Nevada County Coroner’s Office will conduct an autopsy to determine the identity of the remains and determine cause and manner of the death. At this point in time, we believe that those remains are the body of Miss Adea Shabani. We also believe that Mr. Spotz, Christopher Spotz, was somehow involved in her death, and we believe this to be a homicide. However, until the conclusion of the autopsy and our ability to examine the evidence related to the recovery of that evidence, we won’t be able to determine that definitely. That will take several more days to do, to follow through on.
What I will do is, now at this point in time, answer any questions you have regarding the investigation. Some of it I may not be able to answer because we’re still processing evidence and going through, but I will be able to try and answer whatever I can for you. Yes, ma’am?
Press: So friends had expressed some frustration that they had seen correspondence between them on social media, and he had been arrested before. Frustration that more hadn’t been done before he committed suicide. Can you shed some light on why he hadn’t been arrested before?
Police: Well, these are complex investigations to say the least, and as you’ve seen the way I put the chronology, it explains a number of things, but first off is, we have a young lady that’s missing, okay? A) I don’t know where she is. She could just be missing of her own accord, or she could’ve met foul play, which we believe occurred in this case. Either way, to be able to take it into a courtroom and to a prosecutor, I have to have physical evidence or other evidence that supports those allegations. Although we believed and speculated that might have occurred, that would not have stood up for an arrest.
So we went through each one of those things. I don’t believe it would have changed the circumstances in any way on this investigation.
Press: Can you say anything about the nature of their relationship?
Police: Yeah, they had an intimate relationship. I would say probably somewhat boyfriend, girlfriend at least. But at least in an intimate relationship.
Press: For how long?
Police: That I’m not sure.
Press: I’m sorry. Lastly… they were going on a trip together. Was that planned initially?
Police: We believe that’s what was been said and if you were to look at the picture, you can see that she has what would be two carry-on suitcases that I believe, and some other things that indicate she would have been going on at least a significant road trip. Okay? Thank you very much.
NS-VO: On the day this podcast is being released, a little over one year after the press conference you just heard, the LAPD has not made another public statement about what we can now, unfortunately, call the murder of Adea Shabani. In other words, the police have never said conclusively who was responsible, other than stating that they believe that Chris Spotz was “Somehow involved in her death.” According to Nora, the police have since told her that they have no plans to say anything more definitive than that.
NS-VO: We can only hope that this changes.
NS-VO: Chapter 20: Remembered.
NS-VO: After the sun sets over Hollywood, 80 people gather on Wilcox Avenue, just off Hollywood Boulevard. They’re standing outside a place that’s familiar to listeners of this podcast. It is the Duet Apartment Building where Adea Shabani lived. People are using the past tense for her now. It is a painful tense. The mourners huddle in a semi-circle. Most of them were Adea’s peers and teachers at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting. Adea’s boss Angel is here, Adea’s friend Emma is here. Jayden Brandt is here and Nora, Adea’s mother, is also here.
NS-VO: The group is gathered around a small altar that’s been set up on the pavement in front of the steps leading up to the apartment building. On it, there are candles, roses, pens, paper and two head shots of Adea looking radiant. Almost angelic, in a white dress. And 80 people, most of whom came to Hollywood from small towns, carrying the same dreams as Adea, stare back at her with sad wet eyes. Some were friends with Adea from school. Others were friends with Chris from school. Yet all are thinking the same though. She didn’t deserve this.
Neil: No, go ahead. Appreciate it.
Friend: She’s one of the persons that I know that’s more determined, that she wants something and she’ll get it.
Friend: She was very passionate and her dream to be here, it became true, she came and-
Friend: A tremendous amount of talent and she was a beautiful girl all around. On the outside and the in.
Nora: You could say that Macedonia was too small for Adea, because she always had interest for something more. She had big dreams. She had big ideas.
Friend: You can believe that someone who comes here to, someone just like me, you can identify with this person so much, someone who came here to chase her dream, all the way Europe alone.
Friend: Believe me, if you met this girl, if you knew this girl, she would be a great friend to everybody that knows her.
Friend: She was just a delightful, spunky gal.
Friend: She is a sweetheart, and everybody knows that.
NS-VO: Adea’s mother, Nora, stands in the center of the crowd. She’s one of the only people here who’s not crying. Her voice, heavy and slow, she tells me, “In my heart, I knew Adea was gone.” The dryness in her eyes is actually worse than tears, for there is no greater pain than for a mother to bury her own child. Nora takes the small crowd in, where news trucks are now gathering and says, “I want her to be remembered.”
Nora: Last night was the first time I saw her in my dream. She was … I saw her from behind. Like everything is over. I actually saw my family in front of me, my husband, my son and her and she was… on the side. But I said, “Okay, this is over.” It was the first time I saw her in my dreams. Yeah.
NS-VO: Coming up on To Live and Die in LA:
Nora: He was basically saying that he has a friend who has been with him all his life and he calls brother and he could be the accomplice.
Neil: So tell me how this works. This is going to send a satellite ping to you every five minutes?
Jayden Brandt: Correct. I’ll monitor it the whole time you’re up there, so every five minutes it’ll send out your location and that’s obviously all waterproof, impact resistant, plenty of battery life, till we need to come up there and recover you.
NS-VO: We’ll be taking a week off to conduct interviews with some of the people who’ve called into this podcast and we’ll return with the next episode on Thursday, April 18th. I know some of you have contacted me and you want them right away, but much of this investigation and this process, is ongoing. To Live and Die in LA has been a production of TenderFoot TV and Neil Strauss, in conjunction with Cadence 13. The executive producers of this podcast are Donald Albright, Payne Lindsey and Neil Strauss, along with producers Alex [Fesbusted] and Mike Rooney.
NS-VO: Original music and score by Makeup and Vanity Set. Theme, Love and War by Flurry. Art and Design by Trevor Eiler. Editing by Alex Fesbusted with additional mixing by Resonate Recordings. Special thanks to Rich [Burner 00:31:34], Kevin [Richter 00:31:34], Chris [Corkrin 00:31:36], [Orin] [Seagul 00:31:37], Brian [Fishback 00:31:39], Bill Schultz, Oren Rosenbaum at UTA, Ingrid [Daylao 00:31:43], Eric Lynn of Shangri La and the Nord Group.
NS-VO: Thank you for listening and for remembering Adea.
Episode 9 - Hello, I've Been Watching You
Episode 10 - Blood on the Script
Episode 11 - The Long Way Home
In this special hour-long episode, Neil and Jayden follow the trail of evidence all the way to the burial site…and a new suspect emerges.
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