On June 3, 1991, Denise Huber disappeared from a Southern California freeway. Ultimately, her disappearance would unravel the details of the life of John Famalaro and the true story of the Ice Box Killer.
The Ice Box Killer murders began as a mystifying disappearance and became one of the most notoriously brutal slayings in Southern California history. Who was the Ice Box Killer? What were the details of Denise Huber's disappearance and ultimate fate? Even today, the investigation of John Famalaro remains open, his relationship to several unidentified woman still undetermined. Here are some of the answers to questions about the bizarre case of the Ice Box Killer, John Famalaro.
In the early morning hours of Monday, June 3, 1991, Denise Huber drove from a Morrissey concert at the Los Angeles Forum toward Orange County. She dropped off her male companion for the evening at approximately 2 a.m. Later that morning, when her parents discovered Huber failed to return to the Newport Beach home she shared with them, they began to frantically contact Huber's friends and, ultimately, the police.
Huber's best friend, Tammy Brown, began her own search for Denise and, late Monday evening, spotted her car on the shoulder of the 57 (Corona Del Mar) Freeway. It had a flat tire and a dead battery, the result of the activation of the emergency flashers. Skid marks indicated a blowout. Huber, her keys, and her purse were missing. There was no sign of blood, foul play, or any other damage to the automobile.
Local police departments and the Orange County Sheriff's department conducted an intensive investigation into Huber's disappearance. A gigantic billboard near Exit 57, where Brown found Huber's car, featured her photograph and a plea for anyone with information to contact police; meanwhile, Southern California television stations covered the case extensively. But years passed and no clues as to Huber's whereabouts arose.
On July 9, 1994, Elaine Canalia and Jack Court were selling items from their paint distribution business at a swap meet in Prescott Valley, Arizona. They struck up a conversation with a contractor named John Famalaro, a man they had met before at similar events. Famalaro, who claimed to be selling excess paint from his contracting business, offered to sell Canalia and Court a large amount of colorant at a good price. Canalia and Court agreed and, accompanied by Court's 10-year-old grandson, followed Famalaro to his Cochise Drive home in Dewey, Arizona, to pick up the product.
Although the home stood in a prosperous neighborhood, Famalaro's backyard contained hundreds of paint cans. A tarpaulin obscured a Ryder rental truck next to a pickup in the driveway. Famalaro hurriedly helped Canalia and Court load the materials into their truck. At one point, Court's grandson asked to use the bathroom and Famalaro refused, claiming the water was shut off. Later, when the boy started playing with a cap pistol, Famalaro testily remonstrated him.
After completing the transaction, the couple said goodbye. Once back in their vehicle, Canalia and Court commented on Famalaro's behavior and the oddity of the rental truck, surrounded by debris, which had clearly been parked in the driveway for a long period of time. They also noticed the license plate was from the state of Maine and Canalia, convinced the truck was stolen, surreptitiously wrote down the plate number and visible Ryder serial number, even as Famalaro intently watched them leave his property.
However, Canalia quickly forgot the number and it wasn't until three days later that a friend and Phoenix police detective named Steve Gregory arrived at their warehouse to buy some paint. Reminded of the strange encounter, Canalia gave the policeman the information. After the detective contacted the Ryder company, he quickly determined the truck was stolen from Southern California six months prior. Gregory passed the information on to the Yavapai County Sheriff's department, the unit with police jurisdiction in Dewey, Arizona.
Early in the morning of July 13, 1994, Yavapai County Deputy Joe DiGiacomo received a radio dispatch to proceed to 685 Cochise Drive inside the Prescott Country Club development. Here, he located the Ryder truck and became suspicious when he realized an electrical cord ran from the back of the truck toward the house on an adjacent property. The stacked cans and strange electrical setup indicated to DiGiacomo he had likely stumbled onto an operational meth lab. When he knocked on the front door of the house, no one answered. DiGiacomo then contacted the department narcotics detail and attempted to determine if anyone was home at 685 Cochise Drive.
When narcotics detectives arrived with a search warrant and a local locksmith, the lock on the back of the truck was quickly removed. Instead of narcotics, police observed more paint cans and a freezer turned to the "on" position, which was locked and sealed with masking tape. Upon opening the lid, the odor of decaying flesh overwhelmed the truck cargo bed. Detective Mike Garcia reached into the black plastic bag inside the freezer and felt what he thought was a human arm. Garcia replaced the lid and contacted the department's homicide unit.
A police lieutenant, Scott Mascher, arrived to supervise the homicide investigation. With a video camera rolling, he described the process of investigators removing three layers of plastic bags to discover the freezer contained a handcuffed human body bent over in the fetal position. The interior of the freezer contained a frozen layer of blood and bodily fluids while the corpse's head was covered by another set of smaller white plastic bags. Mascher, determined to maintain as much evidence as possible, stopped the process and arranged for the entire truck and freezer to be transported to the Arizona state crime lab.
At approximately 5:30 p.m., John Famalaro, accompanied by his mother, pulled up to his home, where he was immediately arrested. After officers read him his Miranda rights at the county detention center, Famalaro refused to provide any information to Mascher and requested an attorney. Neighbors described him as a veritable recluse who declined any attempts at interaction. They said he retrieved his mail with his head down and barely said hello to them.