ROEHLER, Frederick George

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Fred Roehler

ROEHLER, Frederick George II (b. 1943) was convicted in 1985 of the first degree double-murders of his second wife, 36-year-old Verna Jo (1944-1981)[SS# 571-58-3209], and his stepson, Douglas Brian Johnson (1972-1981) on January 2, 1981. Roehler was 38 at the time. Roehler, who pled not guilty, was sentenced to life in California state prison without possibility of parole. His motive was to collect $700,000 in life insurance.

Roehler had anchored his 40-foot yacht, Perseverance, at Little Scorpion Cove on the east end of Santa Cruz Island. In addition to Roehler, on board were: his wife, Verna Jo; Douglas Johnson, her 9-year-old son by a previous marriage; both of Roehler's parents; two children from Roehler's previous marriage; and Roehler's brother and his wife.

Roehler claimed that his wife and stepson both accidentally drowned around nearby Bird Rock when the three of them went to take some pictures of Douglas and the puppy with the Perseverance in the background. He said they drowned while trying to save the pet beagle puppy, Lady, who had jumped out of their 16-foot dory after some sea gulls. At the time, Douglas was wearing a life preserver and Roehler was wearing a float-coat. He said Douglas lunged to reach the dog, that he reached over the side to get Douglas, that his wife shifted her position and the dory flipped over sending all of them into the water with the resultant drownings of Douglas and Verna Jo. An autopsy showed they both had been hit in the back of the head by blows consistent with an oar. (The dory oars were never found.) Three days before her death, Roehlet had added an accidental death clause to her life insurance policy, and he also carried a $120,000 policy on his stepson.

Roehlers first wife, 34-year-old Jeanne (1942-1976), allegedly accidentally drowned in their hot tub five years earlier., and Roehler had collected on a large life insurance policy. Mention of her death was not allowed during the trial, however. Investigative reporter and author, Ivor Davis, wrote a manuscript about Roehler which remains unpublished.

» People v. Roehler (1985) 167 Cal. App. 3d 353 [213 Cal. Rptr. 353]

In the News~

May 5, 1982 [LAT]: “After months of testimony, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court jury is deciding the fate of a Malubu man accused of drowning his wife and eight-year-old stepson near Santa Cruz Island last year. Frederick G. Roehler II is accused of murdering Verna Jo Roehler, 36, and her son, Douglas, and trying to make it look like a boating accident in order to collect $700,000 in insurance. Roehler's lawyers argued during the lengthy trial that the prosecution had based its case on circumstantial evidence.”

April 26, 1985 [LAT]: “The 2nd District Court of Appeal on Thursday upheld the conviction of Frederick George Roehler II for murdering his wife and stepson to collect $700,000 in life insurance, despite the dissent of one justice who said experiments simulating the boating incident that led to the victims' drownings "unduly confused and influenced the jury." Verna Jo Roehler, 36, the Malibu man's second wife, and her son, Douglas Johnson, 8, died Jan. 2, 1981, near Bird Rock at Santa Cruz Island. Roehler, 42, claimed that they drowned accidentally while trying to save a pet dog that had jumped out of their 16-foot dory. But prosecutors successfully argued that the unemployed engineer murdered the two in order to collect on insurance. Roehler was convicted May 8, 1982, and sentenced to life without parole. Justice L. Thaxton Hanson, writing the majority's opinion, said experiments about overturning a dory and other circumstantial evidence presented during the 70-day trial adequately proved Roehler's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that the trial judge's jury instructions were fair. Justice Vincent S. Dalsimer, in dissent, said the conviction should be overturned because jurors had been misled by improper admission of irrelevant experiments "compounded by the confusing and erroneous jury instructions and argument of counsel."