Just a Random Female

Robbin Brandley’s confessed killer sits on death row. So why don’t her parents consider the case closed?

Asbenson accepted his offer for a ride back to Palm Springs. Almost immediately, the driver became angry about the phony telephone number, and Asbenson realized she was in trouble. "He was being persistent, but then all of a sudden, he just flipped out, and he had a knife, and he just held it up to my throat and started screaming at me, calling me a bitch and telling me to shut up." The man pulled over on the side of the road, pushed Asbenson's head into the dashboard and grabbed a ball of twine from under his seat.

"He pulled my hands behind my back and just started wrapping them," she said. "And it just felt like I was doomed. . . . I couldn't believe what was happening, and I couldn't even think, and I just said, 'This is a joke. Oh, my God, all this over the phone number. Oh, my God.' And he just said, 'Shut up.'"

Asbenson asked the man what he was doing, but he wouldn't answer. When she told him he wouldn't get away with anything, he placed a hat and sunglasses on her head, then locked her door and pushed her seat back so other motorists wouldn't be able to see her.

The sun was just coming up over the horizon, and from her vantage point, Asbenson would later recall, she could see nothing but an endless parade of telephone poles in the early-morning sky. She asked if he planned to rape her. "He wouldn't say anything," she said. "He had a lot of rage. I kept looking at him. I provoked no emotion. No matter what I said, he couldn't feel a thing for me. He was just really pissed off."

As he drove through the desert, one hand on the wheel and the other gripping a knife to her neck, the man forced her to perform oral sex on him. The road became bumpy, and Asbenson, who grew up in Palm Springs, knew he was taking her to a remote area. After what seemed like nearly an hour, he pulled over, cut off all her clothes and stuffed her panties in her mouth, using her bra as a gag. As he raped her, he began viciously cursing Asbenson.

"And then he just told me to tell him that I loved him," she said. He removed the gag, and Asbenson did her best to sound sincere. It didn't work. The man punched her in the face. She tried again, imagining what it would be like to say those words and truly believe them. Her second effort didn't fare much better. He called her a "bitch," and the next thing Asbenson knew, he was strangling her. The world turned white, and Asbenson passed out. When she awoke, the man was licking her neck, biting her. He pushed her out of the car and, holding a handgun to her head, forced her once again to perform oral sex. She thought about biting his penis, but she couldn't muster the courage. Instead, she asked him to shoot her.

The man then forced her into the trunk and began driving down the road, deeper into the desert. Gathering all her energy, Asbenson managed to pop the twine off her wrists. Terrified that she would be cut to pieces by her captor, she tried to strangle herself with the twine. When that failed, she began feeling around the darkness until her fingers gripped a latch. As she did so, the trunk popped open. Asbenson lifted the trunk a few inches and stuck her hand out, hoping to attract the attention of passing motorists. But her abductor immediately noticed the trunk was open and pulled over to the side of the road. He got out and slammed the trunk shut again.

"Keep it shut, bitch," he yelled. Then he ran back to the driver's seat and revved the engine. But he hit the gas so hard, his wheels spun, stuck in a sandy rut. Asbenson opened the trunk and, naked except for her sweat shirt, ran down the road. In the distance, she could see an approaching truck. She turned around and saw the man running after her, waving a machete. She kept running, eyes closed. When she opened them, the truck had screeched to a halt.

"Catch him!" she screamed. "He kidnapped me! I just got out of his trunk!"

Inside the truck were two Marines who listened in horror as she described her ordeal. "They were really mad," she recalled. "They said they were going to kick his ass. They started driving as fast as they could, trying to catch him." The blue car sped off into the distance. Asbenson was treated for her injuries and gave a statement to Riverside County Sheriff's detectives, but they were unable to locate the car or its driver.

*     *     *

Nearly five years later and more than 2,000 miles away, Officer Warren Fryer of the Hammond, Indiana, Police Department received an emergency call from a security guard at the American Inn, a run-down motel in the working-class suburb 30 minutes east of Chicago. According to the guard, two guests, a man and a woman, were arguing in the motel parking lot.

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