Just a Random Female

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

McGrath began his interrogation with a casual chat about Star Trek. Both he and Urdiales happened to be fans of the show, and McGrath was impressed that Urdiales could quote from the series.

McGrath and Krakausky already had a suspect in mind for the murders, a man who knew all three prostitutes, who had failed a polygraph and then tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrists.

"He was an evil guy," McGrath says of their suspect. "Evil incarnate, deep-set eyes, disheveled hair, a Charlie Manson expression, and in my 32 years, I never had the sense of evil like when I talked to this guy, but we couldn't find any physical evidence to connect him. We kind of believed Urdiales acquired his gun from this guy or loaned it to the guy, and he was the guy we were looking for."

Jack and Genelle Reilley hold a portrait of their daughter, murder victim Robbin Brandley. Photo by John GIlhooley.
Jack and Genelle Reilley hold a portrait of their daughter, murder victim Robbin Brandley. Photo by John GIlhooley.

At the station, however, Urdiales insisted he had purchased the gun from a dealer, still had the receipts, kept the gun locked in a box in his basement, and nobody else had the keys. McGrath and Krakausky exchanged glances and informed Urdiales that his gun had been used to murder three prostitutes. Urdiales unpinned his security-guard badge and untied his shoelaces. "I guess I'm not going to be going to work today," he said, and then confessed to murdering Uylaki, Corum and Huber.

Urdiales described the murders in detail: how he lured them to Wolf Lake for sex but got angry each time. He shot Uylaki after she saw his gun under his seat and tried to grab it. He then removed her clothes, stabbed her and dumped her in the lake. Huber met the same fate after she acted "ditzy" in his car. He grabbed her by the hair, then shot her when she tried to leave and dumped her in the water.

Corum, according to McGrath's notes of the interview, said "something that pissed him off," so Urdiales hit her in the face, took off her clothes and used duct tape to tie her feet together. He also taped her mouth shut, but he took off the tape to let her smoke a cigarette while he drove down Interstate 55 toward the Vermilion River. He pulled off the freeway near a farmhouse, driving through cornfields to the river.

Once there, he untied Corum, marched her out of the car, shot and stabbed her, then dropped her from a footbridge into the river. "Andrew Urdiales states that he didn't feel anything for Cassie after he shot her," McGrath wrote. "That she was just a whore. And he was trained to kill in the Marine Corps."

Urdiales didn't stop there. After confessing to the three Illinois murders, he told McGrath to call the cops in California.

"There are things they'd like to talk to me about, too," he explained.

McGrath took furious notes as Urdiales recited a list of horrific murders in California. "It seemed he was glad to get it off his chest," McGrath recalls. "During the recounting of the incidents, we'd crack a couple of jokes, and he'd laugh and go on to tell us about somebody else he killed. Pretty bizarre."

In 1987, Urdiales said, he'd picked up a prostitute (later revealed to be Mary Ann Wells) in an industrial neighborhood of San Diego. He paid her $40 for sex, then shot her and took his money back. The next year, he returned to San Diego and murdered a woman police identified as Julie McGhee, a 20-year-old prostitute. In 1989, he murdered another prostitute, 19-year-old Tammie Erwin, in Palm Springs. He told McGrath he returned to Palm Springs on at least two other occasions. In 1995, he'd murdered a prostitute named Denise Maney there. And three years earlier, he'd kidnapped and raped a young woman who managed to escape his vehicle.

Within days, police throughout Southern California were matching Urdiales' description of the murders with their unsolved homicides. Urdiales had also talked about a storage locker in Twentynine Palms, where he served in the Marines after leaving Camp Pendleton. Inside the locker, Riverside County Sheriff's detectives found several guns, rolls of duct tape, assorted knifes and a machete. They also tracked down Jennifer Asbenson and showed her a series of photographs. Without hesitation, she identified Urdiales as the man who had kidnapped and raped her and, after she escaped from his trunk, chased her down the road with a machete.

The last person Urdiales confessed to murdering, as he sat calmly across a desk from McGrath inside the Chicago police station, was Robbin Brandley.

*     *     *

A few days later, then-Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates paid a surprise visit to Jack and Genelle Reilley at their home in Laguna Beach. An ex-Camp Pendleton Marine named Andrew Urdiales, who was in custody in Chicago, had confessed to murdering their daughter.

"Gates was 6-foot-6 and wore a big hat and boots with a 2-inch heel," Jack recalls. "He showed up with all these detectives and said this guy had confessed in Chicago to all these murders. It was on CNN and all over the news."

Gates told the Reilleys he was holding a press conference to announce the Brandley murder case had been solved. "He said Robbin was the first [victim], and we are going to get him here [to stand trial] first," Jack says. "And after that, it went back to nothing again."

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