The ugliest police mugshot of the week comes not from a cop shop or district attorney's office but the California Department of Corrections, which is charged with continuing the incarcerate Ivan Von Staich with the governor's reversal of the Lake Elsinore 56-year-old's parole.
For reasons known only to the state parole board, the panel found Von Staich suitable to return to polite society, even though he had twice escaped from jail, threatened to kill a judge, nearly killed his ex-girlfriend by bludgeoning her with a claw hammer and fatally shot her new husband.
The crimes that put Von Staich at his current address--the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo--began around 1 a.m. on Dec. 8, 1983, when the then-27-year-old arrived at the Santa Ana home of his ex-girlfriend Cynthia Topper, who by then was married to Robert Topper. The "ex-" can be explained by what happened six months earlier. On parole for arson in Riverside County, Von Staich hit Cynthia, a waitress he met and started dating in 1980, in the jaw and threatened to kill her. Pleading for her life, she told him she loved him to make him stop the abuse.
Cynthia later reported the incident to Von Staich's halfway house, and the parolee threatened to kill her again. Later that month, he broke into her home and stole some photographs. He discovered she was dating Robert Topper and started calling and harassing him. Due to the threats and harassment, Staich's parole was revoked.
He was released on Nov. 17, 1983, with orders to stay away from the Toppers. Just a few weeks later, he cut the outside telephone wires of the Toppers' Santa Ana home with pliers and kicked open the front door. Wearing gloves and armed with two hammers, he walked to the master bedroom and struck Cynthia with the claw hammer before she ran to the kitchen.
Robert, armed with a gun, fired at Von Staich, hitting him and severing one of his fingers. But Von Staich managed to get the gun away from Robert before repeatedly bludgeoning him with the hammer. While Robert was lying face down on the ground, Von Staich fired the gun five times at close range, hitting Mr. Topper in the head, chest and neck.
Von Staich then ran to the kitchen looking for Cynthia. He pistol whipped her and shot her in the uterus before running to a neighboring house to seek help for his wounds. She spent months in a coma before coming out it.
Awaiting sentencing after acting as his own lawyer and being convicted by a jury of killing Robert and trying to kill Cynthia, Von Staich and another convicted murderer, Robert J. Clark, then 23, of Palm Springs, escaped from Orange County Jail on Jan. 26, 1986, by shimmying down from a rooftop recreational area to freedom via electrical cords and makeshift ropes.
Clark was captured a week later and ultimately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It took authorities a month to catch Von Staich, a trail that ended in Massachusetts. He was sentenced on May 23, 1986, in Orange County to 30 years to life in state prison on one felony count each of second degree murder, attempted murder, and sentencing enhancements for the use of a deadly weapon and inflicting great bodily injury.
Von Staich has been a busy bee behind bars. Besides threatening the life of Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Fitzgerald, the inmate has filed reams and reams of legal documents, complaints and lawsuits from prison, as I detailed here:
The state parole board praised Von Staich's recent good behavior in finding he would pose no threat to the public if released and should be paroled Feb. 10. The Orange County District Attorney's office appealed that decision to Governor Jerry Brown, and Deputy District Attorney Ray Armstrong drafted a letter pointing out the "particularly heinous and cruel manner" Von Staich carried out the crimes, while also noting the inmate continues to blame others for his actions.
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The district attorney's office was notified last week that Brown reversed the parole and, fortunately, Von Staich remained behind bars pending that decision. The killer gets to plead his case to the parole board again in September.
The runners up: