UPDATE: The Orange County District Attorney announces indictment of Anthony Darnell Wade in the murder of Bessie Mae Whyman (details at end of post) . . .
Friends and former co-workers remember 84-year-old Bessie Mae Whyman of Anaheim as a sweet lady with twinkling eyes and an easy smile.
No one ever expected her long life to end in a brutal rape, torture, robbery and fatal stabbing.
"The neighborhood was peaceful and her murder has shocked everyone," Judy Nguyen, who used to live in the 2400 block of Paradise Road alongside Whyman, tells the Weekly. "Bess was the last person to deserve this."
"I worked with Bessie Mae for many years," said Vickie Rice, who told the Weekly they were employed at Bank of America. "The horror that she went through haunts me. She always had a smile for everyone and loved everyone. She was the sweetest lady, she probably never swatted a fly. This is an inhumane, violent end to her many kind years on earth."
Born in Clayton, Oklahoma, Whyman moved to California in 1941 and was an Anaheim resident for the past 53 years. She had lived alone since the death of her husband of 53 years, Glen, and that of her son Mark.
It was at her home that police found her body on Jan. 10 after being alerted by authorities in San Bernardino County, where a 25-year-old Los Angeles man was picked up driving a car registered to Whyman.
Nguyen, who is 25 and now resides in Irvine, lived in Whyman's Anaheim neighborhood in the early 1990s.
"My mom would fry eggrolls on some days and I'd take it to three neighbors, Coleen, Nancy, an Bess," Nguyen remembered. "Once in awhile I'd return to say hello and to pick up the china. It was one of those kinds of neighborhoods where you'd welcome people with food and conversation."
She still recollects the frequent sight of Whyman's garage door being open so she could sit inside and watch the neighborhood with her dog Daisy nearby.
"My little brother would take his scooter and stop to talk to Bess and Daisy," Nguyen said. "She was always open for a conversation, even from the tiniest person. She was always smiling and cheerful. I'm so angry and upset that she went out the way she did."
That feeling has spread to current and former residents of Paradise Road, she noted. Pointing out the neighborhood is and was racially diverse, Nguyen was upset with some who have commented (including on this very post) that there was a racial motivation behind Whyman's murder.
"It just angers me that people would simplify such a horrendous act and contribute it to some kind of social failure," Nguyen said. "Like it was racism or socioeconomic problems that cause this sick man to do what he did. There's no excuse. No excuse at all."
Rice agrees with such sentiments.
"Race doesn't have anything to do with the evil acts that were committed to a good person," she said. "There is no race--just good & evil, [and] the man that did this is evil!"
The Orange County District Attorney's office has since charged the man accused of carrying out the evil, Anthony Darnell Wade.
A woman claiming to be Wade's mother left condolences for Whyman and her family in this post's comments section. Saying she understands "the anger expressed here," the woman points out that her family has also suffered a loss, reminds everyone that her son has not yet been convicted and adds, "remember, my fellow human beings, hate is not the answer."
Read her full remarks below.
Funeral services were held for Whyman Jan. 16 at Anaheim United Methodist Church. Interment was at Loma Vista Memorial Park in Fullerton.
Here is the OCDA's account of the crime:
- Around noon on Jan. 10, Wade is accused of walking through an Anaheim neighborhood on Paradise Road and looking in windows with the intention of finding a vulnerable victim from whom he could steal a car. He is accused of breaking into Whyman's home trough a broken window after seeing the victim sleeping in a bedroom.
- Wade is accused of raping Whyman, tying her up by her hands and feet, and punching and kicking her. He is accused of torturing and murdering her by repeatedly stabbing her with a kitchen knife. He is accused of then taking a blanket and covering her, leaving her body in the living room. He is accused of ransacking the victim's home and stealing her purse and car before fleeing the scene and driving to San Bernardino.
- Once in San Bernardino, Wade allegedly tried to use Whyman's stolen credit cards at a Food 4 Less store. He is accused of getting into a fight with an employee after becoming angry that the staff would not accept the card with the name "Bessie Whyman" on it. Staff pepper-sprayed Wade and called the police.
Anaheim Police previously disclosed the office was contacted by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department about checking on Whyman. No one answered the door for officers at her Anaheim home. After finding an open door, police went inside and discovered Whyman's corpse.
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Anaheim Police Sgt. Rick Martinez called the attack on the elderly woman "brutal."
UPDATE: Wade was indicted today on one felony count of special circumstances murder. The special circumstances include murder in the commission of rape, robbery, burglary, and murder with torture. He was also indicted on one felony count each of elder abuse, first degree robbery, first degree residential burglary, torture, forcible rape, the unlawful taking of a vehicle, and sentencing enhancements for the personal use of a deadly weapon and causing great bodily injury to an elder. Currently being held without bail and scheduled to be arraigned May 5 in Santa Ana, Wade is eligible for the death penalty. Senior Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.