Kudos to the Register's Frank Mickadeit for his Jan. 19 column marking the 25th anniversary of the murder of Robbin Brandley, a Saddleback College journalism student who was stabbed to death in an unlit campus parking lot on Jan. 18, 1986. Brandley was the focus of my Nov. 2007 feature story “Just a Random Female,” which you can read here or in The Best American Crime Reporting 2008.
Few murders in the annals of depravity are as senseless as Brandley's. The crime remained unsolved for nearly a decade until a former Camp Pendleton Marine named Andrew Urdiales confessed to it–and several other slayings–after being arrested in Illinois for murdering prostitutes. But as Mickadeit notes in his column this week, and as I detailed in my own reporting, Brandley's parents remain unconvinced that Urdiales acted alone.
Mickadeit doesn't get into the details about the parents' suspicions, but I described how they were convinced that a female acquaintance of her daughter, who, witnesses said, had argued with Brandley days before her death, had something to do with it. I also describe how Urdiales repeatedly used the word “we” when confessing to the crime, which he said occurred because he happened to notice a sign for the college while driving north on Interstate 5 from the marine base and that Brandley was “just a random female” who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Of course, the “we” conundrum is either a grammatical canard or a clue that he wasn't a lone killer, depending on your point of view. During his trial, Urdiales' attorney used this bizarre fact to lay out an insanity defense, arguing that Urdiales had voices in his head and believed the CIA was sending him subliminal messages ordering him to kill.
What I also noted in the conclusion of my 2007 story is the fact that Brandley's parents were also convinced that someone, presumably a cop, had repeatedly broken into their home and had tapped their telephones in recent years. Mickadeit updates this rather sad aspect of the story in his column, describing how Brandley's mother believes that law enforcement has planted tracking devices inside her body on several occasions.
If there's a lesson to this terrible murder, it's that senseless violence breeds nothing but more senselessness. There is no silver lining, no recovery or redemption. Just the pain of those who remember and can't forget.