Dana Ewell

Crime Files
Dana Ewell

The title ‘Catch Me If You Can’ for a biography on killer Dana Ewell relates to a villain who played a game of ‘cat and mouse’ with the police for years. Only there is little humour to be found in the grisly crime that shocked and captivated America during the late 90s. Ewell, at just 21-years-old, arranged for the slaughter of his entire family for the sake of getting his hands on his father’s empire. At the time of the murders in 1992, Dana Ewell was a spoilt, Armani clad young man who wanted for nothing in life, certainly not materially. His father Dale was known to be strict and a ruthless businessman who had built up a fortune setting up the company, Western Piper Sales Inc, selling small aircraft. Mother, Glee was a respected and much liked civic activist and had once been a teacher in Fresno, California where the family lived. Dana attended the University of Santa Clara and was obsessed with money and designer clothes. He had a BMW at his disposal and enough money to spend at a whim on jewellery or anything that pleased him. His older sister, Tiffany, at 24 and a graduate at Fresno University, was down to earth in comparison. From the outside the Ewells appeared to be the perfect American success story. Dale Ewell had been brought up in the Depression and had later joined the Air Force. After starting up his aircraft business he invested his money in buying several farms and accumulating great wealth. His empire at the time of is death was worth around $8m. At an early age Dana showed a tendency to lie and fabricate stories. Having a comfortable home, money, expensive clothes and a secure future wasn’t enough for the well-educated and highly intelligent Walter Mitty character. He was ambitious, like his father, but unlike his father wasn’t prepared to work to gain status and wealth. Even during his time at the University of Santa Clara as a student Dana felt the need to fabricate vainglorious stories about himself and achievements that simply didn’t exist. He was a compulsive liar and managed to con fellow students and staff members into believing that he owned a company which grossed $2.7m. Part of his web of tales included the impression that he had become a stockbroker at eighteen and an aircraft salesman, eventually leading him to the position of ‘president’ of his own aircraft company. What outsiders weren’t aware of was the reality of a father-son relationship that was strained to the point of non-communication. There is little doubt that revelations about Dana’s concocting of absurd tales about himself embarrassed his father and may have led to confrontations. But there is no evidence of physical abuse or any allegations that Dale beat his son. The reality was that for all his privileged upbringing, Dana Ewell had become a selfish, egotistical young man who seemed to only care about status and money. But there was still no indication why a compulsive fibber with a fertile imagination and a high IQ (180) could be capable of plotting the slaying of his own family. Perhaps Dana was a sociopath from the very beginning, someone who was ‘born broken’, but whatever the cause of his callous actions no doubt the knowledge that he would inherit $8m together with becoming the executioner of his grandmother’s $400,000 trust account on the death of his parents, fuelled his deadly fantasies.

The Trial

At the time Ewell finally went to trial he had evaded police prosecution for five years.  During that time he had managed to keep one step ahead of the law. Now due to Ponce’s testimony both Ewell and Radovcich found themselves in the dock, the latter tried on three counts of first-degree murder.Superior Court Judge Frank J. Creede Jr. banned television cameras from the trial, but did allow a radio station to cover court proceedings. The court case was a sensational affair due to the nature of the crime, its wealthy suspects and the fact that it had taken so long to bring the criminals to justice.Deputy District Attorney Jim Oppliger for the prosecution stated to the jury that Dana Ewell hired former roommate Joel Radovcich to kill the Ewell family at their home while Ewell, the planner and operator, resided in Morgan with his girlfriend and her father in order to acquire an alibi. Oppliger said he would need about 2 hours to describe complex evidence gathered in the more than 5 years since the killings of Dale Ewell, his wife and their 24-year-old daughter, Tiffany.Star witness, Jack Ponce, 27, agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for immunity. He told the jury that he bought the murder weapon for Radovcich, who he thought was going to sell it for a profit. He also told the court that Radovcich told him he put on several layers of latex gloves and sat on plastic sheets while waiting for the Ewells to come home from a weekend trip.Radovcich used a silencer and first shot daughter Tiffany. Her mother Glee was then shot four times. Dale was shot just once from behind as he walked into the house from the garage thirty minutes later.Also called to testify during the trial were Dana's uncles (Dale's brothers) who recounted how their nephew had become upset when he learned his parents' will was structured to release half of the estate when he was 30 and the remainder when he turned 35.It took the jury ten days to convict Radovcich of first-degree murder, and Dana of conspiracy to commit murder. They received mandatory life sentences, but were spared the death penalty.

The Arrest

Despite Souza feeling certain that the arrogant Dana had something to do with the heinous crime, there was nothing he could link him with that would incriminate the laid back youth. Little did Souza and his fellow detectives realise that they had just started on what would be an intensive game of ‘cat and mouse’ between them and the brilliant college graduate.For a brainy college kid, Dana wasn’t so bright to at least fake compassion and shock at the slaughter of his own family, although ironically he offered a $50,000 reward for the killer’s capture.However, his main concern was how to get his hands on his father’s business and assets. This cold-hearted behaviour just made Detective Souza even more suspicious. The duel between suspect and detectives was to continue for three long years as the police chased every lead they could find to catch Dana out.One main frustrating problem for Dana was that his father’s family, mainly his three brothers, prevented their nephew from receiving any of the funds and access to his father’s wealth. This meant he had to plunder funds elsewhere, such as his grandmother’s $400,000 trust account.In the meantime Dana continued to live life as he always had while Souza and his fellow detectives kept hot on his trail. They had Dana’s pager and ‘cloned’ his cellular phone and tapped his landline. Dana himself had kept a receipt for some candy that he bought from a grocery stall with his Amex card. He used this artefact as a means of proving a paper trail that in his eyes would exonerate him from the terrible murders. However, his retention of the receipt just made the police even more suspicious.Another friend and former college buddy of Ewell’s, Joel Radovcich was fingered as having being involved in the murders. However, there was still little evidence the authorities could use to pin the crime on both men. Finally in 1995, three years after the killings, Dana was charged with the murder of his parents and sister.As far as Detective Souza was concerned the main motivation was money. He saw Dana as being a callous sociopath who wasn’t prepared to wait for his inheritance which was stated in his father’s will to be distributed to his son on his 25th, 30th and 35th birthday. To add to more complications Dana Ewell's grandfather died in a basement explosion in his home in Ohio, which fire officials attributed to an unsafe gas generator.During investigations into Dana’s involvement in his family’s deaths, it was found that he plundered his grandmother’s account leaving only $2000 out of an original fund of $400,000. Transactions took place over a three-year period and it is believed that these funds supported his and girlfriend Monica Zent’s expensive lifestyle.Documents revealed that a $17,000 cheque was made out to her San Diego University – where ironically she was studying law – as well as $11,000 to pay for flying lessons both for Ewell and Radovcich. $200,000 went on a lawyer to support the defendant after he was arrested. Ewell also had more than twenty-four accounts in fourteen different banks, some held jointly either with his grandmother or girlfriend.Then finally in 1995, three years after the murder scene, a breakthrough came for Detective Souza when a friend of Radovcich, Ernest Jack Ponce, provided a detailed account of the killings as described by Radovcich.

Timeline

Easter Sunday, 19 April 1992: Ewell family are murdered in their home.

The Crimes

On Easter Sunday, 19 April 1992, Dale, Glee and Tiffany Ewell were shot in cold blood at their Fresno home in Sunnyside, California. Dana was two hundred miles away at the time of the crime on holiday with his girlfriend and her FBI father, John Zent.The Ewells had returned home from a holiday weekend on the California coast at their beach house at Pajaro Dunes, and it was assumed had disturbed a burglary on their return.Glee and Tiffany had been the first victims as they had driven back to their home, before husband Dale, who had taken the plane, was shot on entering the house about thirty minutes later.When homicide Detective John Souza entered the grisly crime scene two days later he felt there was something staged about the whole incident. The killings were efficient and methodical, perhaps too methodical, as the murderer had waited on a sheet of plastic to avoid leaving clues. They had also calmly retrieved all the bullet casings from the scene which indicated that the intruder or intruders did not feel particularly rushed.Dana appeared to have a shut tight alibi having been two hundred miles away at the time of the slaying. However, Souza and his fellow detectives weren’t convinced that the disturbed-intruders theory was so cut and dried. The robbery and murders felt carefully planned and too staged. Despite Dana’s alibi he immediately became a suspect. Souza followed his intuition and cast his eye on the cocky son who stood to inherit a fortune. Another aspect giving rise to suspicion was the fact that Dana seemed oddly unaffected by the brutal killings and instead demonstrated annoyance at receiving his family’s entire multimillion-dollar fortune at his immediate disposal.

The Key Figures

The Victims Dale Ewell (59) Glee Ewell (57) Tiffany Ewell (24)Joel Radovcich (Dana Ewell’s accomplice and killer of the family)Ernest Jack Ponce (provided testimony incriminating Dana Ewell and Radovcich)Detective John Souza: Investigated crime for 3 years.