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Steve, 27, an electrician who lives in Poway, says this is his first time at Dad’s. He wants to know if this is a good place to hook up with women. When asked if Poway is a snooty place, hard to meet women, he replies, “Scripps Ranch can get pretty snobby. I used to live in Missouri. Scripps Ranch says it’s country living, but it is snob haven is what it is. Poway is more of a country town, a working-man town.”

What has the trial done for the town’s image?

“It doesn’t affect that city’s reputation. It just shows there’s a scumbag running around. You know, I think whoever did it should be shot in the head.”

Did Westerfield do it?

“My personal jury is still out.”

9:30 p.m.

A black woman with a short, red-tinged Afro enters the bar with a tall man wearing shorts and a casual shirt. He stands at the bar’s end, nearest the door to the kitchen, and orders drinks. This becomes the unofficial lineup spot for drinks as the evening progresses and the bar crowd grows five deep.

A man in a Braves T-shirt and worn-down thongs enters with a woman. They know the crowd, say hi, high-five, and hug. She has on a red top showing deep cleavage. He sees a friend at the bar. As they talk, his left hand moves to the back of her pants, where he claims ownership. She returns the favor by sticking her hand in his pocket. He draws circles on her back as he talks to his friend and gestures with beer. Shaggy plays “It Wasn’t Me.”

The rock-and-roll band scheduled to play tonight has been replaced by a DJ playing techno music. Four Latino men set up elaborate equipment on the far end of the dance floor. The music begins, heavy bass along with a light show, to tepid response. The body count at Dad’s is now about 75.

Dale Allen, 42, an unmarried maintenance worker, lives in Poway. Tonight he’s wearing a company shirt with his name embroidered on it. While we talk he lifts his ball cap off and on his unkempt brown hair. About the trial coverage, Allen says, “I’ve followed it a lot…reading, listening to the radio, and watching it on TV. I do think Westerfield did it, because for one thing, an adult does not download child porn on his computer, period. I wouldn’t. I have a ten-year-old son, my niece is ten, and I wouldn’t even think about that.

“Swinging? I never been there, but I’d have to say I’m surprised, because I was here that night. My girlfriend was mad because I was talking to Brenda. My girlfriend said, ‘Let’s go!’ And Brenda said, ‘Why do you let her talk to you like that?!’

“Without a doubt Brenda was liking me. I’m a chest guy, and she’s got a good chest — a great chest — so I stayed and hung out. I danced with her and some girls, I think Denise. I agree with that woman [at the trial] who called it dirty dancing.

“Everybody knows everybody here, but I hadn’t seen them before. When I heard what had happened and who it was, well, my parents and girlfriend said, ‘Oh, shit!’

“I had no idea that swinging stuff was going on here. What I saw from Brenda was that she was a very friendly person. I got here at around 11:30 and stayed until closing. I think if my girlfriend hadn’t been here, I think something would have happened with Brenda and me. I live close, and that would have been a tough call. I mean, come on, what would you have done?

“Dad’s is much more mellow than before. Some people who used to come here from before don’t come anymore. I think all this has made Poway, which used to be a sleepy little town, into a nightmare.”

Jeannie Adelman, 33 years old and single, is a mortgage analyst in Carlsbad. She recently moved from Poway to Vista. She’s been coming to Dad’s for the past year. Tonight she wears black pants with a shiny red semi-sleeveless blouse cut to her waist, the kind of blouse usually reserved for clubbing. Her shoulder-length brown hair falls around a face that will always appear somewhat youthful.

Ms. Adelman says, “I’ve been following all the trial on TV, radio, and in the papers. I think he did it because I think he was angry. I think he abducted her because he wasn’t included in their entourage. I don’t think he meant to kill her, just to keep her quiet. I think he knew the type of life they led.

“My sister-in-law works here. She’s a cocktail waitress, and she was here that night and says Brenda was a regular here. She knew about the swinging because Brenda’d come here and party and leave with other people.

“It’s changed Poway because people are more cautious. In a way, the reputation of Dad’s is different, but I don’t think people think of us as a swingers bar. They were just in their little crowd. Still, I think people were surprised. This is the only happening bar in town. The only other places to meet guys and girls is in downtown San Diego.

“If anything, Dad’s is busier now, not more mellow. Tonight is different because there’s a DJ, not a live band. I’d say I’m a regular. I come here once a week, and I usually stay from about 10 until closing. I like it because the average age of this place is between 25 and 35, sometimes older, because bands play classic rock and Top 40. Overall, it’s a good place to take your family, and it’s just all-around fun.”

Thirty-five-year-old Trina Born, never married, is a personal- care attendant who works with paralyzed veterans. She lives in Poway. On this evening she sports jeans, well-worn boots, and a white cotton blouse over a red tank top. She has long, dirty-blond hair. She has the compact body and the presence of a Marine. A jangle of silver jewelry circles her neck, wrists, and fingers. Something about her stance, carrying a pool cue, makes her seem like a woman you’d not want to cross; and yet, when you talk with her, she’s easygoing and friendly.

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Comments

CStevenson July 1, 2012 @ 11:13 a.m.

Very interesting article. Most of the people interviewed who expressed an opinion thought Westerfield was guilty, though some were undecided and some even thought he might have been covering for somebody.

While most of those who thought him guilty believed he is a pedophile and was after Danielle, others thought he desired Brenda and her swinging girlfriends and wanted revenge at being rejected. An attraction to young children and an attraction to adult women are pretty much mutually exclusive, so the difference of opinion points to the lack of evidence of motive.

He didn’t have a history of violence, so why would anyone think he would react so violently to rejection? And an article in the Union-Tribune in March had mentioned a police report which stated that they didn’t find child pornography on his computer, which removes that motive and should have been a big red flag, to both the media and the public, but was ignored by both: he was being charged with possessing child pornography even though expert opinion was that his pornography didn’t include child porn.

Adding to that uncertainty over motive some people’s uncertainty as to whether he was even guilty, makes one question the strength of the evidence. As one person you interviewed pointed out, it is just circumstantial. Another person pointed out that Westerfield’s “dirty dancing” with Brenda would have spread evidence. More importantly, yet another person just didn’t believe that the van Dam kids never crossed the street. I don’t either. Westerfield’s motor home was parked so often in the streets outside their houses, often unlocked, and Danielle could easily have snuck inside.

A weekend-long kidnapping, sexual assault and murder, would have left a mountain of evidence; maybe as many as 200 of her hairs and a lot of blood. Instead, there were only three of her hairs in his motor home, and two stains of blood that were so small and so faint that they could barely be seen. That’s much more consistent with just a sneak visit.

We don’t know what clothes she was wearing during the cookie sale in his house about two days earlier, so the orange fibers that another of your interviewees mentioned might have come from that.

One interviewee thought Westerfield’s actions were weird. On the contrary, they would have been weird for someone who was guilty, particularly bringing Danielle back home with him twice and going to the Strand where he was in close proximity to other campers.

Finally, one of your interviewees said the scientific evidence against him was very strong, and there was nothing to counteract it. DNA and fingerprints might be powerful in placing someone at the scene, but they can’t tell us when that person was there. By contrast, insect evidence, which is also scientific, does provide a date, and in this case it told us that Danielle probably only died several days after Westerfield was placed under police surveillance.

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