Maybe Bryan was getting an idea about how to support himself without his mother’s help.
Bryan contacted Sherry with good news: police had recovered his car. Bryan now said he was worried; the thief might have made copies of his car keys. He asked Sherry to “look into the other car options I emailed to you, because I want to trade in the Lexus as soon as possible.”
Sherry did not trade in her son’s Lexus.
Less than two weeks later, on January 20, 2010, Bryan emailed: “Hello Mom, It’s been a rough week, and the car was stolen again yesterday afternoon…. As stated before, I feel like that car attracts too much attention…. I prefer to maintain a low profile. I would also like to start looking for other housing options…. The police have visited my room on several occasions, I would like a fresh start in a new environment…. Please visit L.A. so that we can look for housing and car options…. Regards, Bryan.”
Bryan had signed off with “regards.”
Five days later, Sherry was found dead in her home.
On a Friday, Bryan sent an email to his mother in the middle of the day: “Hi Mom, I really need a ride in your car this afternoon if possible. Please visit my place in Los Angeles, and allow me to drive your car. My future safety and legal options are dependent on your ability to provide a vehicle. Just to put this into perspective, my car was stolen twice within a month, and I am currently appealing a gun charge for self-defense purposes. If there is any way for me to have access to your car for the next few days, please let me know. This is really an emergency. It doesn’t get more urgent than this. Regards, Bryan.”
This was on January 22, 2010, the last day Sherry’s coworkers would see her.
Within minutes, Sherry emailed Bryan. She told him she could not come to Los Angeles that day. She was at work, and she would not leave until after 5:30 p.m. Sherry suggested that Bryan rent a car, take a taxi, or phone his father.
She sent an email to her husband a few minutes later: “Call me please. He is in big trouble this time, I think. God help us.”
Sherry’s husband, Anthony, later told investigators that he spoke to his wife for the last time the following morning. Sherry had phoned that Saturday and told him she was at Bryan’s apartment. She said she’d driven there to sort out his car problems, but Bryan wasn’t there. She decided to wait for his return.
On Monday, husband Anthony emailed his estranged wife: “Good morning Sherry. How are you? Hope everything is OK.”
Sherry was not okay.
A concerned coworker
At around the same time Anthony sent that last email to his wife, a concerned coworker was driving to Sherry’s home. Albert Rios had become worried when always-dependable Sherry did not arrive at work and didn’t answer her phone.
Rios had known Sherry for 13 years and, recently, they’d developed the habit of lunching together every Wednesday at In-N-Out Burger. Rios knew that Sherry lived alone in a big house; when she needed things fixed, he helped her out.
Rios drove the 20 miles from work to Sherry’s home in Solana Beach. He parked in the driveway. When no one answered the door, he walked around the side of the house and looked in a window. He saw Sherry’s purse sitting on a kitchen counter. Rios then walked toward the garage. The small door was busted open, and he could see Sherry’s black Lexus inside. Rios phoned for help at about 11:30 on the morning of January 25, 2010.
What the deputies found
When deputies entered the home, they saw a black bag sitting in the entryway, on the floor near the front door. It was a small duffle bag, a size suitable for airplane carry-on; it was packed with neatly folded clothing. Detectives were informed that Sherry had told people she planned to travel that weekend, to Taiwan or Philadelphia. Different sources recalled different destinations.
Her purse on the kitchen counter held a wallet with $23.42 cash, but all the credit cards were missing. Detectives were told that it was common for Sherry to carry $2000 cash in her purse.
Sheriff’s detective David Hillen said he found signs of cleanup. Upstairs, said the detective, “I noticed that the carpet was wet. You could just tell it was wet by stepping on it, the squish sound.”
One of the upstairs rooms was set up as a tearoom. A low table had a tea set on it and there was one chair. “They saw what appeared to be bloody footprint impressions on the carpet leading from the hallway to that room,” Detective Hillen said.
In the autopsy report, the medical examiner noted that she found on Sherry’s body “a small amount of dried blood adhered to the soles of the feet.”
The elegant tearoom had blood spatter on the walls. There was a mop in the room with red stains. The mop was still wet. Crime-scene technicians found a bloody fingerprint on the window blinds. The blood was identified as Sherry’s, the print as Bryan’s left index finger.
Another upstairs room was apparently Bryan’s: it contained his clothing and mail addressed to Bryan Chang at the Solana Beach address. A stuffed dinosaur was propped on the bed. The medical examiner noted in her report: “Examination of a nightstand in an upstairs bedroom revealed two fragments of skull with attached black straight hair sitting within a drawer of the nightstand on the right side of the bed.”
In the closet of Bryan’s room, sticking out of a box, was a wooden baseball bat. It appeared to have stains on it and was collected as evidence.
Some weeks later, investigators collected another baseball bat. Bryan had reported his black Lexus stolen a second time, on January 19, six days before his mother’s body was found. Two weeks after Sherry’s death, the missing car was found in a strip mall in Santa Monica, not far from Bryan’s apartment. Under the driver’s seat investigators found a small wooden Louisville slugger, a souvenir version of a baseball bat.