My murdered schoolmate Elisabeth Ann : TrueCrime


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More details on the murder/case at the Charley Project.

Looking back, I realize this was the case that sparked my interest in true crime. I attended elementary school with Elisabeth Ann Huster in Beaverton, Oregon. She went missing and it was ultimately discovered that she was murdered by her own mother, Karen Lee Huster.

I remember Elisabeth well. Her clothes were often disheveled and dirty. She would show up to school in the same outfit several days in a row. Elisabeth had long unkempt dirty blonde hair and a sweet disposition. I recall she got picked on quite brutally by some kids in our class. Thankfully I wasn’t one of those kids.

She was in fact very fond of me and would follow me around the playground during recess. She would always ask me to play on the swingset with her and see how high we could go. But I could instinctively feel something was off. Not so much in terms of her as an individual, but in terms of the condition she would show up in along with her many absences from class.

At the time my elementary school brain couldn’t rationalize that feeling in any significant way. I was still kind to her, but I didn’t allow myself to get super close.

Looking back now, I see that this strange sense was likely a product of the awful shit she was enduring at home. I firmly believe that even as a child I somehow picked up on the fact that her family life was NOT a good situation, thus pursuing a sleepover-level friendship was avoided- I still carry guilt about this. I do find it interesting how such intense gut instincts can manifest even in a child.

At that age I honestly don’t remember hearing about Elisabeth going missing nor do I recall anyone speaking of it. Clearly I received the information at some point, seeing as how I eventually hunted down the articles about her disappearance and murder. It had to have been implanted in my memory somewhere along the way.

I was compelled to finally post this to let people know about what happened to my schoolyard friend. I thought at the very least that if no one else thinks of her or remembers her, I still do.

Even now in my 30’s she appears in my mind- her pink oversized t-shirt with holes, long wavy blonde hair and gapped teeth. Below I copied two LA Times articles regarding her case since they are behind paywalls. The story is insane and I am forever disturbed by her tragic fate. Please read and feel free to ask me anything, I don’t remember a ton but it has always been with me and I had to share her story. What happened to her is still very much a mystery.

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Father’s Hope Fades After Horrific Find

By SOLOMON MOORE

Michael and Karen Huster’s 18-year marriage was as fractious as the custody battle for their two children.

But Michael Huster said he refused to believe his wife was capable of harming their daughter–even after they divorced in Oregon and 10-year-old Elisabeth Anne disappeared in 1996. Even after Oregon authorities issued a murder indictment against Karen Huster, and she fled.

Huster, who has acknowledged hitting his wife, said he thought Karen was just hiding the girl from him.

Not until 10 days ago, when police found dismembered human remains of her male roommate in two freezers in a Canoga Park apartment occupied by Karen Huster, 41, did Michael Huster say he had begun to lose hope for his daughter.

“It’s becoming more plausible to me that she has harmed her,” he said of his missing daughter last week from his home in Pleasanton, Calif.

Court records and interviews with family members, neighbors and investigators show the steady meltdown of the Huster household, culminating in the disappearance and possible murder of their daughter at the hands of Karen Huster.

But police in Los Angeles and Oregon say the gruesome discovery Nov. 10 in the De Soto Avenue apartment has led them no closer to finding Elisabeth’s body.

Although she has been uncooperative in the search for her daughter, Karen Huster told investigators that she dismembered the man’s body after he died of a heart attack. So far, police say, they are inclined to believe her.

“There does not seem to be an obvious cause of death,” said coroner’s spokesman Scott Carrier. The identity of the body has yet to be confirmed, but the listed tenant of the unit, 73-year-old James Cameron, is missing.

Cameron may have been supporting Karen Huster financially, but details of their relationship are “somewhat nebulous,” said Los Angeles Police Det. Mike Oppelt.

She was arrested Nov. 10 after the body parts were found and is being held at Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles. Efforts to reach Huster or her attorney were unsuccessful.

The district attorney’s office has yet to charge Huster and referred the case back to police for further investigation. Mutilation of a corpse is a felony in California.

Cameron’s stepson, Craig Faulkner, 44, of Reseda said they have been estranged and have not talked since last year. He said he did not know Karen Huster and described his stepfather as a temperamental widower of three years. “He was a loner, an intellectual,” Faulkner said. Cameron was a retired engineer for ITT, an avid golfer, bowler and square-dancer, Faulkner said.

“But since mom died in 1998, he was a loner,” Faulkner said, adding that his father’s health had declined after a stroke last year.

Sierra Nord, who managed the De Soto Avenue property until she moved in January, said Cameron was a “soft-spoken, quiet man.” She said she never saw Karen Huster or anyone else living with Cameron.

Meanwhile, Oregon authorities say they intend to extradite Huster to stand trial in this Portland suburb for the death of Elisabeth.

Michael and Karen Huster met in 1978 when he was a Caltech student. They married the following year and moved to Santa Barbara. In 1980 they had a son, Jonathan. Michael Huster says the marriage “was tumultuous from the beginning.”

“She showed herself, very quickly, to be short-tempered and moody,” he said. In court papers filed in Oregon, Karen Huster claimed Michael Huster had a long-term drug problem.

They separated for two years in the mid-1980s and Michael Huster went back to school at UC Davis. Karen Huster, a San Fernando Valley native and Chatsworth High graduate, moved from Oregon to Northridge to live near her father and brother.

The Husters reconciled by 1986, when Elisabeth was born, and moved to Northern California before relocating to Beaverton in 1994.

“It wasn’t until the 1990s that I got the hint that her mental state was unstable,” Michael Huster said. He recalled a time in Northern California when Karen Huster abandoned their then-13-year-old son at a downtown store miles from their home. He also described a scene in an Anaheim diner when his wife, frustrated by an inattentive waitress, screamed loud enough to stop every conversation in the establishment.

Michael Huster was not the only one to mention Karen Huster’s bizarre behavior. In their Oregon neighborhood, a tidy, close-knit community of middle-class families, nearby residents talked about the volatile mother who yelled at her daughter’s playmates and never seemed to leave the house.

“Elisabeth was sweet,” said Karen Thatcher, 42, who lives across the street from the Paisley Drive home the Husters used to own. “But Karen was a little different–not someone you wanted to be neighborly friends with.” Two of Thatcher’s youngest daughters, Haley and Lacey, used to play with Elisabeth, but she said they were often afraid of Karen Huster.

Karen Huster, Thatcher said, rarely moved from a couch in front of a television. Elisabeth’s hair was usually uncombed and her clothes old and torn.

Linda Goudge, another neighbor, said, “I liked Elisabeth. She was sensitive–really nice. But my kids were not allowed to go over there.”

Once in a while Karen Huster would venture out of her house to shout at neighborhood kids for picking on her daughter, Thatcher said.

Both Thatcher and Goudge said they seldom saw Michael Huster at the house.

Tensions in the Huster household reached a climax in the fall of 1995. Michael Huster was laid off from hisjob as a researcher for a medical equipment firm. On Nov. 16, 1995, Karen Huster accused Michael Huster of abusing drugs, according to court records. A terrible argument followed, all witnessed by Elisabeth, who was 9, according to Michael Huster and court records.

“He hit me on the shoulder,” Karen Huster wrote in a restraining order she filed in December 1995, “then he spat on me, then hit me across my face. My face was swollen and bruised. It affected my hearing and equilibrium, eyesight, it hurt badly and had dislocated my jaw. I went to a doctor.”

Michael Huster, who stands nearly 7 feet tall and weighs 240 pounds, acknowledged last week that he struck Karen Huster. She is 5-foot-4 and weighs 180 pounds.

“That was the last time I saw Elisabeth,” said Michael Huster, who obtained custody of their son. He found a job in Pleasanton and repeatedly called his wife’s house, but she prevented him from speaking to Elisabeth until the following summer. They spoke on the phone during the summer of 1996.

“I told her that we were trying to make arrangements to visit, I told her I loved her, and I gave her my phone number and told her to hide it in case her mother was trying to keep her away from me,” he said. “I tried not to make it into a crisis. I never thought she was in any danger.”

Michael Huster filed for divorce in August 1996. About the same time Karen Huster told a friend that she was considering killing herself and Elisabeth, according to an Oregon search warrant.

Elisabeth was last seen on Aug. 31, 1996, at a wedding in Cedar Mill Stake, Ore. Soon afterward, she failed to attend the first day of school. When neighborhood children asked about Elisabeth, Karen Huster told them she was visiting relatives, former neighbors said. Karen Huster told her son, Jonathan, that Elisabeth was visiting friends when he visited his mother on Thanksgiving 1996, Michael Huster said.

“We thought that was strange,” Huster said. “She knew Jonathan was coming and would want to see his sister.”

Michael Huster reported Elisabeth missing on Dec. 23, 1996, and Washington County Sheriff’s Det. John Stratford questioned Karen Huster about her daughter’s whereabouts. Karen Huster refused to tell him where Elisabeth was.

Karen Huster fled shortly afterward and was arrested in February 1997 in the coastal town of Newport, Ore., on suspicion of custodial interference. Among the belongings police seized was a newly purchased .22-caliber revolver. The gun had “two expended rounds,” said Washington County Sheriff’s Det. Larry McKinney.

Karen Huster served two years in Oregon State Prison, but she refused to reveal her daughter’s whereabouts. During her incarceration, Oregon authorities staged an exhaustive search for Elisabeth and had even received advice from FBI profilers. In February 1999, Karen Huster was released and detectives still could not find any trace of Elisabeth.

That same month, Oregon officials indicted Karen Huster on murder charges. Again, Karen Huster fled. She resurfaced in Canoga Park a week ago.

Stratford flew to Los Angeles from Oregon on Monday, but his partner, McKinney, said no new evidence connected to Elisabeth’s disappearance had emerged as a result of events in Los Angeles.

“ ‘No-body’ murder trials have been done,” said Washington County Sgt. Scott Ryon, “but they’re much harder.”

Despite his fading hope, Michael Huster said he harbors no hard feelings toward his wife. “I don’t have the energy for that anymore,” he said. “Most of all, I feel pity. She’s made things so hard for herself.”

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Woman Held in Body-Parts Case Is Wanted in Oregon

By RICHARD FAUSSET

A woman arrested Friday after human remains were found in two freezers inside a Canoga Park apartment also is wanted by Oregon authorities in the slaying of her young daughter, Los Angeles police said Saturday.

A fingerprint check by Los Angeles police detectives identified the woman as Karen Lee Huster, 41, an Oregon fugitive. She has been on the run since April, when she was indicted in the killing of her 10-year-old daughter, who has been missing since 1996.

Los Angeles police, responding to a call at 11:15 a.m. Friday about a possible killing, forced their way into the De Soto Avenue apartment when no one answered the door. Inside, Huster was found with what police said appeared to be self-inflicted wounds.

Body parts were found in the freezer compartment of a kitchen refrigerator and a large commercial-style freezer in the dining room, Lt. Dan Aikin of the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said Saturday.

After her arrest Friday on suspicion of murder stemming from the remains found in the apartment, Huster refused to identify herself and was booked as “Jane Doe.”

Authorities have not yet identified the victim, but say the remains appear to be those of an adult man.

The apartment’s tenant, a 73-year-old man, is missing, police said. His name will not be released until relatives have been “notified of his missing status, due to the uncertain nature of the investigation,” according to a statement by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Authorities in Los Angeles and Oregon would say little Saturday about Huster. In April, an Oregon grand jury indicted her for murder in the slaying of her daughter, Elisabeth Anne Huster.

According to a Web site of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, Huster had numerous run-ins with state authorities over the whereabouts of her daughter. The site included extensive background on Huster’s case, which has generated much attention in Oregon.

Huster has served jail time for refusing to help authorities find her daughter.

In an interview Saturday from his home in Pleasanton, Huster’s ex-husband described his former wife as a Northridge native, with an often hostile personality.

Michael Huster, said that after the couple separated in 1995, he initiated divorce proceedings. His wife then tried “to hide my daughter away from me,” he said. The couple also has a son, who is 19 and lives in Oregon, he said.

Michael Huster–who moved from Oregon to the San Francisco Bay Area after the couple’s separation–joined friends and neighbors in contacting Oregon authorities in December 1996, worried because Elisabeth, then 10, had not been seen for four months.

On Christmas Eve 1996, Karen Huster told local sheriff’s deputies that her daughter was staying with relatives in California but would not say where, according to one news release.

A short time later, authorities said the mother disappeared, turning up in the seaside town of Newport, Ore., in February 1997. Local authorities served three search warrants but were unable to locate the missing girl. Huster was found guilty of custodial interference in May 1997, according to documents on the sheriff’s Web site.

Michael Huster said he was awarded full custody of the child, if she is found.

A judge warned the mother that she would be sent to state prison if she did not reveal the whereabouts of her child. She refused, and was sentenced to prison in June 1997.

Elisabeth Huster’s story was featured on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” on April 17, 1998.

No one called with tips, according to Oregon authorities, and other investigative efforts have been fruitless.

Karen Huster was released from prison in February 1999 and returned to Washington County. More than a year later, on April 13, a grand jury indicted Huster for the death of her daughter.

But Huster had disappeared again.

On April 19, Huster was in Kingman, Ariz., according to Oregon authorities, who said Spanish language tapes and a map of Mexico were found among her possessions.

Meanwhile, Michael Huster, whose divorce from the suspect was finalized in February 1997, said Saturday that he still holds out hope that his daughter, now 14, is alive.

He said his former wife often exhibited a “hostile kind of personality,” adding that she could be distrustful and quick to anger.

“I think anyone’s capable of doing something like that if they’re pushed or if they are under enough stress,” Michael Huster said, referring to her Canoga Park arrest on suspicion of murder. “So, yes, I think she’s capable of it. I would hope and pray she didn’t [do it], of course.”