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Wife Poisoned Husband With Oleander, Antifreeze All For His Life Insurance Payout
It seemed like Frank Rodriguez had died in a "freak accident," detectives said. But his wife, Angelina, who told a friend she was getting bored of her husband, had something to hide.
In September 2000, police and paramedics responded to a panicked call concerning 41-year-old Jose Francisco “Frank” Rodriguez, a Montebello, California resident.
His wife, Angelina, said he had recently been experiencing food poisoning-like symptoms and he feared he was dying, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
When help arrived, Frank was dead.
“There were no apparent signs of any trauma of any type,” said Randy Seymour, a former sergeant with LASD Homicide. “So it was just a question — what happened?”
Investigators looked into Frank’s history. They learned that after 14 years in the Navy, he settled in San Luis Obispo, California and took a job at Angel Gate Academy, a boot camp for wayward youth.
The school worked “to try to get the kids on the right track,” investigators said. Angelina, a single mom who also had a military background, met Frank there.
In April 2000, Frank, 41, and Angelina, 32, were married in a small private ceremony. Shortly afterward, Frank became a math teacher in the quiet Los Angeles suburb of Montebello.
Just five months later, Frank was dead.
Detectives combed through every inch of the Rodriguez home for clues of any kind — of poisoning or domestic abuse, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
The autopsy was performed, but it didn't provide any answers.
“There was nothing to indicate any sort of foul play,” said true crime author Frank C. Girardot. “No drugs, no alcohol, no warning signs.
Investigators were leaning toward a freak accident as an explanation, until they received a tip from Angelina.
Angelina claimed that Chad Holloway, who worked at Angel Gate Academy with Frank, had a feud with her husband. Angelina also alleged that there was “sex trafficking” going on at the school, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
At this point the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department got involved. Detectives focused on the academy, where they interviewed a dozen people.
“Everybody up there loved Frank,” said Brian Steinwand, a former sergeant with LASD Homicide. “There wasn't anybody that had one bad thing to say about Frank, not even Chad Holloway.”
The allegations by Angelina against Holloway "were unfounded," added Steinwand.
Holloway also told investigators that he was struck by how thin and sickly Frank looked.
“He was almost like the shell of a guy that he used to be,” said Holloway.
Holloway was cleared as a suspect, and sheriffs were back at square one.
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The case then took a twist during Frank’s funeral. Frank’s sister, Carmen Pipitone, told authorities that during the service Angelina remarked that Frank could have been poisoned with oleander, a toxic plant. The comment struck Frank's family as strange.
While the medical examiner tested Frank’s system for traces of oleander, investigators questioned Angelina about her allegations.
“We kind of befriended her and made her think that we believed her and that we wanted to do everything we could to prove that Chad Holloway was the person who did this,” said Steinwand.
Angelina never mentioned the plant oleander by name. But during the interview, detectives observed that branches of her neighbor’s oleander bush hung into her yard.
Sheriffs focused on learning more about Angelina. Through her friend, Palmira Gorham, they discovered that Angelina had expressed being bored with marriage to Frank less than five months after tying the knot.
In fact, Angelina and her friend “were joking around about how they could kill their husbands,” claimed investigators. The topic of oleander as well as antifreeze came up, according to court documents.
On September 18, nine days after Frank’s death, the medical examiner confirmed the presence of oleander in Frank’s body. However, the volume wasn’t sufficient to cause death.
Angelina’s focus seemed to be on Frank’s $250,000 life insurance policy. As the beneficiary, she had been making inquiries about the payout just days after Frank died. Without a cause of death there’d be no death certificate, and without a death certificate there’d be no insurance payout, Pasadena Star News reported. Detectives used that to their advantage and encouraged her to share any leads or information she might have.
For weeks investigators continue a game of cat and mouse with Angelina. In early October, she reached out by phone with information on an alleged anonymous tip.
Angelina claimed that the source had a talk with Holloway, who brought up antifreeze. It was the first time it had been mentioned, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
A search of Angelina’s phone records revealed no such phone call was made to her number.
“It made us believe that she was just making it up so she could get that death certificate to get that money,” Steinwand told producers.
In late January 2001, the medical examiner determined that Frank had a lethal amount of antifreeze in his system. Frank’s cause of death was determined to be a homicide.
It was clear how Frank had died, but there wasn't enough evidence against Angelina yet. So, investigators recruited Holloway to call Angelina and confront her with a scripted conversation.
Angelina responded by calling detectives. She said Holloway admitted to killing Frank and told her “to watch her back.”But investigators knew she was lying because they had listened in on the call.
In February 2001, Angelina was arrested, although she stuck to her story that she was innocent.
But at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, Angelina hatched a plot using another inmate. She planned to have Gorham killed so that she couldn’t testify against her.
Authorities learned of the scheme through the other inmate. They recruited Gorham to pose in a photo as though she’d been shot in the head. An undercover cop, posing as the hitman, came to the facility and showed Angelina a picture of the fake murder.
Angelina’s response wasn’t shock or sadness about her friend’s slaying. She expressed delight that she’d be going home, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”
The prosecution’s theory was that Angelina began poisoning Frank with oleander. When she failed to get fatal results, she switched to antifreeze.
On January 12, 2004, Angelina Peernock was sentenced to death for her husband’s murder.
To learn more about the case, watch “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen or stream episodes here.
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