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A rodeo rider mysteriously disappeared from a dusty California town, leading detectives to a long list of enemies who had motive to violently kill him and bury him in the sand.
Allan “Rick” Godfrey Jr., 39, lived his life as a cowboy in the rural High Desert of the Mojave. The New York-born man felt a pull to the Wild West, where he trained horses and retired at an early age from the rodeo life.
“Allan was a cowboy. He loved being in the rodeo. He wanted to ride bulls. He loved riding broncing horses,” Godfrey’s father, Allan Godfrey Sr., told “Buried in The Backyard,” airing Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “That was his thrill. That’s where his heart was.”
On top of being a talented horseman, Godfrey also earned the reputation of being a ladies’ man — and drama seemed to follow him from western town to western town. He finally settled in a small trailer in the ranching town of Phelan, managed by couple Dale Brewster and Debbie Harris. With his beloved dog, Zip, Godfrey seemed to enjoy working with his landlords’ horses on the farm.
Godfrey also entered a relationship with Lisa Simonsen.
“He was a total cowboy,” said Simonsen. “Like Clint Eastwood since the day I met him.”
On an April weekend in 2015, Godfrey traveled to help Simonsen move her furniture from one house to another.
“And then the next morning, he was really upset because he had received a text message from his landlord, Dale, that he had to return the truck that he borrowed to move me,” said Simonsen. “And they got in a little bit of an argument, and Dale said, ‘You have to come home right now,’ which is about a two-hour drive.”
Godfrey left, and though he planned to return to his girlfriend the following day, there was only radio silence. When Godfrey’s father couldn’t get ahold of his son, he filed a missing persons report with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. Detectives went to visit Godfrey’s Phelan home, and Dale Brewster made a shocking confession.
“Dale Brewster told the sheriff deputy that he had got into a physical fight with Allan Godfrey Jr., who went by ‘Rick,’” said Dep. District Attorney Justin Cocker. “Brewster said he beat Rick up and that Rick took off, jumped Brewster’s fence, and said he hadn’t seen him since.”
Brewster explained he called the sheriff’s office himself to report the altercation.
“We got into a fistfight,” Brewster told dispatchers in a recorded call. “I beat the living crap out of him.”
Brewster said he’d witnessed Godfrey hit his head upon scaling the fence before running off into the desert, leading investigators to grow concerned that Godfrey might require medical attention. Brewster also claimed that on the morning of the brawl, a neighbor named Laura Vasquez visited him and complained about Godfrey. Vasquez claimed Godfrey owed her money after allegedly stealing a bracelet and thousands of dollars from her.
Vasquez’s accusations prompted Brewster to call Godfrey home from his girlfriend’s apartment, and the fight commenced when Brewster saw Godfrey wearing Vasquez’s bracelet.
“It wasn’t unusual for my son to just pick up and leave,” said Godfrey Sr. “But something wasn’t adding up … My son, if he was in trouble, would have made contact with me right away.”
Those closest to Godfrey also couldn’t help but wonder why he left his belongings in his trailer, including his dog, Zip, who never left his side.
Godfrey’s phone was turned off, and a search group’s efforts proved fruitless.
Investigators went to Laura Vasquez, who clarified that Godfrey was a business partner who lived in her home for some time.
“Ms. Vasquez said that she had lent Rick up to $25,000 that Rick still owed her,” said Cocker. “And that at some point, Ms. Vasquez called the sheriff’s department to get Rick Godfrey moved from her property.”
Authorities ruled Vasquez out as a suspect when she provided an alibi: She was home when Godfrey vanished.
As part of their investigation, authorities got ahold of Godfrey’s cell phone records, showing he made a call to a taxi company. They learned Godfrey requested a car at a street corner. However, the taxi service denied his request when Godfrey refused to give a specific address.
Several days later, things grew even stranger when Godfrey’s landlord, Debbie Harris, reported that Godfrey’s dog, Zip, was missing from the property. Had Allan Godfrey Jr. returned for his trusted sidekick?
Investigators turned to social media and quickly found many voicing their dislike for Godfrey. Dozens of community members wished him dead and celebrated his disappearance, accusing him of ripping people off and citing his allegedly promiscuous lifestyle. It didn’t take long for the suspect list to grow.
“There were over 45 people who had put it on Facebook that they would kill him,” said Godfrey’s friend Kelly Kapko.
Investigators chased every lead from social media, but each one was a dead end. They returned to Laura Vasquez, who revealed a new detail about her visit to Dale Brewster.
“She indicates that she told Dale Brewster that any woman Rick is living with, he is sleeping with,” said Dep. District Attorney Justin Cocker. “She told Dale Brewster that means [he’s] also sleeping with your girlfriend, Debbie Harris."
Though jealousy was a common motive for physical violence, it wasn’t enough for investigators to go on. For the next six months, there were no new leads — until Dec. 18, 2015, when a local man on his dirt bike came upon a human leg bone in the sprawling high desert town of Llano, California.
Authorities arrived at the scene and found the body of a man face down in a shallow grave. Someone hogtied the victim, roped his hands behind his back, and wrapped duct tape around his entire head. DNA samples collected from his father proved the victim was Allan Godfrey Jr. It was determined Godfrey was strangled to death.
“When I got the phone call [that] they found my son’s body in the desert, my heart just sank,” said Godfrey Sr.
Godfrey’s landlord Brewster was at the top of the suspect list. Looking at his past, investigators found Brewster had been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon back in 1991. Brewster was also accused of being violent with his former wife. Detectives hoped to glean more information from his girlfriend, Harris.
“Debbie Harris made several statements in her interviews with investigators that Zip was gone, and it led investigators to believe that Allan Godfrey Jr. came back for his dog,” said Det. Christine Kirby of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. “However, in speaking to Debbie’s daughter, it was found out that it was actually Debbie who had driven the dog off and let it go, just in the middle of the desert to get rid of it.”
Authorities paid a visit to the couple's ranch, only to find Harris and Brewster had packed their belongings and skipped town.
Investigators utilized a “Google Warrant,” which could help narrow in on the couple’s location, provided they had a Gmail account. Through the tracking, they followed Brewster’s movements on the day of Godfrey’s disappearance. Brewster’s phone went to and from the ranch and the burial site.
Detectives believed their suspect flew into a rage after Vasquez painted Godfrey as a fraud who could have been sleeping with his girlfriend, though the allegation was never substantiated.
The District Attorney’s Office found enough probable cause to file murder charges against Brewster, issuing a warrant for his and Harris’ arrests. Authorities followed their tracks to Kingman, Arizona, but somehow, the couple caught wind of their presence and fled before capture. After a three-day game of cat and mouse, authorities readied to head back to California. But then the couple’s cell phones were turned back on, leading detectives on another chase to a motel in Seligman, Arizona.
With the help of local police, they arrested Dale Brewster and Debbie Harris.
The accused were taken back to California, but prosecutors didn’t have enough to charge Debbie Harris with Godfrey’s murder. A jury, however, found Dale Brewster guilty of first-degree murder.
Brewster was sentenced to 55 years to life in prison for the murder of Allan “Rick” Godfrey Jr.
“I’m missing out on one thing I want in my life, and that’s all my kids together, one place, with me, just enjoying life,” said Godfrey Sr. “That’ll never happen. There’ll always be that one that’s missing.”
Godfrey’s dog, Zip, was eventually found and adopted by a loving family.
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