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Crime News Homicide for the Holidays

Pregnant Mom Killed With Machete After Answering Door on Halloween Night

Doreen Erbert opened the door on Halloween night in 1984 and found a man wearing a big, bad wolf mask, carrying a machete in a terrifying slaying that played out in front of her young 4-year-old daughter.

By Jill Sederstrom

When pregnant mom Doreen Erbert heard the doorbell ring on Halloween night and opened the door, she found a big, bad wolf holding a machete — a scene almost straight out of a horror movie. 

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The masked intruder violently killed Doreen and her unborn child as her small, 4-year-old daughter Deanna Scott cowered behind the couch. 

“It was almost like one of those Halloween horror movies where the masked man goes crazy and starts hacking anybody and everybody in his path,” Jim Morin, a retired sergeant with the  San Jose Police, told Oxygen’s Homicide For The Holidays.

But this violence was all too real and in days that would follow, police would uncover a sinister plot of revenge carried out by a terrifying killer. 

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What led to Doreen Erbert’s Halloween death?

The night of October 31,1984 began like many Halloweens before it had in the small, sleepy city of San Jose, California. 

An eager young Deanna went trick-or-treating with her mother and father, Charles Ebert, before the family returned home to watch a movie and cuddle up on the couch. “I just remember children knocking on the door and my mom going and giving the kids candy and stuff,” Scott recalled.

Charles told his wife that he was going to the store and would be back soon, leaving Deanna and a pregnant Doreen at the house alone. 

“It wasn’t too long after he left is when there was a knock on the door, but it wasn’t a regular knock like a treat-or-treater knock, it was a little more harsh,” Scott remembered. “As soon as she opened up the door, I heard her yelling and my mom told me to hide. So I ran back behind the couch and covered myself up.” 

The killer was wearing a pair of mechanics coveralls and a wolf mask. After savagely attacking Doreen in the front, the killer searched the house for Deanna, who stayed hidden.

“He shouted out that if I said anything he was going to come back,” she said. “He was going to kill me.” 

Doreen Erbert featured in homicide for the holidays

Two or three minutes later, Deanna heard her dad coming back home. Charles sent his young daughter to a neighbor’s house.

By the time police arrived, Charles — who was covered in blood — was completely uncontrollable and placed into a patrol car.

“As I looked into the window of the patrol car, I could see he was extremely excited, extremely hyperactive, screaming and yelling something about ‘my wife, my wife, my wife,’” Jamie Saldivar, a retired officer with the San Jose Police Department, recalled. “At some point he started to try to kick the windows out and [was] smashing his head up against the window.” 

Charles was immediately considered a “person of interest” in the case and taken to police headquarters. 

Inside the suburban home, officers made a grisly discovery. Doreen was “flayed open like a gutted deer,” her fetus lay on the floor underneath a chair holding a jeering jack-o-lantern. 

“I look at the jack-o-lantern and it’s smiling over this baby,” Saldivar said. “It was completely out of a horror film.” 

Blood was splattered onto the walls, ceiling and floor. 

“I remember walking into the house and you could see about an inch of blood over the floor and I turned to my left and I see a fetus and I said ‘what the hell happened here?’” retired San Jose Detective Bert Caro said. “How can anybody do something like that?”  

Crime scene investigators also noticed a trail of blood leading away from the home and down the sidewalk, where it led to a catwalk over the freeway and into a nearby neighborhood. 

Who Were the Suspects In Doreen Erbert’s Murder?

Although the officers initially suspected Doreen was killed in a violent domestic incident due to her husband’s intoxicated and agitated state, they quickly learned from the neighbors that she had also had a troubled relationship with another man, her first husband Michael Dennis.

Dennis and Doreen shared a son Paul, but the little boy drowned in an accident behind Doreen’s house in 1980 when he was just four years old. Two years later, a distraught Dennis sued Doreen for the unlawful death of their son, but lost the court case.

“So with that Michael is even more agitated over the fact that he’s lost his boy, he’s lost his lawsuit. He really, really now just purely hates Doreen and her new husband,” Morin said.

After learning of the former couple’s troubled past, detectives headed to Dennis’ house around 12:20 a.m. on Nov. 1. 

The investigators were unnerved when they heard running water in his house and suspected Dennis may be trying to destroy evidence.

Yet, when Dennis came to the door, he was calm and collected and invited them in to talk. 

He also agreed to let them do a cursory search of the house, but when he went to sign the papers to give authorities permission, they noticed his right hand had a large gash.

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Dennis told the detectives he cut his hand earlier that night while carving a pumpkin, but the large amount of blood still oozing from the wound had them suspicious.

As several of the officers began to search the house, Saldivar followed him upstairs to get his identification. “Michael starts climbing the stairs and he turns looks over his shoulder and he looks at me with this lifeless, demonic stare,” he said. 

Saldivar pulled out his weapon and continued to follow Dennis up the stairs. Once they reached the bedroom, Dennis seemed to lunge toward the head of the bed. Saldivar ordered him to stop and discovered a shoulder holster for a gun on the side of the headboard with a loaded .357 Magnum inside.  

"I figured right off the bat he’s either going to kill himself or shoot it out with us. One of the two because I know he was going for that gun,” Saldivar said.

Saldivar took charge of the weapon and ordered Dennis back down stairs. 

Meanwhile, other detectives discovered blood droppings leading to the washer in the garage and blood smears on the handle of Dennis’ truck handle, steering wheel, and ignition. 

Who Killed Doreen Erbert?

They immediately took him into custody as a possible person of interest. With two separate suspects now in holding, detectives set to work to determine the killer. 

Authorities were able to clear Charles after finding a store employee who remembered him at the store the night of his wife’s death. Video footage also placed him at the store. 

In order to charge Dennis with the crime, however, they needed more evidence. Using a black book Dennis had on him at the time of the arrest, Caro reached out to his friends and romantic interests and found a woman who said she had been to a Halloween party with Dennis the year before when he went as the big, bad wolf. 

Authorities even tracked down a photo of him wearing the exact same mask that was found at the crime scene. 

During multiple searches of Dennis’ home, authorities also discovered the clothes he had been wearing in the photo, packaging for a 18-inch machete investigators believe was used in the crime, and two handmade coffins authorities suspect he made for Doreen and Charles. 

Blood analysis confirmed that someone with Dennis’ blood type had left blood at the murder scene and Doreen’s blood type was found in Dennis’ home. Even more damaging, the crime scene investigators followed the blood trail from Doreen’s home straight to Dennis’ house. 

“Michael dressed up in this hideous costume, attacked his ex-wife and butchered her on Halloween night, disemboweled the fetus, then he was looking to find Deanna in order to kill her,” Saldivar said.

Dennis was officially charged with the murders of Doreen and her unborn child just days after the brutal slaying.

Four years later, the case would head to court.  After prosecutors laid out their case, Dennis changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. 

His attorneys argued that he had been driven mad by the loss of his son and was triggered on Halloween night as he watched other children happily head out to trick-or-treat.

A jury wouldn’t buy the defense and Dennis was convicted of first-degree murder for Doreen’s death and second-degree murder for the death of the fetus. He received the death penalty, but when the state of California later overturned the death penalty, his sentence was converted to life in prison. 

In the years since the brutal slaying, Deanna has tried to understand her mom’s death and has even taken back the Halloween holiday to try to regain control over her life. 

“I can understand him losing a child. I get that, but you took something from me too. You took something big. You took my mom, you destroyed our family and I won’t forget that, but I do forgive him for it ‘cause for my own sanity,” she said. “I don’t want to be angry anymore.”