When Denise Goodwin began working in the home of the Rabourns, the elderly couple thought she was the answer to all their prayers. She cleaned the house and took care of them during the final month of 91-year-old Carolyn’s life, and then she helped 88-year-old widower Gerald go through the grieving process and settle his wife’s affairs.
But in actuality, the only person Denise was helping was herself, draining Gerald’s bank accounts and taking over the deed to his house. After taking him for all he was worth, she got rid of him like trash, although how she killed him and what happened to his body remain a mystery to this day.
By her late 30s, life hadn’t turned out quite the way Denise Michelle Goodwin wanted it to be. She was a divorced mother of a teenage boy, still living with her mother, Helen Lock, in a rural area northeast of San Diego, California. She worked as an assistant at an animal hospital and at her mother’s business, which provided fiduciary services. This gave Goodwin the opportunity to familiarize herself with probate law, wills and trusts.
An elderly man named Seward Norris lived on Lock’s property. He suffered from dementia, and Goodwin occasionally worked for him as a caregiver. In 2009, Goodwin contacted Norris' life insurance provider pretending to be his daughter or granddaughter and had them cut a check for more than $44,000. She deposited the money into his bank account, which she had added her name to, and spent the money on herself, according to court documents. Norris died the following year.
Sensing a financial opportunity in milking older men out of their money, Goodwin tried to ensnare her next victim online. The then-44-year-old posed as a 74-year-old woman looking for love on senior dating sites, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. She also placed an ad on the website SugarDaddy4me.com, saying she was looking for a man between 72 and 88 that could take care of her financial needs, according to court documents.
Failing to rope anyone in with her romantic ruse, Goodwin applied for a job as a caregiver to the elderly. She lied on her application about her education level and prior work experience, according to court documents. After being hired by a company that provided services to seniors still living on their own, she requested hospice work, aiding those dealing with end-of-life issues.
Goodwin hit pay dirt with her first assignment. In September 2010, she was hired to provide hospice care for Carolyn Rabourn, who lived with her husband, Gerald. Carolyn was 91 years old and dying from lung cancer. Eighty-eight-year-old Gerald was a retired mapmaker and health nut, whom friends and family affectionately described as a “miser” after he saved a substantial nest egg. Carolyn and Gerald married in the 1980s, and it was the second marriage for both of them. They each had adult children, who lived out of state, but with whom they frequently spoke to on the telephone.
Almost immediately, Goodwin began stealing money from the Rabourns. As Carolyn lay on her deathbed, her credit cards were used by Goodwin to purchase thousands of dollars worth of video and computer equipment, according to court documents. Before Carolyn’s death on Sept. 29, 2010, Goodwin impersonated her to gain get access to the Rabourns’ investment account and opened checking and savings accounts, listing Gerald Rabourn and herself as the account holders, said court documents. The day Carolyn Rabourn died, Goodwin had approximately $44,000 transferred into her and Gerald’s new joint checking account.
With Carolyn out of the picture, Goodwin now solidified her hold on Gerald Rabourn’s life and finances. Gerald was devastated by the loss of his wife of 30 years and vulnerable to Goodwin’s emotional manipulation. She claimed she would continue to take care of him free of charge, despite her work contract ending with Carolyn’s death. Over the following three weeks, he signed over nearly all his assets to Goodwin, either willingly or because of Goodwin’s subterfuge.
The day after his wife’s death, Gerald signed a quitclaim deed, giving Goodwin the ability to sell it, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. A week later, he met with his estate planner and made Goodwin the successor trustee, enabling her to make decisions about his assets in the event that he became incapacitated or died. Through their joint bank account, she also now had access to his $3,000 monthly pension and forged checks in his name, according to the Hartford Courant.
The first sign that something was amiss came when Gerald spoke with his daughter, Mary Weaver. Gerald had planned to move in with her in Kansas City following his wife’s death, but in the days afterward, he told her he was staying put.
“I’m going to stay with Denise,” he told her. Mary’s response was, “Who is Denise?” according to San Diego’s FOX 5.
A neighbor, concerned about Goodwin’s motives, called Adult Protective Services, which performed a wellness check on Gerald. Goodwin answered the door using a fake name and initially refused to allow APS workers to speak with Gerald, according to court records. Gerald eventually met with investigators, but he refused to cooperate. The inquiry was then closed, according to an article on the AARP website.
On Oct. 20, 2010, Gerald Rabourn placed an order for vitamins over the telephone. It was the last time anyone ever heard from him, according to court documents. On Oct. 21, there was an abrupt end of his cell phone use and financial activity, according to San Diego’s CBS8.
Following Gerald’s disappearance, Goodwin put his house on the market, ultimately selling it for $381,000. She also requested $143,000 in his assets be transferred into the joint account she shared with him. With the money she bought three rental properties in and around San Diego County, telling people she had inherited the money from her father, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
In the days following Gerald’s disappearance, his family repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to contact him. They finally spoke to Goodwin, who told them he was in Las Vegas with a woman named “Carmen,” and didn’t want to speak to his family, according to court records.
Several days later, a woman going by the name Carmen used Gerald’s cellphone to call his grandson, saying, “Gerry and I got married in Las Vegas.” She then asked for family members to stop calling them, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. The woman was actually an acquaintance of Goodwin’s who had been paid $20 to make the phone call, according to court documents. Afterward, Goodwin likely destroyed Gerald’s cellphone.
Mary Weaver abided by what she believed were her father’s wishes, but when she didn’t receive a birthday card in February 2011, she knew in her heart that something was wrong.
“He’s dead. That’s what it made me think,” she would tell prosecutors, according to FOX 5 San Diego.
When Mary asked about the whereabouts of her father, Goodwin told her he and Carmen were vacationing in Mexico. According to court documents, this was an immediate red flag for Rabourn’s family, since he had always said he “hated” Mexico.
Mary Weaver reported her father missing, and the story hit the news wire in April 2011, including a report on NBC 7 in San Diego, which said, “The family believes Gerald Eugene Rabourn, 89, may have moved to Las Vegas or San Felipe, Baja California, but attempts to locate him at possible addresses have been unsuccessful.”
When police asked Goodwin about Gerald’s whereabouts, she doubled down on her previous lies, but her story provoked suspicion. Police began investigating Gerald’s disappearance and uncovered Goodwin’s extensive financial chicanery; cell phone data revealed she had been at his house on the day he disappeared, even as his cell phone trail went cold.
On July 12, 2012, Goodwin was arrested and charged with elder abuse, grand theft, embezzlement, forgery and filing forged documents, according to on NBC 7. She was apprehended at the airport, where she was boarding a plan for an extensive European vacation with her son. According to court documents, when she learned her charges were amended to include first-degree murder, she began sobbing and asked her ex-husband, “Did they find him?”
Denise Goodwin’s trial got underway in late August 2014 and lasted until early October. After four days of deliberations, the jury found her guilty of first-degree murder and a special-circumstance allegation of murder for financial gain, as well as caretaker theft from an elder adult, fraudulent appropriation by a trustee, grand theft of personal property and forgery, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
On January 30, 2015, Goodwin was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to FOX5 San Diego. At her sentencing, Deputy District Attorney Bill Mitchell described her as “a thief disguised as a churchgoer” and “a killer disguised as a caregiver.” While her defense team acknowledged the evidence against her suggesting fraud and theft, they insisted murder was beyond her. Still, they requested her murder conviction be reduced to second-degree murder, a motion that was denied, according to NBC 7.
The manner in which Gerald Rabourn died and the location of his body remain unknown to this day.