From the outside, Robert and Jane Dorotik had the perfect home life. They had been married for 30 years and had three loving children. They lived on a ranch outside San Diego where Jane and her daughter Claire could indulge their love of horses. Behind closed doors, however, their marriage was in tatters. When Bob threatened divorce, Jane killed him rather than be forced to pay him alimony, and then she tried to pin it on her daughter.
The Dorotiks met in Southern California in the late ‘60s. Jane had a nursing degree and a good job in the pediatric department at UCLA Hospital. They were married in 1970 and children soon followed. They had a daughter, Claire, and two sons, Alex and Nicholas. Growing up, Jane instilled in her daughter a love of horses.
“Jane got Claire her first horse when she was maybe 9 or 10 years old, and I think it was love at first sight,” Jane’s sister Bonnie Long told Oxygen’s “Snapped.”
Despite a seemingly good marriage, Bob and Jane had their differences. He was frugal and struggled to find a career while she made a six-figure salary working as a healthcare administrator and liked to spend the money she made. They fought about money.
“He was very angry, and things came to a head and they had been going to counseling and decided to separate,” said Bonnie Long. Bob filed for divorce in 1997, and Jane moved out to the ranch. They later tried to reconcile, though Bob’s relationship with his daughter suffered from the domestic tumult.
On the evening of Sunday, February 13, 2000, Jane Dorotik called the San Diego Sheriff’s Department. She said her husband was missing after having gone out jogging at 1:00 PM that afternoon. Jane and the police rightfully worried that the 55-year-old Bob may have had a heart attack or been the victim of a hit and run. Deputies searched the area as friends and family gathered around Jane to support her, except for Claire who was in Los Angeles for the weekend, but due home shortly.
The following morning, police found Bob Dorotik’s dead body a few miles down the road. To the detectives on the scene, it didn’t look like a hit and run.
“I could see that there was trauma to the head. However, I did not see a large amount of blood around the body,” Detective Rick Empson told “Snapped.” Empson also noticed that, despite wearing running clothes, Bob’s shoes were tied on the outside, and a piece of his scalp was inside his shirt, as if someone else had dressed him after he died.
“It was obvious to me that it was a murder. The body had been placed there and the murder occurred someplace else,” Empson said.
Not far from where Bob Dorotik was discovered, detectives found tire tracks and footprints that they believed were left when his body had been dumped. The medical examiner’s report revealed that he had died from blunt force trauma and strangulation. Undigested food in his stomach indicated his time of death was between late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, which was at least 15 hours before Jane Dorotik reported him missing.
Detectives searched the Dorotik ranch and as prosecutor Bonnie Howard-Regan told “Snapped,” “The natural suspicion is that the spouse could be a possible perpetrator.”
While Jane’s shoes didn’t match the footprints from the dumpsite, detectives discovered a damp spot on the carpet in the master bedroom that had recently been cleaned. They soon discovered bloodstains on the floor, walls and ceiling of the master bedroom, as well as on the underside of the mattress.
When detectives questioned Jane Dorotik about the voluminous amounts of blood they found, she said it was the result of a nosebleed Bob had several weeks back.
“If he had a nose bleed where he lost that much blood I would think that he would have died from that,” said Bonnie Howard-Regan. When police asked Jane to come down to the station house the next day for further questioning, she said she wanted to speak with an attorney, at which point she was arrested for the murder of her husband.
In May of 2001, Jane Dorotik went on trial for the murder of her husband, Bob. The prosecution had mountains of evidence, including blood samples found in the bedroom and in Jane’s truck, whose tires matched the tracks found where the body was dumped. They also had a solid motive; they claimed Bob intended to divorce Jane, and as the higher earning spouse, she would have to pay Bob alimony, which would seriously cut into her life expenses, including her horse ranch.
When it came time for her defense, Jane Dorotik didn’t deny she tried to clean up the crime scene, but said she only did it to protect her 34-year-old daughter, Claire, who was the real killer.
“Jane Dorotik did not kill her husband. Her daughter is responsible for the death of the father,” her defense attorney Kerry Steigerwalt told “Snapped.”
The jury would never be able to hear Claire Dorotik’s side of the story since she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights at a pre-trial hearing. Likewise, Jane Dorotik declined to take the stand in her defense. The Dorotik sons, however, did take the stand, but to testify against their mother.
“She was very startled by the fact that her sons testified for the prosecution,” said Detective Rick Empson.
Lawyers made their final arguments by June 5, and the case went to the jury who meticulously went over the evidence. After a week, they unanimously voted to convict Jane Dorotik on first-degree murder charges. That August she was sentenced to 25 years to life.
"We will probably never know all the parties who had a role in aiding and abetting before and after the fact of the murder," Judge Joan Weber said at her sentencing, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. "The fact remains there is substantial circumstantial evidence tying the defendant to this crime beyond a reasonable doubt.”
After her mother’s conviction, Claire Dorotik-Nana became a licensed marriage and family therapist. In 2011, she published a book, "No Secret So Close: A True Story of a Father's Murder, a Mother's Betrayal, a Family Torn Apart, and the Horses That Turned It All Around," which discussed the circumstances surrounding the murder and trial.
In an interview for her 2015 book, "Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards," she said, “In February of 2000, my father was brutally murdered. A few days later, my mother was charged with the crime. As part of the defense strategy, my mother’s attorney accused me of murdering my own father… In reflecting back, I was always fascinated by how although horrible, I felt as though my experience gave me many gifts. As a practicing therapist, I not only found myself facilitating growth through adversity, but became curious about it myself.”
Since her incarceration, Jane Dorotik has become an advocate for prisoner’s rights. She also continues to claim she was innocent of her husband Bob’s murder. In 2015, she won the right to have the evidence used in her trial re-examined for DNA, however, in 2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune reported the results were inconclusive and showed only the victim’s DNA. Now 71, she will be eligible for parole in 2023.
[Photo: California Institution for Women]