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Los Angeles Chef Confessed He Cooked His Wife's Body for Four Days to Dispose of It
After slow-cooking his wife Dawn's body to render it, chef David Viens dumped it out as kitchen waste, he confessed.
In the Los Angeles suburb of Lomita, California, David and Dawn Viens were savoring success at their bistro, Thyme Contemporary Cafe.
David was a star chef, known for his fusion dishes. His wife was the manager and hostess with a knack for making guests feel welcome.
But by the fall of 2009, the stresses of running the 18-month-old business reached a boiling point. On October 18, 2009, Dawn, 39, left the restaurant following an argument with David. She left her car behind at the eatery, but took her phone.
“David wasn't very concerned,” Dawn’s friend Joe Cacace told The Real Murders of Los Angeles, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen. “He knew she’d come back.”
But she never did.
Dawn Viens goes missing
On November 9, 2009, after three weeks of not hearing from Dawn, her sister, Dana, and Cacace went to the Lomita Sheriff’s Station, part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The case was assigned to the Missing Persons Unit, according to Richard Garcia, a retired investigator with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriffs learned that Dawn and David met in Vermont, her home state. He was going through a divorce at the time and had three children. They married in 1997.
They shared a dream of opening a restaurant. After several years in Florida, the family moved to California and invested their savings into Thyme Contemporary Cafe.
On November 11, sheriffs interviewed David, asking why he never reported Dawn as missing. He said he considered doing that.
Text messages complicate the missing persons case
Then, later that week, David claimed to authorities that "he received six text messages and a phone call,” purportedly from Dawn, Louis Duran, a retired investigator with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, told The Real Murders of Los Angeles. “One text message said that she wanted to clear her head for a little while, but she loved them and would return.”
David shared the messages with officials. His 25-year-old daughter, Jacqueline “Jackie” Viens, who was in town from South Carolina to help out at Thyme, confirmed the call, Once Upon a Crime podcaster Esther Ludlow told The Real Murders of Los Angeles.
Investigators immediately sought a warrant for Dawn’s phone records to determine if she’d contacted anyone else.
At the same time, Dawn’s friend, Karen Patterson, reported to sheriffs that she’d gotten texts from Dawn in which she signed off with her nickname, Pixie. But the signature was misspelled as "Pixy." Patterson doubted that the texts really came from Dawn.
Another red flag sprang up when Dawn’s financial records showed no activity after October 18. If she was taking a break, she’d still need money to live.
Sheriffs got Dawn’s phone records on November 12. They showed that the text messages had been sent not far from Thyme. “It would appear that Dawn might still be around in the area,” said Duran.
After November 5, phone and text activity ceased. Before then, she appeared to have been in contact with David, Patterson, and a Thyme handyman. Detectives interviewed the workman. He said Dawn called him because she was looking for David. He also dropped a bombshell.
“He stated that while at the restaurant, David had told him that he thought Dawn was stealing money from him — and if that was true, he he was going to kill that b-tch,” said Garcia.
Detectives dug deeper into David’s background. They found that he’d served time for prior arrests, one for cocaine and one for distributing marijuana in Florida.
Investigators learned that David turned to dealing drugs to support the high cost of running a restaurant on Anna Maria Island in Florida.
With heightened suspicion around David, detectives asked him to take a polygraph. He initially agreed, but then refused.
To drum up leads, investigators reached out to the public. Larry Altman, a former Daily Breeze reporter, spotted the missing persons flier. He wrote about Dawn’s case for the first time in December of 2009.
After six months of covering the story, Altman went to Thyme to interview David. "I said, ‘I want to talk to you about your wife,’” Altman told the Oxygen show. “He told me that he had been advised not to talk about it. But he said he had nothing to hide.”
Dawn Viens' disappearance becomes a homicide case
“So I asked him, 'Do you love your wife?,'” Altman added. “He responded, ‘I loved my wife.’ I loved my wife with a D, past tense — and that didn't make any sense. So I used the past tense quote in my article.”
In August 2010, Dawn’s case was formally assigned to the homicide division of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, according to Garcia. Dawn and David’s friends and employees were reinterviewed.
Investigators discovered that David and Kathy Galvan, 22, a waitress who took over as hostess, were in a relationship. At this point, Cacace reached out to investigators to report that several weeks after Dawn went missing, he saw Galvan and Jackie Viens tossing Dawn’s clothes into a dumpster outside Thyme.
Detectives asked the women why they dumped Dawn’s clothes. Jackie said David told her that Dawn had left them, according to Garcia. Galvan said she didn’t want David’s ex’s clothes around.
Investigators decided to set up surveillance on David’s apartment. That’s when they learned that David and Galvan had moved out of the residence. On October 1, 2010, investigators searched the apartment. Evidence of blood spatter turned up. The blood was processed for DNA, but it had deteriorated and was ultimately useless, according to The Real Murders of Los Angeles.
Surveillance was stationed at David’s new apartment. The flier for Dawn’s case was changed from missing persons to a homicide. When David saw the revised poster, he claimed that Dawn had been calling him, while Galvan was agitated by it, according to investigators.
Detectives flew to South Carolina to interview Jackie, but she was nowhere to be found. Back in L.A., Garcia got a call from Jackie’s boyfriend. “He tells me that Jackie knows something,” he said.
He waited for a call from her, but it didn’t come. He reached out to Altman. “I advised him that David Viens was now a person of interest and that blood splatter had been located inside his apartment,” said Garcia.
“I knew they were utilizing me to stir something up,” said Altman.
David Viens becomes a person of interest in his wife's homicide
Detectives had tapped David’s phone on February 17, 2011. Five days later, Altman’s story came out. At the same time, Jackie agreed to be interviewed in South Carolina.
She told investigators that her dad admitted that he accidentally killed Dawn on October 18, 2009. Jackie added that David told her that he and Dawn had a huge blowout about money, and that Dawn wouldn't relent.
“So he got duct tape that he kept in the kitchen and he taped her hands and her feet and her mouth and left her on the floor,” said Garcia. David claimed he got up in the morning and found her dead.
“Then he tells Jackie that nobody’s ever gonna find her body,” said Garcia.
Jackie admitted to authorities that she sent the texts to Patterson from Dawn's phone after Dawn went missing, at her father’s insistence.
After the interview, Jackie called her father. In the call, overheard on the wiretap, she informed him that she told the police everything.
“David just hangs up the phone and then he calls back a little while later and says, ‘I'm gonna have my lawyer call you. Don't talk to anybody else anymore,’” said Garcia. “At that point, we knew we had our killer.”
On February 23, 2011, the case took a shocking twist. David drove to Rancho Palos Verdes in south Los Angeles County — and jumped off an 80-foot cliff. He survived but was seriously injured.
How did David Viens dispose of wife Dawn's body?
On March 1, detectives interviewed David in the hospital. He repeated Jackie’s account of how he taped up Dawn and found her dead. He clammed up when asked what he did with Dawn’s body.
A week-and-a-half later, David reached out to Garcia to make a statement about what happened to Dawn’s body. “He said he came up with the idea of how to dispose of her. It was to render her,” said Garcia.
In the taped interview, David said of his wife's body, "I just slowly cooked it and I ended up cooking her for four days," NBC Los Angeles reported. Then he dumped it out as kitchen waste.
David and his lawyers later called that story “ludicrous,” said Ludlow, adding that he chalked it up to pain medication that he was on.
In September 2012, then-49-year-old David was found guilty of second-degree murder and later sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, according to NBC Los Angeles. Dawn's body has never been recovered.
To learn more about this case and others, watch The Real Murders of Los Angeles, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.