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Man On a Jealous Rampage Shot Former Hockey Pro and Woman He Met Hours Earlier
A thwarted home invasion led Orange County investigators to the gunman behind a brutal double homicide.
On Easter 2019, the Newport Beach Police Department received a call at 9:27 p.m. from a man who reported making a grisly discovery.
He said his roommate and minor league hockey player, Darren Partch, 38, had been gunned down with an unknown woman. They were both dead and in a pool of blood in Darren’s bedroom, said the caller, Dean Matheson.
Matheson had been an overnight trip with his fiancé since Saturday at 11:30 a.m., though he noticed a pair of women’s shoes and a cell phone in the apartment before leaving. He assumed Dean was “on a date and didn’t want to disturb them,” Keith Krallman, a retired lieutenant with the Newport Beach PD, told Oxygen's The Real Murders of Orange County.
But when Matheson returned that Easter Sunday, everything was in the same place, sparking concern. He checked on Darren and found the bloody scene, prompting him to call 911.
When police arrived on the scene, they noticed the victims had been shot at close range.
“Both were obviously deceased,” said Heather Brown, a now retired Deputy District Attorney for OCDA, in the episode. “They were naked, and it appeared that they were engaged intimately when the killer came into the room.”
A forensics team searched the condo for clues, finding four 38-caliber bullets but no weapon. They noted victims had no defensive wounds and did not appear to have been posed in any way.
Wendi Miller ID'd As Victim
Matheson did not recognize the woman, whose cell phone was locked.
Partch's mother and sister arrived at the scene after a call from Matheson. They were shocked since Partch, who played minor league hockey before turning to finance, had no conflicts with anyone.
“His personality was just so sweet, so loving,” said his sister Dana Lynn Partch. "There was no way in my mind for even one moment — not even one second — that this had something to do with Darren." But if Darren wasn’t the target, could it have been the woman who was shot?
As investigators searched the condo for clues, they found a key fob and activated it. A car across the street was found to belong to 48-year-old Wendi Miller. Her purse was still inside the car and the driver’s license in the bag matched the victim.
As police looked for leads, they learned that she’d been reported missing by her mother, Mary Lu Miller, when Wendi failed to show up for an Easter celebration.
Miller's two children and her mother were devastated by the news that she had been murdered. “I said, ‘Tell me it’s a lie. Tell me it's a joke.' It's not fair,” her daughter Cambria told producers.
The family didn't know who Partch was, deepening the mystery.
Investigators learned that Wendi was divorced and there may have been bad blood between her and her ex, giving them a possible motive. But when they interviewed the ex-husband, who had full custody of the children, he was quite distraught upon learning about Miller. He told them that he’d been in Colorado all weekend, an alibi that was confirmed.
Investigators were back at square one. They focused on figuring out how Partch and Miller knew each other.
Darren Partch and Wendi Miller's Connection Revealed
Miller's friend Dana shared crucial information: She and Miller had gone to a local lounge after an evening Good Friday service. That’s when Miller and Partch met – and quickly hit it off.
Partch and Miller left the bar at 1:30 a.m. She texted Dana at 1:46 a.m. that she was at Partch's and was spending the night. With this piece of the puzzle in place, detectives dug in deeper.
Orange County is a “patchwork of small communities,” investigators said. “The cops all know each other.”
Newport Beach law enforcement put the word out to neighboring police departments about the murders and the 38-caliber firearm used.
The strategy paid off a couple days later. The Irvine PD reported that a 38-caliber handgun was involved in another incident involving a man who climbed up to a second-floor apartment and tried to enter a woman’s home the day before Easter. She saw him outside on the balcony and ran to lock the door. The suspect, whom she identified as African American, shot the gun into the ceiling of her second floor balcony as he fled.
Jamon Buggs is named a suspect
The Irvine crime scene was processed thoroughly, with investigators looking for DNA and the recovered bullet. Working on a hunch that the suspect might return, detectives staked out the residence.
Two nights after the incident on the balcony, a man fitting the description of the would-be intruder was spotted by police getting out of a black Camaro. Detectives ran the plate to come up with an ID.
The car was registered to Jamon Buggs, whose criminal history included a vicious attack on a police officer as well as a restraining order from an ex-girlfriend.
Police called for backup when they tried to pull over Buggs for not having a front license plate and a chase ensued. At some point, he jumped out of the car and fled on foot with a blue bag. Police proceeded with caution when they surrounded Buggs and took him into custody, knowing that the bag could possibly contain a gun.
The bag, which he had tossed, was recovered. Inside was a 38-caliber snub nose revolver, said Matt Murphy, now a retired Sr. Deputy District Attorney for the Orange County DA’s Office.
The firearm was sent to the crime lab to see if it was linked to the balcony incident and the murders of Partch and Miller.
Additionally, inside Buggs’ Camaro investigators recovered a pad with the name Darren Partch on it. The double homicide case appeared to be falling into place.
Prosecutors think Buggs' motive was jealousy
“We think we know who’s involved in this crime, but we don’t know the motive and we don’t know the why,” said Krallman.
With Buggs in custody, police obtained a search warrant for his online history. It showed that he had been searching for Darren Partch’s address from April 14 to 19 — just prior to the murders.
Investigators also found that Buggs had called Partch's phone. Matheson told police that Partch told him he’d gotten calls from a man “warning him to stay away from his girlfriend,” but didn't know the caller or the woman, Krallman said.
"Darren told Dean that the guy was really intense and angry and wouldn't believe that he wasn't involved with his girlfriend," Brown explained to producers.
Detectives searched for Buggs’ former girlfriends and found Samantha Brewer. Buggs went from being her fitness trainer to a boyfriend, but the relationship ended abruptly. Then, on January 15, 2019, she filed a restraining order when his possessiveness turned threatening.
Brewer told police that she’d met Partch before but they had never dated. Regardless, detectives had their motive.
Days after the murder, the forensics lab confirmed that Buggs’ gun was used in the double homicide as well as the balcony incident—where investigators learned that Brewer's new boyfriend previously lived.
Buggs was arrested for the murders of Partch and Miller and on April 25, 2022, the high-profile trial began.
Prosecutors theorized that Buggs showed up at Partch's address, which he had searched out online. He entered through an unlocked door and shot Miller and Partch multiple times, thinking Miller was Brewer.
Eight days later, closing arguments were delivered. The jury returned with a guilty verdict on two counts of first-degree premeditated murder.
The trial judge expressed disbelief about Buggs' claims of mistaken identity, according to The Real Murders of Orange County.
Buggs, 47, was given two life sentences without parole. He is serving his time at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, California.
To learn more about the case, watch The Real Murders of Orange County, airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.