Aug 01, 2023
'No one is going to miss you': How an AC Transit bus, a Baby Yoda doll, and a woman with 'great hearing' led to arrests in brutal homicide
CASTRO VALLEY — Even before detectives elicited a confession from a man who bragged that he strangled Benjamin Hemmann “like you would any (expletive) dog,” the suffering Hemmann had endured was
CASTRO VALLEY — Even before detectives elicited a confession from a man who bragged that he strangled Benjamin Hemmann “like you would any (expletive) dog,” the suffering Hemmann had endured was obvious.
A 37-year-old man who lived with his dad in San Leandro, Hemmann was found dead near the 2.95 mile marker on Redwood Road in Castro Valley after a motorcyclist drove by his body a little before 3 p.m. on Sept. 6, 2021, and called 9-1-1. Hemmann had been tied up with ratchet straps, bound with duct tape, gagged with a rag and strangled with something that resembled a dog leash, according to recently obtained court records.
Before long, police had zeroed in on a pickup truck that they believed was the only vehicle that had traveled down Redwood Road at the time of the homicide. It was a blue Toyota Tacoma, with stolen plates and one distinctive feature: Someone had tied a small Baby Yoda doll on the grill, a modification that would prove significant in coming weeks.
By the investigation’s end in June 2022, police had obtained a confession from a man named Steven Hanna, aka Richard Onteveros, who claimed he strangled Hemmann and dumped his body singlehandedly. They also arrested Kevin Paul Woodruff and Bryan Wu after Woodruff’s wife recounted how Wu chided and demeaned Hemmann as he begged for his life on Skyline Boulevard in Oakland, where Woodruff and Wu allegedly bound and gagged him in broad daylight as joggers and motorists obliviously passed by, according to court records.
The woman would later attempt to recant her confession, blaming it on her “mental illness” and “intimidation” by Alameda County Sheriff’s investigators. But police say her statement lines up not only with physical evidence at the crime scene but her own text messages to Wu’s girlfriend that day, and GPS evidence showing that she, Wu, and Woodruff went to a Jack in the Box on their way home from Oakland, around the same time Hanna was allegedly strangling Hemmann in Castro Valley.
The three men have been charged with robbing, kidnapping, and murdering Hemmann. They remain in custody without bail. Their trial has been tentatively set for Sept. 15.
Before Woodruff, Wu, and Hanna’s names even came up in the investigation, authorities focused on Hemmann’s family and a series of extremely suspicious events that occurred at his home on the 300 block of West Joaquin Avenue in San Leandro. Two months before Hemmann was killed, he dropped his brother off at a hospital with a gunshot wound and gave a dubious story about the shooting having occurred during a home-invasion robbery.
Then, on Aug. 10, police received a missing person’s report regarding Hemmann’s father — who, it turned out, had been at home the whole time — and a stolen car report filed by Hemmann’s brother, who called it off hours later to explain that it turned out Hemmann had stolen the car. At around 9 p.m. that night, the Hemmanns’ home was set on fire and significantly damaged, but the family apparently continued to live there.
None of those investigations went anywhere, but they did help detectives realize something important after Hemmann had been killed: An AC Transit bus route passed by the West Joaquin Avenue residence, and it was equipped with an outside camera that showed activity at the home on the day of the killing. One video demonstrated that Hemmann was sitting outside his home on the morning of his death but that he left around the same time that a blue BMW X5 SUV was parked nearby.
Then, on Sept. 16, 2021, the investigation broke open when San Leandro police raided Woodruff’s San Lorenzo home in an unrelated robbery and kidnapping investigation and found a military jacket emblazoned with the name “Hemmann” as well as a notebook with Hemmann’s father’s social security number, date of birth and other identifying information. A blue BMW X5 SUV was parked outside the home.
Just six days later, Hanna allegedly led Solano County Sheriff’s deputies on a 42-minute police chase through Suisun City, Fairfield and Rio Vista while driving a blue Toyota Tacoma. The chase ended when Hanna allegedly rammed a deputy’s patrol car. Inside the truck, along with three cellphones and black ratchet straps, authorities say they found the small Baby Yoda doll that had been tied to the Toyota’s grill.
Two Alameda County Sheriff’s detectives drove down to the Fairfield jail hoping to get a statement from Hanna. They left with a full confession, with the caveat that Hanna claimed he’d acted entirely alone and that he had killed Hemmann “how you kill any (expletive) dog,” Detective Pat Smyth would later testify.
“He indicated when questioned further that he strangled him,” Smyth said on the witness stand at Woodruff, Wu and Hanna’s preliminary hearing.
The final piece of the puzzle came when police arrested Woodruff’s wife on suspicion of murdering Hemmann and confronted her with text messages she’d sent Wu’s girlfriend on the day of the homicide. She hasn’t been charged with a crime.
“The s— i just woke up to smh,” one read, followed by, “These n—as think they super heros (sic). excuse me they vigilantes.”
The woman would claim she didn’t see much that day but that she had “great hearing” and therefore knew what had transpired, according to court records. In an email to police, she would later take back her statement in full.
“I needed to make sure you knew that I am ill and my statement isn’t true and I am embarrassed,” the email said, according to police testimony. “I feel intimidated by your department as well as your deputies and detectives.”
The woman claimed that she’d gotten into Woodruff’s BMW on the early morning of Sept. 6, 2021, while it was still dark out and fallen asleep. When she awoke, Hemmann was in the backseat with Wu, apparently as an unwilling guest.
“Do you see where I have this pointed?” Wu allegedly asked Hemmann. “Do you think I will shoot you? You know I will.”
“You’re a dope fiend, no one loves you. No one is going to miss you,” Wu allegedly told him, according to police.
Then Hanna arrived, and the woman heard more things, she said. The sound of duct tape ripping. Hemmann’s continual whimpers and screams. The three men checking on her to make sure she wasn’t too traumatized by what was transpiring.
With tape over his face and the rolled up rag in his mouth, Hemmann whimpered even more loudly as he was loaded into the Toyota Tacoma, she told police. As the wheels began to turn and the Toyota headed down Skyline Boulevard, Hemmann’s screams dissipated into the distance until it was all quiet again, she said.
Then the three got back into the BMW and headed off to Jack in the Box.
Get Morning Report and other email newslettersNews