(Editor’s note: While working at the Palisadian-Post I was contacted about writing a story in July 2008 asking residents to send letters to deny parole to a transient, who had lived in his van in several locations in Pacific Palisades, and had murdered a teenager.
Shortly afterwards, this editor also was assigned a story about Teak Dyer. Excerpts from both stories are below.)
Clinton Heilemann’s Murderer Was Up for Parole
Clinton Heilemann was just 15, an altar boy at Corpus Christi Church, a student at Palisades High School and an Eagle Scout candidate, when he was murdered during an incident on Los Liones Drive on July 3, 1987.
After deliberating six hours, jurors found Earl Henry Down, 38, guilty of one count of second-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. Down was sentenced to more than 37 years in prison and incarcerated at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, where he is now preparing for his first parole hearing, tentatively set for January 6.
Clinton Heilemann’s parents, Arnold and Evelyn who now live in Thousand Oaks, asked the Palisades Community Council to pass a resolution urging the parole board to deny Down’s release. At the Council’s July 10 meeting, board chair Richard G. Cohen said that it would not be appropriate for the group to issue an opinion because it would require investigation into the case.
Describing the murder, a Santa Monica Outlook reporter wrote: “Robert Waco, 15, remembers running for his friend’s car when they saw a man coming at them with a rifle. But as his friend, Matthew Williams, pumped the gas pedal, the car refused to budge.
“The man put the gun to the car’s window and fired three shots, injuring Williams but missing Waco, who said he looked up, saw the assailant turn toward three other members of the fleeing group and fire another shot. The gun blast killed his best friend, Clinton Heilemann.”
According to police reports, Heilemann was shot in the back from about 100 yards as he attempted to flee, and another youth Daniel Dawson, 21, was shot in the hip as he tried to escape on foot. Williams was shot in the elbow and knee while trying to start his car.
The reason for the shooting was unclear. Down, a transient, surfer and part-time house painter, had been living in his Dodge van in locations around the Palisades. According to reports, a group of seven youth had gathered in the lower parking area of the Mormon Church around midnight and were looking at Williams’ Mustang when Down came out of his van and told them to leave.
When the youth didn’t leave and continued to congregate, Down came out of his van for a second time. This time he pushed Robert Waco’s 21-year-old brother, Kenneth, who asked him, “Why are you so angry?”
Down returned to his van, started the engine and moved it closer to the Mustang.
Once again, Down stepped out of the van, then charged Waco. A fistfight ensued, with Waco getting the better of Down, knocking him to the ground.
According to newspaper accounts, the two apologized and Down returned to his van. Moments later, he came out with a rifle. Waco and Williams ran to Williams’ car and got inside as Down approached them.
“He pointed the barrel at the passenger side of the window and fired,” Williams told the Palisadian-Post on the phone and by e-mail last month. “It was a miracle that we weren’t killed. Then he turned and started shooting at the kids running away. After he shot into my car, I got out and ran across the street and lay on the gravel. By this time, people at the top of Los Liones Drive started coming down, and they called an ambulance.”
At the 2009, parole hearing Down was mandated a 15 year-denial. At that hearing 75 letters from the community, as well as a letter from L.A. Chief of Police William Bratton, asking the Board to deny Down a parole, were received. Then friend Matthew Williams who was also wounded in the shooting said, ‘We have been sentenced to a lifetime of parole hearings, in which we are forced to relive Clinton’s murder and reiterate the reasons why this inmate must remain incarcerated.”
At the 2013 parole hearing, Down was given a seven-year denial.
At the 2020 parole hearing, Down, 73, was denied parole for seven years.
Teak Dyer Murdered: TEAK Foundation Lives
It should have been a day of celebration for the Palisades High Class of ’88, but the tone of the day shifted drastically when the body of a well-loved classmate, Teak Dyer, was found on the floor of a Palisades office at what is now Chase Bank. On the eve of her graduation, the 18-year-old girl was attacked and killed by a stranger.
The crime garnered national attention for a town unaccustomed to such violence, leaving the community grieving the loss of one of its own.
After a graduation party at the Santa Monica Pier, friends of the girl said she had been dropped off at a parking lot at 15200 Sunset Blvd. where she had left her car, but an investigation was inconclusive as to what transpired in the time leading to her death.
According to the L.A. Times “Deputy District Attorney Lauren Weis said the evidence will show that the former MacGuard night patrolman accosted the girl while on duty, attempted to rape her in the locked bathroom of the Topa Building in the Palisades village, handcuffed and beat her when she rebuffed his advances, and killed her with three shots from his service revolver to avoid arrest.”
The MacGuard employee Rodney Garmanian is serving life without parole for the teenager’s murder.
In 1998, Justine Stamen Arrillaga started the TEAK Fellowship in memory of DeWitt White (1981 – 1997) and Teak Dyer (1970 – 1988), two people close to her whose lives were tragically cut short.
TEAK is a free program that helps talented students from low-income families achieve their potential. Through intensive after school and summer classes, TEAK prepares middle school students to get into the nation’s most selective high schools and colleges.
Arrillaga ran the program for eight years (teakfellowship.org). Starting with the first cohort, 100 percent of TEAK Fellows have been accepted into top independent, public, and parochial high schools.
Every single Fellow has matriculated to 4-year colleges; of these, 89 percent have entered top-tier schools, including an average of 30 percent into the Ivy League each year. Of the students who have completed the Fellowship, 89 percent are college graduates and leaders in multiple professions.