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Arrests Made in Case of 96-Year-Old Woman Killed While Preparing to Bake Cookies in Alleged Murder-for-Hire Plot

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When a 96-year-old California woman was killed in 2022 as she prepared to bake cookies, police thought they were just hunting for a killer.

On Thursday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown announced multiple arrests that have been made as part of “a tangled evil web of financial exploitation against the victim,” according to KTLA-TV.

Henry Rostomyan, 33, of Tujunga, and Ricardo MartinDelCampo, 41, have been arrested on charges of murder and conspiracy to murder, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Harry Basmadjian, 58, of Van Nuys, was in federal custody at the time of his arrest on an unrelated charge. Before being arrested in the slaying of the 96-year-old woman — Violet Evelyn Alberts of Montecito — Basmadjian suffered a medical emergency in federal custody and is “incapacitated,” Brown said, according to the Times.

Police say 48-year-old Pauline Macareno, who already has been convicted of fraud in connection with the slaying, also has been linked to the killing.

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Police said that when they responded to the scene to find Alberts strangled in her bed, the victim had the ingredients for cookies laid out on her table, according to KTLA.

Brown called the crime a “particularly heinous case of murder,” per the Times.

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Police allege that Macareno was trying to swindle Alberts out of money and her home. As noted by KTLA, the Montecito house in which Alberts lived had a value of over $5 million.

Brown said even though a fraud scheme was in place, the conspirators were impatient.

“In the eyes of Pauline Macareno, Mrs. Alberts was living too long,” Brown said, according to the Times. “The assumption was that [Alberts] would die quickly, and then [Macareno] would have obtained this home through fraudulent means.”

“Macareno emerged as a central figure in the manipulation and deceitful targeting of 96-year-old Violet Alberts,” Brown said, per KTLA.

“In 2020, Macareno capitalized on Alberts’ vulnerability, engaging in financial elder abuse that ultimately led to the fraudulent acquisition of her property.”

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Macareno is linked to a “murder-for-hire scheme,” Brown said, noting there appeared to be premeditation involved because surveyors were on Alberts’ land shortly before the day she died.

Video of a trip the suspects took near the victim’s house “shed light on the premeditated nature of the crime, underscoring the perpetrators’ calculated efforts to plan their vicious and reprehensible actions,” Brown said, according to the Santa Barbara Independent.

Macareno is serving a six-year sentence for fraud-related charges involving Alberts.

Brown added a message to other criminals.

“To any individual civil or criminal enterprise that may be contemplating coming to Santa Barbara to commit crimes: If you come here, and if you target members of our community, no matter who they are, we will doggedly investigate the crimes that you commit,” he said.

“We will identify you, all of you. We will hunt you down. We will arrest you. We will jail you. We will build a comprehensive case against you. And we will bring you before the bar of justice, just as we have done in this case.”


This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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