It was cold the day police entered the little house on Marquette Street in Oceanside. They’d been called to Cindy Conaway’s home because her friends became concerned when they couldn’t reach her for several days, starting in mid-January 2012.
Conaway’s closest friends knew she was a prostitute and that she brought clients to her rented house. It was only a mile or so from the coast, a tiny place, 630 square feet. One bedroom, one bath.
Oceanside police knocked and called out but got no answer. The doors and windows were locked. The landlords, a married couple, lived nearby, and they were able to let police in. Later, investigators became suspicious. The landlords seemed aware too soon that a computer system and other items were missing from Conaway’s rental home.
Police noted the surveillance camera outside, attached under the eaves. But when they entered the home, they could see that the monitor was missing from its wall mount.
Conaway was found dead in her bedroom. There was obvious trauma to her body. A homicide team was called.
Detective Marilyn Johnson collected Conaway’s little black book from the bedroom. “The journal was found on a bedside table,” she recalled. Inside the book were many names and phone numbers. “There were over five hundred entries.” From these, Detective Johnson saw that the victim had used names other than “Conaway.”
The detective noticed that “the toilet seat was up.”
A medical examiner was requested on scene to inspect the body as it was found.
The Medical Examiner
Dr. Jonathan Lucas said of Conaway: “She was face down, wearing only a shirt.” The body lay on the bed, naked below the waist. The doctor found obvious blunt-force trauma to the head and defensive wounds on the back of one hand. From the blood evidence, he surmised that the victim had been beaten to death.
The victim wore a wig on top of her own hair, and Dr. Lucas said that this had blunted the force of the killing blows. The extra cushioning also affected the shape of the wounds, making it more difficult to deduce what kind of weapon had been used in the beating.
Dr. Lucas said that Conaway had started life as a man. “Yeah, that’s correct. Genetically, she was born a male. Both testicles were removed surgically. What we call an organ-ectomy.” Conaway still had a penis. And breast implants.
It was difficult for Dr. Lucas to determine the exact time of death. It had occurred a minimum of four days earlier, perhaps up to seven days. The doctor took into account the recent cold weather. The day police found the body, January 21, 2012, it was raining in Oceanside.
Detective Johnson found a safe in Conaway’s bedroom closet. Inside the safe were costume jewelry and video recordings of Conaway with customers. From the videos, police could see that Conaway had at least three different cameras set up to secretly record her encounters. Conaway was seen on her knees or seated in a chair in her living room, with customers. Detective Johnson said that “numerous different men” had been recorded.
The detective reviewed 20 clandestine recordings and concluded that at least six male customers had been videotaped.
Too Many Suspects
Investigators discovered that Conaway had several safes around her house, perhaps as many as six or seven. One large safe was noticeably missing, the one that usually sat on the floor by her bedroom door.
Detective Johnson spoke to friends of the deceased. Some said they had worked as prostitutes, too, at some point in their lives. Forty-one-year-old Dora said she’d known Conaway since she was a teenager. Conaway had showed her how to survive. She said that Conaway did not use drugs or alcohol herself, but supplied those things for her customers. Cops were aware of Dora’s criminal history, and they suspected that Dora may have been supplying drugs to Conaway, who then resold them.
Dora seemed to be the only one who knew that a certain small safe was missing from Conaway’s home.
Investigators followed a tip that led them to interview a white male who admitted he’d seen Conaway about a week earlier. He was “just friends” with Conaway; he “bought drugs” from her. The last time he’d seen her, she was getting dressed up to go out, putting on a skirt and boots. It was about 7:00 p.m. on Friday night, January 13; the man said he’d left around that time. Conaway’s little dog was there, and Conaway’s gold Mustang was parked outside. Police later looked hard at this man’s sister, who’d pawned jewelry in the days after Conaway was killed.
Conaway’s friends told cops that she was careful and safety-conscious; she would not allow people to drop by unannounced; she had deadbolt locks installed at her home. Conaway told friends she was worried about a certain black Marine who was threatening her.
Then again, everyone seemed to agree that Conaway was a compassionate person. She was known to pick up strangers, or “strays,” and bring them home, feed them, and let them take a hot shower.
There was a friend who lived in the same neighborhood who told cops that Conaway “absolutely did not” loan out her car to anyone. This person said she noticed that the Mustang had been missing from its usual parking spot in front of Conaway’s home “for several days.” She told cops that Conaway had a man’s strength; the friend was sure the killer must have been somebody Conaway knew and trusted, to be able to overpower her and catch her off guard, right there in her own bedroom.
Cops found Conaway’s Mustang parked about four miles away, in the parking lot of a huge apartment complex, also in Oceanside. It was parked at the farthest, easternmost corner of the lot, in space number 99.
Conaway’s Black Book
Detective Johnson reviewed the names and phone numbers in the little black book she’d collected from Conaway’s room. She connected phone numbers with addresses; she was looking for persons who lived nearby. One of the names that Johnson came up with was Tyree Paschall.
Cops spoke with Paschall at his apartment on Sherbourne Drive, about six miles from Conaway’s home, also in Oceanside.
Police asked Paschall if he knew someone named Cindy. Paschall said, “That’s my girl.”
Paschall told cops he’d last seen Conaway weeks earlier, on Friday, January 13. He said he’d gone to her home that night and that they “got intimate.” He hadn’t spoken to her since then. Paschall said he did not have a phone.
A Modern Love Story
Paschall said that Conaway had shown him “the most love of anybody.” He had met Conaway right after he got out of prison, in 2010. (In 2005 he was convicted of kidnapping and making a “deadly threat.”) Just days after Paschall was paroled, he was walking down the main drag in Oceanside when Conaway drove up in her fabulous gold convertible and offered him a ride.
Paschall was 27 years old, six-foot-two-inches tall, and 176 pounds. Conaway was 44 years old, five-feet-five-inches tall, and 223 pounds.
At first, Paschall didn’t want to come to police headquarters to be interviewed. But eventually he agreed. The recorded conversation went on for almost three hours. Paschall’s version of things changed over the interview; for example, at first he denied taking Conaway’s Mustang. Near the end of the interview, however, he admitted taking the car. He accurately described where police had found it and remembered the number of the parking space. The parking lot where the car was recovered was between Conaway’s home and Paschall’s apartment.
At the end of the interview, Paschall was arrested for a parole violation. He was not charged with murder — yet. As of January 30, 2012, Paschall was back in custody.
What the Neighbors Saw
Neighbors told investigators they’d seen various persons coming and going from Conaway’s home during the week that her body must have been lying dead on her bed, before police found her.
A neighbor said it was early Saturday morning, January 14, and still dark outside, when an “unidentified black male” left Conaway’s home, got into the Mustang parked out front, and sped off. This same neighbor said he also saw a white male leaving Conaway’s home later the same day.
Another neighbor said there was a white pickup truck parked near Conaway’s home on January 13, 14, and 15. The pickup truck was supposedly owned by a handyman Conaway knew. Police interviewed this person and confirmed that he’d installed the deadbolt locks in Conaway’s home. He denied that his truck had been parked there for three days.
On Sunday, January 15, at about 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., a neighbor said he went to knock on Conaway’s door. The neighbor remembered the day and approximate time because it was after church. He told police he heard movements inside the home when he approached but that the noises stopped when he knocked. No one answered the door and he eventually left.
A Jailhouse Snitch
While Paschall was being held in jail on the probation violation, investigators pursued the homicide investigation.
After some weeks, the girlfriend of another inmate approached the district attorney’s office. This inmate wanted to trade information to make a deal. The inmate claimed that Paschall had blabbed about a murder. Paschall spoke abut his lover, a “transgender,” who’d become dissatisfied with him. This dissatisfied lover was the moneymaker, and she wanted Paschall to get a job; she told him he was freeloading too much. Paschall also blabbed about a scheme to make money by uploading porno videos to the internet, the snitch said.
Paschall said he’d decided to kill his lover because he would not be disrespected. Paschall “wasn’t gonna be played in such a manner.” He resented that his lover was “kicking him to the curb.” Paschall described a beating, the snitch said.
Paschall told the snitch that he preferred 10 or 12 years in Patton, a state mental hospital, instead of life in prison without parole. Paschall had a plan to “play crazy.” He smeared feces on his face and pretended to eat his own feces. According to the informant, the guards put Paschall into isolation while they awaited arrival of a jailhouse psychiatrist.
Jailhouse-snitch stories are considered unreliable because criminals will concoct fake narratives in an effort to make a bargain for themselves. But this particular snitch had one piece of information about the crime scene that was not widely known: the dog in the freezer.
Paschall had talked about putting a “very small dog” in the freezer.
Investigators found Conaway’s pet dog, a long-haired Chihuahua-mix, in her freezer. There was urine near the frozen dog’s tail. A veterinarian said this probably meant the dog had been alive when it was put into the freezer, and that it later suffocated or froze to death.
When they interviewed Paschall, police asked about Conaway’s dog. Paschall said he knew the dog and he liked the dog. He described it as “lively” and “happy-go-lucky.”
Investigators found Paschall’s DNA on drinking glasses and a water bottle in Conaway’s home. Paschall’s fingerprints were on a bottle of spray-cleaner next to her bathtub. In Paschall’s shorts’ pocket, they found a key to a bank safety-deposit box rented by Conaway.
Last month, Paschall, now 29, confessed to second-degree murder and felony animal abuse. In a plea deal, a separate case in which he’d been charged with passing forged checks and possession of stolen property was dismissed. The sentence for killing the dog will run concurrently with time given for killing Conaway.
Paschall expects to be sentenced to 20 years to life on May 2, 2013, in San Diego’s North County Superior Courthouse.