When Korey Kauffman disappeared in 2012 there was little attention devoted to the case of the missing 26-year-old Turlock man who made his living by stealing and scrapping metal. But the arrest of his suspected killers on Friday morning has sent shockwaves through the legal and law enforcement community that will likely reverberate for years, as investigators unraveled a conspiracy that involved a prominent defense attorney, three California Highway Patrol officers, and two well known business owners.
Defense attorney and one time Stanislaus County District Attorney candidate Frank Carson was taken into custody Friday on allegations he participated in the murder of Kauffman. Authorities also have arrested on allegations of murder, Carson's wife Georgia DeFilippo, aka Georgia Carson, Turlock Pop and Cork store owners Baljit and Daljit Atwal, former CHP Officer Walter Wells, and Robert Lee Woody, who has been in custody on the murder charge since March 2014.
Daljit Atwal lives on Hidden Oak Lane in Ceres. Baljit Atwal resides on Wild Oak Drive in Ceres.
In addition to the murder allegations, Carson and the others were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a crime, and false imprisonment. The murder allegations carry the special circumstance that the suspects were lying in wait for Kauffman and the enhancement that a firearm was used in the crime.
Authorities also arrested Carson's stepdaughter Christina Anne DeFilippo, and CHP Officers Scott McFarlane and Eduardo Quintanar Jr. on allegations of conspiracy and being an accessory.
Carson, Atwal brothers, Wells and Woody are all being held at the Stanislaus County Jail with no bail.
"This has been a long three-year investigation into the death and homicide of Korey Kauffman," said Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, whose department took the lead on the multi-agency task force of investigators. "We are pleased with the results of today's arrest and we hope to serve justice for the Kauffman family."
The investigation into Kauffman's death is detailed in a 326-page affidavit released by the Sheriff's Department. It portrays Carson as a man who had reached his limit over ongoing thefts and was actively seeking out criminals and other individuals who would be willing to help him end the thefts.
Kauffman goes missing
Michael Cooley remembers the last image he has of his best friend Kauffman.
Finding metal to recycle- whether through legal or illegal means - was how Kauffman made his money, and as such he lived a life that had him close to the edge of destitution. Earlier on the day of Kauffman's disappearance, he had complained to a Turlock recycler that he barely had enough money for cigarettes, so when a stack of irrigation pipes was laid out on property behind Cooley's residence it was a temptation that proved too strong to resist.
Kauffman was spending time with Cooley at Cooley's residence in the 1300 block of Lander Avenue. The back of the Lander Avenue property abuts up to the back of Carson's property in the 800 block of Ninth Street. Cooley said he and Kauffman had plans that night to get onto Carson's property and steal the irrigation pipes, but before the appointed time Cooley changed his mind.
"I saw people there and decided not to go," Cooley said. "It just gave me a bad feeling and I told Korey not to go either."
But Kauffman was not deterred and he left his bicycle behind at Cooley's house and headed out on foot for Carson's property.
When Cooley awoke the next morning and saw Kauffman's bike still at his house, he knew trouble had found his friend.
"I knew at that point that something had happened to him," Cooley said. "His bike was his only transportation and he wouldn't have left it behind."
On April 2, 2012, Kauffman's stepfather Kevin Lee Pickett filed a missing persons report on his stepson.
Bad blood among neighbors
If Cooley felt unease about the situation at Carson's property, he had good cause. The two men had been engaged in a long-running battle over stolen property, illegal searches, threats and intimidation.
"All that was between us was hate," Cooley said of his dealings with Carson.
Carson owns two properties on Ninth Street - one in the 800 block and one in the 900 block. The two lots, particularly the one in the 800 block, is full of cargo containers, old cars and parts, antiques, and other assortment of items, including a double-decker bus.
The Turlock Police Department's log of calls for service indicate that on Feb. 6, 2011, officers were dispatched to the 1300 block of Lander to assist the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department. The call narrative states Carson contacted the sheriff's department about property he believed was stolen out of a cargo container on his land. Carson told law enforcement he had followed the trail back to a house in the 1300 block of Lander Avenue and believed his property was being hidden there. The house was being occupied by Cooley and he agreed to let law enforcement search the premises. Nothing was found and no arrest was made.
On Feb. 23, 2011, a call was made to TPD by Carson's wife reporting Carson and an unknown man, later identified as Cooley, were in a verbal dispute over possible stolen property. The call log indicates police made contact with the two men outside the home in the 1300 block of Lander Avenue. Again, no stolen property was recovered and no arrests were made.
On Jan. 2, 2012, a TPD officer investigating a suspicious vehicle found Carson sitting in a parked car in the 100 block of Montana, which is directly diagonal from where Cooley resided. The police report states the officer saw a man scrunch down trying to avoid detection. When the officer spoke with Carson, Carson said he was watching his property because he had been experiencing multiple thefts, but Carson's property wasn't visible from where he was parked, only Cooley's.
Cooley told authorities he caught Carson going through his vehicle multiple times and said he was often on the end of a verbal tirade by Carson that included threats to his well-being.
Edward Regua told investigators he was at Cooley's house one night playing horseshoes when they noticed a laser light pointing at them. They traced the light back to three or four men on Carson's property, one of whom was holding a rifle that was pointed at them.
A neighbor told authorities she had witnessed Cooley and Carson arguing and that Carson was overheard saying, "if I ever catch anyone in my backyard I will kill them and no one will ever find them," according to the affidavit.
Investigators say Carson was upset about the thefts and felt Turlock Police were not doing enough and enlisted the help of the Atwal brothers to deal with the ongoing thefts. It was through this relationship that Carson met Woody and how the three CHP officers became involved in the conspiracy.
On Aug. 19, 2013, three hunters in the Stanislaus National Forest in Mariposa County came across a human skull and alerted the authorities. The skull and other remains found at the scene near Smith Station Road will eventually be identified as Kauffman. A bullet was also found with the remains.
The discovery of the remains and the bullet changes the missing persons case to a homicide and it's not long after that law enforcement are using wire taps and body wires in their investigation.
At the end of February 2014, investigators served search warrants at a home in the 1100 block of East Avenue, the East Avenue and Crowell Avenue locations of Pop-N-Cork, and the Ceres residences of the Atwal brothers.
The search of the East Avenue home leads to the arrest on March 6, 2014 of Woody, who was the initial person charged with Kauffman's murder. A criminal complaint filed against Woody lists three co-conspirators as B, C, and D.
Carson's properties and that of his mother's on W. Main Street were also searched by investigators, as was Wells' home.
After the searches the Ceres brothers staged multiple protests outside the district attorney's office and the TPD, claiming they were the victims of harassment. It also was after the searches that Carson announced his failed candidacy for district attorney. Investigators believe it was a ploy on all their parts to derail the murder investigation.
The district attorney's office said formal charges against all involved should be filed by next week and an arraignment was held Tuesday. A visiting judge heard the case.
Editor's Note: Due to the complexity of the investigation and the lengthy affidavit, the Courier will be publishing a series of stories examining the case and the people involved in greater detail over the next few weeks.