Orange County District Attorney
Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney
401 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701
For Immediate Release
June 22, 2009
Susan Kang Schroeder
MOTHER AND SON FACE TRIAL FOR
MURDER-FOR-PROFIT CONSPIRACY TO HAVE
CANCER-STRIKEN HUSBAND KILLED
SANTA ANA – A mother and her son face trial today for conspiring to have her third husband murdered to save money by not paying for his cancer treatments and to financially profit from his insurance and 401k death benefits. Sandra Jessee, 58, formerly of Placentia, and her son Thomas Dayton Aehlert, 39, Gold Canyon, AZ, are charged with one felony count of special circumstances murder for financial gain and one felony count of conspiracy. If convicted, both defendants face a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Opening statements are expected to begin this afternoon, Monday, June 22, 2009, at 1:30 p.m. in Department C-34, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.
In the spring of 1998, Sandra Jessee’s third husband of 15 years, 56-year-old Jack Jessee, was diagnosed with cancer. Sandra Jessee wanted to move to Arizona, where her co-defendant adult son from a previous marriage, Aehlert, had recently moved. The victim did not want to leave California, where his adult children all lived.
Between June 1, 1998, and July 1, 1999, Sandra Jessee and Aehlert are accused of conspiring to hire a hit man to murder Jack Jessee for financial gain. Sandra Jessee is accused of wanting to have the victim murdered because she didn’t think that all of his cancer treatments would be covered by insurance and she did not want to deplete their retirement savings.
On several occasions in June 1998, Aehlert is accused of calling friend Brett Schrauben, 37, to solicit and arrange the murder of Jack Jessee in exchange for $50,000. On June 24, 1998, Sandra Jessee is accused of meeting Schrauben in a store parking lot in Placentia. She is accused of paying him $5,000 to kill her husband while she was away from her home and instructing him to make the murder look like a residential burglary.
On Aug. 13, 1998, Aehlert is accused of calling Schrauben to discuss the murder, which was to take place that day. That morning, Schrauben and a friend, Thomas Garrick, drove to the Jessee’s home, but left after Schrauben changed his mind about committing the murder. When called by Schrauben and told that the murder had not been committed, Aehlert is accused of telling Schrauben that the Jack Jessee had to be murdered that night or else Sandra Jessee would do it herself.
At approximately 8:00 p.m. that night, Sandra Jessee is accused of leaving her house to go to the bank with the knowledge that her husband would be murdered while she was gone. After Sandra Jessee had left, Schrauben and Garrick returned to the victim’s house. Garrick is accused of entering the home and stabbing the victim several times, killing him. Schrauben then drove Garrick away from the scene. Just minutes later, Jack Jessee’s daughter went to the victim’s house and discovered her murdered father in the living room.
After the murder of her husband, Sandra Jessee is accused of selling the Placentia home she had shared with Jack Jessee and moving to Arizona. She is accused of profiting by receiving over $650,000 after the murder of her husband from the home sale profits and Jack Jessee’s 401(k) death benefits and insurance.
Between Dec. 18, 1998, and June 30, 1999, Aehlert is accused of meeting with Schrauben on multiple occasions in Phoenix, AZ, and Laughlin, NV, to pay him the remaining $45,000 for the murder.
The case went cold until 2005, when additional investigation linked the three defendants to the murder. On May 25, 2007, officers from the Phoenix Police Department arrested the defendants on the Orange County warrant. Sandra Jessee was arrested at her daughter’s home in Apache Junction, AZ, and Aehlert was arrested at his work in Phoenix, AZ.
Jessee and Aehlert were indicted on April 27, 2007. Schrauben pleaded guilty to one felony count of voluntary manslaughter on Nov. 20, 2008, and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 24, 2009 (Case #08CF3271).
Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray of the Homicide Unit is prosecuting this case.