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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Did Frederick Hengl Murder His Wife?

     In 2002, Frederick Joseph Hengl and his wife Ann Faris moved into a two-bedroom bungalow on North Ditmar Street a block from City Hall in Oceanside, California. Ten years later, residents of the neighborhood considered the 68-year-old Hengl, and his 73-year-old spouse, more than a little odd. Bearded, bespectacled, and bone-thin, Hengl regularly appeared in public dressed in women's clothing and wearing make-up. Ann Faris often walked the streets armed with a butcher's knife. Neighbors wondered why she always wore the same outfit, a blue sweater and denim-like pants. The fact people could smell her suggested she didn't bother much with personal hygiene. Occasionally Faris would stand in her front yard and take off her clothes. (Not being residents of San Francisco, many neighbors found this display of public nudity off-putting.)

     On November 11, 2012, the odd couple's neighbors began detecting a foul odor coming from the Hengl house. They also heard, from inside the dwelling, sounds of a power saw. The stench grew unbearable after Hengl, to draw the odor out of the house, installed a window fan. A neighbor called the police.

     On November 16 at eleven o'clock in the morning, Oceanside police officers pulled up to the Hengl bungalow. An officer knocked on the front door but no one answered. Assuming that the place was at the moment unoccupied, an officers climbed into the dwelling through a window at the rear of the house. As the police officer entered the foul-smelling bungalow, Frederick Hengl slipped out the front door and walked away.

     Inside, amid the stench of rotting flesh, the police discovered three pans of meat cooking on the kitchen stove. In the freezer compartment of the refrigerator, they came upon a plastic bag containing a human head. (Later identified as Anna Faris.) A meat grinder that had been recently used sat nearby. In the bathroom, the police found a power saw, a boning knife, and other cutting instruments. It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out what had taken place under this roof. Scattered throughout the first floor, officers found pieces of freshly cut bone.

     Shortly after the gruesome discovery in the bungalow on North Ditmar Street, police officers found and arrested Frederick Hengl. From his house he had walked to a local bar. Perhaps he was enjoying what he knew would be his last alcoholic beverage.

     According to a forensic pathologist with the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office, Anna Faris had died on or about November 1. Crime scene investigators reported that they found "no evidence of cannibalism." (Then why was Hengl cooking the meat?)

     A San Diego County prosecutor charged Frederick Hengl with murder, willful cruelty to an elder, and committing an unlawful act with human remains. If convicted of murder, he could be sentenced to 25 years to life. On November 21, the day before Thanksgiving, Hengl pleaded not guilty to all charges before a superior court judge who set his bail at $5 million. Hengl's attorney advised the court that his client had a bad heart, and required medical treatment.

     On September 27, 2013, while in the San Diego County Jail's infirmary, Frederick Hengl died of prostate cancer. From the day of his arrest, Hengl denied killing his wife who reportedly suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

     To make a case of criminal homicide against Mr. Hengl, the state would have had to prove she did not die a natural death. Under the circumstances, this would have been difficult. With Hengl's passing, no one will ever know the exact circumstances of Anna Faris' death, or why her husband had butchered and cooked her body. While they were a strange couple, they were not necessarily a killer and a murder victim.            

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