More than 25 years after he allegedly stabbed Saddleback College drama student Robbin Brandley 41 times in an unlit campus parking lot, Andrew Urdiales is finally on his way to Orange County to face trial for her murder. Urdiales, 47, who was the subject of a Nov. 2007 OC Weekly feature story about the slaying, “Just a Random Female,” has been behind bars since June 1997 after Chicago police tied him to the murders of three prostitutes. Upon his arrest, the security guard and former Camp Pendleton Marine confessed to murdering Brandley and four other women in Southern California, as well as attempting to kill a fifth victim who managed to run away after he kidnapped and sexually assaulted her near Palm Springs.
According to a press release issued today by the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA), Urdiales left the state prison in Pontiac, Illinois where he'd been serving time since his 2002 murder conviction (he was convicted of murder again in 2004) yesterday. He will be transferred to the custody of the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner on Oct. 6 and will arrive at the Orange County Jail shortly thereafter.
The OCDA plans to prosecute Urdiales for all five of the California murders, which took place between Jan. 18, 1986, the night he confessed to murdering Brandley, and 1995. Of the five murders, Brandley's remains the most mysterious. During his 1997 confession, Urdiales stated that he'd driven north from Camp Pendleton with a large hunting knife, and pulled off Interstate 5 when he saw a sign for Saddleback College. Then he hopped over a fence and wandered around the campus until he happened upon Brandley–who in his words was “just a random female”–in a parking lot near a drama center where she had just worked as a volunteer usher. After stabbing her to death, Urdialas says, he drove back to the base, where security guards later confiscated and destroyed his knife.
The crime did not fit the pattern of Urdiales' future murders in that Brandley was stabbed rather than shot, which his how he murdered the rest of his victims, as well as the fact she wasn't a prostitute and he did not sexually assault her. (Urdiales' sixth victim, who was sexually assaulted but who escaped, also was not a prostitute). During Urdiales' 2002 murder trial, his defense team sought to spare him from the death penalty by claiming that he suffered head trauma and sexual abuse as a child and, at the time he murdered Brandley, was hearing voices in his head which he believed were being beamed into his brain by the CIA, voices that told him he was on a mission to kill.
Prosecutors rejected that argument, noting that he was never treated for clinical depression or mental illness. Although Urdiales did receive the death penalty, Illinois banned the practice this year, and his sentence was automatically commuted to life in prison. This fact may explain the timing of Urdiales' long-awaited extradition: according to the DA's press release, “Urdiales [is] eligible for the death penalty” in California.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).