NUDE BEACH MURDER: In Eric Hvolboll’s recent piece in The Santa Barbara Independent, headlined “The Guns of Gaviota,” about the coast’s long criminal history, he wrote that “a Caltrans engineer was murdered there” in 1989.
I recall it well, but it wasn’t a random killing by local thugs chancing upon a nude beach and looking for dope. It was the work of two hired punks from (where else?) Bakersfield.
Throw in a hot-pants wife with dollar signs in her eyes and her brainless blond daughter, Stephanie, whose looks made Bakersfield’s love-sick slackers eager to please her.
At first, Phillip Bogdanoff’s murder looked like two guys approached the couple at a remote cove and asked for marijuana. When the Bogdanoffs had none, they shot Phillip in some kind of doper rage. Not that Phillip, 49, and Diana, 41, were strangers to weed.
They lived in a nearby trailer park and loved to go nude at Coral Beach, have sex, and take photos of one another. But Diana had a bee in her bonnet. As she relaxed in bed after having adulterous sex with the trailer park’s manager, (who earlier had had an affair with her other daughter), Diana daydreamed about knocking off Phillip.
She began barraging Stephanie, living back in B-Town, with appeals to find one of her lowlife friends to come over and do the job. “Something has to be done,” Diana begged. He was beating her, Diana moaned. How about a divorce? 18-year-old Stephanie suggested. Then, Diana protested, she’d be left with nothing. Years earlier, her first husband, Steve Allen, Stephanie’s father, had objected to a divorce. According to Matthew Heller’s 1993 book A Death in Santa Barbara, Diana told him, “You’re lucky you’re still alive. I tried to hire two men to kill you.” Allen, well aware of her many affairs, promptly struck her from his $250,000 life insurance policy.
Two weeks after Phillip put Diana’s name on the Visalia house he owned, along with his fat Caltrans pension, she was back on the phone imploring Stephanie, who was then running wild in Bakersfield, drinking, doping, sleeping around, and going out with her friends to shoot at cows.
Well, what’s a daughter to do? “I know this isn’t right, but if it’s the only way, then I guess we’ll have to do it,” Stephanie said, according to Wensley Clarkson’s book Women Behind Bars. So Stephanie and one of her loser pals stole a car and came over to whack Phillip. It fizzled. Diana was right on the phone. “Get your ass back up here. I’ll give you the gun to shoot him,” according to Heller. She was offering money and Phillip’s El Camino.
By the summer of 1989, a 21-year-old meth dealer named Brian Keith Stafford had moved in with Stephanie, and he agreed to take Phillip out. On September 21, he and drug dealer Rickey Lee Rodgers, a high school dropout with a fourth-grade academic level, drove over to Santa Barbara with guns, smoking dope on the way.
Diana lured Phillip to their beach spot that afternoon. Stafford and Rodgers found the nude couple on a blanket. Stafford pulled out a .22 pistol and shot Phillip in the face. Blood spurted out, some on Diana’s breasts. “Oh my God,” Phillip screamed.
Then Stafford walked over, put the barrel to his temple, and pulled the trigger. There were no witnesses. The pair ran to the car and drove back to Bakersfield. Back home, Stephanie rejoiced, according to Women Behind Bars: “We did it. We did it. We blew the sucker away.”
Two Santa Barbara County sheriff’s detectives, Russ Birchim and Fred Ray, were immediately suspicious. And, a few days later, an anonymous caller told Bakersfield police that a friend had been offered $10,000 by Diana to kill Phillip.
Birchim and Ray spent time in Bakersfield, quizzing everyone in sight, and spotted Stafford driving Stephanie’s car. Soon Diana, Stephanie, Stafford, and Rodgers were behind bars. All except Diana pleaded out, avoiding the death penalty. Stephanie testified against mommy dearest. When I interviewed Stephanie in the California Youth Authority, she looked and sounded like a high school cheerleader, a girl to take home to mother.
She’s out by now. Stafford is doing life with possibility of parole after 25 years. Rodgers was sentenced to 10 years in prison. But Diana, contrary to all evidence, insisted that she had no prior knowledge of the plot. Big mistake. Her Santa Barbara trial ended in a hung jury, but at a second trial in San Diego, with the death penalty off the table, she was found guilty of first-degree murder. She was sentenced to life in prison with no parole option.
But if she’d just shot Phillip at home, claiming to be a battered wife defending herself in a violent argument, she might just have beat the rap. There was some evidence that Phillip had slapped her around. In A Death in Santa Barbara, author Heller says a Santa Barbara deputy DA told him that he might not have prosecuted her if she’d claimed self-defense. But there she sits.