The Bruce Lisker Case

I generally spend throughout the week working on other projects such as my genealogy and  reading and watching things on stories about true crimes mainly to add to my growing list of cases.  Sunday is generally my day that I sit down the entire day and work on things here.  From time to time I will find a case that I feel the need to look into much sooner and this is one of them.

We have all heard the stories from defendants.... they are innocent, their lawyer did not do their job properly and the all common idea that someone (quite often the police) framed them.  Sadly these things have become so common and so often proved to be false that one has difficulty in taking the claims seriously. And then from time to time along comes the case that you simply cannot ignore. I know I have blogged recently about the Steven Avery/Brenden Dassey case from Making a Murderer and all the things involving a shady investigation in that case but I think this one completely rivals that one, and this one has been surprisingly proven.  

On March 10, 1983 police received a 911 call from Sherman Oaks California.... a sub-city of Los Angeles.  The call came from 17 year old Bruce Lisker who had gone to his parents' home and said he found his mother on the front room floor and she had been stabbed.  Officer's immediately responded and almost just as immediately decided that Bruce was responsible.  

Bruce had been adopted by Bob and Dorka Lisker when he was just three days old in 1965.  Bob was an attorney and one of his clients' daughter had become pregnant and wanted to put the baby up for adoption.  Bob and Dorka had tried for years to have a baby of their own but had been unable to.  As the years went on the Lisker's quickly learned that being a parent is not always easy and Bruce had his own share of issues.  He would later say that he started with pot and alcohol between the ages of ten and eleven and had moved onto LSD and cocaine by the age of thirteen.  Bob and Dorka were at their wits end. Dorka got the brunt of it. She was a stay at home mom and between Bob being busy so much with his job and the fact that apparently he was very laid back and let Dorka handle most of the disciplinary issues until he was forced in the middle, she was the one left to deal with Bruce's issues.  When Bruce was in the 8th and 9th grades he spent his time in a group home.  He returned home after that but things were not any better really and he dropped out of school a month before his 17th birthday.  In June of 1982 Bruce was arrested when he threw a screwdriver at a driver that had cut him off.  The charges were reduced from assault with a deadly weapon to vandalism.  It is like Bob had a lot to do with this.  But apparently Bob and Dorka did not know what else to do with their son and the home had become pretty volatile so they rented Bruce a studio apartment a few miles from them and apparently supplied him with a car.  It does not sound that a whole lot changed with Bruce except his drug use got worse because he no longer had parental guidance.  In fact, on the day he found his mother stabbed in her home he was high at the time and the officer's likely knew it.

As is normal procedure Bruce was taken down to the local police station to be interviewed.  Dorka in the mean time had been taken to a local hospital where later in the afternoon she would be declared dead.  Bruce told his story to the officer in charge, Det. Andrew Monsue.  Some reports say this was Monsue's first big case and ultimately his first eventual homicide case. Monsue has later bee quoted that he knew he had "his man."  Bruce told Monsue that he had gone to his parents home a little after 11 am to get some tools to work on his car that had broken down.  He said he knocked on the door but there was no answer and when he tried to open the door it was locked.  He said he went and looked in the living room window and thought he could see his mother's foot laying on the floor so he moved over to the dining room window and could clearly see her.  He said that he then went to the kitchen window and removed the pane to get into the house.  When asked why he would do this Bruce said he had used this way to gain entry many times over the years when he would sneak out of the house so since he couldn't get in with the doors locked for him this was the fastest way.  He said he made his way to his mother and found she had steak knives in her back and he removed them thinking he was helping her. He said he then began to wonder if the person that did this was still in the house and he went and grabbed other knives and searched the home and then he called 911.  Monsue did not believe him and told him so.  Monsue was convinced (or at least he said he was) that there was no way Bruce could have seen his mother through the picture windows as he claimed due to the position of her body and things around her as well as the weather that day.  He asked Bruce to take a lie detector test.

Bruce would later say that the polygraph examiner told him that not only did he fail the test but he had never seen someone fail so badly.  I am unsure if those results were ever looked at, or even available again after that.  At any rate Bruce was arrested for the murder of his mother.

Bob Lisker obviously knew his son had issues but he did not believe his son was guilty.  He of course was also interviewed by Andrew Monsue.  Bob told Monsue that the day prior to Dorka being murdered that she had told him that a friend of Bruce's named John Michael Ryan had come to the house looking to do odd jobs for money but that she had turned him away.  Monsue would claim that he found John Ryan and interviewed him.... and he did... but years later his excuses for not considering him a suspect did not and does not ring true. But, we'll get into John Ryan in a bit.  

So Monue does his "investigation," with the help of other presumably although I also saw mention of one other investigator in my research and sends his information to the DA, Phillip Rabichow.  As prosecutors often do they build their case based on the investigation information given to them.  Now, Rabichow would say decades later that he rarely prosecuted a case without out doing his own research or testing as he did in this case, but I find that hard to believe.  At any rate, at least today Rabichow will say that he conducted and based his case solely on the reports by Monsue that he received.  And of course as with every prosecution Rabichow came up with a theory of how things happened and expressed that in Bruce's trials in 1985.  Yes, I said trials, as in more than one.

It seems that about five days into his first trial the judge all but told Bruce if he pleaded guilty to second degree murder he would sentence him as a juvenile (he was facing adult charges) and would be released at the age of 25.  Bruce has stated that he did not want to do this but was pressured by attorneys and family friends and finally agreed. The jury is sent home and the trial is ended. Bruce said whatever it was that needed to be said on his part to ensure the deal went through, including admitting guilty.  However, to ease the judge's mind that this was the correct decision to make they decided to officially evaluate him psychologically, which apparently had not been done. So he plans to plead guilty and plays the game and the reports come back that basically he is is a danger to society and a psychopath and the judge decides maybe a juvenile facility and sentence is not what he needs. So since the judge now intend to back out of the agreement as said Bruce is allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and a new trial is scheduled. This is something that I have never heard happening in all of the cases I have read about.  Sure, plead deals are made all the time and some times they fall through but my research indicates this came straight from the judge in the middle of his trial.... why?? That I could not answer.  At any rate a new trial quickly followed.  

The prosecution theorized that based on the poor relationship Bruce had with his mother and his own admittance of not only having a drug issue but stealing from his parents to support his habit he had gone to the house on the morning of March 10, 1983 and asked for money.  When his mother refused he stabbed her in the back with some kitchen knives and when that did not kill her he first took a Little League trophy and then an exercise bar and beat her with them. They would go on to claim that apparently he had washed his blood and fingerprints off the trophy and exercise bar, they did not need to say that about the knives because Bruce admitted to touching those.  They claim he then went outside and removed the panel from the kitchen window and concocted the story he told the police about how he had discovered his mother.  The prosecution pointed out all of the bloody footprints within the house and Monsue testified those prints belonged to Bruce.  Monsue also testified that he had conducted a test at the house and had concluded that Bruce's story of seeing his mother's foot from one window and then seeing her on the floor from the other was untrue due to the furniture within the home and the sunlight glaring on the window.  The prosecution also had a jailhouse informant named Robert Hughes who testified that Bruce had confessed to him.  The confession that Hughes stated that Bruce had given him nearly matched the details of the crime. The one other thing that the prosecutor claimed was that in the course of the attack Bruce had taken about $150 from his mother.  Bob Lisker had stated that the night before the murder he had given his wife money for groceries the following day.  He did not know the exact amount but knew it consisted of several ten and twenty dollar bills.  He estimated it was around $150 and that Dorka had placed this in her purse.  Prosecutors claimed that money was not there and stated that Bruce must have taken it, although it was never found.

For the defense they really did not have a lot.  They had attempted to bring in a theory in which John Ryan should have been a suspect but the judge had not allowed them to.  The lawyers were later chastised for that attempt because they failed to inform the judge of the most damning evidence there was against Ryan and only seemed to give minimal information as to why they believed him to be a viable suspect.  

In the end the jury convicted Bruce Lisker on the charge of second degree murder and sentenced him to 16 years to life.

Bruce Lisker, with the support of his father, Bob, continued to proclaim his innocence and did all the customary appeals that a case tends to follow but was continually faced with rejection.  At his first parole hearing in 1992 Bruce decided that his only way out of prison would be through parole.  It is pretty common knowledge that when a person goes into a parole hearing the one thing that the board likes to hear is remorse.  It is kind of hard to have remorse for something you have not done but I am sure parole boards have seen it all.  So, Bruce, still publicly stating his innocence, decided that he would admit the murder and show remorse to the parole board.  Seeing that it did not matter and his parole was denied he vowed he would never do that again.  In fact, he never went to another parole hearing until 1999 (he skipped 3 others) where he read a statement insisting on his innocence.  Of course it was denied.

In 1995 Bob Lisker died still believing his son was innocent.  Bruce inherited $150,000 from Bob's estate and with that money he decided to hire a private detective by the name of Paul Ingels who started looking over the case. Over the next several years Ingels looked over things in the case. One of the big things that jumped out at him was he discovered that in 1998 Andrew Monsue had written the parole board and stated to them that new owners had bought the Lisker house and that they had found the "lost" $150 in the attic portion above what used to be Bruce Lisker's bedroom.  He told them this just proved more so, despite Bruce's claims, that he was responsible.  Since Bruce had not gone to the hearing he apparently had not hear this.  Ingels contacted the new owner, Morton Borenstein, a lawyer, about this.  According to Borenstein, not only had he not ever found any money within the house but he had never been approached by Monsue or any other member of the LAPD regarding this case. By 2003 there were more questions about Monsue's behavior in the investigation and Ingels encouraged Bruce to file a complaint with the LAPD on several issues regarding Monsue, including lying to the parole board, failing to properly investigate John Ryan and soliciting known false testimony from Robert Hughes.  Neither Bruce or Ingels expected much to come out of it, but it was a legal move and they could always maintain hope.  

That complaint landed of the desk of Sgt. Jim Gavin.  It was his job to investigate these complaints and most of the time they amounted to nothing when it came from inmates. But he still looked into things because the filing was a bit different than most he had looked into, this one had some pretty good documents attached such as a sworn statement by Borenstein and things about John Ryan. So, number one on the list was to look into the statement that Monsue had given to the parole board in 1998.  Gavin found that there was no evidence or documentation that the money had ever been found.  Protocol would have shown there was documentation of the evidence and there simply was none to be found.  Monsue would later claim that he had gone through the correct procedures but could not understand why the information could not be found.  However, at this point Gavin started to wonder.... if Monsue lied about the recovery of the money, what else could he have lied about.  Still looking into the issues brought up in the complaint brought him to John Ryan.

I know I have talked a lot about him to this point but not really told you anything about him.  Now it is time to fill you in on just who John Ryan was. He had become friends with Bruce after he had moved out of his parents' house. Like Bruce, John Ryan had drug and legal issues.  His mother had kicked him out of her house and Bruce had allowed him to stay with him for a while on the condition he helped pay the rent.  Bruce and a lot of his friends would often do odd jobs for money, sometimes at the Lisker home.  Staying with Bruce did not last long since Ryan didn't fulfill his end of the deal and apparently all but ended their friendship.  John Ryan had then moved to live with his father and step-mother in Mississippi. As I stated earlier, within days of the murder Bob Lisker would tell investigators that Dorka had told him that John Ryan had come to their home the day prior looking for some odd jobs and she had turned him away.  From the way I understand it Monsue contacted authorities in Mississippi and asked them to bring Ryan in for questioning and send him their report, to which they did.  John Ryan opening admitted to being in California at the time of the murder, saying he had come to town some four days before and had left the day following the murder.  When asked where he was on the day of the murder he stated he had checked into a particular hotel around 11 am (coincidentally this was around the same time it is thought Dorka was killed).  He also stated that he had stabbed a black man who had attempted to "jump" him and admitted to registering at the hotel under an alias.  He denied being involved in the murder.  To Monsue's credit he apparently looked into the hotel story and found that John Ryan had in fact registered at the hotel but not at 11 am as he claimed but around 3 pm.  He also realized that while he could not prove the stabbing story even Ryan's story did not add up because he registered in the hotel before the supposed stabbing which was the reason he gave for using an alias.  So Monsue goes to Mississippi and sees Ryan himself.  By this time the murder was a few months old and Ryan was really easy to find because he was in a juvenile facility after trying to break into a woman's apartment.  Their interview is taped and Monsue calls Ryan out on when he really checked into the hotel.  Ryan all but plays it off as if he must have just been mistaken and while Monsue had looked as if he was going to play hard ball he in turn tells Ryan basically that it was ok because he (Monsue) knew Bruce had killed his mother. Then Monsue all but leaves and goes back to California.  He would later claim that he ran a background check on Ryan and because it came back clean he eliminated him as a suspect.  It was later discovered or implied that the reason the check came back clean was because Monsue had put in the wrong birth date.  However, one has to ask just what was on this supposed check that Monsue did supposedly run.  I mean did he even look at it?  He saw the boy (and at 17 that is what he was) while he was serving time in a juvenile facility for attempted break in.  Was that charge on the report Monsue got?  Well we can assume that it likely was not if he supposedly put in the wrong date as he claims that he did.   None of this made sense.  Another thing that possibly linked John Ryan to this murder was the fact that a phone call was made from the Lisker home on the day of the murder around 10:20 that morning.  When asked neither Bob or Bruce Lisker recognized the number.  Years later when he had all the files in hand Bruce saw that Monsue had spoken to John Ryan's mother by phone and her number was listed.  He later noticed that the number called from his parents' home that morning was nearly John Ryan's mother's number.  She lived in a different area code and that was missing but all but the last number that was dialed matched her number.  

When Bruce's attorney's at his trial in 1985 told the judge they wanted to introduce evidence against John Ryan and they laid out what they had, they left out the information about how he lied about his timeline the day of the murder, as well as his supposed involvement in a stabbing.  Those were two of the most crucial things and yet they did not include that hence the judge denied their request.

In 1986 John Ryan would attack a woman as she got off a commuter train and was sentenced to 6 years in prison.  In 1993 he attacked his stepmother with a sledgehammer and when officer's arrived he fought and attacked them (I have no idea what came of this case).  In 1996 John Ryan was at a friends house where he wrote a suicide note and then died as a result of alcohol and heroin. When Bruce's private detective, Paul Ingels had looked into things he spoke with both of John Ryan's parents and they expressed they were sure that it was Ryan who had killed Dorka Lisker and not Bruce.  Gavin would soon discover all of this too and wonder why John Ryan was not looked into more.

The last issue in the complaint that landed on Sgt. Gavin's desk dealt with the issue of Robert Hughes jailhouse testimony.   In 1988 a grand jury had been convened in Los Angeles to look into the allegation that between 1979 and 1988 inmates testified against others claiming they had confessed while in jail and that not only were they false, but that the district attorney's knew it.  Gavin looked into if Robert Hughes was one of them.  Hughes had been moved to the county jail not long after Bruce's arrest it seems because he was testifying against another inmate who had supposedly confessed.  He was placed in a cell next to Bruce.  Bruce claims that Hughes drilled a hole between the cells to communicate.  If in fact this happened then in my opinion it was a set up.  How could Hughes drill some sort of hole between two cells and it not be noticed? And, the hole, according to Bruce was big enough to pass papers (presumably rolled up of course) between the cells.  For Hughes' part he would claim that Bruce confessed to murdering his mother before Hughes even knew his name. Bruce claims not only did he never confess to the crime but that he had communicated with Hughes and had shown him police reports and paperwork. It would be claimed that the story that Hughes would say in court that Bruce stated to him almost mirrored the police reports.  His testimony would now be in question.  In fact, after the grand jury investigation in 1988 into the practice a new law was enacted in which it required the judge to inform the jury to take all testimony from jailhouse informant with suspicion.  They were used much less after this law.

So Gavin had now but picked apart every piece of the initial complaint and he is left wondering, just what else happened in this case. He was starting to truly wonder if an innocent man was in jail. He began reading over the case and all the transcripts.  He discovered that within the trial the prosecutor had stated that there had been bloody shoe prints all over the house and that those prints belonged to Bruce Lisker.  In fact, the prosecutor pointed out that if someone else had committed the crime where were their footprints if all those present were Bruce's.  Gavin learned that the prints had never been analyzed so he had it done and when the results came back he learned that none of those prints matched the shoes that Bruce was wearing that day. It was not long after this that Gavin's supervisor shut down his investigation.  In fact, not only was he told to stop investigating the case since his job was to only look at the complaint itself (in which the shoe prints did not apply) but it was taken from him and someone else wrote out the final report.  What Gavin's supervisors did not know was that he had sent Paul Ingel's the shoe print report.  Soon after Bruce Lisker received an answer about his complaint.... it was all unfounded.  At this point Ingel's is furious and when he finds out that Gavin's been removed from the case he writes the police chief.  There was supposedly a new investigation done into Monsue as well as Gavin's supervisors but it seems little came of it... surprise, surprise.  To make it look good a cold case unit looked into Gavin's information and they too determined that Bruce Lisker was guilty.  Some how this cold case unit had gotten a picture in which it seems few had seen before.  It was a picture taken at Dorka's autopsy and it showed that she had a bruise to her head.  The bruise appeared to be in the shape of a shoe print.  Simply looking at the pictures the new investigators determined that it was Bruce's shoe print and if he stomped on his mother's head then surely he killed her. But, again, the shoe print was not analyzed.

By now Bruce and Paul Ingel's are infuriated.  Paul had previously been a police officer so he knew more of the ins and outs of how investigations were done so he was even more frustrated as what he saw was a concerted effort to cover things up in this case.  With little recourse left he contacted some investigative journalist at The Times and in 2005 they published a series of articles on the case.  Not so surprisingly the day they came out with allegations of misconduct by Andrew Monsue he decided to retire.  He had moved up to Lieutenant in ranks and was now a supervisor over nearly 50 other officers.  But, he had at one time it seems been a sore on the department.  In 2002 the city had settled a case with an African American woman officer who had claimed, and apparently had proof, that Monsue had made several racial comments.  That cost the city 1.25M.  But now the LAPD could not ignore these allegations even though they severely tried.  The prosecutor, Phillip Rabichow had retired in 2003.  He had agreed to meet with the reporters when they were conducting their interviews ... and tests. It was then that he started to throw Monsue under the bus.  Do not get me wrong, Monsue was ... well, I cannot say the names I want to call him. But, in the same respect Rabichow had a job too and it was not to take whatever an officer said to him as the gospel, especially when tests were not done to collaborate but that is what he said he did.  The reporters showed him that the bloody prints in the house did not match Bruce. By this time it seems that the reporters had also discovered that supposed missing $150.. you know the money that prosecutors claimed at trial was stolen from Dorka Lisker.  It seems that it never was stolen at all and had been in her purse the entire time. Someone had been in charge of logging in all the evidence collected a few weeks after the murder and there is a document showing that $120 (remember Bob Lisker was not sure the exact amount he gave her) in ten and twenty dollar bills right in Dorka's purse where it was supposed to be.  Rabichow of course still wanted to believe, or at least state publicly that he had prosecuted a guilty man.  He had said his one stickler was the idea that Bruce could not have seen inside the windows as he stated he had.  The reporters talked to the homeowners and they were able to set up a test, in which Rabichow attended, and he discovered that statement he made to the jury was also untrue.  The final straw would come later when it was discovered that the bruise on Dorka's head that was in the shape of the shoe print also not only did not match Bruce, but did in fact match the other prints in the house.  Rabichow had been right... whomever left those shoe prints throughout the house had been Dorka's killer. It just was not Bruce.

I am uncertain as to why, but it took four years before any of this truly made it through the courts.  In August of 2009 Bruce's conviction was finally overturned.  The judge stated that the conviction had been obtained through false evidence and ineffective counsel. The latter was based on the idea that Bruce's lawyers had not given all the vital information about John Ryan to allow that testimony in.  On August 13,2009 Bruce Lisker was released but he could not be certain it was over.  An overturn of his conviction did not mean the prosecutors could not file again.  It would be another month until that decision was made.  On September 21st all charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.  Amazingly enough the following year, in September of 2010, the prosecutor filed in court to have Bruce returned to jail stating that his appeal had not been filed in a timely manner to begin with hence he had not been entitled to the hearing to begin with.  Now, I am all for following the law. I also understand that there must be time limits on things such as appeals and what not or no one would ever get out of court.  However, just as the judge dismissed this filing, it was stated that this was a declaration of "actual innocence" and Bruce remained free.  His lawyers would claim that it was an election year and that it was a political tactic... prosecutors would disagree.

On August 13, 2011 Bruce Lisker married his girlfriend Kara Noble, exactly two years after his release.  They had met while he was in prison. Paul Ingel was his best man.

Bruce Lisker filed a civil suit against the city of Los Angeles and against Officer Monsue.  That was settled in January of 2016 for $7.6M.  Spokesperson for the city stated that taking this case to a jury would have been "extremely dangerous" and could have been "financially devastating" to the city.  They had settled the case of another wrongful conviction on the same day.  

We all like to believe in the justice system.  And we almost have to but it is cases like this that leave you wondering just how many more are out there? How many more lives have been ruined because of shotty or false investigations?

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