This is a weird case. Mary Samuels is currently on California death row for the murder of her husband and the man she hired to kill him. According to court documents Samuels wanted to collect on her husband’s life insurance policy so she hired someone to kill him. Then Samuels was worried the hitman would connect her to the crime so she hired someone else to kill him. Then Samuels collected on the life insurance and managed to go through the majority of it before she was arrested for murder. Mary Samuels would be convicted and sentenced to death
Mary Samuels 2021 Information
|SAMUELS, MARY ELLEN
|Central California Women’s Facility
|Parole Eligible Date (Month/Year)
Mary Samuels Other News
Defendant was married to Robert Samuels. On October 31, 1986,
Mary Samuels filed for divorce. Even after the divorce proceedings were initiated,
Mary Samuels and Robert Samuels were cordial, and defendant continued to work in
the Subway restaurant she and Robert Samuels owned. However, by November
1988, just before his murder, Robert Samuels was depressed and had a less than
friendly relationship with defendant.
On October 31, 1988—approximately two months before he was killed—
Robert Samuels went to his divorce attorney, Elizabeth Kaufman, and signed a
document seeking changes to his divorce agreement. Robert Samuels wanted to
run the Subway restaurant because he was unemployed and felt he would be better
at running the business. He also wanted to reduce spousal support payments
below the $1,200 per month level because he was no longer able to pay that
amount. The modification was never filed because Kaufman was waiting for
Robert Samuels to complete a portion of the paperwork.
1. The Solicitation and Murder of Robert Samuels
Beginning in 1987, Mary Samuels solicited people to murder Robert Samuels
on numerous occasions.
Anne Hambly, defendant’s friend, testified defendant told her that after
several attempts to find someone to kill Robert Samuels had failed, defendant was
able to get James Bernstein to agree to commit the murder. Bernstein was dating
Mary Samuels’s daughter, Nicole Samuels. Bernstein was apparently angered when
defendant told him that Robert Samuels had abused Nicole. A month before
Robert Samuels was murdered, Bernstein said he wanted Samuels “taken care of
permanently” because he was a child molester and batterer. He asked his
employer, Charles Mandel, if he knew anyone who could “take care of it.”
Mandel provided Bernstein with the phone number of Mike Silva. Also, during
November and December 1988, Bernstein asked a friend who owned a gun shop if
he could get some weapons.
On December 7, 1988, Mary Samuels told Anne Hambly that Robert Samuels
was dead and that she planned to “discover” his body in two days. On
December 8, 1988, Nicole Samuels called her friend, David Navarro, and said “it’s
done” in reference to Robert Samuels’s murder.
On December 9, 1988, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a call
from Robert Samuels’s home. Robert Samuels was found dead. He had been
dead for over 12 hours and was killed by a shotgun blast fired into his head from
close range. Samuels also suffered a blunt force trauma to his head that was a
contributing factor to his death.
Mary Samuels and Nicole Samuels were present when the police arrived.
Mary Samuels and Nicole worked to make it appear that there had been a struggle in
the house. Defendant told the police she discovered Robert Samuels’s body while
dropping off the family’s dog. Defendant sought to bolster this story by leaving
messages on Samuels’s answering machine regarding her plans to drop off the
Anne Hambly testified that she also went to Robert Samuels’s house the
night he was found dead. Referring to the murder of Robert Samuels, defendant
told Hambly that she could not believe that “it had finally happened” and that she
had given Bernstein money six months earlier to arrange the killing. Mary Samuels
feared being caught and was also afraid to speak because she thought the police
had “bugged” her car, purse, and home.
At trial, the prosecution introduced evidence showing defendant collected
on several insurance policies after Robert Samuels’s death. The total amount of
these policies was in excess of $240,000. In addition, the prosecution introduced
evidence that a sandwich shop owned by Robert Samuels and defendant was sold
in early 1989, and Mary Samuels kept the proceeds of approximately $70,000.
Additional evidence introduced by the prosecution showing how defendant
benefited from Robert Samuels’s death included: (1) defendant kept a car owned
by Robert Samuels; (2) she received approximately $6,000 in uncashed payroll
checks of Robert Samuels; and (3) she refinanced the family home after Robert
Samuels’s death, thereby gaining possession of an additional $160,000.
Mary Samuels began to live a lavish lifestyle after Robert Samuels died. In
addition, defendant made several incriminating statements after his death. For
example, when asked by Anne Hambly who Mike Silva was, defendant told
Hambly that Silva was hired by Bernstein to kill Robert Samuels. Mary Samuels also
told a friend, Marsha Hutchinson, that if she were not careful in her divorce
proceedings, then Hutchinson’s husband might decide to put a hit on her.
Mary Samuels also spoke and acted in a manner that led Bernstein’s older brother and
sister-in-law to believe that defendant had Robert Samuels killed.
James Bernstein also made incriminating statements after Robert Samuels’s
death. He told his employer, Charles Mandel, that Robert Samuels’s murder had
been taken care of and that he received money from defendant to pay Silva for his
part in the crime.
2. The Solicitation and Murder of James Bernstein
On June 27, 1989, James Bernstein was killed. The circumstances leading
to his murder are as follows: David Navarro and James Bernstein met in February
1989. Navarro testified he met Bernstein through Nicole Samuels, who was a
friend of Navarro’s girlfriend.
Navarro and Bernstein became friends and they sold drugs together until
Bernstein disappeared in June 1989. Bernstein and Navarro were together when
Bernstein received a page, called the number he had been sent, and then went to
meet Mike Silva. Bernstein referred to Silva as the “hit man.”
Navarro made an anonymous call to the police and provided them with the
phone number Bernstein received via the page and Mike Silva’s name. Navarro
also provided the names of Mary Samuels and Bernstein to the police. Los Angeles
Police Officer John Birrer received Navarro’s call on May 1, 1989. After Navarro
provided this information, the police served search warrants. Police searched
Bernstein’s apartment on May 16, 1989, in connection with the murder of Robert
Samuels. The police also searched the victim’s house.
In late May or early June 1989, Bernstein told a friend, Rennie Goldberg,
he was feeling remorseful and frightened of being caught. He wanted to confess
his involvement in Robert Samuels’s murder. By June 1989, Bernstein had
become so afraid that he wanted to move out of the area. By the end of June 1989,
Bernstein was ready to go to the police and admit what he knew. He told Navarro
that he and Mike Silva had killed Robert Samuels and that defendant had paid
them for it. He repeatedly said that Mary Samuels had solicited him to murder Robert
Samuels. Bernstein stated that Mary Samuels wanted Robert Samuels killed for
insurance money, and that one person had been paid but did not do the job so she
approached Bernstein to see if he would do it. On June 26, 1989, Bernstein told
his older brother that he was frightened and that he was the only person who could
“burn Mary Ellen.”
After Robert Samuels’s murder, defendant told Anne Hambly that she
wanted Bernstein killed because she thought he would go to the police and
disclose her involvement in the murder. In March or April of 1989, Anne Hambly
introduced Paul Gaul to defendant. Gaul was Hambly’s live-in boyfriend.
Hambly believed Gaul could help Mary Samuels with her trouble with Bernstein.
Defendant and Gaul had several conversations about Robert Samuels’s death. In
the first conversation, Mary Samuels mentioned she received insurance money from
Robert Samuels’s death and that Bernstein was blackmailing her for her
involvement in the murder. In the second conversation, defendant repeated the
substance of the first conversation and added that she wanted Robert Samuels
killed because he had abused Nicole and she wanted insurance money. During a
third conversation, defendant mentioned a failed attempt to kill Robert Samuels.
Mary Samuels also said that she had paid for Robert Samuels’s murder, but that the
murder was done sloppily and that she had not expected it to be done in her house
with blood everywhere.
Even in their first conversation, Gaul came to believe that defendant wanted
his help in killing Bernstein. Gaul testified that it was not until a later
conversation that Mary Samuels expressly asked Gaul for help. She told Gaul that she
wanted Bernstein killed because he was blackmailing her. She also told Gaul that
Bernstein was selling drugs to children.1 Defendant told Gaul that she would pay
for Bernstein to be killed. Mary Samuels spoke with Gaul five to 10 times about
killing Bernstein, discussing payment two to four times.
Prior to Bernstein’s murder, defendant called Gaul. She told Gaul that she
was taking a trip to Cancun and wanted Bernstein murdered before she returned.
Mary Samuels agreed to pay Gaul $5,000 for killing Bernstein. Another form of
payment was that defendant would forgive a loan made to Anne Hambly. To
assist him in killing Bernstein, Gaul solicited Darryl Ray Edwards. Edwards
agreed to kill Bernstein for $5,000.
Gaul testified that his brother had been killed by drug dealers and that he
had been angered by it.
In June 1989, at defendant’s request, Bernstein moved in with Anne
Hambly and Paul Gaul. When he moved out of his apartment, Bernstein told his
apartment manager that he was moving out of town to avoid the police. Bernstein
moved in with Hambly and Gaul because he was afraid the police were closing in
On June 27, 1989, Paul Gaul and Darryl Ray Edwards killed James
Bernstein. On that morning, Gaul met Edwards at a bar and they started drinking.
Their plan to murder Bernstein involved getting Bernstein to go up to an area near
Frazier Park. Gaul and Edwards planned to tell Bernstein that Edwards knew
some drug dealers in Frazier Park and that Gaul, Edwards, and Bernstein would go
and rob them.
The two men separated, planning to meet at Anne Hambly’s later that day.
Gaul returned to Hambly’s house around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. Edwards arrived
approximately two hours later. Bernstein was at Hambly’s house. Gaul, Edwards,
and Bernstein talked about going to rip off drug dealers. Although he did not
initially agree to the plan, Bernstein was curious and wanted more information.
Subsequently, Gaul, Edwards, and Bernstein left Hambly’s house in defendant’s
car. Gaul was the driver. After approximately 40 minutes, they ended up on an
isolated dirt road. However, it turned out to be a private driveway and several
dogs came running at the car. Edwards told Gaul to immediately get out of the
driveway, so Gaul placed the car in reverse and drove away. About five to 10
minutes later, Edwards yelled “Now” or something similar. Gaul slammed on the
car’s brakes, put the car in park, and turned off the headlights. Edwards grabbed
Bernstein’s neck from behind and began to choke him. Bernstein began to
scream, but Gaul twice hit him in the side of the head or neck to keep him quiet.
Gaul accidentally hit Edwards, which loosened Edwards’s grip on Bernstein.
Bernstein opened the car door and jumped out. Edwards and Gaul got out of the
car and chased after Bernstein. Edwards caught Bernstein and wrestled him to the
ground. Gaul held Bernstein’s legs, while Edwards choked him. Bernstein asked,
“Why?,” and Gaul said that it was because he talked too much. Gaul stopped
holding Bernstein’s legs and joined in with Edwards. Bernstein struggled for three
to five minutes, then stopped. Gaul put his ear to Bernstein’s chest to listen for a
heartbeat, but did not hear one. An autopsy on Bernstein confirmed that he had
been strangled to death.
Gaul and Edwards placed Bernstein’s body in the backseat of the car.
Edwards drove to a dark and isolated area. During the drive to this area, Gaul took
off Bernstein’s belt, which had the name “James” on it, and threw it over a cliff.
Gaul also threw Bernstein’s pager over an embankment.
When Edwards stopped the car, he and Gaul pulled Bernstein’s body out of
the backseat and put it over an embankment. Gaul and Edwards then drove back
to Anne Hambly’s house. Upon returning to Hambly’s house, Gaul, Edwards, and
Hambly discussed what had happened. Gaul and Edwards told Hambly that they
had killed Bernstein.
Anne Hambly made a phone call to defendant, who was in Cancun,
Mexico, at the time, and let her know that Bernstein was dead. Hambly did so by
using a “code” that she and defendant had agreed to. The code involved Hambly’s
calling Mary Samuels to say that Hambly had spoken to her sister. This statement was
a signal to Mary Samuels that Bernstein was dead and that it was safe for defendant to
return from Mexico.