Residents of Placer County, California, were left startled when a maintenance worker discovered Alicia Ernst’s deceased body hidden under a pile of trash. While the incident was determined to be a homicide, the police soon found evidence that someone had put in an effort to cut out the victim’s fingerprints in order to delay identification. Investigation Discovery’s ‘Deadly Women: Suspicious Minds’ chronicles the gruesome murder and follows the investigation that brought the perpetrator to justice.
How Did Alicia Ernst Die?
Alicia Ernst was a hardworking and down-to-earth individual who loved living life to the fullest. Friends and family described Alicia as a generous and kindhearted young lady who never hesitated to help others and always maintained a healthy relationship with those around her. While Alicia was 24 years old at the time of the murder, she resided in Citrus Heights, California, and shared an intimate bond with her family. Moreover, like most women of her age, she enjoyed hanging out with friends and making the most of every situation. Yet, there was nothing to suggest that tragedy that was about to claim her life.
On March 8, 2008, a maintenance worker walking along Walerga Road thought he noticed someone peeking out from below a pile of trash. Upon investigating further, he was shocked to find a human body and immediately informed the police about the same. Once first responders reached the crime scene, they realized that the killed had poured ammonia all over the victim’s body in order to keep insects away.
In fact, the ammonia was located right beside Alicia, while the police also found a white plastic bag containing some fresh blood, a knife-life device, and bloodstained gloves. On top of it, an initial medical examination spotted knife injuries to Alicia’s head, face, and neck. Later, an autopsy determined that Alicia passed away after the killer slashed her throat and even affirmed that someone had tried to cut her fingerprints off to delay identification.
Who Killed Alicia Ernst?
It did not take long for detectives to reach a breakthrough in the case as they learned that Alicia had spent the night before her murder with her boyfriend, Richard Hamman, and her high school friend, Stephanie Nicole Erends. While the boyfriend appeared to be a suspect initially, authorities soon realized that Alicia and Stephanie had left his house together, thus ruling him out of the investigation. But when officers canvassed the crime scene and went door to door, they found a witness who insisted that Stephanie had appeared at his door at around 5 am on March 8 in bloodied clothes claiming that three men had ambushed and attacked her.
Stephanie also got the witness to drive her to her grandmother’s house and insisted she had no idea where Alicia was. Additionally, the police found another witness who mentioned they saw Stephanie and her grandmother trying to free the car at around 7:30 am on the same day. However, when asked, Stephanie insisted that she and her “girlfriend” were pushed off the road by an oncoming vehicle. Such evidence made Stephanie a person of interest, but when the police questioned her, she insisted that she met Alicia at a bar on the evening of March 7.
Besides, Stephanie claimed she had gone to Richard Hamman’s house alone, although officers already had evidence that her statement was a lie. Hence, once the police matched the suspect’s car with the one spotted by the witness and found Alicia’s blood inside the vehicle, they arrested Stephanie for murdering her friend.
Being in police custody made Stephanie change her mind, and she soon confessed to murdering Alicia Ernst. Stephanie claimed that the two left Richard’s house together and were sitting in the car by the side of the road when she got into the backseat and used a razor to slash at Alicia’s head, face, and neck. She then used a knife to cut the victim’s throat before trying to shave off her fingerprints in a frantic effort to keep her from being identified. However, when that did not work, she hid Alicia’s body under a pile of trash and fled the crime scene.
Stephanie Nicole Erends is Serving Her Sentence
When presented in court, Stephanie tried to recant her confession and claimed she killed Alicia in a fit of anger. The accused testified that Alicia had allegedly made fun of her in front of Richard and reacted nonchalantly when confronted. Hence, overcome with rage, Stephanie insisted she attacked Alicia with a scraping tool and killed her accidentally.
However, the jury saw the incident as a case of deliberate homicide and eventually convicted Stephanie of first-degree murder. As a result, she was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2010 and currently remains behind bars at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, California.