Rich McDonald Murder: Where Are Ann McDonald and Al Braunberger Now?

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Primal Instinct: From Diamonds to Death’ follows the gruesome murder of millionaire Rich McDonald in Marin County, California, in March 1991. The episode shows how the investigators relied on old-school police work and to track down the perpetrators involved in the heinous crime. It is a complex case that happened decades ago, and the show brilliantly presents it chronologically to the viewers. If you’re interested in knowing more about the case and the identities of the killers, here’s what we know.

How Did Rich McDonald Die?

Rich McDonald was a wealthy man in his late 50s, living in Marin County, California, in 1990. He owned a pest control company named McDonald Pest Control, a successful business worth over a million dollars. According to the show, he was a self-made man who lacked much formal education but made up for it with his grit. He and his beautiful wife, Ann, both 56, lived in Kent Woodlands, one of the wealthiest suburbs in the nation. They lived the good life, moving among elite social circles, and had it all in terms of wealth.

 

Ann’s son, Chris Vetterli, recounted how the couple were more than married and were business partners, with Rich working in the field and Ann working in the office. He said, “My mom was a very intelligent woman. She was highly educated.” According to the show, Rich liked maintaining a certain standard in life, which was emulated by his joining the Yacht Club. Chris stated, “He (Rich) was the commodore of the yacht club for some time. And he was just well-known in yachting circles. He was very knowledgable about boats.”

His fascination with luxury boats signified his yearning to have the best of everything in life and his obsession to show off as part of his public image. San Francisco Examiner’s reporter, Michael Dougan, said, “Rich liked having Ann on his arm. To show his appreciation to everybody else, if not her.” Hence it came as a shock when the 57-year-old millionaire was found brutally beaten inside his luxurious home by his wife, Ann, on March 4, 1991.

He was assaulted with fireplace tools, indicated by heavy blunt-force trauma on the body. He had also been suffocated and strangled. The Fire Department arrived and performed CPR, getting a faint heartbeat. Rich was immediately rushed to a hospital in critical condition, where he succumbed to his injuries.

Who Killed Rich McDonald?

According to the show, the investigators arrived at the scene to find a grieving Ann, nervous and drunk. She allegedly never enquired about Rich’s health or asked permission to go to the hospital to check up on him. Police sources stated she bluntly reacted to the news of her husband’s death by calling the life insurance company that held the policy for Rich. The show further mentioned that Ann wanted a hug from one of the detectives, who formally put his arms around her. However, she allegedly gave him a full-body hug and whispered in his ears, “You and I could be an item.”

Ann and Al Braunberger

Due to her suspicious behavior, Ann immediately became a person of interest in the eyes of the investigators. They looked into her to learn she had been married five times, with Rich being her fifth husband. San Francisco Examiner’s reporter, Michael Dougan, said, “Ann believed she looked like Elizabeth Taylor, and she emulated her in her marriage records.” The detectives went through her phone records and soon became aware of Al Braunberger, then 67, and her relationship with him.

According to the show, Ann was frustrated and exasperated with playing the second fiddle to Rich in his Yacht Club, and she met Al there. He was a polite and respectful person who had a business selling televisions and then a business in real estate, hooking franchises up with sellers. However, he never made much money in either of his ventures, and the show called him an antithesis of Rich in that regard. The episode shows the viewers how the two got close, with Al offering her the attention she desperately required from her husband.

Al’s co-worker, Chris Pascual, recounted how Rich became aware of his wife’s extramarital affair with Al and dropped into his office, looking for him. The show further depicted how Rich employed a detective to track their actions and confronted Ann with the evidence. After Al was brutally attacked, the duo suspected Rich to be behind it and fled to Scottsdale, Arizona. But Ann was forced to return after Rich cut down the cash flow and was stuck in an unhappy marriage until she decided to end Rich once and for all.

The investigators went through Al’s phone records to find a network of calls that led them to a Vietnam war veteran named Manuel Martinez, who was employed by the couple to kill Rich for a reward money of $35,000. According to the show, the officers offered Manuel full immunity in exchange for complete disclosure, and he happily named Ann and Al as the conspirators behind Rich’s assassination. He claimed they asked him to make it look like a robbery gone wrong, and he took an accomplice, Larry Smith, to commit the crime.

Where Are Ann McDonald and Al Braunberger Today?

Ann and Al were convicted of committing murder in the first degree and conspiracy to commit murder and were sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. Manuel was never charged because he cooperated with the authorities, and his accomplice Larry, an unemployed Oakland laborer, was sentenced to two years in prison. As per local news reports, Ann died of natural causes at the age of 79 at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla in 2013. Al is no longer listed as an inmate on the California state prison system’s website and has presumably been paroled or is dead.

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