Community members got a special behind-the-scenes look at a true crime story so full of twists and turns it seems destined for the big screen.
In fact, it appears halfway there since members of “Dateline NBC” were on hand during Anaheim Police Department’s multimedia presentation, called Anaheim Confidential, detailing the long and complex murder investigation of Elizabeth Wheat Begaren, a correctional officer gunned down on the eastbound 91 Freeway onramp in Anaheim on Jan. 17, 1998.
The case, which went cold for 14 years, ended with the trial and conviction on Sept. 6, 2013 of Nuzzio Anthony Begaren, who was found to have planned the shooting of his wife because of a $1 million life insurance policy.
“Back then, it was difficult to find any clues,” said retired Anaheim Police Sgt. Rick Martinez, who opened the Nov. 8 evening presentation held at River Arena in Anaheim. “It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Josh Mankiewicz, a reporter for “Dateline NBC,” gave the audience a little insight about what it takes to put on the popular true crime show.
“Like some of the officers here tonight, we are here to speak for the dead,” Mankiewicz said. “The best ‘Dateline’ stories are not really about murder, they are about relationships that have gone bad.”
Sgt. Daron Wyatt, APD public information officer, then took the stage to discuss the case he helped close, ending with the arrests and convictions of Begaren and three L.A. gang members linked to the murder.
Wyatt, who gave his presentation with the assistance of archival news footage and other multimedia tools on the arena’s large screen, explained that cases can go cold for a number of reasons. In this case, for instance, technology just hadn’t caught up yet. The initial investigation lasted two years before it went cold, said Wyatt.
“It’s not that the detectives did not do their jobs back then,” he said.
Going over the details of the crime, Wyatt, who worked on the case when it was reopened in 2011, said police suspected Begaren’s involvement early on, but were unable to find enough evidence.
“I truly believe this location was handpicked for this purpose,” Wyatt said of the spot where Elizabeth was shot and killed.
Among the footage Wyatt showed the audience was an actual video interview he had with Begaren, with the man’s attorney present.
“It was like that for 3 1/2 hours,” Wyatt said of the interview, which appeared to go in circles with Begaren not answering questions.
But in the end, Wyatt and the APD investigators found all those involved with Elizabeth’s death – and Begaren at the center.
“For $6,000, they’d hit Elizabeth, who he believed was the wife,” said Wyatt of the information he received from one of those who would later be convicted, Rudy Duran.
The presentation ended with a question-and-answer session with the audience.
“He will never get out,” answered Wyatt in response to an audience member’s question about Begaren’s sentence. “He’ll die in prison.”
APD Sgt. Ray Drabek, who organized Anaheim Confidential, which also was a fundraiser, said that with more than 300 attendees, the event raised a little over $7,700 for Anaheim Cops For Kids (C4K), a nonprofit that works with officers to mentor students in the city.
“We kind of had the idea of telling a homicide story but in doing that we wanted to raise money for Cops For Kids,” Drabek told Behind the Badge, adding that the idea was to showcase the good work of homicide detectives.
Plans are already in the works for a possible second event next year.