Questions linger in pending murder trial

Homicide detective Ralph Hernandez at a news conference for William Cierzan held in Monterey Park, about a week after Cierzan was reported missing. Jim Holt/The Signal

Due to COVID-19 delays and the sensitive nature of the investigation, it’ll probably be some time next year before the public hears what detectives have figured out regarding the disappearance and alleged murder of William Cierzan.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Cierzan’s nephew Daniel Cierzan just before 4 a.m. July 31 at his Plum Canyon home on a murder charge, according to the Sheriff’s Department’s booking logs.

Law enforcement officials are remaining tight-lipped at the moment regarding the evolution of their investigation since Will Cierzan was last seen Jan. 26, 2017, and the alleged evidence that led to Daniel Cierzan being named as a “person of interest” in May the same year.

In that time though, Homicide Detective Ralph Hernandez has conducted countless interviews and checked every conceivable way Will Cierzan might have turned up, he said. 

A member of the LASD Crime Lab enters the home of missing man Will Cierzan on Feb. 13, 2020. Signal photo, Bobby Block.

“What I can tell you is that in a ‘no-body’ case, it takes time to be able to conduct multiple checks and multiple interviews in hopes of locating our missing person alive,” Hernandez said, noting there’s been no trace of Will Cierzan in more than three years. 

“In this case, it took us a few years for the same reason, as well as the fact that we were working closely with the D.A. to further the case,” Hernandez said, “(to) conduct various investigative strategies in hopes of coming up with the truth of what happened to William, and where he is at.”

The disappearance 

A news release issued shortly after the D.A.’s Office announced Daniel Cierzan’s arrest indicated that no one’s been able to answer that last question in more than three and a half years. 

Signal file photo Linda Cierzan’s husband, Will, disappeared Jan. 26, 2017, after talking to her on the phone. There was no sign of Will when she arrived home that day, and the disappearance of her “sweet husband” is still baffling.

Previous accounts in The Signal describe the last time Will was seen at his Valencia home:

  • On the afternoon of Jan. 26, 2017, he was watching golf on TV with his nephew Dan inside his home on Cuatro Milpas Street, near Seco Canyon Road.
  • They spoke on the phone around 4 p.m., about plans for that evening and began cooking a chicken dinner for him and his wife.  
  • At about 7 p.m., Linda Cierzan arrived home and found the chicken cooked. Her husband’s wallet, keys and coat were in the house, with credit cards and money in the wallet.  

Hernandez also told The Signal at the time that blood found in the Cierzan home during the investigation was determined to be Will’s. Investigators also said they suspected an assault occurred.

Daniel Cierzan was with William at the time of his disappearance because the two were very close, said Will’s older sister Andrea Peck, noting that Will was excited about upcoming plans he was making for a 21st birthday celebration on his nephew’s behalf.

A search for answers

Peck said the family still just wants the police to be able to do what’s right after all these years and, as expected, it’s still difficult for her sister-in-law Linda Cierzan to discuss.

The family tried everything from search parties to a seance with a “soul intuitive” who tried a “reading” that conjured up images of a reservoir and route markers but, ultimately, no victim. They also implored her brother Charles “Chuck” Cierzan to compel his son Daniel to cooperate, but both “lawyered up,” and there’s been little communication, Peck said.

Andrea peck, Will Cierzan’s sister, answers questions from reporters about the disappearance of her brother William Cierzan Wednesday in Monterey Park. Jim Holt

Similarly, a $20,000 reward for information leading to Will Cierzan — $10,000 from an anonymous donor, which was matched by the city of Santa Clarita — remains unclaimed as of Friday, according to city officials.

“Will Cierzan has yet to be located,” Hernandez acknowledged Thursday.

However, both he and Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef of the Major Crimes Division are confident in the evidence they’re planning to present at Daniel Cierzan’s next hearing.

“After a review of the case and after some more investigation, I believe there is enough circumstantial evidence to bring the case, which is why we did,” said Mokayef in an interview Friday, declining to discuss the specifics of the evidence. “All I can tell you is that there were further investigations that also added to the circumstantial evidence.”

When reached for comment Friday, Mokayef was working in an office near Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman, who’s also West Coast legal director for the National Homicide Investigators Association, and someone who successfully prosecuted an SCV murder suspect in a case where no body was found, about 13 years ago. 

A case with no body

Silverman, who more recently led the high-profile successful prosecution of serial killer Lonnie Franklin, aka “The Grim Sleeper,” briefly discussed Friday the unique aspect of a murder prosecution with no body. 

Longtime SCV residents might remember the case regarding the disappearance of Ann Racz, who was married to a former Sheriff’s Department sergeant named John Racz, who’s currently serving a 25-years-to-life sentence at the state prison in Chino.

Investigators believe Ann Racz left her home to get food for the family and was murdered in 1991. John Racz was convicted in 2007. Ann’s body was never located, although she’s part of a missing-persons list reviewed when remains are found.

“They have a couple pieces that are missing in a ‘no-body case,’” said Silverman, sharing elements from the 14-year-old prosecution. “We didn’t have a body; we didn’t have a murder weapon …. there was no forensic evidence.”

Part of what convinced the jury, though, was how Racz’s “whole pattern of life stopped that day,” she said, referring to when Ann Racz was reported missing.

“So I thought we had a really strong case,” Silverman said, even if there was no body. “And obviously, the jury thought so, too.”

Due to unavoidable delays, busy court schedules and the time it takes to prepare for a murder prosecution and defense, it will likely be some time next year before a jury is sought for an actual trial. 

In the meantime, investigators would still like to talk to anyone who knows where Will Cierzan might be, Hernandez said.

Daniel Cierzan’s next hearing is set for Sept. 25 in Department F at San Fernando Superior Court. On Friday, he was transferred to the custody of Men’s Central Jail in Downtown Los Angeles, where he’s awaiting trial in lieu of $2 million bail. 

Peck said she hopes the criminal justice system’s process will help bring closure for her, Linda and the rest of the family. 

“We don’t have closure; we don’t know where Will is — we want to know,” Peck said Friday in a phone interview. “It just leaves us with an uncertainty, so we can’t move forward.”

Jim Holt contributed to this report.

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