Escort suspected in fatal heroin deaths

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SAN FRANCISCO — The arrest of an alleged prostitute in a Google executive’s November heroin overdose has prompted Georgia authorities to reopen an investigation into the similar death, two months earlier, of an Atlanta club owner and shock rocker who was dating the same woman, officials said Thursday.

At the center of both cases is Alix Catherine Tichelman, a 26-year-old resident of Folsom, Calif., and a Georgia native. She was accused Wednesday of manslaughter for allegedly injecting heroin into Google executive Forrest Hayes on Nov. 23 and leaving him to die on his yacht in the Santa Cruz harbor.

Santa Cruz police said that after they identified Ms. Tichelman on surveillance footage from the boat, they discovered that she had been arrested Sept. 9 on suspicion of domestic violence in Milton, a city north of Atlanta. She allegedly bit the hand of her boyfriend, Dean Riopelle -- who died two weeks later from a heroin overdose.

Ms. Tichelman was in Riopelle’s home at the time and called 911, said Milton police Capt. Shawn McCarty. He said that after learning of the circumstances surrounding Hayes’ death, investigators decided to look further into Riopelle’s death, which an autopsy pinned on an “intravenous heroin overdose.”

‘‘She’s the one who called 911. She said she was in the shower, and she heard a large crash and found [Riopelle] unconscious on the floor,” Capt. McCarty said.

Santa Cruz detectives will travel to Milton to assist in the investigation, Deputy Chief Steve Clark said Thursday. “We think there are some similarities,” he said. “We want to do anything we can do to shed light on their case.”

Riopelle, 53, was the owner of the Masquerade nightclub in Atlanta and the former front man for a shock-rock band, the Impotent Sea Snakes. He performed under the name 13.

Michael Lacey, a music photographer who runs the Impotent Sea Snakes’ Facebook page, recalled that Ms. Tichelman and Riopelle had a tumultuous and abusive relationship. ‘‘At first, he was really happy. But toward the end, he had a lot of fears of her. He even tried to stop her from going to his own club,” said Mr. Lacey, 46, who lives in North Carolina.

On a Facebook modeling page associated with Ms. Tichelman, she is seen posing with Riopelle in pictures posted in October 2012 with the caption, “Dean and I (I love mah baby).”

Riopelle was the subject of a 2012 controversy in Milton. He raised animals, including monkeys and lemurs, and planned to turn his 21-acre property into a zoo, which some in the community opposed. Ms. Tichelman is seen posing with several of the monkeys in pictures on her Facebook page.

Riopelle apparently wasn’t Ms. Tichelman’s first rocker boyfriend. When she was 18, she dated Atlanta singer Warren Eugene Ullom of the Judies, according to a comment she left on an entertainment website, Creative Loafing.

In a seemingly bizarre coincidence, Ullom was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2010 following his guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter, after injecting heroin into a woman who suffered a fatal overdose. Instead of calling paramedics, Ullom allegedly tried to revive the woman by twice injecting her with cocaine.

‘‘I used to date Warren when I was 18. Apparently he even went as far as to blame me for his heroin use, which makes zero sense since we never did drugs together,” Ms. Tichelman wrote.

After her Atlanta arrest in September, Ms. Tichelman moved to Folsom in Sacramento County. Santa Cruz police said she had an “ongoing prostitution relationship” with the 51-year-old Hayes, a married father of five. Ms. Tichelman is accused of connecting with Hayes through a website called Seeking Arrangement. The website purports to connect “sugar daddies” and “sugar babies,” who agree on the terms of their arrangement. In a statement sent out Thursday, a spokeswoman said the site prohibits “illegal activity including escorting and prostitution.”

Footage from a security camera on Hayes’ yacht showed him “suffering medical complications and going unconscious” after being injected with heroin, Deputy Chief Clark said. Rather than call for help, Ms. Tichelman allegedly gathered her things, including drugs, and at one point stepped over Hayes’ body to “finish a glass of wine” before lowering the blinds to conceal the body and leaving.

‘‘Not only does she drink from the glass, but she wipes down the glass, takes a couple of passes through the room,” Deputy Chief Clark said Thursday after reviewing the video. “She was on the boat for a long time.”

Ms. Tichelman was arrested Friday after police identified her as a suspect and then lured her to the Santa Cruz area by posing as a customer and offering her $1,000 for sex, officials said. Police had hurried to arrest her after apparently fearing that she was about to move back to Georgia. At the same time, investigators served a search warrant at a home in Folsom. Police obtained a computer that Ms. Tichelman allegedly used for Internet searches related to potential defense strategies in her case, Deputy Chief Clark said.

She was arrested on suspicion of murder, but Santa Cruz County prosecutors charged her with manslaughter, suggesting that they don’t believe they can prove that she acted with an intent to kill or a conscious disregard for Hayes’ life. Ms. Tichelman is due back in court Wednesday for arraignment.

United States - North America - Atlanta - Georgia - California


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