Criminal Investigation of David Westerfield a Review of the Dannielle Van Dam Murder Case Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Van Dam Murder

The disappearance of Dannielle van Dam in February of 2002 had all the markings of abduction - murder. The primary suspect appeared to fit the stereotypical description of a person who would likely do harm to a child. AS the details unfolded, there were no significant twist and turns to lead the police astray from identifying David Westerfield, a neighbor who lived just two doors down from the van Dam's as the primary suspect, and convicting him of the abduction which turned into murder.

David Westerfield was a quiet professional design engineer who kept mostly to himself. Other than washing his RV in the driveway in front of his home, Mr. Westerfield lived a reclusive life. He did not appear to be hiding any deep secrets, but then he did not let any friends and acquaintances close enough to look too deeply into his life. The following information form a detailed look into the facts of the case.

Danielle's disappearance and Westerfield's Arrest.

On the morning of Feb 1, 2002, Dannielle was put to bed by her father. Her mother was out at a party for a coworker at a local bar. Her father initially told the police reported he woke up around 1:30 A.M. Saturday to let out the family dog and noticed a burglar alarm light was blinking. He discovered an open sliding glass door on the back of the house, but thought nothing of it. He put the dog out and back in, and then returned to bed. Mrs. Van Dam arrived home around 2:30 A.M. And stayed up for another hour with her husband and friends who returned from the bar with her. She was reported to have been dancing with the suspect, Mr. Westerfield while at the bar. Multiple witnessed reported that she and the suspect were very touchy-feely as they danced in a dirty dancing style, although Mrs. Van Dam denied it. The couple went to bed without looking in on their daughter, even after finding the back door was left ajar.

The following morning, the couple called police, reported the kidnapping, and initiated a tri-pronged search, rescue and reward campaign. On February, investigators looking for a missing 7-year-old girl announced that they believed the second-grader was kidnapped from her home. Police interviewed the local girl's parents, relatives and friends of the family as they looked for clues. According to news reports, investigators also talked to her teachers and read a journal Danielle van Dam kept in class at Creek side Elementary School. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, assistant police Chief Steve Creighton said officers that were working nonstop on the disappearance had begun to develop a number of leads, but at that time he would not elaborate. "We have dedicated 24 hours a day on this case, and we are pulling in more officers and detectives," Creighton said. (, online)

Police followed their slowly unfolding leads until February 22, when the arrested David Westerfield on the bases of clear evidence in the case which linked him to the girl. San Diego police investigators announced that the blood of missing 7-year-old Danielle van Dam was found on an article of clothing owned by David Westerfield, 10 News reported.

Westerfield, 49, who lived just two doors down from the van Dam family's home, was arrested at his attorney's early in the morning of Feb. 22. Westerfield was placed in the back seat of an unmarked police car, and being driven away by authorities.

At a press conference San Diego Police Department Chief David Bejarano told reporters that Westerfield had been arrested on charges of kidnapping, and that more charges could be issued in the near future. The key 'witness' and most important link in the evidence chain this led police to Westerfield was a drop of Dannielle's blood which was found on one of Westerfield's blazers. No comment was made as to whether or not this was the coat he was wearing while dancing with Mrs. Van Dam, but later in the trial, questions were raised to suggest that this was the case. At the time of the arrest, police chief Bejarano said "We believe without a question that the DNA evidence links Mr. Westerfield to Danielle's disappearance... Danielle's blood was found in an article of clothing which belongs to Mr. Westerfield and also in his motor home... The analysis of these blood sources was conducted here in our lab and it's a real methodical, complex procedure -- requiring hours and days of processing."

The, online) The chief called the DNA evidence "a very, very strong link" between the divorced father of two and the missing 7-year-old girl.

At the time of the arrest, the body of Danielle still had not been found. However, before the trial began, the body of the late girl was found in a remote region of the desert. Further evidence which surfaced also connected Westerfield to the location where the body was found.

Westerfield's Trial and Conviction

David Westerfield was a twice-divorced engineer who was little noticed in his suburban neighborhood. Yet, prosecutors suggested that Westerfield had another side that none of his neighbors knew about. While searching his home they found child pornography, which lead officials to believe that Westerfield kidnapped Danielle for sexual purposes, then killed her. Danielle's body was discovered February 27th, just days after Westerfield's arrest. Westerfield was in jail at the time without bail, charged with murder, kidnapping and possession of child pornography.

Experts say that pedophilia is a lifelong condition that most individual try to keep secret because of the shame and stigma associated with it. No one really knows how many pedophiles there are because no large-scale surveys have been done, and most never act on their sexual fantasies." If they don't act out and don't get caught, it's unlikely that people will know they are pedophiles," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center in New Hampshire. (, online) according to the same news report, Park Dietz, a Newport beach forensic psychiatrist said that occasionally people who have been law-abiding pedophiles for years suddenly commit an offense due to overwhelming stress. Numerous studies on sex offenders have suggested that the pressure is kept in personal shadows until pushed into the light by outside force, or which can be personal trauma, or unexpected enhanced desire.

In opening statements, a prosecutor disclosed the physical evidence yesterday that he said links David Westerfield to the kidnapping and murder of 7-year-old Danielle van Dam, which included the blood evidence on Westfield's clothes, and on the inside of his motor home. Fingerprint and trace evidence identified as van Dam's was also found inside the motor home.

In response, Westerfield's attorney launching a blistering attack on Danielle's parents. Steven Feldman tried to create 'reasonable doubt' by suggesting that the second-grader could have been kidnapped by any number of people whom van Dams regularly invited into their life with what Feldman called their "risque behavior."

By the end of the day, attorneys in the case had touched on the full spectrum of subjects that have been the talk of the community since Danielle disappeared the first weekend of February. The subjects had created raucous public discourse, as people discussed the influence of pedophilia on the part of the suspect to the effects of improper parenting.

The attorneys talked about Westerfield's collection of pornography. They talked about the van Dams and their activities on the day their daughter disappeared, including the van Dams' parenting habits, including their marijuana use and their alleged sexual peccadilloes, which may or may not have anything to do with who killed the girl.

However, during the course of the trial, the witnesses who interacted with Westerfield in the day of the abduction filled in any dark corners…

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