Dying at Home

The details uncovered by investigators portray Alix Catherine Tichelman as a callous, calculating killer. Her mugshot reveals piercing, haunting eyes. And her social media trail portrays a troubled soul who battled addiction and body image issues.

The 26-year-old California call girl was indicted yesterday for allegedly leaving a Google executive for dead on his yacht after injecting him with a fatal dose of heroin.

Alix Tichelman of Folsom, Calif., confers with public defender Diane August during her arraignment in Santa Cruz Superior Courton July 9, 2014, in Santa Cruz, Calif. (Shmuel Thaler/Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP)

Shortly before Thanksgiving last year, police found Forrest Timothy Hayes, 51, dead on his yacht — named “Escape” — in the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor. The yacht’s security cameras show Tichelman injecting Hayes with heroin. He slips into unconsciousness, but she doesn’t call 911. She did, however, collect her belongings — the heroin and needles— casually sidestepping Hayes’s body. “At one point, she steps over the body to finish a glass of wine,” police said, adding that Tichelman did one last thing before fleeing the boat: She closed the blinds, ensuring that no one would see the body from the outside.

She showed no regard for him,” Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark told the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Tuesday. “She was just trying to cover her tracks.”

Hayes and Tichelman met, according to investigators, through the Web site “Seeking Arrangement,” which promises to help “Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies or Mommas both get what they want, when they want it.”

According to news reports, Hayes worked at Google’s innovation lab, where “moon shot” projects like self-driving cars and Google glass are dreamed up. An obituary written by his family describes Hayes as a beloved husband and father of five who enjoyed spending time with his family and on his boat. On a Web site that has since been taken down, friends and family shared fond memories of him, the Associated Press reported.

Tichelman’s life online tells a different story, not of a loving family but of destruction and an intense self-loathing disguised as bravado with a bustier and sultry makeup (check out her YouTube makeup tutorial at the end of the story).

 “Selling my soul would be a lot easier if i could find it,” she wrote on Twitter in July 2012. “I have always been attracted to the darker side,” she said in an interview with fetish magazine fiXE, according to news.com.au. “My parents said by the time I was there I was an intense child, and already liked horror movies.”

She appears to have struggled with addiction for years. On her Instagram account, she posted a photo in May, 2013 with the tagline: “My eyes are red red red … combination of the glitter eyeliner and the medical grade I’ve been smokin on.” And in a note titled “heroin” posted on her Facebook page almost exactly a year before the alleged murder she wrote:

this private downward spiral-this suffocating blackhole
makes you feel so warm inside,
yet makes your heart so cold.
each day takes it’s toll,
your thoughts become emotionless,
your soul feels too old.
the demons whispers to me ever so lightly,
he never let’s go of his hold,
taking everything from me,
I’ll end up dying alone.

In another note titled “Thinspiration,” she revealed a struggle with body image and possibly child sex abuse: “I will be thin and pure like a glass cup. Empty. Pure as light. Music. I move my hands over my body – my shoulders, my collarbone, my rib cage, my hip bones like part of an animal skull, my small thighs. In the mirror my face is pale and my eyes look bruised. My hair is pale and thin and the light comes through. I could be a lot younger than twenty four. I could be a child still, untouched.”

In photos posted on her Facebook page in 2012, Tichelman vacillates between skinny and emaciated. In one of them she boasts “size zero … no more size two for me.” She idolized Kate Moss, who also appears several times in her timeline photos. Her Facebook and Instagram photos, a combination of provocative professional model shots and sexy selfies, reveal a scantily clad split personality: a goth in fishnet thigh highs, a pinup girl in panties, heroin chic.

Tichelman doesn’t say much about her family. The notes section of her Facebook page includes a novel-in-progress about a girl named Kat (her middle name is Catherine). It’s not clear whether it’s autobiographical, but the tale tells of an alienated teenager who turns to heroin to escape a broken home where an alcoholic mother entertains “random men.”

Alix Tichelman

According to USA Today, Tichelman’s parents now live in Folsom, Calif., where her father Bart is the chief executive of a tech company, SynapSense Corp. He took the job in November 2012, a year before the alleged murder, after working with Renewvia Energy Corp., a solar power project developer in Atlanta. Tichelman was living in Folsom at the time of her arrest but previously lived in Atlanta, according to her social media accounts.

Two years ago, she posted often about a boyfriend named Dean, who gave her a black and white diamond ‘promise ring’ on June 22, 2012. There are pictures of the them together playing with baby monkeys.

In her last post on Jan. 11, 2013, she counted among her blessings “a great boyfriend, nice house, monkeys, loving family … doesn’t get any better than this I don’t think.”

USA Today identified the boyfriend as Dean Riopelle, 53, who died Sept. 24, 2013, after a heart attack, according to a newspaper obituary. Riopelle owned a nightclub called “Masquerade” and was known as “Monkey Man” because he raised monkeys on his property, according to an Atlanta indie weekly

The details of Tichelman’s tale continue to unravel. Investigators suspect she was involved in an incident in another state similar to Hayes’s alleged murder on the yacht. Santa Cruz police arrested Tichelman on the Fourth of July after an officer posed as a potential client willing to pay $1,000 for her sexual services. She appeared in Santa Cruz Superior Court on Wednesday on eight felony and misdemeanor charges including manslaughter and prostitution. Her arraignment has been postponed until July 16. Assistant District Attorney Rafael Vazquez said the investigation is ongoing and more serious charges may be filed, the AP reported.

Fourteen-year-old Katelyn Norman doesn’t have much time left. Doctors say osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, will soon take the Tennessee teen’s life. But it hasn’t stolen all her chances to experience the joys of being young — including the prom.


Katelyn hoped she’d be well enough to attend a personalized prom at her school Tuesday night, but that afternoon she had trouble breathing and had to be hospitalized. Her friends and family rallied, bringing the event to her hospital room, where her date presented her with a corsage and a “Prom Queen” sash.


Katelyn insisted that the prom at school proceed without her: “She contacted me and said prom must go on — that’s her, and you can’t help but feed off that energy, that life,” said the organizer.





LAFOLLETTE (WATE) – There wasn’t a fancy dress or even a dance floor, but on Tuesday night family and friends helped cross off the number one thing on a teen with terminal cancer’s bucket list.

Katelyn Norman, 14, has been fighting bone cancer for months, last week she got word her chemotherapy treatments were no longer working. Katelyn made a bucket list that included going to prom, and the Campbell County community pitched into make it happen.

But Tuesday afternoon, Katelyn was having difficulty breathing and was rushed to Children’s Hospital. When she couldn’t go to the dance, they brought the dance to her.

In stable condition and in high spirits, Katelyn was able to have a make shift prom in her room.

The hospital staff decorated the room and her date gave her a corsage and a special sash. Family and friends gathered outside with candles.

Meanwhile, in Campbell County, the celebration of Katelyn was taking place.

The music was blaring, the decorations were hung, it was meant to be Katelyn’s perfect night, and she wanted it to go on, even if she wasn’t there.

“She contacted me and said prom must go on, that’s her, and you can’t help but feed off that energy, that life,” said Sharon Shepard, an instructor at Katelyn’s school and organizer of the prom.

The night was a celebration of Katelyn, featuring all her favorite things.  But most important, the people she loves most.

“Once you meet her your life will never be the same, she has such an impact,” Shepard said.

And despite her absence her friends passed along messages of hope and love.

“Tell her that I love her and she’s my hero,” said friend McKayla Pierce.

“If I could say anything to her I would say hold on, she’s fighting hard,” said another friend, Brandi Marsh.

Her courage even prompted the mayor to declare Tuesday Katelyn Norman day.

“We wanted to try to make this day, and this time in her life, special to her because she makes it special for people in Campbell County,” said Mayor William Bailey.

That was more evident than ever as thousands of people lined Highway 63 in honor of Katelyn.



“I think she’s a hometown hero for all of us and a great inspiration to everybody,” said Seirra Ames, who came to hold a candle in Katelyn’s honor.

For more than a mile, candles in hand, the Campbell County community came together to light the night all for a teen that has touched so many.

“It amazes me that an individual has that much impact on people,” Shepard said. “But that’s just Katelyn.”

THERE is some confusion about the cause of the liver disease that has given Fred Kress a short time to live. The 46-year-old handyman and house painter, who lives outside of Baltimore, had had hepatitis C, which causes liver damage, for several years. Doctors at one point suggested that alcohol abuse may have been a contributing factor, which makes no sense, Mr. Kress and his family say, because he was never much of a drinker. The real culprit, he now believes, was chemical: he didn’t wear the right mask when he was painting houses, and when he did his craft projects, making alien masks out of fiberglass resin, he worked in a small, windowless room, ignoring all the warning labels on the supplies he used.

“It said ‘will’ — not ‘can’ — cause liver and kidney damage,” Mr. Kress said. “My liver was completely fried.”
Even before he became sick, however, his life was no bed of roses. He had had a 20-year love-hate relationship with a girlfriend and was living, at the time of his diagnosis, with his widowed mother. His 17-year-old daughter has Rett syndrome, an autismlike disease that has left her unable to speak. And the day last February when his doctors told him he had no more than a year to live, his girlfriend and his best friend hooked up.
“That’s been rougher than knowing I am going to die,” Mr. Kress said. “And then, for some reason, I picked up a paintbrush. I got that paintbrush in my hand, I don’t think about any of that.”
Mr. Kress stepped up his work on the masks. He covered the walls of his room in fluorescent paint, illuminating it with black light that made the colors come alive, and bought 30 mannequin heads for $3 each, painting them fluorescent colors as well.
“I love it,” he said. “Whatever I happen to paint that night, I’ll sit there and kind of stare at it and eventually fall asleep. Anything beats crying myself to sleep.”
Although Mr. Kress was making the masks long before his diagnosis, said Bonnie Weissberg, a social worker at the Gilchrist Hospice, which is providing him with at-home care, “When he realized he was going to die, he just devoted himself to making the room itself a work of art.”
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, most Americans — 80 percent, one survey reported — would prefer to die at home. It’s a choice that necessitates a number of physical changes, like setting up medical equipment and bringing in a hospital bed. For some people, however, what matters more is altering their environment in a way that makes them feel better emotionally — creating a place that represents their final idea of home. Family members often find the process surprisingly helpful as well.
Dr. Robert Milch, the medical director emeritus at the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Buffalo, N.Y., recalls a patient who had had a tumultuous marriage. She and her husband “had separated on several occasions,” he said. But when terminal cancer was diagnosed in her, “they came to cohabit again, and he cared for her as her disease progressed.”
This woman told her husband that what she really wanted, he said, was a sun room where she could spend her last days sitting and looking out at the woods and the mountains. “He undertook the creation of a Florida room off their deck, and built it himself over the course of two weeks, so he could move her out there,” Dr. Milch said. “All I could think of was in the winter of their discontent, he brought an endless summer.”
For someone else, of course, the final idea of home might be something very different. The crucial thing, said Dr. Cheryl Phillips, a past president of the American Geriatrics Society and the chief medical officer for On Lok Lifeways, a nonprofit organization that provides services for the frail elderly in greater San Francisco, is finding out what makes the person who is dying feel most at ease. “If there was one thing that would make a difference, what would it be?” she said. “It’s amazing how creative people can be to make these special wishes come true.”

Warm Sand in Winter
Virginia Fry, a counselor who has been the director of the Hospice and Palliative Care Council of Vermont for 30 years, believes people should have a bucket list for the environment where they spend their last days — including what it should look like, and how it should sound and smell. Smell is particularly important because the odors of illness can be intrusive, Ms. Fry said. Often, people try to mitigate that problem by putting out bowls of potpourri or dabbing essential oils on light bulbs.
To create a happy environment for a woman in Vermont some years ago, Ms. Fry and her organization went way beyond potpourri. The woman dreamed of going to Hawaii, but she did not have the money, Ms. Fry said, and she was too ill to travel. And so the hospice organization brought Hawaii to her — a particular challenge in a Vermont winter. Ms. Fry asked what the woman’s favorite colors were and bought Hawaiian fabrics that could be wrapped around her like a gown (this outfit had to accommodate her IV pole). Tiki torches were mounted in the snowbanks leading to the house. Visitors were asked to wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts, and to make the home smell like Hawaii, they were offered copious amounts of coconut oil. The organization’s board of directors had a 40-orchid lei flown in from Hawaii — the first fresh flowers the woman had ever had in the house, she told them. A recording of crashing waves and an erupting volcano played in a continuous loop, and meats grilled with pineapple were served.
“We had what it looked like, what it smelled like, but we were stuck at the sense: how does Hawaii feel?” Ms. Fry said. “We decided it was hot sand on the feet, so one of our staff members took her driveway sand and heated it in the oven for four hours until it became powdery. Then we laid down sheets with electric pads on top of them, then another sheet on top of that, then the sand on top of the that, so the sand covered an area of about three feet.”
Where was the owner of the house when all this was happening?
“She was directing it,” Ms. Fry said. “You want the patients to be directing, because they lose power by being patients, so anything that restores the sense of control is therapeutic.”
Still, three square feet of sand doesn’t sound like a lot of beach.
“She would be sitting or standing there,” Ms. Fry said. “And she would invite people as they rotated through to stick their toes in her sand and sit with her.”
A Garden From Childhood
Susan Sanchez, an administrative assistant who lived in Santa Barbara with her husband, Oscar, a retired engineer, and her adult daughter, Amanda, loved gardens. For a few years after moving to California, she had a small garden with a patio and fountains, and after her first brush with illness — a brain tumor in 2001, when she was 60 — she starting writing stories, one of them about her grandmother’s garden in England. It was remarkably detailed, considering that the memories were 50 years old: Ms. Sanchez spoke of the whitewashed outhouse; the toad that she and her brother occasionally treated to worms; the path that divided the flowers and vegetables; and her favorite plants, the runner beans.
“They grew up a number of tall trellises and had lovely scarlet flowers,” Ms. Sanchez wrote. “My granny called them scarlet runners. It was a high day and holiday when the scarlet runners were ready to eat.”
The story concluded: “My granny’s garden fed our stomachs and our senses. My granny fed our souls.”
Four years later, Ms. Sanchez was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and by 2009, she knew she was dying. She wanted to be cremated and chose for her funeral urn a garden birdbath; the support column would contain her ashes. Her garden, however, was in disrepair and her daughter, Amanda, who was having health problems of her own, was not strong enough to restore it.
So her daughter contacted the Dream Foundation, a nonprofit organization. Using the story as a guide, volunteers created an English garden with the flowers from Ms. Sanchez’s childhood. The birdbath that was to be her resting place was highlighted with a circular flagstone path.
The garden was finished just two days before Ms. Sanchez died, said Jackie Waddill, the donor relations manager for the Dream Foundation, but because Ms. Sanchez was able to help create it, she was comforted by the knowledge that it would one day be a beautiful place where her husband and daughter could remember her. Amanda Sanchez, who had a memorial there on the anniversary of her mother’s death this year, said that the garden has been a comfort for her as well.
“We have a lot of roses, irises and those bearded irises around her birdbath, and then I started growing some vegetables this year,” she said.
How were they?
“They were wonderful. And the birdbath is very visible. I was very close with my mother, and I know how much she enjoyed these things, watching the birds, so I do that now,” she said. “And the beans were practically right outside the door, so I just pull one off and stand there and eat them and think of her.”
A House in Nature
Bernd Krausse was a German engineer who loved nature. He and his wife, Laurie, a dental assistant, owned a ranch house in Kenwood, Calif., in the Sonoma Valley. It was a little fixer-upper on a third of an acre, she said, but it was across from Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, with views of the mountains — and, of course, Mr. Krausse could and did fix anything. The couple decided not to have children so they could spend their time together doing the things they most enjoyed: hiking, fishing, skiing, rafting.
But five years after they bought the home, when Mr. Krausse was 52, they learned that he had a glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. His wife, who was 12 years younger, was devastated. “This was my soul mate, the love of my life,” she said. Her husband, who had always been interested in Eastern religions and believed he had a spirit that would survive him, was calmer.
“He said: ‘It’s O.K., everybody has to die. I’m here with you, let’s just focus on the now,’ ” she recalled. “He also said one of the things he had to do was finish this house, to put the windows in. We talked about going to Hawaii. He said, ‘Let’s go to Hawaii and be with God.’ In Bernd’s eye, God was beauty, God was nature, God was the flowers, the mountains, the moon and the stars, so he wanted to be outside all the time. He was not one who was going to lie in bed and die, that’s for sure.”
But finishing the house proved too much for Mr. Krausse, who had begun having seizures and could no longer drive or work, and his co-workers pitched in to complete the job. One day, when his wife was coming home from work, she was stunned to learn from a neighbor that he had been seen getting off a public bus with 12-foot planks strapped to his body — materials for the backyard barn the couple had spoken of one day building. With the help of family members, the barn was completed. His wife tried to make it as nice as possible, decorating it with a white cast-iron bed and Oriental carpets, and it became the couple’s last home together.
“Bernd was just in love with that barn,” she said. “For months and months before he died, he wanted to sleep in it all the time. It was comfortable to him because it was rustic and he felt like he was outdoors. We would sit out and look at the stars and the mountains.”
It was the couple’s wish that after his death he would lie in rest for a few days at home — they worked with Jerrigrace Lyons, the executive director of the home funeral organization Final Passages in Sebastopol, Calif., to make that happen. After his body was cremated, his wife kept his ashes in their house for many years, finally scattering them by the barn.
Laurie has since remarried, and the barn is now used for storage. But to her, it still represents his resting place. If she’s had a hard day and she needs to visit him, she goes out to the barn and kneels down. “Hi, Bernd,” she says.
Coming Home
The life of Debra Rothenburgh, a 41-year-old waitress in western New York, was a modern American tragedy even before her metastastic cervical cancer was diagnosed in August. As a girl, she spent time in foster care; she had to get married at 17, when she got pregnant; later, she lost custody of the child, a son; and then she had two more children, both of whom died in accidents as teenagers. When Ms. Rothenburgh learned she had cancer, she was working as a waitress in Bath, a small town outside Corning, N.Y., a job, ironically, that made her situation worse.
“She didn’t have insurance,” Ms. Rothenburgh’s mother, Gwen Lewis, of Palmetto, Ga., said. “She made too much money, they took her Medicaid away from her — she made $7 too much a month. She was going to work with ice packs on her back. August 6, she got taken to Corning Hospital. At one o’clock in the morning, she called me and told me, ‘Mama, I’m dying, I’m full of cancer.’ I said, ‘Debra, don’t you say that.’ ”
Ms. Lewis continued: “I said, ‘I’m on my way.’ I drove to my daughter’s house. She was crying. She said to me, ‘I’m dying.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘How long can you stay?’ I said, ‘Deb, I’m staying till the fat lady sings, and she’s only humming now.’ ”
Ms. Rothenburgh, who had an apartment in Bath, initially wanted to stay in the area to be with friends, but by the end of August, she had changed her mind. Her stepfather, Jim Lewis, brought some of her furniture back to Palmetto — her dressing table, her entertainment center — and tried to create a room that would feel very much like home to her. Ms. Rothenburgh did not want a hospital bed, so Mr. Lewis found her a twin bed, with a comforter in a pattern that matched the dress Ms. Rothenburgh wore at her son’s wedding. He filled the room with family pictures, including a photo of her at the wedding.
Nurses came from the Southern Tier Hospice and Palliative Care Center to take care of her. She and her mother spent most of their time sitting on the front porch, enjoying summer’s end.
One day, while she was staring at the bins filled with her possessions that were sitting on the porch, Ms. Rothenburgh said, “Here I am with nothing again.”
Her mother replied: “You know, honey, we come in with nothing and we go out with nothing. It’s only material stuff.”
Later, Ms. Lewis observed: “She wanted to camp out this summer, and we couldn’t have done that up North. Jim brought out chaise longues, which have the nice pad, and we brought her pillow so she could fix her pillow around that.”
She added, “I had a baby monitor for her, and all night I could hear crickets.”
Ms. Rothenburgh died on Sept. 27, with her brother and sister and mother at her bedside. Some people, Ms. Lewis said, felt her daughter should have been in a medical facility, but she disagrees.
“If she was in a hospital, you don’t have that time,” she said. “She wouldn’t have been able to sit on the porch, to camp out, to listen to the crickets. She got to do what she wanted to do, and I’m happy about that.”

By JOYCE WADLER (NYT, Nov, 2010)