A man charged with the 1990 financially motivated killing of a 78-year-old Palm Springs woman whose body was dumped in the desert was ordered Monday to stand trial on a murder charge.
The prosecution alleges that Anton Kubica, 62, of Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia, killed Marie Darling and then began transferring large sums of her money into his bank accounts, primarily to cover outstanding mortgage payments to stave off foreclosure on a Palm Springs home he owned.
Riverside County prosecutors filed their case against Kubica in 2014, and he was extradited from Canada last October.
According to testimony at his preliminary hearing at the Larson Justice Center, Kubica allegedly threatened a Canadian business associate after a land deal fell through, saying, “I have killed someone and buried their body in the desert.” The alleged threat was documented by Canadian investigators in 2014.
“Given the circumstances of this case, where the victim was found buried in a shallow grave in the California desert, the statement that `I kill people and bury them in the California desert,’ carries some weight,” Judge Edward Forstenzer said in concluding that there was reasonable probable cause to order Kubica to stand trial.
The alleged financial crimes, looting of Swiss bank accounts and the timing of those events were also compelling pieces of evidence, according to the judge.
Defense attorney John Dolan argued that there was no physical evidence in the case and “no evidence that Mr. Kubica had any contact with Mrs. Darling or any motive whatsoever to commit murder.”
District Attorney Mike Hestrin countered that there was “a very strong motive” for Kubica to murder Darling.
“The defendant was financially stressed out. His home was in foreclosure at the time,” Hestrin said. “So I think that alone raises, in my mind, a strong suspicion.”
Hestrin detailed other evidence against Kubica, including a Wells Fargo deposit slip dated June 5, 1990, for $2,000 found at the defendant’s residence. During the initial investigation into Darling’s death, investigators found two safes at her condominium, one of which was open. An empty currency wrapper for $2,000 was found in a trash can near the open safe, now-retired detective Carl Carter testified earlier this month.
In 1993, Carter was the lead detective who investigated Kubica’s then primary home in Scottsdale, Arizona, with the help of the Scottsdale Police Department and Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
“There was a plethora of evidence at his home,” Carter testified. “It included a receipt for duct tape, travel to St. Maarten, manifests from St. Maarten to Anguilla in the Caribbean. There was a passport we located. We located banking information from the bank in Anguilla. We located banking information from the Royal Bank of Canada.”
Carter said he went to the scene when Darling’s body was found by hikers on June 20, 1990, in the desert east of the Cactus City rest stop. An autopsy showed she had multiple skull fractures.
“I saw skeletal remains, which included skeletal lower extremities,” Carter said. “There was also a skull and various other remains scattered around the area.”
The remains were spread around an area of 200 yards, which surrounded a shallow grave that was “intertwined” with a sleeping bag, Carter said.
Dentures that were positively identified as Darling’s and loops of duct tape, one of which had hair attached, were also found at the scene. Carter said he believes the duct tape was used to bind Darling.
More than a year after her death, Darling’s family attorney found that in June 1990, nearly $185,000 was transferred from her Swiss bank accounts to a bank on the Caribbean island of Anguilla, with the transfers accompanied by a letter signed “Marie.”
Bank records from Anguilla allegedly showed Kubica withdrew $170,000 from the account, with some of the money transferred to the Royal Bank of Canada. Kubica allegedly established the Bank of Anguilla account on May 24, 1990.
Kubica, who’s being held in lieu of $1 million bail, is due back in court on March 11 for arraignment.