Fatal Exposure – Times Publications, August 2010
By Shanna Hogan
The story of the murder of motivational speaker Travis Alexander, and the beautiful, young suspect who will stand trial for the crime.
As 20-year-old Dallin Forrest climbed the stairs of Travis Alexander’s five-bedroom Mesa home, he was filled with a sinking sense of dread.
It had been days since anyone had heard from Travis, and during that time he hadn’t responded to numerous emails, text messages or phone calls. Even more unsettling, Travis’ car was parked in his garage, and his wallet, credit cards, laptop and cell phone were still in his office downstairs. Yet, there was no sign of Travis himself.
It was June 9, 2008, and Forrest, along with two of Travis’ friends, had arrived at the house around 10 p.m. to search for the 30-year-old entrepreneur and motivational speaker. When no one answered the front door, they used the keyless entry code on the garage to make their way inside the house and eventually toward Travis’ upstairs bedroom.
As Forrest approached the top of the stairs, he could hear music blaring from an adjacent bedroom. He knocked on the door and found Travis’ roommate, Zachary Billings.
“Have you seen Travis?” he asked.
Billings shook his head. “I think he’s out of town.”
Travis was scheduled to depart the following morning for a cruise to Cancun, but the girl who was supposed to accompany him had been trying desperately to reach him for more than a week to no avail. After explaining their cause for concern, Billings retrieved a key and unlocked Travis’ bedroom door.
As the double doors were cast open, a foul order pervaded the air. Later, it would seem strange that no one had noticed the smell earlier.
Cautiously, Billings peered into the bedroom and headed slowly toward the master bathroom, with Forrest following closely behind.
Suddenly, a large dark spot on the floor caught Forrest’s attention. On the carpet was a dark pool of a thick, tacky substance he immediately recognized as blood. Forrest’s heart began to race. He continued hesitantly toward the bathroom, following the trail of dryed blood.
“Oh my god,” Billings gasped as he turned and rushed out of the room.
Forrest shrunk back in horror when he too noticed the figure slumped over in the shower.
“I saw him curled up, you know, in the shower on the ground,” Forrest later told police. “I turned. I turned right back around.”
Backpedaling out of the master bedroom, he ushered the others back outside the house.
“He’s not alive,” Forrest said, his voice trembling. “Call 911.”
Moments later Travis’ normally quiet house would erupt into turmoil, as police and paramedics flooded the scene. Travis Alexander had been shot in the face, stabbed multiple times and his throat had been slit from ear to ear. The fatal wound, the medical examiner would later determine, was a single stab directly to the heart.
It was a vicious murder with an unlikely victim and, as police would soon discover, a disturbingly unusual suspect.
A Tragic Loss
It would take months for many of Travis’ close friends to fully comprehend the senseless loss. It was an unspeakable tragedy. Travis was only 30 years old and so full of life—so driven, so accomplished.
Tall, broad-shouldered with bright green eyes and dark hair, Travis was a handsome, young entrepreneur who appeared to have the world at his feet—a lifetime away from his impoverished beginnings. Growing up in the slums of Riverside, California, his childhood had been rough. Travis was one of seven children born to parents who were addicted to crystal meth. For years, the family lived in a tent. At other times home was a dilapidated camper in his aunt’s backyard. Often, the children went to bed hungry.
Eventually, Travis and his siblings were taken in by their grandmother, Norma, who introduced them to the Mormon community. For Travis, his faith became his salvation. He was devoted to the church and strictly adhered to Mormon values.
Despite his difficult and humble beginnings, Travis was determined to do great things with his life.
“Travis was so disciplined. Such a great guy, just larger than life,” says Chris Hughes, a success coach and one of Travis’ closest friends. “He was charming, hilarious and super-outgoing. He had a huge heart and he loved helping people.”
In 2001, Hughes hired Travis onto his sales team at Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc., a company that sells legal-service insurance. Using the story of his own childhood struggles as a motivational tool, Travis excelled at the company and was quickly met with financial success. By his mid-twenties he owned an upscale five-bedroom home and was driving a BMW.
“He was just incredible,” says Hughes. “He was a phenomenal worker, totally focused. One of the top guys I ever had in my company out of 40,000 people.”
As a public speaker, Travis had a gift for inspiring. He preached “limitless thinking” and encouraged others to achieve their dreams. In his own life, Travis was positive and ambitious, swallowing life in big gulps.
“I love my life,” Travis wrote on his blog in 2008. “Why I have been so blessed, is hard for me to understand. I have fantastic visionary friends. A supportive family. Most importantly the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Travis had many goals. He wanted to be independently wealthy and travel the world, and he fancied the possibility of eventually getting involved in politics. Near the end of his life, his main aspiration was to get married and to have a family.
“He was all about, ‘How do I change the world? How do I become my best self? How do I influence people around me?’” says Taylor Searle, one of Travis’ closest friends. “He was always focused on achieving. He had these daily affirmations, which listed exactly what he wanted to accomplish in life. He would read them every day.”
On his blog, he had written some of his affirmations for the year 2008, in a post dated April 16, 2008.
“This year will be the best year of my life,” Travis wrote. “This is the year that will eclipse all others. I will earn more, learn more, travel more, serve more, love more, give more and be more than all the other years of my life combined.”
Instead, the year would end in an unimaginable tragedy.
For five days Travis lay dead in his master bathroom shower before his remains were finally discovered. By the time police and paramedics arrived on the scene on June 9, 2008, his body was severely decomposed—his once handsome face unrecognizable.
The murder was beyond brutal. Detectives would later theorize that Travis survived the gunshot wound to his face and fought off his killer, before receiving the laceration to his throat and the fatal stab wound to his heart. Due to the savage nature of the crime, detectives believed they were searching for a cold-blooded killer who likely came to the house with the intent to kill.
Blood spatter throughout the master bedroom seemed to indicate that there had been a struggle. Dried blood covered the walls, bathroom mirror and sink, and had pooled in large, thick puddles on the carpet throughout the hallway and the bathroom.
“The large amount of blood throughout the bathroom and bedroom areas indicated to me there was either a struggle or the victim was attempting to flee his attacker,” lead homicide Detective Esteban Flores wrote in the police report. “He had numerous injuries and trauma to his body, which indicated he had attempted to defend himself.”
Forensic investigators combed the scene, collecting and bagging a houseful of evidence. Blood, fingerprints, hair and multiple fibers of clothing were found throughout the master bedroom. A .25 caliber bullet casing was located on the tile floor near the bathroom sink, across from the shower. There was no gun inside the house, and nothing appeared to have been taken, ruling out robbery as a motive.
Except for the evidence of mayhem in the master bedroom, the rest of the house looked relatively undisturbed. As Detective Flores was exiting the home, he noticed a smearing of blood on the washing machine located in the laundry room downstairs. It seemed to be an unusual place to find blood, since nearly all of the other evidence had been confined to the upstairs.
As investigators sifted through the contents of the machine, they discovered a shocking piece of evidence—one that would blow the case wide open.
A Toxic Relationship
Taylor Searle was on the phone with Travis’ friends on June 9, 2008, as his body was discovered in the shower. When he heard that one of his best friends was dead, Searle went numb.
He immediately jumped in his car and sped toward Travis’ house. He had something urgent police needed to see. Searle believed Travis had known his killer. In fact, he says he had warned Travis about her just a week prior to his death.
“When he showed up dead, I was on my laptop saying to the cops, ‘This is the girl who did it,’” he says. “I knew it was her right away.”
A year and a half prior to his death, Travis was at a Pre-Paid Legal sales conference in Las Vegas when he first met a beguiling, 28-year-old blonde named Jodi Arias. He was instantly taken by her personality and good looks.
Jodi, an aspiring photographer, was working as a representative for Pre-Paid Legal while launching her photography business. Although she lived in Palm Desert, California, about 400 miles away from Travis’ home in Mesa, they began dating.
For months they communicated through phone calls, email and text messages, and met for romantic rendezvous at Chris and Sky Hughes’ house, a midway point in their long-distance relationship. As their romance blossomed, they took trips together to the Grand Canyon, Sedona and New Mexico. All the while, Jodi was with her camera, snapping hundreds of photos.
But friends say the relationship seemed to mean more to Jodi than it did to Travis. While he was attracted to her, he did not see a future with Jodi and had been dating several other girls throughout their relationship.
According to friends, Jodi wanted to marry Travis and tried desperately to get him to commit, even joining the Mormon Church to grow closer to him.
“She was very good at manipulating people… She was like a chameleon,” says Chris Hughes. “She knew he wanted to marry a Mormon and get married in the Temple. She felt like she had a better shot at Travis if she joined the church. So she gets baptized.”
Several friends say they witnessed incidents where Jodi appeared alarmingly possessive. When they were together she would cling to his side, never letting him out of her sight. Friends have claimed she eavesdropped on his private conversations and read email and text messages without his permission.
Jodi later told police that during one incident, while going through his cell phone she discovered romantic text messages from other girls. Their relationship soon ended, and although Travis tried to distance himself from her, she continued to attempt to insert herself in his life.
Shortly after their breakup, Jodi made the surprising decision to pack up her belongings and move to Mesa, just miles from Travis’ neighborhood. According to those familiar with their relationship, that’s when her infatuation with Travis appeared to grow into an obsession.
“She drove him crazy, she would stalk him,” says Searle. “He swore that she broke into his house and stole his journals. He had a journal with all his writing and it just disappeared and he swore that she took it.”
In late 2007, Travis began dating another girl seriously. Late one night in December of that year while at his new girlfriend’s house, Travis discovered his tires had been slashed. He replaced the tires only to have them slashed again on the following night. Shortly after those incidents, Travis’ new girlfriend received a hostile email from a “John Doe.” The email, which was wrought with heavy religious undertones, refereed to her relationship with Travis.
It read in part: “If you let him stay in your bed one more time or even sleep under the same roof as him, you will be giving the appearance of evil… You are a daughter of God, and you have been a shameful example. Be thou clean, sin no more.”
The girl later told police she believed the email had been sent by Jodi.
There were several other similar incidents leading up to about a week prior to his death, when Travis caught Jodi hacking into his Facebook account, according to the police report. By this point, Travis had had enough and told her he wanted her out of his life.
“They had a chat where he tore her apart,” Searle says. “He called me the next morning and read to me what he said to her. I said, ‘Aren’t you afraid she’s going to hurt you?”
A week later, Travis Alexander was dead.
Days after Travis was murdered, nearly a thousand people crowded the pews of a Mormon church in Mesa to say goodbye to their dear friend. Amid the sea of heartbroken faces, one person seemed to stand out. Near the front of the church, sat a woman—at times she appeared to be crying, at others, witnesses were said to have noticed a mischievous grin come across her face. The woman was Jodi Arias.
Just a day after Travis’ body was discovered Jodi transformed her MySpace page into an apparent shrine for Travis—writing poems dedicated to his memory and posting pictures of the two of them together.
To Travis’ friends, it all seemed very strange. By the day of the memorial service, word had spread about her bizarre behavior and dozens of people had come forward to relay stories to the police of incidents involving Jodi.
Meanwhile, when detectives first questioned Jodi, she claimed to have not seen Travis in months.
According to police, the evidence disproved her story.
Inside the washing machine detectives discovered, along with several of Travis’ religious undergarments, a new digital camera. Although the camera had been run through the wash and the memory card had been wiped clean, forensic investigators were able to recover photos from the camera taken on June 4, 2008—the last day Travis was seen alive. The pictures were mainly of Travis and Jodi in sexually provocative poses. But most disturbing were the last three photos retrieved from the memory card, taken just minutes after the sexual pictures, which showed Travis as he was being murdered.
“The deleted pictures were of Travis naked in the shower, just before his death,” Detective Flores wrote in the report. “One photo was of a male lying on his back with large amounts of blood around his neck and shoulders. The amount is consistent with the type of neck wound Travis sustained.”
In addition to the damming photos, all the physical evidence—fingerprints, blood, hair—pointed to Jodi Arias. In fact, the bloody palm print on the wall was later determined to be a combination of Travis’ blood mixed with Jodi’s, which investigators say not only connects her to the crime scene but to the crime itself.
On July 15, 2008, Jodi was arrested at her grandparents’ home in Yreka, California and charged with first-degree murder.
After her arrest, Jodi changed her story.
She admitted to police that on the day of Travis’ murder, she was headed on a road trip to Utah when she decided to stop and see Travis in Mesa. That evening, after engaging in some sort of sexual encounter, she said two people burst into Travis’ house, killed him and attempted to kill her. She claimed to have narrowly escaped but never reported the crime. A year later, Jodi again changed her story, now reportedly claiming to have killed Travis in self defense.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department didn’t respond to numerous requests for an inmate interview with Jodi Arias.
Meanwhile, Jodi remains behind bars without bail. The trial, which was originally scheduled to begin in August, was recently postponed until 2011. Due to the heinous nature of the crime, the state is seeking the death penalty.
It has been more than two years since Travis was found dead, and for many of his friends, it still seems surreal. Those who loved Travis continue to promote his legacy.
“We only live once. We don’t get another shot if we screw it up. Why not live life to the fullest?” Travis wrote on his blog a few months before his death. “It is my prayer that we live all the days of our lives… Then you can live an abundant fulfilling life without regret. A life that most are afraid to even dream about. I know that such a life exists—that it is intended for all of us.”
Travis’ loved ones take comfort in his memory living on in the peoples’ lives that he touched. Still, for Taylor Searle and many of Travis’ other friends and family, it remains a heart-wrenching thought to consider that he won’t have the opportunity to fulfill many of his life goals.
“He really wanted to be a force in the world for good. He had that dream, he believed it and I thought he really could have accomplished it,” Searle says. “Now he’s gone. When I think of things from a divine perspective, like if he was put on this earth for a reason, then that totally sucks that the world just got robbed of such a great person.”