Last Wednesday, a man in Washington State was sentenced to a life term in prison for executing an elaborate plot to kill his grandparents, demolish their home and establish a commune on their waterfront property with his friends.
Ezra Fleming Ralston was found guilty of two counts of aggravated arson, murder conspiracy and first-degree murder. Rebecka Neubauer was sentenced to 33 and 4 months of prison for charges including conspiracy and second-degree murder.
According to a declaration by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, a search of Ralston’s cell phone revealed that he and Neubauer had “actively ongoing discussions” in which they “discussed the murder in advance”, before Joanna Gormley & Ted Ralston’s bodies were discovered in their burning house in 2020.
According to a press statement, Sean Higgins and Spencer Kleine both 26, were sentenced on the same date to 45 years and life imprisonment, respectively, for their involvement in the murders. Higgins faced two counts each of aggravated homicide and conspiracy to murder while Kleine admitted to two counts each of first-degree murder.
According to the probable causes document, Gormley (73), and Ralston (71), the oldest, were found dead at their burning Vaughn house around 8:30 pm on May 17, 2020.
The couple was covered in stab wounds despite the explosion which had brought authorities to the house. They were “positioned as though [they] had just been dragged” down the stairs.
According to the fire department, there were five gas cans in the house, and evidence of a propane blast. According to the document, the couple’s bed was bloodied.
Ralston’s mother called the police as detectives were investigating to tell them that her son “was not mentally well” and she asked them to “ping” his phone.
Ralston’s father informed police that his last conversation with his son was around 6 pm that same day. The 25-year-old son told his father his grandparents were sick with fever and sore throats. Later, he said that they could not speak on the telephone.
The father told his son to dial 911 but the police found no evidence that a 911 call was made. He only texted to his father that he would be driving to the hospital.
Two hours later, a neighbor of the grandparents called to inform him that the house was on fire. Ralston’s dad tried to reach his son again, but was unsuccessful.
Ralston sent a message to his father saying, “The doctors said they were in the safe area but they are keeping them overnight.” “They didn’t tell me the result of the COVID-19 test, am not certain if they had results yet.”
Police claim that no hospital in the area had records of the couple being admitted.
Ralston was driving his car at the time, but a neighbor informed detectives that it was missing. Later, it was found in his girlfriend’s flat.
Neubauer’s mom told detectives Ralston had been in the apartment around 9:30 pm when she arrived home. She was shocked to learn of the murders and told them she heard her daughter joke about Ralston killing the grandparents so that she and Ralston can move into the home.
A person who lived in the apartment told detectives she heard Ralston and Neubauer say that Ralston would kill his grandparents, and that Ralston admitted murdering his grandparent’s when he arrived. “He mentioned that his grandmother had her neck broken and his grandson had been stabbed,” said another resident.
Neubauer, when asked about the “joke”, said that they “often… joke[d] that his grandparents would be able live in a home if they passed away due to their age,” and insisted that both she and Ralston “were just joking.” She also “called herself morbid.”
Police wrote that she denied having plans to murder them. Neubauer confessed to Ralston that she had texted him about killing his grandparents. However, in a subsequent interview, Neubauer said, “I thought it was a funny joke and I never expected he would follow through.”
According to the police report, she told them that there would be “several ‘joking messages’ from her”, telling Ralston “to wipe down his fingerprints” as well as “how to make “meat meal”” by dismembering the corpses and placing the remains into a blender, and then feeding the result to livestock.
The detectives then obtained a search warrant for Ralston’s mobile phone.
According to the document, Neubauer gave Ralston specific advice to avoid alerting his grandparents.
Police said that she “encouraged Ralston” whenever he “expressed frustration and stress over committing the murders,” telling him at one point “you are so amazing, you have this.”
The police found that the couple had extensive conversations about establishing a commune in the house.
The Seattle Times reported that Ralston sent texts to Kleine and Higgins, including his grandparents’ addresses and instructions for how to enter their house quietly.
In the charging documents reviewed by the outlet, prosecutors stated that Higgins drove to the victims’ house on the night of murders and “stayed[ed] for hours…before leaving together after murders.” As far back as March of 2020, references to the killings of Ralston’s grandmothers and that the group was a “team” had been made.
Neubauer, according to the outlet, told police that Higgins stabbed Ted Ralston and broke Gormley’s neck while his grandson was holding him down.
No comment could be obtained from the attorneys for Ezra Ralston or Neubauer.
According to the Times, Ted Ralston is a retired computer expert who worked previously for the Senate Intelligence Committee as well as the Clinton-Gore White House Transition Team. Gormley is a trained respiratory therapist who volunteered at the Key Peninsula Health Clinic.
Don Swensen, a friend of the couple, told the outlet that Ted was “often the smartest person in the room”. “He was a politician, and that’s where we really connected.” We had an hour-long discussion about politics.
Swensen added that Joanna was “quiet and reserved” as well as “elegant, intelligent, and just a kind soul.”