Crime Spree: 1989 – 1995
Linda Sobek, 27, was a former Los Angeles Raiders cheerleader who had turned to a career in modeling. She’d had some modest success posing in magazines such as Grapevine and nude photo sets.
On November 16, 1995, an aspiring photographer, Charles Edgar Rathbun, 38, was on assignment for Autoweek. He contacted Linda Sobek from a pay phone and asked her if she would pose for an upcoming issue.
A month earlier, Linda had given Charles her business card and phone number at an automotive show in Las Vegas and told him to keep her in mind for any modeling jobs.
According to a November 2, 1996 article in The Detroit News the pair worked together a few times over the next month. Sobek left her Hermosa Beach home and drove to a remote mountain region outside of Los Angeles. The session was to have boosted the careers of both Rathburn and Sobek. But something went terribly wrong this time out.
When Linda failed to return home from the session, worried friends and relatives contacted local authorities. On November 24, Rathbun voluntarily turned himself in and informed police that he had accidentally killed Sobek with a sport-utility truck while demonstrating for her how to drive the vehicle during the session in the mountains. He then claimed that he hid Sobek’s body in a state of panic.
Charles Rathbun led investigators to a location in Angeles National Forest where he had buried the body. Following the autopsy, the chief coroner’s spokesman told reporters that Sobek’s injuries were “inconsistent” with Rathbun’s claim. Rathbun was charged with murder and placed on suicide watch after slitting his wrists.
Cause of Death
In December 1995 it was determined that Linda Sobek had been legally drunk and was engaging in sexual intercourse at the time of her death. The toxicological examination revealed that Sobek had a .13 percent blood alcohol reading at the time of autopsy. California’s legal blood alcohol level for driving was .08 percent at that time.
The coroner’s office released a statement saying Sobek had died of asphyxiation as a result of neck and shoulder compression. A less clinical explanation was that she had been strangled to death.
Charles Edgar Rathbun
It was then that a number of ‘coincidences’ brought Charles Rathbun to the attention of law enforcement agencies across the country. On the surface it appeared that Rathbun just might be a serial killer.
First of all, Linda Sobek’s murder was eerily similar to another case that police had not yet been able to solve.
Model Kimberly Pandelios was found murdered in a Southern California national park in 1992. Within days, the LA sheriff announced that Rathbun was a suspect in that case, as well. Both young women were last seen heading to a modeling assignment involving cars. And both had at least an acquaintance with Rathbun.
Witnesses told investigators that Charles Rathbun and Kimberly Pandelios met at a Denny’s restaurant. Linda Sobek’s missing car was found at a Denny’s lot.
A number of women also came forward to claim that Rathbun “made overtures to them for sexual favors, sometimes on photo shoots.”
When they refused his advances, Rathbun became pretty pushy. “He didn’t like to take no for an answer,” the women claimed.
Charles Rathbun quickly became a person of interest in the murder of Stephanie Hummer, an Ohio State University student near Rathbun’s father’s house in Columbus, Ohio.
Rathbun was once a student at OSU. The Ohio State freshman disappeared March 6, 1994. Her body was found the next day. A blow to the head had killer her.
Charles also became a suspect in the 1993 murder of 19-year-old Rose Larner, a Lansing, Michigan wannabe model. Rathbun lived in the Lansing area at the time of Rose’s disappearance. She was last seen in a Delphi Township neighborhood near where Rathbun had a mailing address.
That’s My Story
Back in Los Angeles, Charles Rathbun stuck to a feeble explanation that Linda Sobek died by accident. He was photographing a 1996 Lexus SUV for Motor Week prior to the vehicles public release and was showing off by doing doughnuts in a dry lake bed when he clipped Sobek with a mirror. Panicking, Rathbun said he took her body to a wooded area in Angeles National Forest and buried her, using his hands to dig the grave.
The autopsy showed a much more violent death for the model. She had been asphyxiated by someone sitting on her back and pushing her throat against something that cut off her air supply. Prior to her death, Sobek had been sexually assaulted with a blunt object, the coroner reported.
Sobek, who rarely drank, was heavily intoxicated when she died, the coroner said. Rathbun admitted that he bet her $60 that she could not chug the remnants of a bottle of tequila.
Attorney Kay said, the 5-foot-3 model was bound at the ankles and then sodomized, possibly with Rathbun’s .45-caliber handgun. Sobek struggled so forcefully that her ankles were rubbed almost raw, Kay said.
Taking the stand in his own defense, Charles Rathbun altered his original story slightly to fit the new facts.
He said that he struggled with Sobek in the back seat of the Lexus. The argument, he testified, followed a driving stunt in the Angeles National Forest that went awry.
He said he did not run into her but came close enough for her to jump back and fall, cutting her head.
After she was injured he helped the model back to the car. There, he said, she angrily threatened him because of the near-accident and began kicking at the interior of the vehicle.
“I grabbed at her foot,” Rathbun testified, “trying to prevent her from further damaging the car. It became a real struggle,” he said. He said that he positioned his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame on Sobek’s back.
“I was pinning her down to the seat,” Rathbun said. “At one point, she was struggling for about 30 seconds or so and then she got very calm. I kept holding her down, figuring she was playing possum.”
Rathbun said he got off Sobek and spoke to her. But when she did not respond. He checked her and could not tell if she was breathing.
He put her on the dry lake bed and tried to revive her. When she didn’t wake up, he said, he made a vain attempt to get her back into the car. And when that failed, he said, he tried to help balance her by tying her ankles together using an ace bandage.
The defense claimed Sobek was accidentally asphyxiated after she enticed Rathbun into having sex while drunk on tequila. They displayed purported sexually oriented photographs of Sobek taken inside the SUV as evidence that sex between Sobek and Rathbun was consensual, but jurors didn’t find them credible and wondered if the photos were even real.
Rathbun was found guilty of first degree murder and rape and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
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