The Bizarre and Deadly World of Mortuaries
The February 10, 1990 edition of the LA Times reported that – for the first time in American history – someone had been charged with murder using the weapon of oleander, a toxic plant that’s nonetheless very common in gardens.
David Wayne Sconce was the accused, and it was alleged that back in 1985 he had killed a rival mortician, Timothy R. Waters, to stop him exposing some dark and illegal activities at the Lamb Funeral Home, the family business where Sconce worked.
By this time Sconce was already in jail for those illegal acts – mingling human remains, stealing body parts and removing gold teeth from cadavers.
Though “mingling” sounds rather innocuous, in the most notorious incident it saw 38 bodies stuffed into two furnaces, an employee later admitting that breaking one of the corpse’s legs to make it fit perhaps led to a chimney blockage and the Altadena mortuary burning to the ground.
Incredibly, Sconce’s parents Laurieanne and Jerry were also awaiting trial accused of similar offences in 1990, but it was earlier in 1985 that rival mortician Waters had been assaulted in his office by hired thug Danny Gambalos, who said that Sconce had paid him to carry out the crime.
A few weeks later in April, Waters died after becoming unexpectedly ill while baby-sitting for his sister in Malibu.
After two days of agony his death was thought possibly to be linked to heart problems, but it later emerged that a witness said he saw Sconce slipping something into Waters’ drink at the Reuben’s Plankhouse restaurant in Simi Valley (now long-gone), and Sconce – whose car licence plate once read “I BRN 4U” – was said to have bragged about it to a cellmate and others.
Sconce was accused of making murderous threats against other people as well, and the shocking story – which seemed created for a Hollywood movie – tore back the lid on what a highly lucrative but competitive and seemingly dangerous business it is to be involved with the dead.
The Sconces’ empire stretched from Pasadena and beyond, and Sconce was alleged to have said that he made $5000-6000 a month from the purloined gold teeth alone.
The oleander poisoning however could never be comprehensively proved scientifically – nor was it certain where it might have been administered or ingested – so those charges were eventually dismissed, but even then that wasn’t the end of the story.
Sconce’s name appeared in the LA Times in July 2013, and again it was under strange circumstances. This time he was being sentenced to 25 years to life in prison after violating his probation after he had pled guilty years before to conspiracy to murder a former district attorney who had been assigned to his case.
At the conclusion of that case in 1997 he’d been given the unusual sentence of lifetime probation, but when Sconce – now 56 – was convicted in Montana of stealing a rifle from a neighbor and trying to sell it in a pawn shop, he violated that probation.
Sconce argued that the neighbor had merely given him the rifle and he was going to use it to “protect his pets from wolves,” but he now felt the force of the law.
That said, with so much time already served, it was reckoned he might be out of jail within 10 years….