Deana Hubbard Wild grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. She dropped out of high school and when she was 19 she married a man in the navy named Jay. Together they lived in San Diego, far from Deana's home. The marriage had its challenges, as all marriages do. Jay was often stationed away at sea on the USS Kitty Hawk for long periods of time. This left Deana alone, in an unfamiliar city where she didn’t know many people.
Soon, they had separated and Deana found comfort in a man named James Coates. Deana’s sister claimed that Deana insisted Coates was no one special and always planned to get back with her husband and move back to Kentucky. Never the less, Deana soon moved in with James' mother Virginia Rearden and her husband Billy Joe McGinnis otherwise known as Mark. Interestingly enough, James and Virginia were from Louisville Kentucky, so it might have felt very safe and comfortable being around other people who knew where she came from.
On April 1st, 1987 Virginia and Bill accompanied Deana to State Farm to apply for a life insurance policy of $35,000. James Coates was the primary beneficiary and Virginia and Bill were the secondary
The following day, Deana, Virginia, and Bill went on a coastal drive through Big Sur on Highway 1. On their drive, they decide to pull off and take a moment to appreciate the view. This is not uncommon, there are tons of places to pull off on these roads for exactly this purpose. It is also not a very secluded location and can be seen from anyone driving on the highway.
Deana, Virginia, and Bill were taking photos of the beautiful view when suddenly and “silently”, Deana disappeared. Bill knew she had fallen off the cliff, he could see her shoes on the edge. Falling off a cliff I don’t think is super rare, I think 3 people died last year falling at the Grand Canyon taking photos on their phones which is similar to what Deana was doing.
Virginia hurried to a local store to report the incident, the attendant called the police and drove Virginia back to the site of Deana’s death. Deana had fallen 500 feet to her death, and the worst part? She was afraid of heights. Monterey County Sheriffs Rescuer, Jess Mason, described Bill and Virginia’s reaction to the fall as being very calm, they did not cry
Following the death of her daughter, her mother Bobbie Roberts attempted to claim $2,500 from her own insurance company to cover funeral expenses. She contacted an attorney Steven H. Keeney, to help her write a letter to the insurance company to claim the money. Steven said of course, and he said he would do it free of charge. Little did he know, Steven H. Keeney would end up working on the case for quite a few years.
The more Keeney worked on the case, the more he realized things were just not adding up.
He said, “the job I took was to put her mind to rest, the problem was, the more I tried to check and confirm things to show there wasn't a problem, the more I found things that suggested the opposite”. And he followed the story to the end. “If there was an award given for pro bono attorney of the century, Steve Keeny would get it,” Said a County Deputy District Attorney Luis Aragon.
He found that the Monterey County coroner file was still open, which was strange. In an autopsy report, it showed that Wild had Elavil (an antidepressant) in her system. This drug is known to cause drowsiness, in the forensic file episode I think that one of the women says if you haven't taken this drug before you might feel really out of it. Deana was not prescribed the drug, Bill even stated that he thought Deana might have accidentally taken the drug thinking it was a pain reliever. However, someone in the house did have the prescription, it was Bill.
The coroner's report also showed that despite Virginia and Bill said they didn't notice Wild had fallen, her fake nails had been broken and torn off and Keeney said he couldn't imagine her fall was silent considering how painful it would be to have a nail ripped off.
Anyway, all this to say that she didn’t just fall, she caught herself and then her hands were either stepped on or hit with a rock which forced her to let go, but the “smoking gun” as it was described, was the insurance policy.
Virginia and Bill said on the life insurance policy that Deana was their future daughter in law and was engaged to be married to James Coats. However, neither Jay nor Deana had started the divorce process, in fact, most of Deana's family claim she planned to get back together with Jay. Also, James went to jail the day that they signed the policy - it just didn't seem likely that they planned to marry.
A state farm insurance agent from Chula Vista said that both Rearden and McGinnis were with Deana when she applied for the policy. Deana didn't seem interested in the proceedings. During the meeting, Virginia asked two questions that in hindsight were a little odd. She asked: Is this policy in force when I sign the check? And does this policy provide for accidental death?
Later we find that State Farm did not pay the policy, thankfully.
Now we come to the infamous photograph:
Bill and Virginia said that at the time of her death Deana had been taking photos of the sea lions, because of this, police requested copies of the photos and they were not expecting what they found. First off there were no photos of sea lions on the camera which was strange. At the beginning of the roll, Deana can be seen as happy and enjoying the views of the ocean but later in the roll, Deana's demeanor starts to change. There is a photo of Deana and Bill. His arms are around her and Deana looks extremely out of it and disoriented. There is another photo where you can see Deana and Bills back both facing the ocean, they are on the edge of the cliff and Bill is looking back towards the freeway
This photo was taken moments before Deana’s deadly fall. Prosecutors believe that Virginia took the photo as a keepsake to remember what they had done.
McGinnis and Rearden were arrested and had been held on $5 million dollar bond each, which is the highest figure ever in California at the time.
The day before the trial of Virginia and Bill died in prison.
5 years after the death of Deana, Virginia's trial was moved from San Diego to the cliff in Big Sur where Deana had been pushed. This was the first time this had ever happened
After the unprecedented trial, Virginia was sentenced to life in prison for the death of Deana, but the story doesn’t end there.
After the trial, some interesting information came forward in relation to Virginia being present at other odd deaths. Virginia had been present at the “accidental” death of her own Cynthia Elain Coates. She had been found hanged in their Louisville Kentucky Barn 1972. She was 3 years old. Nothing could be proved. In September of 1974 Virginia's husband, Sylvester Rearden died from cancer although people thing that Virginia helped him die earlier than he should have. Nothing could be proved and Virginia collected the insurance policy money. In 1985 Virginias house burns down, even though the investigators suspected arson, the insurance company pays out $122,225. In 1986 Virginia's mother, Mary Agnes Hoffman died under mysterious circumstances. Nothing could be proved and Virginia collected the insurance policy money.
1. O'Neill, Ann W. "Once a tragic fall at Big Sur, now a murder case." Santa Maria Times, 17 Jan. 1990, p. 17.
2. Willis, Carly B., and Clay Ryce. "Louisville lawyer's sleuthing turns accidental death into murder case." The Courier-Journal, 3 Nov. 1989.
3. "Big Sur Cliff for trial." The Clarksdale Press Register, 17 Jan. 1992.
4. Myers, Laura. "Mother Nature meets Lady Justice on majestic Big Sur cliff." The Napa Valley Register, 17 Jan. 1992.
5. "Virginia McGinnis." Fandom, forensicfiles.fandom.com/wiki/Virginia_McGinnis.
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