Poker pro suspected in double murder
Ernie Scherer (Bluff Magazine)
Produced by Sara Rodriguez
[This story originally aired on March 3, 2012. It was updated on Aug. 4.]
"It's horrible. I hope that no one ever has to endure it. It's horrible," Catherine Scherer told "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Peter Van Sant.
Catherine watched as her brother, Ernie, helped carry their father's casket. Ernie's wife, Robyn, offered support.
"Ernie, and my son and I were all standing and holding the flower...And I'm just sitting there crying and crying," Robyn recalled in tears.
"And my son is, like, sitting there right with me. And he has no idea why we're there. He'll know someday. I wanna make sure he knows who they were."
"There was a point in which someone told you how they died," Van Sant noted to Catherine.
"Oh, boy," she replied, "That was a hard moment," she replied. "I kept seeing it in my head."
While no weapons were found at the scene, police told Catherine her parents were bludgeoned to death. The killer then used another weapon to cut their throats and wrists to make sure they were gone. Her mother suffered the worst damage.
"I know that her face was unrecognizable -- it was horrific. I remember closing my eyes and -- and crying and wishing that I could have taken it for her, so she didn't have to suffer," Catherine cried.
Asked who could do something like that? Catherine replied, "I don't know."
Word of the murders rocked the quiet, upscale Castlewood Country Club community in Pleasanton, Calif.
"We have our homicide detectives here and their meticulously going through the home and the surrounding homes and neighborhood to find any clues in this case," said Sgt. J.D. Nelson.
Before they moved to Castlewood, Charlene and Ernest Scherer raised their family in San Ramon, not far from San Francisco. They had a passion for traveling.
"We'd had family vacations. We would go to Big Sur. We would go to Yosemite," Catherine recalled. "...and one of my mom's favorite things is, I used to say, "Why do you put in all of this effort and tolerate all of the whining and the complaining from us kids? And she said, 'Because you don't understand history until you can live in it, till you can see it and touch it and experience it.'"
Charlene was an accounting professor for 31 years. She was also a devout Mormon who expected hard work and tried to instill ethical values in her son and daughter.
"She wanted us to do the best that we could 100 percent of the time," Catherine said. "And it wasn't that she was harsh or critical, just that she wanted us to achieve our biggest potential."
Ernest Scherer had made his fortune in real estate. He also got involved in politics, becoming a member of the San Ramon School Board in the late 1980s. Mayor Abram Wilson says Ernest could rub people the wrong way.
"A lot of people were very uncomfortable around Earnest," Mayor Wilson said. "He was the one that was always the one that voted against."
Ernest's confrontational style eventually got him ousted from the board -- an event that led him to carry a grudge against his opponents for almost 20 years.
"They recalled him. And as it turned out, he continued to fight them," said Catherine.
In fact, Ernest was scheduled to have a meeting with Wilson to reveal what he thought was corruption on the school board. Just days before that meeting, he was found beaten to death.
"The first thing that came to my mind, was that Ernie ticked off the wrong person, Ernie was digging too deep," said Mayor Wilson.
"Do you believe that Ernest and Charlene knew their attacker, that they opened the door and let that person in?" Van Sant asked Detective Scott Dudek.
"There's no doubt in my mind that they knew who the person was inside their house," he replied.
Detective Dudek spearheaded the investigation for the Alameda County Sheriff's Department.
"When we arrived at the scene, it was March 14, 2008. Based on the decomposition of the bodies, we felt that the murder had occurred several days before," he explained. "And it appeared to us that the last newspaper that was picked up was March 7th."
The last time the Scherer's were seen was on the night of March 7.
They had gone out to dinner around 6:30 p.m. at the Castlewood Country Club restaurant before heading home. When their bodies were found by police a week later, they were in their pajamas and their home was turned upside down.
"As I walked through the house, it looked like a person had watched a TV show to say, well, this is what a burglary's supposed to look like," Det. Dudek noted. "...It wasn't ransacked, it was just, 'OK, I'm gonna take a piece of linen out and throw it on the thing so it looks like it's ransacked.'"
But the home showed no signs of forced entry. And even though Ernest was a bit of a gambler -- who just that day won a large sum of money -- this burglar wasn't interested in any of it.
"There was $100 bills sticking out of the jeans that you could see from 50 feet away looking into the bedroom. What burglar is gonna leave -- ultimately, it was over $9,000 sticking out of somebody's jeans," said Dudek.
And police discover another odd clue -- one they think the killer wanted them to find.
"This is the entryway floor to the Castlewood home," Det. Mike Norton said of the preserved floor. "We took the whole floor, not only the tile, but we took the entire floor."
Detective Norton believes the bloody footprints were intentionally made the night of March 7, 2008, as part of a staged crime scene.
"These footprints were made -- maybe slow and methodically -- where the suspect wanted us to know what kind of shoe made this and how big the shoe size was," he explained. "We were able to determine...that there's a Nike 'Swoosh.'"
Prosecutor Michael Nieto was assigned to the case.
"There was no way that a professional killer would have left that type of evidence at the scene. Unless it was an attempt to sort of throw authorities off the track," he told Van Sant.
"Where must you turn next?"
"You go inside. You look at everybody in the family."
"And in this case, who are you looking at?"
"In this case, they looked at Catherine Scherer and Ernest Scherer III," Nieto replied.
Police were quickly able to eliminate Catherine as a suspect. She'd been at her home in Utah the night of the murders.
"I was at the Alameda County Sheriff's Office for questioning. And I said, 'Where are you going with this?'" Catherine said. "They said, 'Well, there's only one person we can't rule out.' 'Well, who?' They said, 'Well, your brother.' 'My brother? Really?'"
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