Poker pro suspected in double murder
"We were able to eliminate close circle of friends. We were able to eliminate political enemies," Detective Scott Dudek explained. "It just constantly would come back to we couldn't eliminate their son."
Investigators began to focus in on Ernest and Charlene Scherer's son, Ernie, who traveled the country as a professional poker player.
"Why would my brother do it? There's nothing to gain from that," Christine Scherer said of her brother. "Killing my parents? That's ridiculous."
But there was something to gain. Ernie stood to inherit more than $2 million from his parent's estate. Cops say he was desperate to see the will.
"Who asks to see your parents' will on day two of a murder?" said Det. Dudek.
Just four days after his parents bodies are discovered, Ernie agrees to be questioned by police.
Ernie tells police that on the night of March 7, the date cops believe his parents were murdered, he was fast asleep at his home in Brea, Calif., hundreds of miles south of the crime scene:
Ernie Scherer: Drive time from my house to my parent's house was roughly six-and-a-half, seven hours. So it's kind of unrealistic for me to have driven from my house all the way up to their house, killed them, ransacked the house, drive all the way back.
Ernie tells police he was home alone; his wife Robyn was away visiting family. But he assures cops they can easily verify his story.
Detective Mike Norton: What car were you driving then?
Ernie Scherer: My Camaro ... And you -- you'll be able to -- you'll be able to track me almost all the way to my door on my cell phone.
"I wanted to just have him clear himself. ...so they could move on and focus on what I thought would be more important, finding the real person who I thought was responsible," said Robyn.
Ernie Scherer had been married to Robyn for nine years, and the two had a 3-year-old son, Ernest IV.
"I'd like to think I've always been a good wife," said Robyn.
She even supported her husband when the economics major she married decided to leave a promising career in business for the unpredictable world of professional poker.
"Give me a sense of what life is like with a professional gambler. What are the highs? What are the lows?" Van Sant asked Robyn.
"Gosh, you're all over the map. You have good days where there'll be wads of cash that come home and they're sitting on the counter," she replied. "The next day, you could lose $15,000 to $20,000."
"And what's it like living that roller coaster?"
"Stressful," she said with a laugh, "very stressful."
At the height of his gambling career, Ernie made more than $100,000 in a single year and even played in the World Series of Poker. He was doing so well, his father agreed to loan Ernie $616,000 to buy his dream home.
"What were the terms of this loan from Ernie's parents?" Van Sant asked Robyn.
"It was for a five-year loan," she replied. "And every month we owed them a payment of $3,850."
Asked if the loan created tension between Ernie and their mother, Catherine said, "Yes. ...She didn't think that supporting him in any way with his poker was a good thing and would bring good things in any way."
Charlene was unrelenting in her criticism of Ernie's chosen profession.
"'You can't be a professional gambler. That's like saying I'm a professional nose picker,'" Catherine told Van Sant.
"At the time she died, what was their relationship like? Were they close?"
"No. No. ...when he became a poker player, it was like snip. That relationship just severed."
And Charlene's intuition that Ernie's gambling could lead to trouble came true.
"We met at a craps table in The Rio in Las Vegas," said Adrian Solomon.
Solomon was living in North Carolina in 2006, when a business trip led her to a chance encounter with Ernie Scherer.
"I liked that he was tall. He had beautiful blue eyes," she told Van Sant. "I do remember looking at his left hand to see if there was a ring on it...And he didn't have one. So, I said, OK, you know, this is a guy I can talk to for a little while."
Solomon was in the dark about Ernie's wife and young son in California. And Robyn had no idea her husband was on the prowl in Las Vegas.
"How did the casinos treat Ernie? Was he comped?" Van Sant asked Solomon.
"Oh, yeah... He was a high roller," she replied. "...Show tickets, restaurants, everything... He felt like a rock star being able to treat me to these things."
Sgt. Ray Kelly: Are you gettin' kind of famous in the poker world?
Ernie Scherer: I'm very well known in the poker world.
Ernie and Adrian took exotic trips together and he introduced her to close friends David Mauk and Billy Krauss, who performed a dueling piano show at the Paris hotel.
"Did the two of you talk about a future together?" Van Sant asked Solomon.
"We did...I remember going into Tiffany's and looking at engagement rings," she said. "He talked to my mother about marrying me."
But Solomon soon saw a side to Ernie that made her think twice about getting serious.
"Throughout our time dating, his betting went from, you know, maybe $75, $50, $75 for his initial bet up to, like, $500 for his initial bet. And he increased his betting dramatically," she said.
Ernie Scherer: I routinely carry $5,000 to $10,000 in cash and then maybe another $40,000 in chips.
Police wondered if Ernie's volatile, risky lifestyle might have created a motive for murder. They confront him.
Detective Mike Norton: But let me ask you bluntly. Did you have any involvement in your parents' death?
Ernie Scherer: No.
Detective Mike Norton: OK. Did you hire anybody or did you pay anybody...
Ernie Scherer: No.
Detective Mike Norton: ...to kill your parents?
Ernie Scherer: No.
Investigators have their suspicions, but without solid evidence Ernie is free to go.
Sgt. Ray Kelly: All right, Ernie. Thanks for your time.
Ernie Scherer: Thanks for doing your job.
But just one week later they would unearth a chilling lead.
"This building here is called Lower Castlewood Country Club. Up there you can see a surveillance camera. That surveillance camera points to the street out there," Dudek pointed out.
After combing through hours of video, police spotted images of a red convertible with a black top entering Castlewood Country Club at 8:27 p.m. on the night of the murders; it left four hours later.
Could the blurry image be Ernie Scherer's red Camaro?
Armed with this new information, cops want to confront Ernie. But he
"He said goodbye to me," Robyn said. "And I said, 'Well, when am I gonna see you again?' And he said, 'I don't know. I'll be in touch.'"
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