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48 Hours: Bizarre case of chef accused of killing, cooking wife

David Viens, a Calif. chef, was accused of killing his wife, Dawn. Lomita Police Dept.

When Dawn Viens, then 39 years old, vanished on October 18, 2009, her friends and family were mystified. At the time, Dawn was the hostess of the Thyme Café, a small but popular restaurant in Lomita, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles nicknamed "Slomita" because of the lack of crime there. Dawn's husband David was the chef and owner of the restaurant. 

PREVIEW: "48 Hours" Double Feature

David never reported Dawn missing and, as a result, this story became a case study in what happens when someone you know disappears and what to do about it.

One of the first to notice Dawn's disappearance was her friend Joe Cacace, whose motorcycle repair shop was right across a small parking lot from the Thyme Café. Dawn would visit the shop every day to chat with Joe and play with his dog. After not seeing Dawn for a couple of days, Joe asked David where she was "and he told me he fired her. I said, 'You fired your wife?'"

Like the Jimmy Stewart character in the Hitchcock movie "Rear Window," Cacace kept watch out of the rear window of his shop and kept seeing unusual behavior coming from David - a new girlfriend appeared, some clothing was being thrown out, Dawn's car was there but she never was. None of the activity was criminal but it did raise Joe's suspicions: could David have killed Dawn? It was almost impossible for Joe to believe; murders just did not happen in "Slomita." Joe waited the situation out until other friends of Dawn's approached him with the same suspicions. They went to file a missing persons report, but were told it had to be filed by a family member.

This small group of friends then contacted Dawn's sister Dayna and she filed the report immediately. A local reporter spotted it and filed a story. But that first story did not run until more than two months after Dawn was last seen. If David had killed Dawn, he'd had plenty of time to cover up his crime.

A detective specializing in missing persons from the L.A. County Sheriff's office interviewed David about Dawn's disappearance. She checked Dawn's credit card activity, bank accounts, and cell phone usage and talked to friends and family. There was no credit card or bank activity but, curiously, a couple of Dawn's friends did get texts that came from Dawn's phone. Basically, the texts reported that Dawn was okay, taking time to think and would get in touch later. One mentioned that she was in Florida.

But those cell phone texts proved to be the undoing of the perpetrator for two reasons:

1. The authorities could tell, by cell phone tracing and which cell phone towers were routing the texts, that Dawn's phone was not in Florida, but rather California.

2. Also, whoever sent the texts signed them with Dawn's nickname "Pixie." But the big problem was the sender spelled the nickname "Pixy." As reporter Larry Altman of The Daily Breeze said, "Who misspells their name?"

Those bogus texts ultimately were the undoing of the killer and proved once again that social media can be perilous for those with ill intentions. But nothing at all would have happened if Dawn's friends had not acted on their suspicions and gone to the police. 



A "48 Hours" double feature starts Saturday at 9 p.m. ET/PT with an investigation of the Viens case, followed by "Death at Soho House" at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

  • Paul LaRosa

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