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

David Viens, 49, is a chef in the Los Angeles-area who is accused of murdering his 39-year-old wife, Dawn, and boiling her body for four days to get rid of the evidence. According to the Los Angeles Times, Judge Rand Rubin rejected Viens' request to represent himself in the last days of his murder trial. The judge said it was too late in the proceedings for him to take over. Viens is accused of murdering his wife sometime before she vanished in October 2009. Her body was never found. Viens was badly injured when he jumped off an 80-foot cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes after learning he was being investigated as a suspect. His injuries have him attending his trial in a wheelchair. AboveUndated personal photo of David Viens (left) with his wife, Dawn
Lomita Police Dept.
David Viens, left, with his wife, Dawn.
CBS Los Angeles/Lomita Police Dept.

(CBS) - 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. 

Pictures: Calif. chef accused of cooking his wife's corpse

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, 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. 

48 Hours: "Over the Edge," airs Saturday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.  Watch a sneak peek

Reporter Larry Altman on his role in the case

Complete coverage of the David Viens case on Crimesider