Conspiracy to Kill

A woman suspected of killing both her husbands winds up dead

Produced by Joe Halderman and Sara Rodriguez

This story was originally broadcast on Jan. 31, 2009. It was updated on Aug. 1.

Larry Risken was a Navy officer. Earl Bourdeau was a Marine.

Nineteen years apart, they married the same woman: Sonia Rios.
And both military men met the same fate - ambushed and gunned down in the Philippines, in the presence of Sonia's family.

The families of Risken and Bourdeau say they're sure Sonia was the mastermind in both killings.

Then a year after Larry's Risken's murder, Sonia suffered the same fate herself - gunned down in her home, on the south side of Los Angeles. By then, she'd been dubbed, "The Black Widow of Lomita."

Three murders, few answers, and clues that take 48 Hours on our own investigation halfway around the world. What we help dig up - literally - is an amazing story.

Growing up in Washington State, Sherry Jackson was always close to her big brother, Larry Risken.

"Larry was the clown of the family. He was very well liked, funny… he was like a big kid," she says.

Larry followed his father's footsteps into the Navy, enlisting when he was 20 years old and rising to the rank of Commander.

"He was a loving son and a real patriot and you don't see much of that anymore," says Law Risken. He says his son was a leader - until he met Sonia Rios.

For Larry, it was love at first sight, but his sister thought Sonia, who Jackson describes as "flamboyant" and "very attractive," was trouble. "…something wasn't right," she says.

Sonia was very secretive about her past. All the Riskens knew was a vague story about a previous marriage and a divorce. "I knew absolutely nothing about her background," Jackson says.

"There was always a story-within-a-story probably is the best description of Sonia," according to Henry Hoskins, a bail bondsman and the head of the local Chamber of Commerce who has been friends with Sonia for more than 25 years.

"She had the Corvette that she drove. She was very successful. She was a very successful business woman… I think she came up the hard way," he says of her rags-to-riches story.

Sonia, who owned a thriving beauty salon in Lomita, Calif., grew up poor in the Philippines.

Her home was just down the road from Sangley Point, a U.S. Naval base. Sonia moved to the states in the 1960s. Hoskins says she was always attracted to servicemen.

"She was very, very into the social events of the military, of the Navy," Hoskins says.

After a brief courtship, Larry Risken and Sonia were married in 1990, not once, but in three separate ceremonies. Sherry Jackson says neither she nor her parents were invited to any of them.

Sonia told Larry his family wasn't welcome and it created a rift between him and his family that would last for years.

"It was devastating, because that wasn't Larry," Jackson says. "We were so close and it all changed."

But Sonia and Larry did travel to the Philippines to spend time with her family. On one trip, Larry met Sonia's niece, Quinzy, and nephew, Jetmark.

"Tell me about the Larry that you knew," Van Sant asks Jetmark.

"I called him Papa," he replies. "He is really a good man, and also a father to me."

Larry and Sonia decided to adopt the children, whose family wanted them to have a better life in the United States. Sonia promised to make the adoption happen.

After a long career in the Navy, Larry left active duty in 1995 to become a teacher. "He was a Special Ed teacher for high school students," his sister explains. "The time and love he gave to those children, it was amazing."

Teacher Eileen Stevens worked with Larry at Lawndale High School. "I was struck with how much he cared about what happened to these students after they left his classroom and the school," she says.

Larry's new job was going really well, but his marriage was not. For years, Larry believed Sonia was working to finalize the adoption of Quinzy and Jetmark.

"Year after year would go by, and Sonia would tell him that there was something wrong with the paperwork and then he found out she was sabotaging the whole adoption process," Jackson explains. "He just said, 'I can't believe it. She lied to me all these years.'"

Fed up with Sonia, Larry began seeing his friend, Eileen Stevens. Stevens says "Larry told his wife that he had feelings for me." Sonia flew into a rage.

"Sonia went on the attack, didn't she?" asks Van Sant.

"Attack is a great word for it," Stevens replies. "She told school personnel that her husband was using drugs. She told a parent that Larry and I were abusing her son."

No one believed Sonia's wild accusations, but Larry had enough. He told Sonia their 16-year marriage was over.

Sherry Jackson says she never saw her brother so happy. "It was like this big weight off his shoulders."

Sonia agreed to the divorce, but said they would only separate after Larry's long-planned trip to visit the kids in the Philippines. He would go alone.

"She knew that divorce was never going to happen." Jackson says she was terrified her brother was walking into a trap.

"He called my dad and I before he left. He was very excited to go, very excited to see the kids," she says. "I just had a horrible feeling…something bad was going to happen to him. I'm saying 'Larry don't go to the Philippines.' Something inside me is telling me that my brother is going to be harmed."