PRESCOTT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- A retired teacher helped uncover the gruesome murder of a Prescott grandmother that went unnoticed for more than two years.
David Racliff and his partner, Gina, enjoyed renting an apartment from 77-year-old Sandra Aven.
[ORIGINAL STORY: Prescott woman's daughter, granddaughter confessed to murdering her]
“It was very affordable,” says Racliff. “She wanted the property to look a certain way and we went along with that.”
Racliff recalls a meeting around 2017 where he says Sandra’s daughter, Tara, told him Sandra had died in her sleep.
“[Tara] came inside and told us that her mother had passed, just keep putting your rent check in the mail slot,” says Racliff.
For years Racliff had been dropping off his rent check at Sandra’s house on Country Club Drive. Tara and her daughter, Briar, lived next door.
Racliff says in April 2019 he needed to report an issue with the apartment to Tara, but he didn’t know how to reach her.
“So I went to property records with Gina to look up, you know, to see if we could find a good phone number,” says Racliff. “The property records at that time revealed that Sandra Aven was still the owner of the property which, a year and a half later, struck me as kind of odd.”
Racliff did some more digging and was disturbed by what he found. There were civil cases involving Sandra that were filed after he was told she had died.
“I came to the conclusion that she was either alive, which didn’t square with what we’d been told, or she was dead, but it couldn’t be both,” says Racliff.
He went to the police, told them what he’d found, and asked to investigate.
On April 8, 2019, a Prescott Police officer did a welfare check. Court records say the officer encountered Briar, who could not explain why Sandra wasn’t home. Documents say Briar then admitted “she had killed her grandmother by striking her multiple times on the head with a hammer and then choked her to death.”
The reason behind murder, Briar allegedly explained to investigators, was the two had been arguing over a $4,000 loan Sandra gave Briar for college, and Sandra found out Briar fraudulently obtained a student loan. Records say Sandra had “threatened to notify the authorities.”
According to court records, Tara told the officer she knew her daughter had killed Sandra and “admitted to helping conceal the body and the odor of its decay.” Records say she helped Briar cash the rent checks coming in every month and advised Briar on how to make it look like Sandra was still alive.”
Court documents describe how a police officer discovered Sandra’s body “in a rolled up rug” with cardboard boxes stacked on top. There was cat litter at the base of the body, according to documents. By then Tara and Briar were living in Sandra’s home, according to records, because of damage in their own home next door.
“Just to read the details of what the granddaughter confessed to doing,” Racliff says, “would strike anyone with a family, a mother, a grandmother, as just appalling.”
Investigators determined the murder had likely happened in 2016.
“With so much time that elapsed how could someone not have discovered this much earlier?” Racliff asks.
He says the case reveals how important it is to check up on friends and loved ones.
Racliff lives on a fixed income and now finds himself paying more rent as he undergoes chemotherapy to battle cancer. He says he’s glad he didn’t give up on finding answers.
“Even though there have been repercussions for us financially,” says Racliff, “I would do it all again knowing the same outcome because an alleged crime was discovered which should have been uncovered a long time ago.”
Tara and Briar’s cases are still making their way through court. A trial date has not been set.