A Phoenix resident checking on his married neighbors made a gruesome discovery Saturday morning when the husband allegedly answered the door naked and missing his right eye. His arm was nearly hacked off and blood covered the walls and cabinets of the apartment, according to authorities.
The 49-year-old wife, Trina Heisch, had allegedly been decapitated. Police say they found her body in a closet, along with her two dead and butchered dogs. Authorities say the couple had a history of mental illness, domestic violence and drug abuse.
In fact, family members told police that Heisch and her alleged killer married after meeting in a mental-health facility. The 43-year-old suspect, whose name wasn’t released Sunday, reportedly underwent surgery to save his self-mutilated arm and was still in the hospital.
A police spokesman said he would not identify the suspect until he is charged. The suspect was arrested in 2003 for attempting to kill a family member, police said in a press release. Meanwhile Heisch was arrested in March for domestic assault, when she allegedly tried to stab the suspect.
The suspect didn’t serve prison time for the 2003 charge because “he was found to be insane,” a police spokesman said.
Still, Heisch’s son Kendall Fernald appears to have outed the suspect, writing, “@kenneth wakefield i hope you get the death penalty!”
The Daily Beast could not independently confirm Wakefield’s identity, but a Kenneth Wakefield of the Phoenix area was also charged with attempted murder in 2003, court records show. He was found “guilty but insane by submission,” the records indicate.
November 2014 minutes from the Arizona Psychiatric Security Review Board show the panel wanted to revoke Wakefield’s conditional release from Arizona State Hospital, the state’s only taxpayer-funded mental-health facility, and keep him there “for further evaluation and treatment.”
Records reveal Heisch was charged with attempted murder and child abuse in 2000 but was found “guilty but insane by court.”
George Loney, the horrified neighbor, said he often kept tabs on Heisch and the suspect because of their psychiatric issues.
“Like every other day, I go check on them,” Loney told Fox 10. “They are mentally ill. [I] went to go check on him…he answered the door; he was naked and there was blood everywhere, so I called the cops.”
“I never thought he would kill her,” Loney added. “I never thought that would happen in a million years.”
Heisch’s daughter, Christal, told The Daily Beast she headed to her mother's home Saturday to check on her because she hadn’t called in a few days. Her phone was going straight to voicemail, Christal said.
When Christal and her siblings arrived, the street was blocked off and police told her to wait so an officer could speak to them.
“The police didn’t tell us exactly what happened,” Christal said in an email. “We had to learn about the gruesome details from the news.”
Christal said this is the first time Heisch and her husband lived together and that he treated her like his own daughter.
“I’ve never seen them fight ... I’ve only heard about it,” Christal told The Daily Beast. “Yes, we had the feeling something bad might have happened, but we never imagined that it would be this.”
Christal said her mother had just changed caseworkers and that she had tried contacting the worker on behalf of her mother.
“I emailed them and told them her and her husband needed help as soon as possible, but do you think they did anything?” Christal said.
On Sunday, Heisch’s friends struggled to understand what could have led to the nightmarish scene. They told The Daily Beast that Heisch had schizophrenia and struggled with her medications. She was so desperate for help that she often tried, unsuccessfully, to check into psych wards.
“She was a very sweet woman,” said Brenda West, who used to manage the apartment where Heisch lived. “She would do anything for you … I just don’t know how the state system let her slip through the cracks.”
West told The Daily Beast that Heisch self-medicated with crystal meth “because it helped her feel normal.” Heisch was on disability and often had to walk long distances to her doctor’s appointments, she said.
“It’s devastating to me,” West said through tears. “Not just that she died, but that she had been murdered and her head was cut off. I am just devastated. I can’t imagine what she was going through.”
Heisch, a mother of three adult children and a grandmother, too, wasn’t always living with the murder suspect. They split up for years but never got a divorce. The man re-entered her life sometime after her ex-boyfriend, a man named Poncho, was arrested and carted off to jail, Butler said.
That claim seems to be reinforced by Heisch’s own Facebook page. On November 20, 2014, Heisch wrote: “Poncho didn’t get charged with his old … charge but he got picked up [on] his two yr old drug charge.”
The victim, who was religious, often prayed in her closet because a Bible verse mentioned a “prayer closet.” West said she once told Heisch, “Trina, it doesn’t mean you literally go into your closet. You don’t have to,” but the woman preferred it.
“When I heard she was found [dead] in her closet, it just devastated me,” West told The Daily Beast. “That tells me she was killed in her closet. The only reason she’d go in there would be to pray. She’d pray hard … I just can’t believe she’s gone.”
Another of Heisch’s close friends, Donald Butler, said she was a victim of violence all her life. Heisch once told him she was sold into prostitution by a heroin-addict boyfriend who owed a dealer money.
“She was a person who wanted to love with all her heart, to be loved, but she was never able to find that love from an individual in her life,” said Butler, who runs an online ministry and often met with Heisch to discuss scripture.
Butler said that after Poncho was arrested, Heisch asked him to marry her but he declined, saying it was too soon and he wasn’t ready. Butler told The Daily Beast her issues with substance abuse concerned him.
He called Heisch a “functioning addict” who once snorted crystal meth in front of him; use of the drug would clear her mind.
“We developed a friendship and talked about the things we looked forward to in life,” Butler said. “A part of that was marriage. She said, ‘Let’s get married because we’re both looking for the same thing.’ I couldn’t.”
“She understood it,” Butler added. “That was another thing about her. As long as you were truthful and honest, she could handle that. That’s all she wanted—honesty from people.”
Butler said Heisch couldn’t afford to divorce the murder suspect, who allegedly also had schizophrenia. Butler says the man told Heisch he considered her only a friend before they broke up.
In recent months, Butler says, Heisch called him to complain about arguments she had with her husband, who had moved in with her. She told Butler she went from “calm to rage” fairly quickly.
“She thought he’d gotten rid of her dog,” Butler told The Daily Beast. “She was afraid she was going to snap.”
Heisch found her pooch later, and told Butler it had wandered off and that she’d erroneously blamed her husband.
Butler wants to believe the alleged killer didn’t mean to hurt Heisch.
“I think it was just two people caught up in something they were overwhelmed with … their mental illness,” he said. “You can’t put two uncontrolled people in a room and expect there to be peace. They both snap and experience blackouts.”
Phoenix police said the suspect could be charged with murder and animal cruelty once he’s released from the hospital.
Heisch’s daughter, Christal, created a GoFundMe page to pay for Heisch’s cremation and funeral services.
“RIP trina. you were a sister, a mother and a grandmother and a friend,” Christal wrote after taking over her mom’s Facebook page. “YOU WILL GREATLY BE MISSED... FOREVER IN A DAY…”
Christal said her mother loved music and her dogs, Scrappy and Petals, and “thought of them as her own children.” She said Heisch also volunteered with street ministries and helping the homeless.
“No matter what mistakes she made, she is a person and she is my mother and she didn’t deserve this,” Christal said. “What she deserved was the help she wasn’t getting.”
Correction: An earlier introduction to this article stated that the murder suspect had been previously charged with child abuse. It was the victim, Heisch, who had been charged with the abuse, as was originally noted in the text of the article. The Daily Beast regrets this editorial error.