John Cahill never saw it coming.
In 2018, after serving 12 years as Clark County public administrator, a low-key elected position responsible for securing the estates of recently deceased Las Vegans, Cahill anointed a fellow Democrat as his would-be successor. His choice? A 45-year-old Mississippi-born HVAC technician-turned-probate lawyer by the name of Robert Telles.
Cahill told The Daily Beast that at the time, nobody had flagged any potential issues with Telles. And ultimately, his endorsement of the married father-of-three who had been named Nevada Legal Service’s 2014 “Pro Bono Attorney of the Year” proved fruitful when Telles won the Democratic nomination, and then the general election.
“Any contact I had [with Telles] was a positive one,” Cahill said. “His classmates at the law school, a couple of them were attorneys who said he’d do a great job.”
Once Telles took over, Cahill did start to catch wind of trouble—like whispers from employees that Telles was “pretty hostile if he thinks people are pushing back on him.”
Then, Las Vegas Review-Journal investigative journalist Jeff German’s articles started coming out in May about Telles allegedly presiding over an atmosphere rife with bullying and favoritism in Cahill’s old workplace. (Telles denied the allegations.)
But even after the two old allies exchanged a mini-war of words on Facebook, Cahill stressed he would not describe Telles—who lost a bid for re-election in the wake of German’s reporting—as a violent man.
Which made what came next all the more stunning.
On Wednesday night, Telles was arrested after allegedly disguising himself and fatally stabbing German seven times during an altercation next to the journalist’s garage the previous Friday morning.
“How could he be so dumb? How could he think he could get away with this?” Cahill asked. “None of it makes any sense.”
“It’s so mind-boggling,” he added. “[Telles] stalked him. He hunted him. He got a disguise. He put a lot of thought into this. It’s still hard to believe.”
The macabre slaying—and Telles’ subsequent arrest after authorities found his DNA under German’s fingernails—has rattled journalists, sparked right-wing media fervor, and sent shockwaves throughout the Las Vegas community.
But for some of the people who knew or worked in proximity to the man, wrapping their heads around how a sort of bookkeeper of death might have refashioned himself into a cold-blooded killer was its own odyssey.
“I am going to see him tomorrow and figure out what is going on,” criminal defense attorney Ozzie Fumo, who says he was friends with both German and Telles, told The Daily Beast, referring to an upcoming jail-house visit. “There are so many questions.”
Telles has yet to enter a plea and was set to make his initial court appearance on Tuesday. Neither his family nor an attorney could be reached for comment.
The disgraced politician is being held without bond in Clark County Detention Center after he was briefly treated for “self-inflicted wounds” following his Wednesday arrest. Cops nabbed Telles after a dramatic hour-long standoff during which he barricaded himself in his home and police called Fumo to help coax their man to surrender.
“I don’t know why they called me, but I didn’t think twice. I was like, ‘Of course,’ I wanted to help them. I wanted to help Rob,” Fumo said, recalling the strange 22-minute drive. “They got him out of the house before I got there, though. I’m just glad everyone is OK.”
Fumo said that he has been in contact with Telles’ family, and that his wife has yet to speak to her husband as of Friday afternoon but was “devastated and just focusing on their kids.”
Authorities have not offered an explicit motive for the Sept. 2 stabbing. But Las Vegas Metro Police Department Captain Dori Koren said Thursday that “Telles was upset about articles that were being written by German as an investigative journalist that exposed potential wrongdoing, and Telles had publicly expressed his issues with that reporting.”
“And then ultimately Telles was also upset—from what we found out later—that there was additional reporting that was pending,” Koren added.
German’s previous reporting may have doomed Telles’ re-election campaign in June, spurring the public administrator to publicly lash out at the journalist online.
“Looking forward to lying smear piece #4 by [Jeff German],” Telles tweeted on June 18, just one week before he conceded defeat. “One trick pony I think he’s mad that I havent crawled into a hole and died.”
Despite Telles’ online fervor, Fumo insisted on Friday that his long-time friend was more “sad” about German’s reporting than angry. Fumo said that Telles even reached out to him after German’s first story in May accusing him of fostering a toxic workplace and said that he was “upset and sad by it… but didn’t say anything about Jeff specifically.”
“It blows my mind that he would be that angry over a story to do something,” he told The Daily Beast.
Cahill, however, said that the rumors about Telles’ behavior were so alarming that he actually offered to speak to his successor last year. The idea was scrapped, he said, at the behest of some current employees, who feared Telles would retaliate for their talking to their old boss.
“I go back and forth about whether there was some indication that I missed? Some kind of signal?” Cahill said. “It wasn’t a matter of temper. It’s not like he walked up to him in a bar and punched him in the face.”
Indeed, Koren on Thursday detailed how surveillance footage captured that the suspect was wearing a large straw hat and construction-style shirt, apparently to help conceal his identity. But investigators were quickly able to identify the suspect’s vehicle—a GMC Yukon Denali—which Koren said had been spotted multiple times around German’s neighborhood.
One neighbor, Jay Sabs, told The Daily Beast that his home-security camera captured the man police identified as Telles pacing back and forth outside of his home at about 11 a.m. last Friday at the northwest corner of Bronze Circle and Wintergreen Drive. Sabs, 30, described the footage as showing the maroon Yukon passing his house and then the man pacing for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Sabs said he did not see the Yukon himself and that he turned over the footage to the police. (Vegas Police did not respond to a request for comment.) Eventually, reporters at the Review-Journal found Telles’ car via Google Maps after police put out a call asking for information, as the journalists recounted to The Daily Beast.
Authorities were able to match the SUV to Telles’ car and ultimately execute a search warrant at his house on Wednesday. While no murder weapon was found at the house, police recovered cut-up shoes and a similar, but destroyed, straw hat, as well as bloody shoes. They returned to arrest him hours later.
For Patsy Brown, the Republican nominee vying for the position that Telles was set to vacate in December, the nature of the gig made the murder allegation all the more jarring.
“This is normally like a bottom-of-ballot position that happens to do with death,” she stressed. “I spend most of my time explaining to people the position because they don’t even know what it is.”
Brown also raised a disturbing possibility: that German’s family may have to work with Telles’ old office to handle the beloved reporter’s estate. After all, in addition to securing the property of recently deceased individuals while their family members are identified and located, the public administrator’s office can also serve as the manager of estates under extreme circumstances.
“It’s as if a funeral home had this type of shenanigans going on,” she said. “This office is supposed to be helping grieving families figure out how to handle their lost loved ones’ property. Now someone in that office is accused of prompting that loss. It’s surreal.”