Trial set for mid-September
CASTRO VALLEY, CALIFORNIA — Even before detectives elicited a confession from a man who boasted about strangling Benjamin Hemmann “like you would any (expletive) dog,” Hemmann’s suffering was obvious.
Hemmann, a 37-year-old man who lived with his father in San Leandro, was discovered dead near the 2.95 mile marker on Redwood Road in Castro Valley on September 6, 2021, after a motorcyclist drove by his body and called 9-1-1. According to recently obtained court records, Hemmann was bound with ratchet straps, gagged with a rag, and strangled with something resembling a dog leash.
Soon after, police had zeroed in on a pickup truck, which they believed was the only vehicle on Redwood Road at the time of the homicide. It was a blue Toyota Tacoma with stolen plates and one distinguishing feature: a small Baby Yoda doll had been tied to the grill, a modification that would prove significant in the coming weeks.
By the end of the investigation in June 2022, police had obtained a confession from a man named Steven Hanna, alias Richard Onteveros, who claimed he strangled Hemmann and dumped his body on his own. According to court records, they also arrested Kevin Paul Woodruff and Bryan Wu after Woodruff’s wife recounted how Wu chided and demeaned Hemmann as he begged for his life on Skyline Boulevard in Oakland, where Woodruff and Wu allegedly bound and gagged him in broad daylight as joggers and motorists passed by.
Later, the woman attempted to retract her confession, blaming it on “mental illness” and “intimidation” by Alameda County Sheriff’s investigators. However, police say her statement corroborates not only physical evidence at the crime scene, but also her own text messages to Wu’s girlfriend that day, as well as GPS evidence indicating that she, Wu, and Woodruff stopped at a Jack in the Box on their way home from Oakland, around the same time Hanna was allegedly strangling Hemmann in Castro Valley.
The three men are accused of robbing, kidnapping, and killing Hemmann. They are still being held without bail. Their trial is tentatively scheduled for September 15.
Authorities focused on Hemmann’s family and a series of extremely suspicious events that occurred at his home on the 300 block of West Joaquin Avenue in San Leandro before naming Woodruff, Wu, and Hanna. Two months before his death, Hemmann dropped his brother off at a hospital with a gunshot wound and told a shady story about the shooting taking place during a home invasion robbery.
On Aug. 10, police received a missing person’s report for Hemmann’s father, who had been at home the entire time, as well as a stolen car report filed by Hemmann’s brother, who called it off hours later to explain that Hemmann had stolen the car. The Hemmanns’ home was set on fire and severely damaged around 9 p.m. that night, but the family apparently continued to live there.
None of those investigations resulted in anything, but they did assist detectives in realizing an important fact after Hemmann’s death: an AC Transit bus route passed by the West Joaquin Avenue residence, and it was equipped with an outside camera that showed activity at the home on the day of the killing. One video showed Hemmann sitting outside his house on the morning of his death, but he left around the time a blue BMW X5 SUV was parked nearby.
Then, on September 16, 2021, San Leandro police raided Woodruff’s San Lorenzo home in an unrelated robbery and kidnapping investigation and discovered a military jacket emblazoned with the name “Hemmann” as well as a notebook containing Hemmann’s father’s social security number, date of birth, and other identifying information. A blue BMW X5 SUV was parked in front of the house.
Six days later, Hanna allegedly led Solano County Sheriff’s deputies on a 42-minute pursuit through Suisun City, Fairfield, and Rio Vista in a blue Toyota Tacoma. Hanna allegedly rammed a deputy’s patrol car, bringing the chase to an end. Authorities say they found the small Baby Yoda doll tied to the Toyota’s grill inside the truck, along with three cellphones and black ratchet straps.
Two detectives from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office drove down to the Fairfield jail, hoping to obtain a statement from Hanna. They left with a full confession, with the caveat that Hanna claimed he’d acted alone and killed Hemmann “how you kill any (expletive) dog,” as Detective Pat Smyth would later testify.
“He indicated when questioned further that he strangled him,” Smyth testified at the preliminary hearing for Woodruff, Wu, and Hanna.
When police arrested Woodruff’s wife on suspicion of murdering Hemmann, they confronted her with text messages she’d sent Wu’s girlfriend on the day of the homicide. She has not been charged with anything.
“The s— i just woke up to smh,” one person wrote, followed by, “These n—as think they’re super heroes (sic).” Please excuse me, they vigilantes.”
According to court records, the woman claimed she didn’t see much that day but had “great hearing” and thus knew what had happened. She would later retract her entire statement in an email to police.
“I needed to make sure you knew that I am ill, that my statement isn’t true, and that I am embarrassed,” the email stated, according to police testimony. “Your department, as well as your deputies and detectives, intimidate me.”
The woman claimed to have fallen asleep in Woodruff’s BMW early on September 6, 2021, while it was still dark outside. Hemmann was in the backseat with Wu when she awoke, apparently as an uninvited guest.
“Do you see where I’m pointing this?” Wu allegedly inquired of Hemmann. “Do you think I’m going to shoot you?” You can count on it.”
They parked on Skyline Boulevard and waited for a man named Hanna, whom the woman referred to as “Click Clack,” according to her. Wu allegedly aggressively searched Hemmann while they waited, and Hemmann insisted they had found everything on him. But Wu became enraged when he discovered a second cellphone. According to police, Hemmann began to cry and “whimper” and beg for his life.
“No one loves you because you’re a dope fiend.” According to police, Wu allegedly told him, “No one is going to miss you.”
Then Hanna arrived, and the woman said she heard more things. The ripping sound of duct tape. Hemmann’s incessant whimpering and screams. The three men were checking on her to make sure she wasn’t too shaken by what was going on.
Hemmann whimpered even louder as he was loaded into the Toyota Tacoma, she said, with tape over his face and a rolled-up rag in his mouth. As the Toyota began to move down Skyline Boulevard, Hemmann’s screams faded into the distance until everything was quiet again, she said.
The three then climbed back into the BMW and drove to Jack in the Box.