Vancouver Police Detective Wally Stefan leaves the Neuwelt home after talking to Nancy Neuwelt, the mother of Bethany Storro, Monday evening in Vancouver. A warrant for Storro's arrest was issued earlier in the day.
Bethany Storro wanted to die or get a new face, officials say.
Before claiming a black woman threw acid in her face last month, Storro, 28, dabbed her face with caustic chemical drain cleaner several times, officials said Monday. She told a police detective she figured it would kill her or — if not — that she could “get her face redone” and “have a completely different face.”
As it happened, Storro lived and suffered self-inflicted facial burns — and police detectives started finding holes in her story by the second day of their investigation.
On Monday, exactly three weeks after the case surfaced, Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Tony Golik filed three counts of second-degree theft by deception against Storro. Each of those charges comes with an aggravating factor, because they allegedly were committed against “good Samaritans,” that is, three well-meaning people or businesses who donated $750 or more to Storro, Golik said.
On Monday evening, Golik said he’s obtained a warrant for Storro’s arrest, and said she was in an unspecified hospital, for unknown reasons.
Vancouver police officers know where Storro is and plan to arrest her for the warrant, Golik said, adding, “I don’t think they view her as a flight risk right now.”
Golik said he didn’t think officers planned to arrest Storro on Monday night and said he wasn’t sure when she will make a first appearance in court.
She was not in the Clark County Jail at The Columbian’s press time Monday night.
Many folks’ hearts were touched by Storro’s claim of having acid thrown in her face just north of Esther Short Park about 7:15 p.m. Aug. 30. People contributed more than $25,000 to Storro, in accounts set up at Riverview Community Bank and Umpqua Bank, Vancouver police Detective Wally Stefan said in his probable cause affidavit, made public Monday afternoon.
Prosecutor Golik told The Columbian he began by filing three second-degree felony theft charges because he could show that three specific victims donated between $750 and $5,000, the legal range for second-degree theft.
More charges, including false reporting to public officials, a misdemeanor, might follow, said Golik, who works with the Major Crimes Unit.
In regard to possible additional theft charges, Golik said other victims donated less than $750 and he could charge misdemeanor theft in those cases. Golik said he didn’t yet know the total number of victims who donated.
Were Storro to be convicted of Monday’s charges, the standard sentencing range would be two to five months since she has no previous felony convictions, Golik said. But with the good Samaritan aggravating circumstances, a judge would have discretion to lay down a sentence of up to five years.
Storro, 28, of Vancouver, propelled herself into nationwide and then worldwide news with her claim of having acid thrown in her face. Three nights after she was found screaming in pain, she staged a news conference before TV cameras in the Oregon Burn Center, her face covered in bandages, with her parents, Joe and Nancy Neuwelt of Vancouver.
Stefan and several other detectives with the Major Crimes Unit began a methodical probe. They spent hundreds of hours interviewing people around the park, and checking out more than 100 tips of various kinds.
But discrepancies arose almost immediately and suspicions grew, police said.
No witness came forward, or was found, to confirm the alleged attack near West Ninth and Columbia streets by a black woman who supposedly said, “Hey pretty girl,” offered her a drink and threw liquid from a cup into Storro’s face. Detectives found no security video or physical evidence of the attack at the scene.
One day after the reported attack, on Aug. 31, Stefan said he went to the Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland and looked at Storro’s injuries.
“Storro’s facial skin seemed to be burned, but it was an even pattern over her face,” Stefan said in the affidavit. “It did not appear to be a splashing injury.”
Stefan added: “The burning went around her face, but it was not in her hair, eyes, lips or ears.”
Furthermore: “Whatever substance had been in contact with her facial skin seemed to have been applied to Storro’s face, rather than having been splashed onto her face. The pattern was very even across the face. I saw no blistering of the skin. I saw no injury to her neck, hands or upper chest area that may have been indicative of having chemical splashed onto her.”
Stefan also took photos.
Storro had said she’d been wearing sunglasses that saved her eyes in the attack, and that she’d purchased them only about 20 minutes before the attack at the Fred Meyer near state Highway 14. She told detectives they were Dockers brand and black, with large lenses.
Stefan, working with the store’s security employees, viewed its surveillance videos for the time Storro gave, but they showed she hadn’t been in the store and her 1996 Chevrolet Blazer hadn’t been in the parking lot, the affidavit says.
The store’s computer said it had sold no sunglasses that day, the affidavit says.
Stefan also wrote that he obtained photos of women who had acid thrown in their faces in Puyallup and Mesa, Ariz., and Storro’s injuries didn’t match.
The detective also contacted the physician who treated Storro’s burns at Emanuel and “he was suspicious of the alleged chemical burn pattern on Storro’s face and of the story that Bethany Storro had related of how she sustained the injury,” the affidavit says.
About two weeks before the alleged attack, Storro had undergone a laser facial peel in Portland, Stefan learned.
Deputy Prosecutor Golik said Monday he didn’t know whether the facial peel had caused problems.
On Sept. 16, as detectives executed a search warrant at the home where Storro is staying with her parents, Storro “made the statement she should go to ‘jail’ and admitted she falsely reported the acid attack,” Stefan wrote in the affidavit. Later, in a police office, Storro gave a recorded confession, the affidavit says.
Storro reportedly told police she had bought drain cleaner at a hardware store, and gloves she wore “while applying the caustic substance to her face.”
In the restroom of a park near Clark College, the affidavit says, “she applied the acid with towels and made several applications of the chemical substance to her face … several hours before the incident was reported to 911 dispatch.”
Storro told Stefan she applied the drain cleaner to her face to kill herself, and if that failed “she could get her face redone.”
She added, according to the affidavit, “Then when I realized it wasn’t killing me, I thought maybe this was the answer to all my problems. To have a completely different face.”
Asked about the investigation by police, Storro said: “I thought there would be no evidence of me doing it to myself. And then you guys — I thought you guys would give up on trying to find the person and it would be done.”
The affidavit says detectives found the hardware store where Storro said she bought the chemical drain cleaner and gloves, and records showed she used her debit card to buy them.
Storro, while still in the hospital, received a personal check from Safeway, her employer, for $3,000.
She told detectives she’d spent about $1,500 of that on dinners, train tickets, clothing, shopping at Target, an Apple computer product (which she apparently returned), and to pay most of her $620 bill for her laser facial peel.
Police and bank officials have said they are working on returning the donations folks gave Storro. One man, from California, told police he gave her $1,000, and that he wants it back.
John Branton: 360-735-4513 or email@example.com.