Devout Christians and young parents, John Rainwater, 25, and wife Lori, 22, were managing a 14-unit lodge in Atascadero when a parolee from the Utah prison system broke into their home.He had been at the door of the Rainwater apartment a few days before pretending to be interested in a rental.
Now it was late on February 4, 1987 and rent money was due to come in. On parole for attempted murder, robbery and kidnapping the convict had been out for two months. Before driving to the lodge on El Camino Real he had bought duct tape at Kmart. He was armed with a .38 caliber pistol and likely had an accomplice.
Over the last hours of their lives the couple were tied up, savagely beaten and raped.Naked, screaming and trailing blood, the Rainwaters somehow escaped into the pre-dawn fog with their infant children just before 6 am.
Both parents were murdered in the motel parking lot.Residents awoke to gunshots, screams and the sound of a truck driving off.
The two children were found alive under their mother’s body.Dennis Duane Webb, then 35, was arrested for dealing marijuana in Paso Robles within days. Evidence was accumulated linking Webb to the murders including a fingerprint on duct tape at the crime scene.
His former girlfriend and fellow pot dealer Sharon White Bear testified that he had confessed to the murders in conversations taped by investigators.
Dennis Webb did not testify during the first phase of the trial.
Defense attorneys almost always advise their clients not to testify because there is usually little to gain and much to lose.
After he was found guilty Webb stopped listening to advice and started talking.
He telephoned Telegram-Tribune reporter Dan Parker, wrote threatening letters, called prosecutor John Trice a maggot and argued that he wanted to ask for death during the penalty phase of his trial.
Judge Warren Conklin reluctantly granted him this request.
“I do not believe it would be appropriate to deny you the opportunity to testify,” Conklin told Webb.
“However I must advise you, I believe your choice (to request death) is ill-advised.”
In front of the jury that would decide his fate Webb gave a chilling and unrepentant account of his involvement in 5 unsolved murders in addition to the Rainwater killings.
The courtroom was silent on July 15, 1988 as Webb took the stand.
“I am going to assassinate my character,” Webb muttered, addressing the jurors in his deep, flat, unquavering voice.
“The reason why I’m going to do that is (because) you people are going to decide whether my fate…”
“When I get through talking to you people today, you’ll give me that death penalty,” Webb said nodding and smiling.
“I’m not here because my conscience is bothering me,” he said.
“I haven’t got any remorse. I don’t care.
“I’ve lived a culpable past. My rap sheet doesn’t really read that way but this is why my rap sheet doesn’t read that way: dead men tell no tales.”
“I’ve killed several times. I’ve never been busted for it. I beat the system.”But now, “the jig’s up.”
“I have no feelings ladies and gentlemen. I’ve got no heart. My heart is like a block of ice.”
“They told me I’d be tried by a jury of my peers,” Webb told them.
“You people aren’t my peers. You people are human beings. I’m a machine. I don’t even care about my own life. I don’t care. I don’t care about life.”
Webb then took off his long sleeved white dress shirt, revealing arms covered with tattoos.
“Show and tell,” Webb said grinning.“You guys know Dennis the Menace, the little cartoon character. Everyone loves Dennis the Menace. Here’s another Dennis the Menace, ladies and gentlemen,” Webb said, pointing at a tattoo.
“He’s holding a money sack in one hand, and in the other is a ball and chain.
“I’m that Dennis the Menace — the only hell my momma ever raised.”
His tattoos included Nazi white supremacist marks and several commemorated murders.
He admitted to stabbing death both a gay man and a black man out of hatred, killed during an interrupted burglary, murdered for hire and acted as a lookout during a fatal prison stabbing.
“Fast women, drugs, booze and dying,” Webb said.
“My downfall. My pleasure.
“What do you do with a rabid dog?” Webb asked the jury, “You put it to sleep, don’t you? I think the people in the state of California are scared to do that. Bleeding hearts.
“Death is the only appropriate sentence for me, Webb concluded, sneering at the jury and shaking his head.
“That’s all I’ve got to say to you people.”
The jury deliberated only 90 minutes before returning the death penalty.
Webb laughed as the verdict was read.
Though Webb would loudly disagree with some of the points made at the trial and hinted he was not alone, he never revealed the name of an accomplice.
Investigators think they know who he was but never had enough evidence to bring a case to trial. The suspect died while a patient at Patton State Hospital.
Family members who protect their privacy raised the children.
Said one relative, “The entire family would like the babies to be raised in a normal, healthy environment.”Over 20 years later, Webb remains in San Quentin on Death Row, one of four San Luis Obispo County convicts there.
John Trice is now a judge.
Reporter Dan Parker wrote the court stories the quotes are from.
Though Robert Dyer was credited, David Middlecamp made the photo.
Several reporters and photographers covered the story over the years. I recall shivering in winter fog as reporter Dan Stephens pieced together the initial story interviewing residents at the lodge. Each detail made the day feel colder as the morning’s tragic events began to take shape.
Later when Webb took the stand the different chill filled the courtroom as the mind of a remorseless and calculating killer was revealed.
If any jurors are reading this I offer my thanks for their service in a harrowing trial. I am also grateful for the countless hours the judges, investigators, witnesses and legal teams put in on all sides of the case.
Their efforts gave the community the best opportunity to understand the truth and arrive at a just verdict.
The story of the county’s most recent death penalty case, People vs. Rex Krebs can be found here.