Pulp Nonfiction: Murder in The Oakland Hills

While murder is unfortunately a part of the Oakland landscape, it stays close to sea level.

But one murder and saga gripped the hills for two years, the Nina Reiser case and then the trial of her husband Hans. Henry Lee, who reported the case for The Chronicle, has written a book about it: Presumed Dead: True Life Murder Mystery.

Hans Reiser was a tsunami of slime–computer programmer, borderline genius, ultimate social misfit, precision farter- cum murderer and then body burier. (One source had told P.E.C that Hans would only eat Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups when being held at Santa Rita Jail.)

Private Eye Confidential caught up with Henry for a phoner. The crime chronicler was about to amscray before beginning a book promo blitz that would make Anne Rule envious. He will be back in town on July 7, at 7 pm, at A Great Good Place for Books, 6120 La Salle Avenue, Oakland. Henry has been around East Bay crime and cops for nearly 20 years, getting his start at the Daily Cal before becoming a stalwart at The Chronicle. It’s his first book so come out and support him.

PEC asked him what it would be like to some day see his book at an airport book store.

“You know that’s funny you should say that because I am going to the airport tomorrow to see family. And you are right. Not only will it be at Borders and Barnes and Noble but it’s surreal to thinking that it will be at Targets and airports across the country. Absolutely surreal. It is something different to be on the receiving end of these questions. I try to answer them with aplomb and humility while trying to publicize the heck out of this book.”

As is the nature of news, it had been a while since we thought of strange, strange, strange Hans. At the time, PEC would take the staff dog out for walks at Redwood Park and see the police helicopters hovering. The story just kept getting bigger because a vibrant young mother’s vehicle was found, no body had been located and Hans led Oakland cops, and Henry, in a cat-and-mouse game.

What is it about Hans Reiser that just creeps us out to hell and back? (At least Ted Bundy could be a little charming and O.J. had some good moments.)

“He was a computer expert, some would say genius, who had his own namesake file system. Everyone in the computer world knew about. He had the world at his fingertips but lacked the social grace that most people have– and he ultimately killed his wife.”

If the public thought him repugnant before trial, his antics in court just cemented the bad image.

“On the stand he was arrogant and self-centered and thought he was smarter than everyone else, the DA, the judge and his own attorneys. Most people agreed that he talked his way into a first-degree murder conviction. He would say things like, `I really didn’t need a wife and kids financially’ or `I’m an egotistical asshole’ when he was asked why he never called his wife on her cell phone after she went missing. He memorably said, `It’s cheaper to hire a housekeeper,’ when asked about the foibles and the pluses and minuses of marriage.”

Reiser early on in the case showed he liked to hide and try to outsmart police. Henry said that Reiser would routinely engage in counter surveillance, speeding up and slowing down and other evasive maneuvers.

The dogged reporter even wound up trying to literally chase him down one day (photo of Henry after Reiser on the left) after he got a tip that Reiser would be going to Alameda County services to visit his kids. Reiser would be arrested 12 days later.

In one of the case’s many oddities, Reiser assaulted Oakland police detective Jesse Grant with a controlled fart. ( A young Officer Grant had once done an illegal search and arrested the Chairman of PEC as he conducted a lawful surveillance off Lakeshore Avenue. Grant lied about the incident to Oakland police internal affairs, which conveniently “lost” the file and never bothered to contact potential witnesses until more than six months had passed. Grant transferred to Berkeley police in the aftermath of the Chauncey Bailey murder case.)

It was during the serving of a search warrant and photographing the suspect looking for signs of a struggle on him that Reiser let Grant have “it.”

“Hans farted in Jesse’s face but not before telling him, `You’re about to experience chaos,'” Henry said. “Then he let loose in Grant’s face as he was taking off his pants, without underwear, to be photographed.”

The title of the book is because Nina’s body was not found until Hans Reiser cut a deal and agreed to lead authorities to where he had buried her in the hills. The burial spot was along a deer trail not far from Redwood Park and where the couple had once lived. Why didn’t the cops find her body earlier?

“It was in a cleverly chosen spot, close to civilization yet so off the beaten path–so to speak–that no one but the killer would have ever found her.”

Henry has promised to dish more at the July 7 reading than what has appeared in print. I asked for a sneak preview. He revealed that he received a letter a couple days ago from Reiser, now in Mule Creek state prison, in which Reiser claims that no one understands him but that he wants Henry to “bring his own” polygraph because no one understands what a danger Nina was to their two children.

We haven’t heard the last of this story.