Thursday, July 10, 2014
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — A Silicon Valley success story turned sordid this week with the arrest of an upscale prostitute who allegedly left a Google executive dying on his yacht after shooting him up with a deadly hit of heroin.
Forrest Hayes, 51, was found dead by the captain of his 50-foot yacht Escape last November. At the time, a simple obituary described him as a beloved husband and father of five who enjoyed spending time with his family and on his boat.
On Wednesday, that got a lot more complicated as Alix Tichelman, 26, of Folsom, stood handcuffed and mumbling in red jail scrubs facing manslaughter charges for her role in Hayes' death, as well as drug and prostitution charges. She is being held on $1.5 million bail.
Surveillance footage from the yacht shows everything, police said, from when she came aboard until after Hayes collapsed. That's when Tichelman picked up her clothes, the heroin and needles, casually stepping over Hayes as he lay dying. She swallowed the last of a glass of wine, lowered a blind and walked back on the dock to shore, police said.
Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Hayes had hired Tichelman before, and that their Nov. 23 encounter "was a mutually consensual encounter including the introduction of the heroin."
Clark said it appears this might not have been the first time she left someone in trouble without calling 911 or trying to help. Without elaborating, he said his agency is cooperating with police in a different state on a similar case.
"There's a pattern of behavior here where she doesn't seek help when someone is in trouble," he said.
News vans gathered outside Hayes hilltop estate overlooking the glittering Monterey Bay on Tuesday. The five-bedroom home is on the market for $4.2 million. The yacht has been sailed out of the harbor to the Bay Area. Hayes' widow has not spoken publicly and a blog created in his memory was deleted Tuesday. On the website, friends and co-workers were seemingly unaware of how he died. They fondly described their time together, Christmas parties on his boat, engineering teams at Sun Microsystems, traveling to China for Apple and most recently at Google, where they said he was involved in the Glass eyewear projects.
"He had life wired, he really liked his job, was spending a lot more time with his family, cruising around in his boat. I am really grateful that Forrest's last moments were happy ones," wrote a friend in December.
Clark said it's not clear if Hayes was a frequent drug user, and that in the video, it appears he needed Tichelman to help him shoot up. Clark described Tichelman as a high-end prostitute, who lived three hours away and charged $1,000.
He said she had other clients from Silicon Valley, home to about 50 billionaires and tens of thousands of millionaires, where the case was making waves Wednesday.
"There's no question that Silicon Valley feels different than it felt 28 years ago when I moved here," said Russell Hancock, president of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, an organization focused on the local economy and quality of life. "Something has happened. We used to be a Valley full of techies living middle class lives, and now we're a Valley of the uber-rich carrying toy poodles around with them."
Tichelman's father has ties to the tech industry. Folsom software firm SynapSense announced hiring her father, Bart Tichelman in 2012. Neither the firm nor her father responded to immediate requests for comment.
Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Timothy Volkmann approved a request Wednesday from Tichelman's court appointed attorney, Diana August, to continue the arraignment until July 16. August did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Assistant District Attorney Rafael Vazquez said authorities are still investigating and may file more serious charges.
Tichelman was arrested on July 4 after police said a detective lured her back to the Santa Cruz area by posing as a potential client at an upscale resort. Clark said they didn't just arrest her because they didn't know exactly where she lived, and they were concerned she would flee.
Police said Tichelman boasted she had more than 200 clients and met them through the website, SeekingArrangement.com, which purports to connect wealthy men and women with attractive companions. Her clients included other Silicon Valley executives, Clark said.
Santa Clara University Finance professor Robert Hendershott said financial windfalls like those seen in the Silicon Valley often bring problems as people have trouble managing their newfound wealth. But he said there's no obvious hedonistic culture in the Silicon Valley.
"There's no Great Gatsby type of parties famous in the Silicon Valley," he said.
Associated Press reporters Michael Liedtke and Terry Collins in San Francisco and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this story.