RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Barbara Wu, a 21-year-old student at the University of California, Riverside, had a plan to get back at her ex-boyfriend. Along with her current boyfriend, Dennis Lin, and a getaway driver, she would go to her ex-boyfriend’s apartment, kidnap him, break both his legs, “motorcycle” him, take his body to Mexico, get in touch with a drug cartel, and have the cartel dispose of his body. Then Wu and Lin would move to Rio, where they would live out the rest of their lives.
(N.B.: To “motorcycle” a person is a wrestling term. It means to stomp on a person’s crotch.)
Needless to say, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Which is why Wu — stone-faced in a denim blue jumpsuit, chain around her waist, hair in a meticulously twisted top-knot bun — spent last Friday and this Monday in Riverside Superior Court attending a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for her to stand trial for soliciting murder, stalking, vandalism, and harassment of not just one boyfriend, but two.
One murder plot was discovered after a prank on Craigslist went bad. The next plot was unearthed when news of Wu’s arrest was announced in May of this year.
Wu’s defense attorney, Rajan Maline, argued on Monday that his client didn’t really have the intention, or even the capability to carry out a transcontinental murder scheme on her ex-boyfriend (court documents refer to him as “BW”). Wu had no getaway driver (Lin’s roommate refused the job offer), no passport, and didn’t even know which Mexican cartel to contract for their body disposal services. As for the other ex-boyfriend, Phillip Tran, the defense pleaded that Wu “just flew off the handle,” adding she was just an “emotional young woman.”
Deputy District Attorney Nicole Marian was unimpressed. “She reminds me of another young woman — Jodi Arias.”
Marian added coolly, leaning back in her chair: “She is a threat to society.”
At the end of Monday’s proceedings, Judge Charles Koosed ruled in favor of sending Wu to trial for solicitation of murder — instead of dismissing the case for lack of evidence or probable cause. “When you involve another person [in a murder plot], you set the wheels in motion for the other person to go out and act on it, and then [Wu] can say, ‘I was just joking.’”
To underscore his decision to send Wu to a trial by jury, Koosed read from some of the dozens of threatening text messages Wu sent to BW. One read, “If I can’t have you, no one can.” Another: “You fucked up and you will pay.”
“I will take you down with me.”
Little is currently known about Wu’s life before trial. (Her lawyer did not respond to a request to interview Wu.) She was born in the United States and raised in Orange County. She made the honor roll at UC Riverside, where she majored in political science. There’s no trace of her on Facebook; her Foursquare check-ins are mostly complaints about places like Denny’s, Acapulco, and American Apparel. She has not taken down her Twitter page. Her tweets, if they are any peek into the young woman’s life, range from typical aggravations of college life, “finals” and “insomnia,” to the desperately isolated “God I hate my life,” “People hate me,” “I wish you would come back to me,” and “Misery loves company.” Most college-age girls have a chunk of their social media dispatches devoted to some personal melodrama, but those are typically offset by the mention of friends, fun, and activity. Wu makes no real mention of friends, new or old, on her feed. There are no mentions or pictures of nights out, nights in, or any kind of social life, even on a small scale.
What is known of Wu’s background, as of now, is what’s been submitted in court. Wu has a prior charge for ecstasy possession. She went to court for a domestic violence dispute with BW in Orange County a few years ago. The two got into a physical confrontation where, according to BW’s testimony, she charged at him with a knife. Wu was ultimately granted a restraining order against BW.
She played badminton at UCR, which is how she met Lin in January. From the outset of their romance, Wu would constantly bash on BW to Lin. She told Lin that BW abused and hit her, and that she had been forced to file a restraining order against him, Lin testified on Friday. (He has been granted immunity.) By spring, Wu was convinced that she had turned her new boyfriend, Lin — mild-mannered, prone to blushing on the witness stand, and emitting a breathless giggle when nervous — against BW.
One evening in March, while the two were studying in the school library, Lin and Wu came up with a prank to pull on BW: They posted a personal ad in the “Men Seeking Men” section of Craigslist using BW’s name and personal information. Wu supplied BW’s home address and phone number, while Lin snatched a picture of BW off Facebook (Wu was blocked), and wrote, “really stressed out by finals and wanting to relax.”
A few weeks later, in April, Wu and Lin threw raw eggs at BW’s car together. Yet, Lin later told police that he did most of the throwing — Wu did not have a good arm, he said, because “she’s a girl.”
None of these acts of petty vengeance seemed to ease Wu’s anger about BW. “She would cry weekly” about him, Lin testified at Friday’s hearing. When asked by Marian to describe Wu’s demeanor when they discussed BW, Lin stammered, “I, uh. I don’t really know how to describe emotions.”
Marian pushed harder, and Lin characterized Wu’s moods as “hateful” and “violent.” He testified that Wu would sometimes snap into rages, throw objects, and hit walls. After four months of dating, Lin agreed to help her kidnap and somehow kill BW (they never quite decided how to murder him). When asked on the stand why he agreed to motorcycle and murder BW at Wu’s request, Lin said plainly, “I wanted to make her happy, I guess.”
Here’s when things with Wu started to get tense, according to Lin. After the first time they spoke about killing BW in March, Wu would consistently nag and harass Lin about it.
“You promised you would do this for me,” Wu pleaded.
Lin solicited his roommate to be the couple’s getaway driver, but he turned down the offer. Not deterred, Lin reached out to a mutual friend of his and Wu’s on Facebook to see if this person wanted the gig, but got shot down again.
Then he got a call from the director of the university’s Title IX department — the office that deals with sexual harassment and discrimination claims on campus. They asked him to come into the office. At their meeting the Title IX director told Lin that she had reason to believe that he was the one who posted the Craiglist’s “Casual Encounters” personal ad under BW’s name.
That was all it took for Lin to crack and confess the whole thing — the Craigslist post, the egging, the plan to kill BW. He said he still cared about Wu and wanted to figure out a way to help her. The Title IX office contacted the police. The next time Lin met with Wu, he was wearing a wire.
“Let me see your phone,” Wu demanded when she met Lin a few weeks later at the UCR student store. Since meeting with police, Lin broke off contact with Wu (the Title IX office told Wu not to contact Lin anymore; the next day she called him between 30 and 40 times). Wu was suspicious as to why Lin suddenly wanted to meet in person after weeks of silence. “I want to make sure you’re not recording me,” Wu scolded Lin, reaching for his phone. She demanded to go through his pictures as well. Lin refused to hand over his phone, but Wu stayed to talk with her increasingly inscrutable boyfriend.
Wu said her life was at “standstill.” She expressed wanting to kill herself, and if she did, that she might as well go “Virginia Tech” on the school — referring to the college campus massacre in 2007 that killed 33 people, including the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho.
Lin tried to get Wu to talk about their murder plot, but she only gave him this warning: “If you try to take me down, I will take you down with me.”
When asked under oath if he still cared for her, Lin shook his head and said softly, “No.”
The Other Boyfriend
When William Huynh heard that his ex-girlfriend Barbara Wu was arrested in May for plotting the murder of an ex-boyfriend, Huynh panicked. He called a detective from the Riverside Police Department to find out if he was the one Wu had marked for death.
No, they said, it was another guy.
Huynh then told detectives that not only had he dated Wu, but also that during their relationship in 2010, she had disclosed her plans to murder another ex-boyfriend, Phillip Tran.
Huynh and Wu started dating in fall 2009. Huynh testified on Friday that their relationship was like any other: “We got along in the beginning, and it got rocky because certain events happened.”
Here are those certain events: During her relationship with Huynh, Wu was distraught over a breakup with Tran. She told Huynh that Tran was a compulsive gambler and that she had funded him throughout their relationship, and he was still paying her back through monthly installments. Wu was still furious about the relationship, and according Huynh, she was just furious in general. Huynh testified that Wu would fly into tantrums, throw things, and slap Huynh. Huynh claims Wu mentioned wanting to murder Tran two times in the relationship, but he always dismissed her homicide fantasies as “nonsense.”
Nevertheless, he stayed with her.
In May 2010, Huynh and Wu got tickets for the Sun God Festival at University of California, San Diego University, a kind of beachside Coachella event. A week before the festival, Wu told Huynh that she planned to murder Tran the night of the festival and needed his help.
He was to smash Tran in the back of his head, and then they would tie him up. Wu would then take needles and shove them into Tran’s fingertips until he gave her his credit card and ATM numbers. Then the two would travel to Mexico to ditch Tran’s body.
“I did agree to help her,” Huynh testified, “but I thought it was a joke.”
According to Huynh, Wu went to Walmart and bought a shovel, rope, and sewing needles. Huynh agreed to store the intended instruments of kidnap and torture at his house until she needed them.
Wu decided to carry out their plan at the Sun God event, which she knew Tran would also be attending. The afternoon of Sun God, the two were driving to San Diego with the shovel, rope, and needles in the back of Wu’s car.
“You seriously do not have to do this,” Huynh warned her.
As they drove through the parking lot of the UC San Diego, they found Tran’s car, and Wu keyed it.
They never saw Tran that evening at Sun God, so the murder plans were postponed. Shortly after the concert, Huynh broke it off with Wu. The rope, needles, and shovel went back into Huynh’s closet. Later he would turn them in to the police. “I dropped out of school to be away from her,” Hunyh told the judge at Monday’s hearing. “I have insomnia, I have ADD now.”
“This is serious behavior,” Koosed said during his ruling. “If this is all a big joke, I don’t get it.”
Koosed characterized Wu as “devious” and “malicious,” saying she created an “environment of harassment.” He added he had “no doubt” that she solicited others in plots to murder her two ex-lovers.
If convicted, Wu could spend up to 15 years in jail. Wu’s attorney requested that the judge reduce his client’s bail. Marian objected, saying Wu’s behavior has not changed since her arrest. Even though there’s a court order in place forbidding Wu from contacting BW, she called him from jail as recently as last week, Marian said. The judge refused to lower her bail, which remains at $550,000. Wu is scheduled to be arraigned in two weeks.
As her daughter was put on the bus back to lockup, Wu’s mother, who had flown in from Taiwan, left the hearing in tears.