96-Year-Old Woman Killed in Murder-for-Hire Plot While Baking Cookies, Cops Say

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A 96-year-old woman who was found dead in her Montecito, California, home in May 2022 was the victim of a fraud scheme that turned into a murder-for-hire plot when the perpetrators grew frustrated that she wouldn’t die quickly enough, local authorities revealed Thursday.

Violet Alberts, 96, was an elderly widow, described as warm and social, who played an active role in the local community, even though she had recently fallen on financial hardship. She was getting ready to bake cookies for her upcoming birthday when the killers struck—responding cops found the ingredients on the kitchen table, and Alberts dead in her bed.

A shattered window in the bedroom and the results of an autopsy led police to investigate Alberts’ death as a murder, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Paul Brown said during a press conference on Thursday. Alberts died of asphyxiation, and the coroner ruled her death a homicide.

“The case was revealed to be a tangled, evil web of financial exploitation against the victim,” Brown said.

Pauline Macareno, 48, took advantage of Alberts’ vulnerability and posed as a real estate agent to fraudulently acquire Alberts’ house.

“Through deceptive means, Macareno orchestrated a series of transactions, including forging documents and establishing fraudulent entities to gain control over Alberts’ assets unlawfully,” Brown said. Macareno allegedly gained Alberts’ trust by offering her a fraudulent reverse-mortgage, purporting to offer Alberts more cashflow while actually taking ownership of her property.

But Macareno became fed up with waiting for Alberts to die, and sought to inherit her estate immediately, police said. That’s when the fraud scheme turned into a plot for murder.

Macareno conspired with three men—Harry Basmadjian, Henry Rostomyan, and Ricardo MartinDelCampo—to enter Alberts’ house and end her life, authorities say. Two of them partook in a “scouting trip” days before the murder, which Brown said highlighted the premeditated nature of the case and showed just how calculated their efforts were to end Alberts’ life.

The three men were arrested between January and March and are charged with murder and conspiracy to murder. Rostomyan and MartinDelCampo are being held in county jail without bail, while Basmadjian remains in federal custody after suffering a life-threatening injury that left him “essentially brain dead,” Brown said.

Macareno had been arrested in June 2022 for elder abuse and was recently sentenced to 6 years in prison for the fraud she committed. She could face more charges in light of the murder conspiracy.