Ivan Von Staich, Convicted Murderer Who Scored Win in Parole Bid, Has Menaced Courts for Years

Categories: Court, Crime-iny
The state parole board Wednesday found suitable for parole a two-time jail escapee convicted of bludgeoning a former girlfriend with a claw hammer and fatally shooting her husband in 1983.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas opposed Ivan Von Staich's parole bid, but if the 55-year-old is ultimately cut loose at least T-Rack, county judges and state justices can take solace in possibly ending the legal reign of one of the state's most litigious inmates.

A larger parole panel must still review the suitability finding, and Governor Jerry Brown can still block Von Staich's parole. Federal prosecutors also have a hold on Von Staich for an unrelated federal crime alleged to have been committed around the time of his murder arrest.

If Von Staich can clear those hurdles--a tall order, indeed--he could be freed from the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo in four months, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA).

The crimes that put him in prison were quite brutal. Around 1 a.m. on Dec. 8, 1983, then-27-year-old Von Staich arrived at the home of his ex-girlfriend Cynthia Topper, who by then was married to Robert Topper. The "ex-" can be explained by what happened six months earlier. On parole for arson in Riverside County, Von Staich hit Cynthia, a waitress he met and started dating in 1980, in the jaw and threatened to kill her. Pleading for her life, she told him she loved him to make him stop the abuse.

Cynthia later reported the incident to Von Staich's halfway house, and the parolee threatened to kill her again. Later that month, he broke into her home and stole some photographs. He discovered she was dating Robert Topper and started calling and harassing him. Due to the threats and harassment, Staich's parole was revoked.

He was released on Nov. 17, 1983, with orders to stay away from the Toppers. Just a few weeks later, he cut the outside telephone wires of the Toppers' Santa Ana home with pliers and kicked open the front door. Wearing gloves and armed with two hammers, he walked to the master bedroom and struck Cynthia with the claw hammer before she ran to the kitchen.

Robert, armed with a gun, fired at Von Staich, hitting him and severing one of his fingers. But Von Staich managed to get the gun away from Robert before repeatedly bludgeoning him with the hammer. While Robert was lying face down on the ground, Von Staich fired the gun five times at close range, hitting Mr. Topper in the head, chest and neck.

Von Staich then ran to the kitchen looking for Cynthia. He pistol whipped her and shot her in the uterus before running to a neighboring house to seek help for his wounds. She spent months in a coma before coming out it.

Awaiting sentencing after acting as his own lawyer and being convicted by a jury of killing Robert and trying to kill Cynthia, Von Staich and another convicted murderer, Robert J. Clark, then 23, of Palm Springs, escaped from Orange County Jail on Jan. 26, 1986, by shimmying down from a rooftop recreational area to freedom via electrical cords and makeshift ropes.

Clark was captured a week later and ultimately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It took authorities a month to catch Von Staich, a trail that ended in Massachusetts. He was sentenced on May 23, 1986, in Orange County to 30 years to life in state prison on one felony count each of second degree murder, attempted murder, and sentencing enhancements for the use of a deadly weapon and inflicting great bodily injury.

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