By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor
Authorities in two counties were so convinced that Lake Cachuma held the clues to a missing South Pasadena boy that they searched the lake and surrounding area several times, with tracking dogs, divers, horses and helicopters.
It wasn’t until more than two months after 5-year-old Aramazd “Piqui” Andressian Jr. vanished, and after his father, Aramazd Andressian, was arrested and charged with his murder, that the father confessed to killing his son and told detectives where to find the body.
Following the elder Andressian’s sentencing this week in Los Angeles, prosecutors shared previously undisclosed details and a timeline for Piqui’s murder.
The boy had been reported missing by his mother, Ana Estevez, on April 21, when his father didn’t return him to her South Pasadena home. The couple was in the middle of a bitter divorce and shared custody of their only child.
After months of investigation, detectives arrested Andressian on murder charges on June 23 in Las Vegas. After he was extradited to Los Angeles County, he confessed to killing his son and leaving his body in a wooded area near Lake Cachuma.
The boy’s remains were found off the road near the Bradbury Dam Observation Point off Highway 154 west of the lake, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley told Noozhawk.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case, in which Andressian pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison Wednesday.
Dudley’s office has been involved for months since evidence indicated the killing itself was committed in Santa Barbara County, she said.
In an extensive interview after the sentencing, she talked to Noozhawk about the case and the evidence that led investigators to the elder Andressian.
Dudley said detectives found some evidence that could be linked to premeditation. For instance, Andressian created his first will a few days before the boy went missing, leaving everything to his own mother, and he had searched on the Internet for remote areas near Lake Cachuma and “wilderness areas near Solvang,” she said.
Authorities put together a rough timeline of Andressian’s movements in the day before Piqui went missing.
Father and son were at Disneyland from 6:30 p.m. April 20 until they left about 1 a.m. the next day, Dudley said.
Andressian stopped at a gas station in Monterey Park in Los Angeles County soon after, and was picked up by security cameras at Cachuma Lake Recreation Area in Santa Barbara County around 8 a.m. April 21, she said.
There is no sign of the boy in the surveillance footage, Dudley noted.
Investigators searched Santa Barbara County for Piqui in April, June and early July, including the Lake Cachuma area, Camp Whittier, and about 30 miles of roadway between Nojoqui Falls and Santa Ynez, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
After he was arrested, Andressian confessed to the murder and told authorities he had smothered his son with a jacket and left the body propped against a tree near the lake, Dudley said. The child’s jacket was also found, with traces of gasoline on it, she said.
With that information, authorities quickly located Piqui’s remains in the area of the Bradbury Dam Observation Point at the west end of Lake Cachuma on July 1.
The observation area, which overlooks the dam, is paved and popular with travelers on Highway 154 through the Santa Ynez Valley. It includes plentiful parking, restrooms and interpretive signs.
But the surrounding area is hilly and largely covered with thick chaparral and oak forests. Much of it is fenced off with barbed wire and no-trespassing signs, hindering public access.
“The timing was eerie because the (Whittier) Fire was not too long after this occurred, and if they had not gotten the confession from the defendant when they did, we may not have ever been able to find the body, because it could have burned,” Dudley said.
Andressian was first questioned when the boy was reported missing.
On that morning, he was found in Arroyo Park in South Pasadena, passed out next to his car, which had been doused with gasoline inside and outside, and had a rag in the gas tank.
Andressian had ingested pills and told police he had no idea where his son was.
A sonogram of Piqui, taken before his birth, was also found in the car, Dudley said.
Although Dudley was involved in the case, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted Andressian.
When she was presented with the evidence, she explained, Los Angeles County prosecutors said it looked like Andressian would plead to the charge of first-degree murder, which he did.
Dudley said she determined the case should go forward in Los Angeles, where it might bring some peace and a feeling of justice to Piqui’s mother and her family.
“I didn’t want to do anything to disrupt that plea,” she said.
Estevez, a school principal, and other members of her family spoke at Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, where Andressian received a term of 25 years to life in prison for first-degree murder. He will not be considered for parole until he has served 25 years.
“I think justice was served, because he got the highest penalty possible and I can’t imagine any parole board would let him get out early,” Dudley said.
Authorities have speculated that Andressian killed his son because of the “tumultuous divorce” he and Estevez were going through.
Andressian’s crime was for “horrible, vindictive reasons,” Dudley said. “He knew this child was everything to (Estevez), so to get back at her, he took away her child.”