Bad Detective: The Taking of Erinn Orcutt

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The warm spring day in 2010 that would change twenty-five-year-old Erinn Orcutt’s life forever had started out on a high note. A waitress by trade, she had spent the early afternoon working the lunch shift at a popular restaurant/bar located in California’s Ontario Mills Mall. When business slowed to a crawl, her manager had told her to go ahead and clock out. Since it was a Saturday, the single mother was thrilled to have the time off to spend with her young son.

As she approached her SUV, she had double-clicked the unlock button on her key fob, which opened all the doors at once, as was her habit. Just as she reached the vehicle, two men appeared, seemingly from out of nowhere. Before she knew it, one of them had jumped in the passenger side and ordered her to get in. The gun in his hand told her that he meant business.

Her mind racing, Erinn looked around the parking lot, which was usually teeming with people, and saw that it was completely empty. Finding herself at the mercy of these armed strangers, she did as she was told and situated herself behind the wheel. She recalled that the heavyset man who remained behind in the parking lot had laughed as she and his partner sped away.

They had driven around aimlessly for a while before her abductor told her to pull into the parking lot of a restaurant that was a favorite hangout for law enforcement officers. After coming to a stop in a secluded spot behind the establishment, as per her captor’s orders, she was told to get in the back and lay down beside her child’s car seat.

As the horrible reality of what was about to happen took hold, Erinn had begged the man to release her, promising that she wouldn’t go to the police. In her desperation, she had offered him her car and all the money in her purse if he would let her go. As it turned out, she might as well have been whistling into the wind.

Ignoring her pleas, the man had put the barrel of the gun in her mouth and told her to shut up and take off her clothes. He had then attempted to rape her but had been unable to complete the act. Angered at his inability to perform, he had lashed out at his victim, punching her numerous times in the face and stomach.

As she endured one humiliation after another, Erinn hoped against hope that a passerby would see what was going on and call for help. Unfortunately, the vehicle’s tinted windows made such a scenario unlikely.

Over the course of the next hour, Erinn was sexually assaulted in various ways. She was also slapped and choked when her assailant had trouble performing. At one point, as she was being orally sodomized, he had told her to smile as he snapped pictures. It was later determined that he had been sending the images to his accomplice with captions such as “Guess what I’m doing right now?”

In between the rapes and beatings, the man had mentally tortured Erinn by telling her that she was going to die. When it became clear that he was spent, he had ordered her to get dressed, saying that the time had come to take a drive out to the desert.

Reading between the lines, Erinn knew that if she allowed him to take her out to the middle of nowhere, she wouldn’t be coming back. Her survival instincts kicking into overdrive, she was aware that her window of escape was getting smaller by the minute.

While she was putting on her clothes, the man’s cell phone rang. In a stroke of luck, as he fumbled with the device, he had laid his gun down on the floor in front of the passenger seat. Knowing that it was now or never, she made her move.

Thinking fast, Erinn activated the child safety locks. Since they were programmed to engage only on the passenger side where her son usually sat, this allowed her to slip out through the back door behind the driver’s seat.

Aware that she was running for her life, Erinn had made a mad dash through the empty parking lot, screaming for help at the top of her lungs. She didn’t know it at the time, but security cameras had captured every moment of her daring escape.

Another thing she hadn’t known was that the owner of a nearby liquor store had been keeping a watchful eye on them the entire time. He would later say that the SUV had drawn his attention when he saw it pull in with two people in the front, only to have them park behind a dumpster. Suspecting that the occupants were up to no good, he had been preparing to call the police when he saw Erinn burst from the vehicle in a panic.

Rushing outside, he had grabbed her and pulled her into his store. Fearing that she may still be in danger, he had hidden her behind the counter as he called 911. When her attacker failed to make an appearance, the liquor store owner had seated her next to the entrance, where she was subjected to the stares of bewildered customers as she waited for help to arrive.

Back at the crime scene, the perpetrator was frantically trying to start the car, but it had stubbornly refused to cooperate. A quick thinker if there ever was one, Erinn had engaged the kill switch on the ignition when they first entered the parking lot, rendering the vehicle useless to anyone who didn’t know how to disable the sensor. When he realized that driving away wasn’t an option, her assailant had fled on foot.

When police descended on the parking lot a short time later, they searched the car and found the gun still lying on the floorboards. To their surprise, in his haste to get away, the perpetrator had forgotten to retrieve his weapon.

In an incredible turn of events, when officers examined the firearm, they found the owner’s name taped to the bottom. Since this was a common practice among law enforcement officers, they suspected that the culprit might be one of their own.

When the SUV was processed, a pair of sunglasses belonging to the suspect were also discovered, along with a fair amount of biological fluid from which his DNA would subsequently be extracted.

Anthony Nicholas Orban

An Unlikely Suspect

While investigators were busy gathering evidence, Officer Anthony Orban, a detective in the sex crimes unit of the Westminster Police Department — some thirty minutes from the site of Erinn’s assault — was filling out the paperwork on his service revolver, which he asserted had been stolen.

After getting a tip on Orban’s whereabouts, detectives working Erinn’s case tracked him down to yet another parking lot, where he was found to be in the company of a prison guard named Jeffrey Jelinek.

With Erinn safely in the backseat of a cruiser, officers had driven her to the area and asked if she recognized anyone. Her pulse quickening at the sight of the men whose faces she knew all too well, she had identified one as her rapist and the other as his accomplice.

When the pair were patted down prior to being placed under arrest, the keys to Erinn’s SUV were found in Jelinek’s possession. The pieces of the puzzle had fallen in place so quickly that the suspects were in custody within a matter of hours.

As her abductor’s were being processed, Erinn was taken to the hospital where a rape kit was performed. She was also treated for the injuries she had incurred in the beatings. Against all odds, she had made it through her ordeal, bruised and battered, but very much alive.

When they were confronted with the accusations against them, both Orban and Jelinek had conveniently been stricken with amnesia. Although neither seemed to be able to remember a thing about their activities that day, one of them would soon regain his memory when he realized that he was in over his head.

During his interrogation, Orban had held firm to his claims that he had no knowledge of the attack on Erinn. He insisted that his gun had been stolen and that the real perpetrator was still out there. Try as he might, he had no explanation as to how this mystery man had also managed to come into possession of his sunglasses and bodily secretions.

Jeffrey Thomas Jelinek

The Story Unfolds

While Orban was determined to stick with his far-fetched account, Jelinek wasn’t about to go down with the ship. When confronted with the mountain of evidence against them, he had sung like a canary. As proof that he was on the level, he had willingly handed his cellphone over to detectives, telling them to scroll through the pictures. When they did as he instructed, they found the stomach-churning images of Erinn being beaten and raped. They also discovered the text messages Orban had sent during the attack, detailing the assaults.

When asked to recount their movements on the Saturday in question, Jelinek recalled that he and Orban had been out drinking when they decided to go cruising for “cute girls.” When they saw Erinn walking to her car, they knew they had found what they were looking for.

While he claimed to have had no interest in actively participating in the abduction and sexual assaults, Jelinek admitted that he had taken pleasure in living vicariously through his friend. The fact that both he and Orban had laughed at Erinn’s plight indicated to investigators that they had viewed her as nothing more than a subhuman plaything to be used and abused as they saw fit.

Despite his claims of innocence, Orban was indicted on charges of kidnapping, rape and sexual assault. As he sat in jail awaiting his day in court, he was recorded making thinly veiled threats against his victim during phone calls with associates. In one memorable conversation, he had suggested that things would be much easier for him if “the witness” would simply disappear.

Coincidentally, it was during the same time frame that Erinn began receiving ominous calls from an unknown number. To their credit, detectives had watched over her like hawks in the months leading up to the trial. Though the accused was one of their own, they had been on the side of right from the very beginning.

When the court proceedings finally got underway in the summer of 2012, the disgraced former police detective had blamed the antidepressants he was taking for his behavior. His defense team’s position was that, if he did assault Erinn, he had done so during a prescription drug induced, alcohol fueled blackout.

On the stand, he testified that he had been plagued by financial, marital and work-related problems that had caused his mental health to deteriorate in recent years. A veteran of the Marine Corps who had served in Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, he claimed to have been haunted by the brutality he had witnessed while on active duty. He confessed that the mounting stresses had eventually gotten so bad that he had contemplated killing his wife, their dog and himself. Clearly laying groundwork for an insanity defense, he even put forth the notion that he was possessed by demons.

Orban’s wife Tracy, who was one of his staunchest supporters, had backed up his claims that he hadn’t been in his right mind at the time of the assault on Erinn. She too was convinced that the antidepressants he was taking had clouded his judgement.

In an attempt to cast doubt on Orban’s claims, prosecutors presented a copy of a news magazine found in his home that featured a story on an Iraqi War veteran who, tormented by memories of his days in the service, had gunned down his wife and their dogs before ending his own life. While they couldn’t prove it, they wondered aloud if he was trying to pass off someone else’s suffering as his own.

In exchange for a lighter sentence, Jelinek had testified against his former partner in crime. Thanks to his detailed version of events, a clear picture of Orban’s intentions that day was painted for all to see. By the time he was finished, everyone present — including Erinn — were convinced that she was never meant to make it out of the situation alive.

After weighing the evidence, in June of 2012, the jury found Orban guilty on eight felony counts, including kidnapping and rape. During the penalty phase, his lawyers had used every legal maneuver at their disposal to have their client declared temporarily insane. With a sentence of life plus ninety-five years looming on the horizon, they were pulling out all the stops on his behalf. Even so, their efforts had ultimately proved unsuccessful.

When thirty-three-year-old Anthony Orban learned that his insanity defense had been rejected, he took matters into his own hands. Rather than facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison, he had taken the coward’s way out and hanged himself in his jail cell.

As part of his arrangement with prosecutors, Jeffrey Jelinek pleaded no contest to charges of assault with a firearm, accessory and false imprisonment. As punishment, he was remanded to the custody of the state of California for a period of five years and four months. In March of 2013, he was released after serving only three years of the recommended sentence.

When he walked out of the correctional facility a free man, his mother had commented to a reporter that he “should never have been there in the first place.” Shockingly, she hadn’t been referring to the parking lot where Erinn was abducted but rather to the prison where he had served his time. Apparently, in this instance, the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.

Erinn Orcutt

A Quiet Strength

In desperate need of closure, Erinn had asked the court to allow her to read the victim impact statement she had prepared for the punishment phase of Orban’s trial. Even though his suicide had brought the case to an abrupt end, she wanted an opportunity to say her piece.

The judge agreed that the drastic actions taken by her perpetrator shouldn’t deny her the right to have the final word. With Orban’s sympathetic family in attendance, Erinn had recounted how the events of that fateful day had taken away something she could never get back: her carefree spirit. Now suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, she explained what it was like to always be looking over her shoulder, afraid of who she may find when she turns around.

Despite what he had put her through, Erinn had graciously forgiven the man who would have killed her and left her body somewhere in the desert had she not thwarted his plans. Having let go of the bottled-up anger she felt for her attacker, she was able to emerge from the shadows, stronger and more determined than ever to share her amazing story of survival.

Erinn Orcutt, who had escaped the murderous clutches of an assailant who had taken an oath to uphold the law, became an outspoken advocate for victims of sex crimes in the aftermath of her ordeal. After living through a nightmare that few could imagine, she knew firsthand what it was like to be at the mercy of those who place little value on the lives of others.





·I Survived (2014)









Images used under provisions of the Fair Use Act for purposes of reporting and education.

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