Blues for Selina

UPDATED 09/04/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/04/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

Even for a man who sings about sorrow for a living, Elvin Bishop looked despondent as he walked onstage at a recent concert. "You know, I've had some awful bad luck recently," Bishop, 57, told the capacity crowd at a Tulsa nightclub Aug. 11. "I recently lost my mother, about two months ago. Then I lost my daughter last week. The only good thing I've got is the blues. I can play it and not sit around eating my heart out."

No one could blame Bishop for wanting to ease his pain with the balm he knows best. The reality of what befell his daughter Selina is, after all, a horror no parent should have to face. On Aug. 7, five days after Selina, 22, a waitress in the Marin County, Calif., town of Woodacre, was last seen having a drink with her boyfriend in Berkeley, employees at a posh private marina in the Sacramento River Delta noticed a black-and-yellow duffel bag floating in the water. "Everybody was sick to their stomachs," says one worker who was there—for inside were the dismembered remains of a young woman, later identified as Selina Bishop.

Nor was she the only victim. During a widening investigation of what authorities say was apparently a complex extortion attempt gone awry, police in two California counties have recovered the bodies of four other people. They are Jenny Villarin, 45—Selina's mother and Elvin Bishop's ex-wife—and Villarin's friend James Gamble, 54, both shot dead at Selina's apartment on Aug. 3; and elderly retirees Ivan and Annette Stineman. The Stinemans' severed remains, like Bishop's, had been stuffed into duffel bags and dumped in the muddy water.

Exactly why Selina Bishop ended up dead remains a mystery. But on Aug. 7, acting on evidence gathered at the Stinemans' home, police in the East Bay community of Concord, Calif., raided a nearby house rented by Selina's boyfriend, Glenn Taylor Helzer, 30, his brother Justin, 28, and Justin's girlfriend, Dawn Godman, 26. The younger Helzer and Godman were arrested on the spot and charged with drug possession after cops found a cache of the party drug Ecstasy. The elder Helzer (who went by his middle name, Taylor) meanwhile fled as police arrived, running into a house a few blocks away, where he threatened a woman with a kitchen knife and demanded a gun, money and a getaway car before hastily chopping off his ponytail and bolting out the back door. He was arrested minutes later.

Authorities say that all three suspects are expected to be charged with murder. Concord police maintain that Taylor—a former stockbroker for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter who once served as the Stinemans' financial adviser—and his two cohorts forced the couple to sign checks for $100,000. Later they allegedly bludgeoned them to death, then killed the other victims to cover their tracks. Says Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Harold Jewett: "This crime is so vicious as to be nearly unbelievable."

Police got their first hint of trouble on Aug. 3 from Selina Bishop's neighbors in rural San Geronimo Valley, a middle-class enclave in upscale Marin County. At 5 a.m. eight gunshots rang out at Bishop's studio apartment in Woodacre. Bishop wasn't home at the time; she had told friends she planned to go camping in Yosemite National Park with her new boyfriend, "Jordan." But when police came to investigate, they found the bodies of Bishop's mother, a bartender who worked at the Paper Mill Creek Saloon in nearby Forest Knolls, and Gamble, a mine owner visiting from Napa.

At the time, there seemed no reason to connect the shootings with the disappearances of retired real estate salesman Ivan Stineman, 85, and his wife, Annette, 78, in Concord, 35 miles away. The couple's daughter Nancy Hall, 52, who lives nearby, became alarmed when she stopped to check on her parents on Aug. 3 and found their two cats hungry and meowing in the empty house. Says longtime neighbor Ruth Mackey, 58: "We knew something was really wrong."

Meanwhile, Selina Bishop's friends anxiously awaited her return from the camping trip on Aug. 4, hoping to break the devastating news that her mother had been murdered before she learned about it on TV. "Jenny and Selina were like this," says close friend Thomasina Wilson, crossing her fingers. Born in California during Villarin's short-lived marriage to Elvin Bishop, Selina moved with her mother to Washington, Pa., after her § parents' divorce. She graduated from high school there and studied graphic arts in college for a few 1 years. Elvin Bishop remarried and remained in Marin with his new wife, Cara, with whom he has a teenage daughter, Emily.

Although Elvin always helped support Selina, the two saw each other only intermittently until Selina and her mother, with whom he remained on good terms, returned to California about two years ago. That's when father and daughter finally began to grow close, often gardening or fishing together. "I'd go by once or twice a week to see her at work," says Elvin. "She was just a sweet, wonderful person."

Until as recently as this summer, Bishop and her mother shared a room in an apartment they rented with another woman, Jenny's former coworker. Like Villarin, who designed delicate beaded earrings that were sold in boutiques around the country, Bishop had artistic talent and was hoping to return to college to continue her graphic-design studies. Her first step toward independence, though, was to get her own apartment. "She said, 'I'm 22 years old, and it's time to get out of my mother's house,' " says Bishop's close friend Lena Kyle, 20.

Bishop hadn't had much experience with romance, say her friends, until she met Taylor at a local rave party last spring. Taylor, who introduced himself to Bishop as Jordan, was a former Mormon who had been excommunicated in 1998, along with his mother and Justin, for reasons the church declines to divulge. When he met Bishop, Taylor was separated from his wife of about five years, Ann Adams Helzer, 32, with whom he has two small children, and was no longer working as a stockbroker. Since this spring he had lived with Justin, a cable installer, and Godman, a dispatcher at an alarm company and the divorced mother of a young son. Taylor and Godman frequented the Bay Area's Goth and rave party scene, and Godman—who identified herself as a member of the neopagan Wicca religion—kept a 2 l/2-ft. double-edged sword in the kitchen and cooked up bat's blood on the stove.

Bishop and Taylor soon began dating seriously. It wasn't long before Bishop, who loved to dance, was talking about attending a Goth party and dying the tips of her brown hair bright red. "Selina told me that he was nice but had a weird side to him," recalls Kyle. "But she really liked him and wanted everything to work out." Elvin Bishop remembers how happy Selina sounded that Taylor was going to take her to Yosemite. "I just kind of thought to myself, 'Well, how much harm can there be in a guy who likes to take her out camping?' "

Police don't know what part, if any, Selina may have played in the scheme to rob the Stinemans. Recently she told friends that Taylor had given her money he said he had inherited and wanted to keep from his wife, and that Selina had deposited it in bank accounts opened in her own name. But Kyle and others insist that if Selina were involved in the alleged extortion scheme, it was strictly as a dupe of Taylor's. "Selina would rather work her fingers to the bone," says Kyle, "than steal from two elderly people."

The nature of Selina's role in the deadly drama is among the questions police hope to answer through their ongoing investigation. Meanwhile Taylor's public defender Suzanne Chapot appears to be trying to lay the groundwork for an insanity defense, calling her client "severely mentally disturbed."

But for one grieving father, all that matters is that his little girl is irrevocably gone. "I really don't want to talk about her. It's not going to help. She's not coming back," says Elvin Bishop. "The hour that I'm onstage, that's just fine. The other 23 hours are just hell."

Patrick Rogers
Maureen Harrington and Michelle Bowers in Marin County, Bob Stewart in Tulsa and Gary Delsohn in Sacramento

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