Last September, Alix Catherine Tichelman called 911 to report that her boyfriend had collapsed and fallen unconscious as she showered in the Georgia home the couple shared.
Dean Riopelle – owner of a popular Atlanta nightclub, lead singer in a rock band and a local character – died shortly thereafter. The medical examiner found heroin in his system and attributed his death to an overdose. Tichelman reportedly told detectives Riopelle had shot up heroin. Finding no evidence to contradict her story, police detectives in the Atlanta suburb of Milton didn’t close the case but generally regarded it as an accidental death.
Officials say that conclusion is now in question after news broke that Tichelman, described by police as a high-priced call girl from Folsom, had been arrested and accused of injecting a client with a fatal dose of heroin before leaving him to die on a boat moored in the Santa Cruz harbor last fall.
Milton police said Thursday they are revisiting Riopelle’s death and sharing information with California authorities.
“While the cases are not identical, there are some similarities,” said Milton police Capt. Shawn McCarty. “We’re going back to make sure nothing was missed.”
Santa Cruz police arrested Tichelman on July 4, accusing her of injecting Forrest Hayes, a 51-year-old Google executive, with heroin and failing to get help when he fell to the boat deck and lost consciousness on Nov. 23. Instead, surveillance video shows she stepped over his body several times, police said, gathering up evidence and polishing off a glass of wine before fleeing.
On Wednesday, Tichelman, 26, was charged in Santa Cruz Superior Court with eight charges including manslaughter, possessing and transporting narcotics and destroying evidence. She is being held in lieu of $1.5 million bail.
Hayes’ death came just two months after Riopelle, 53, died in Georgia.
About a week before Riopelle collapsed, police made their first trip to his Milton home to investigate a report of domestic violence. Officers found that Tichelman had bitten Riopelle’s hand, tearing skin, McCarty said. She was arrested on suspicion of battery and later charged; that case remains pending in the local court system.
It was their first encounter with Tichelman, McCarty said. Officers were familiar with Riopelle, who created waves with some neighbors after he began collecting exotic animals, but he had never before been a problem, the captain said. On this call, he was cooperative with police.
At the time of his death, Riopelle owned the Masquerade nightclub in Atlanta and was the lead singer in a rock band named the Impotent Sea Snakes, known for sexually explicit lyrics that covered topics ranging from bestiality to incest to sadism and masochism.
Efforts by The Sacramento Bee to reach Riopelle’s relatives and nightclub co-workers were unsuccessful. His sister Dee Riopelle told The Associated Press that her brother got a degree in construction engineering from the University of Florida and that he was an avid Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan.
She said Dean had been dating Tichelman about 21/2 years. Turmoil hit their relationship in September, when a drunken Tichelman called police to say Riopelle had thrown her to the ground, Dee Riopelle said. Dean Riopelle told officers he had taken his girlfriend home because she had taken pills, drunk alcohol and exposed her breasts at the nightclub, his sister said.
Matt Kunz, a Milton city councilman and friend of Dean Riopelle’s, said the two were in a “long-term dating relationship,” but that Tichelman’s alleged drug use created problems between them.
“I do know he had thrown her out a couple of times because he was concerned about her drug use and he didn’t want to expose that to his kids,” Kunz said.
Riopelle wasn’t a drug user, his friend said. “Never, as far as I knew,” Kunz said.
“The problem was, he believed in people and he wanted to help people,” Kunz said. “I think he tried to help (Tichelman) one too many times.”
Despite his lead role in the Impotent Sea Snakes, Riopelle was trying to put his rock ’n’ roll past behind him, Kunz said.
Hints on social media
One of three Facebook pages apparently used by Tichelman features pictures of her with a man named “Dean.” On June 22, 2012, Tichelman posted a picture of a “promise ring” that “Dean” had given her. That page, as well as her Twitter account, also contains photos of her holding and adoring pet monkeys.
Her last post on that Facebook page is dated Jan. 11, 2013. She wrote: “life is great. i am seriously blessed as a (expletive). a great boyfriend, nice house, monkeys, loving family ... doesn’t get any better than this i don’t think.”
Tichelman is the daughter of a successful Folsom technology executive. Her family has not returned phone calls and emails from The Bee, and a note posted on the door of her father’s Folsom home requests privacy. Her public defender also did not return a call seeking comment.
Her Facebook and Twitter profiles paint a picture of a risque and, at times, despairing life. She claims to be a model, makeup artist, stylist, exotic dancer and “hustler.” Numerous photos show her in lingerie or bondage gear with thick, dark eye makeup. In one June post, she claimed to be suicidal, drawing the concern of friends. A poem posted in November 2012 ruminates on the devastating effects of heroin, saying the drug creates “this private downward spiral – this suffocating blackhole/ makes you feel so warm inside/ yet makes your heart so cold/ each day takes its toll/ your thoughts become emotionless/ your soul feels too old.”
In another post, she writes about wanting to be “thin and pure like a glass cup. ... In the mirror my face is pale and my eyes look bruised. My hair is pale and thin and the light comes through. I could be a lot younger than twenty four. I could be a child still, untouched.”
Tichelman went to two other high schools – a day and boarding school in Georgia and a boarding school in Bath, Maine – before graduating from Northview High School in Duluth, Ga., in 2005, according to Facebook and a posting on classmates.com, where her profile picture shows her in lingerie. Also on Facebook, she wrote that she studied journalism at Georgia State University.
In May 2012, she posted an excerpt of a novel she was writing. The excerpt offers a glimpse into the tortured, drug-addled world of a 17-year-old girl named Kat, who laments her drunken, promiscuous mom and the recent departure of her dad. She writes about the pains of withdrawal, eased only with more heroin. Kat and her friends attend a private reform school called Randon Hall. (Tichelman attended Brandon Hall day and boarding school in Dunwoody, Ga., for a time, according to Facebook.) The excerpt also reveals that Kat ran away from a “hellish boot-camp lockdown” in New York that her parents sent her to and returned to Atlanta “battered and bruised.”
In another excerpt, posted by Tichelman with a photo of herself, Kat begins a new high school and rises to the rank of “volatile queen bee”: “Tall, pale and thin as a whisper, Kat looked fragile, but everyone knew that her nerves were tough as steel.”
Prostitutes prohibited, website says
Tichelman’s July 4 arrest came shortly after she posted on Facebook that she planned to visit the Atlanta area soon. Concerned about her leaving California, Santa Cruz police posed as a client willing to pay her $1,000 for a date and lured her to their city from Folsom, where she had been living. She was arrested after arriving at an upscale hotel there.
Santa Cruz police say Tichelman met Hayes through a website called SeekingArrangement.com, and had an “ongoing prostitution relationship.” The site calls itself the “leading Sugar Daddy dating site where over 3 million members fuel mutually beneficial relationships on their terms.” Tichelman boasted of having more than 200 client relationships, according to police.
The operator of the website expressed sympathy Thursday to Hayes’ family and insisted it’s not a marketplace for prostitution.
The statement continued: “Our members’ safety is our top priority. Our membership review team diligently fields reports, and kicks off many potential members before they even complete the sign-up process if they are known escorts or prostitutes.”
The company’s website says that using it to promote illegal activities is prohibited. “If you are an ESCORT, DO NOT use this website.”
Tichelman tweeted under the handle “@AKKennedyxx” and registered one Facebook page under the name “AK Kennedy.” A person posting under the name “akkennedyxxx” with a photo that also can be seen on one of Tichelman’s Facebook pages contributed to several threads on the site topix.com about where to buy drugs in Atlanta and the Sacramento region. In a September post, she wrote that she had been doing heroin off and on for nine years. On Nov. 2, “akkennedyxxx” wrote in two posts that she had purchased heroin from a dealer going by the moniker “KillaCali.”
“He is totally legit!!! and awesome, a really nice guy,” the poster wrote. “I am not making a fake review ... you can even call me and ask ... for people who don’t want to wait, meet a cop, or get robbed ... go to this guy!!”
Call The Bee’s Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @Kim_Minugh.