by Jerika L.H.
My nerves began to flutter as I stood in front of Victoria Hurd’s beautiful two-story home. It had crossed my mind on the drive there that the day’s unexpected rainfall might be a possible foreshadowing of the interview that awaited me – one which would undoubtedly touch on subject matter so delicate and existential that few might relish in undertaking it. I recollected myself before ringing the doorbell, a motion that was promptly followed by the sporadic warning bark of the loyal family dog. A kind voice greeted me from the other side of an opaque screen door. A woman emerged, warmly welcoming me in as she casually apologized for the protective nature of her Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy. I was immediately met with a heartfelt embrace; her vivid blue eyes and charismatic demeanor swiftly melted away any lingering feelings of reservation within me. We made our introductions and strolled into her kitchen. She engaged in the generous tradition of old-fashion hospitality – offering tea, coffee, and brownies – as we made light chitchat. She spoke of her newly remodeled backyard and how she loved her job in the dental field. Her partner, KC, made an equally charming appearance in between weekend chores. It was a pleasant visit that one might expect from two old friends. Yet, as we talked, I couldn’t help but be completely taken aback at Victoria’s infectious positivity. Her sincere affability seemed almost uncharacteristic of what one might expect to find, given the circumstances that surround her story. Victoria’s beaming smile gives no indication of the traumatic nightmare that took place exactly three years ago to this day – an atrocity that has been called one of the most horrible crimes in California’s history.
As she led me upstairs to her meditation space, I immediately gravitated to the large photo of Victoria and her mother, Claudia, that overtook the room. Claudia’s sweet face made the subject matter ever more troubling, as I struggled to approach the topic that had initially brought me into Victoria’s home: the 2013 death of Claudia Maupin and Oliver “Chip” Northup, who were heinously tortured and murdered at the hands of 15-year-old Daniel Marsh. I was initially drawn to Victoria as a source of knowledge on Claudia and Chip’s life story. As news media often sensationalizes crime (and especially this particular case), I was curious to know who these two individuals were in life as opposed to in death. My efforts, however, were quickly sidetracked, as I stood in awe of Victoria’s constitutional strength. It was almost difficult to believe this was the woman the nightly news spoke of – the sleepless woman who sat mere feet away from her parent’s killer as the gut-wrenching details of the case came to light. It was a story that appalled the nation and shocked the small community of Davis to its core.
While Victoria recounts the last memory of her mother quite fondly, the details are bittersweet.
“The weekend before she died we went to see my son, Zeke, and his children. Mom called me and said ‘I want to go be with the babies for Easter.’ I remember it was very unlike her, but nonetheless, we got in the car together and drove down there. We had a great weekend – a truly fabulous time together. And then the next weekend she was gone.
“The day before her death, I was going to San Francisco for a big certification test. I got a weird phone call from her. It was one of those weird, out of place calls. She said ‘Darling, do you remember when you were a little girl and you would have to take a test and we would put all your papers out on the kitchen table and I would tell you I’m going to be with you when you’re taking that test? Well, I will be with you today when you’re taking your test.’ It was odd of her to bring up a memory like that. So, after the test I gave her a call on my way back home. She asked if I would be stopping by in Davis for a quick kiss or just heading straight home. We decided to see each other another day and said our goodbyes over the phone. That was the last time I heard her voice.”
The next phone call would deliver the news that would forever change Victoria’s life. She listened in horror as her sister struggled to recount the gruesome scene she stumbled into on the morning of April 14, 2013. “Vicky, someone broke into to mommy’s house and there are two dead bodies.” The subsequent events still remain a complete blur. Victoria still struggles to piece together exactly what happened after getting the devastating revelation that her mother and stepfather had been taken from her.
“I remember it was all so surreal. Here I was, the screaming daughter on the lawn yelling out ‘I want to see my mother!’ The police said to “get in the police car and we will talk to you once you calm down,” but I refused to sit in the car. We finally went down to the police station, there were several officers from West Sac. Still in my mind, I thought my mom was still alive at that point. I didn’t know she was dead. Even though I saw them being brought out in body bags, my mind just couldn’t go there yet. Even when my sister had called me and said there were dead bodies, I would have never imagined they were mom and Chip. I thought maybe two people broke in and Chip had killed them.”
On top of the incomprehensible trauma of facing the stone cold reality that lay before her, Victoria recounts the difficulty in being the last to know exactly what happened to the person she held dearest. “No one would make eye contact with us. They would just look down. Finally, my partner KC asked, point blank, “Is Victoria’s mother dead?”, and at that moment, I was still in shock. KC asked, “Were they shot? Were they stabbed? What happened?” And when she said that I completely lost it. I just thought: Why? Who could have done this?”
It became quite apparent to me soon after we began our interview that Victoria channels much of her mother’s likeness as a source of her own strength. As we talk, Victoria’s eyes frequently dart over to the photo of her mother; her face lights up when I ask her to describe Claudia.
“My mother was amazing. I can’t tell you how many people loved her. She was a pastoral counselor at her church. She just believed to live life to the fullest. And oh boy, did she love drama. She would sing the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack at the top of her lungs in her car. She had such a good sense of humor. A humor that was used at perfect moments. She was truly irreverent.”
Victoria describes her earliest memories of her mother as being demarcated by Claudia’s taboo-breaking spirit. She paints a depiction of a woman before her time; a trailblazer who went out onto the job market before it was considered socially acceptable. Amidst the culture of the 1950’s, women were relegated almost exclusively to the domestic sphere. As such, Claudia was met with very few resources when it came to juggling a career and family. This, at times, put a strain on home life, but as Victoria recalls, “There wasn’t one day where we didn’t know we were loved.” Upon overcoming an alcohol addiction, Claudia reclaimed her strong family bonds and dedicated herself to helping others in the community.
“She became this great mother and took so many people under her wing. She was like a foster mother to so many. I aspire to be her every day. She had endless kindness and support.”
Victoria also reflects fondly on her stepfather Oliver Northup, who many in the community knew as “Chip.”
“Chip was a perfect match for my mom. I was an adult when they married. My kids were just going to college. It was around 1994 or so. I just remember thinking: ‘Wow, what a dynamic couple.’ She had always wanted to live in Davis and find a husband at church. And she was a go-getter, so that’s exactly what she did. They were a power couple. He was loving and supportive and they both had families. They didn’t force a blending. They really wanted to support the kids and grandkids. Both of them were extremely family oriented. They would go on dates and, no matter what, she would say “It’s 9 o’clock! Time to go home so Chip can rub my feet!”
On all accounts, Claudia Maupin lived a rich life – peppered with both joy and adversity. Victoria describes her as deeply spiritual. She grew up in Suisun Valley, married a man of color, and was the target of the racial intolerance of the time. They were forced to move out of town to find housing because no one would rent to an inter-racial couple. Claudia enjoyed being a maverick who pushed the envelope as a positive example for her children. Apart from just social adversity, Claudia was known for her ability to overcome difficult times. Over the span of one year, Claudia lost her partner to suicide, lost her mother to cancer, and lost her unborn grandchild. Victoria reflects, “I think of that often. How did she do that? How did she go through that and have such a beautiful wonderful outlook?” Claudia’s wonderful outlook is undoubtedly engrained in Victoria.
“I’d say one of the most predominant lessons my mother always taught us was to always question authority – to think critically. Chip was like that too, a very critical thinker and extremely compassionate. They were very open and non-judgmental. Nothing was taboo with them.”
Yet, as with any loss of a loved one, fond memories can also be a source of pain.
“It was such a tremendous loss. I always thought that I would be with her when she passed. I felt so robbed of that, but my mother was not a victim in any way. Even when I was going through a very bad breakup, my mother would say, ‘I’m not going to listen to this – you are not a victim.’ My mom believed that anything that came into her life, she drew it there. There were no accidents. So, even with the circumstances of her death, it makes me wonder. My mom and Chip did not want to be ill, they did not want to be apart, they did not want to be a burden to their families. We have an attack where two deeply spiritual people die on the same night, at the same time, in the bed that they love. Here is a spiritual woman, who doesn’t believe she is ever a victim, dying in the middle of a cool spring night, in the arms of the man she loves. There is no drawn out illness for either, they are not a burden to their families, they are together in life and in death. From the forensic pathologist’s report, I know that my mother probably died very quickly. I know the whole attack, start to finish was a half hour. And then they were both gone. One half of an hour to leave this world, together, after a lifetime of love. For me, this was a very hard concept to reconcile.”
In her own enlightened manner of unending positivity, Victoria always remembers the good, even in a bad situation. “I remember she said that ‘this is the happiest I’ve ever been.’ She went out so strong.”
As Victoria delves deeper into her journey of healing, I finally ask the question that has been on my mind all along: “Victoria… how are you so strong in all this?”
She smiles. “It takes a village. I had a very strong support system. Day to day support with my partner. Family members sleeping on the floor, always there when I needed them. My daughter Sarah and her wife Patti were a constant source of emotional strength. I would escape to my son Zeke’s home in the mountains to hide away when I needed a break, which was a lot. He, his wife Danyle and their beautiful children loved on me and cared for me. They made me laugh and propped me up when I was low. KC guided me to a very gifted trauma counselor within hours of mom’s death. I just can’t say enough about the impact that immediate and specialized treatment has had on my recovery. I feel like this gifted therapist helped me get my life back. I absolutely would not be where I am today without her help. She went to the scary, dark places with me with unflinching courage and her feet firmly planted. She helped me remember who I was in all this tragedy and reinforced my commitment to live my life to the fullest as my mom would’ve wanted. She helped me establish a sense of control in all of the madness. I’ll be forever grateful to this woman. I still see her regularly.”
Victoria’s acceptance of death as yet another part of life echoes the lasting traces of her mother’s influence. “My mom was big into seasons. She was a spiritual feminist type of woman who directed her life cyclically, like mother Earth. She felt that that’s how we, as women, need to govern our lives. Neither my mother or Chip would want this tragedy to further harm anyone. They only wanted the best for us, all the time. They would expect us to do all that we could to move on. And I started seeing signs all around me as I began to heal that my mom wanted me to move on, to get back to life.”
In the spirit of returning to life, Victoria and her family made the decision to rent out their parent’s South Davis home soon after the murders. They welcomed in a Native American Indian shaman, a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Protestant parishioner to bless the house and cleanse its energy. They wanted to give the house back to the community fresh and new so that it didn’t become the scary haunted house in Davis. It was important for the whole family that life would flow there once again.
Victoria’s positive zeal made it difficult for me to place her inside the courtroom, where a horrifying tale of unimaginable human cruelty unfolded to reveal aspects of the murder that were even too disturbing for the jurors to stomach. For most of Claudia and Chip’s family, the facts of the case were simply too difficult to bear. Victoria was one of the only relatives to attend the trial. She explains, “I needed to know exactly what was going on. I needed to hear all the evidence. I am the type that needs to see the monsters in the closet.”
As the universe works in mysterious ways, unexpected heroes appeared in places they were least likely expected. As Victoria and her partner KC, who was the first to return to the house after the murder, were cleaning out their parents’ home, they were approached by a neighbor who offered the couple a helping hand. The individual she came to know as TJ soon became her right hand man during the gut-wrenching trial.
“He was a teacher of martial arts, a very strong and agile man. He came with me to the trial because he had a very strong sense of Zen. He was so set in his skin. He sat by me every day and held my hand through it all. And he was virtually a stranger to me before all this. There was one point that was specifically difficult – when they had a video of the confession. I knew it would be tough but, wow, it was really tough. I was sitting there and it started to happen. And suddenly I felt like, Oh no! This is too much! I cannot sit here and listen to this! I stood up and just let that energy move through me. I felt TJ standing there next to me and my daughter, Sarah, on my other side. We were like a tree, like a trinity. I remember Sarah saying, ‘It’s okay mama, it’s okay,” and I made it through. It was very important for me to go to every day of the trial. I even had to convince the DA to let me be in the room because they were concerned. But, I felt like in that moment, I stood with her [Claudia]. I beared witness to her last moment as if to say, ‘I’m here, mom. And I’ve got Sarah and TJ to stand with you.’ We were Claudia’s mighty warriors.”
Victoria’s daughter was another source of strength for her throughout the trial. “Sarah and mom were two sides to the same pancake – they just adored each other. Sarah is a woman of faith. She and her partner Patti came at the drop of a hat to support me. They moved in for 5 weeks during the trial. My sister Tami moved in too. I needed someone to come and take care of us, be a mom while we all went to trial. Tami would cook, clean and do laundry so we could come home to a safe haven. She did all the things that needed to be done that I just couldn’t wrap my head around at that point. It was really a trying time. There were moments when Sarah and I were in the bathroom at the Yolo County courthouse just clinging to each other, just crying. Everything was just so shocking.”
The details of the case were one aspect of Victoria’s journey that was particularly difficult to overcome. “You don’t get to have a policeman to sit you down and say ‘this is what happened.’ We were always the last to know. Everything was in the public arena, and that’s how we learned, as murder victims. It wasn’t just the info; it was the shock of the way it was delivered. I mean, some of the details we learned alongside the community from watching the news. In our case in particular, I feel that the Davis Police should have had a mental health professional, a grief counselor or a chaplain there on site. I remember when I was a Christian pastor, we would go to scenes of trauma and just be there just for people, not even shared faith individuals, but just as someone there in case they needed a shoulder to cry on.”
As Victoria shared with me the intimate details of the case, it became difficult to bring myself to utter the two words that felt almost unspeakable, the source of all her pain and anguish: Daniel Marsh. The 16-year-old murderer who forever changed the lives of so many people.
“Three months after the day I was told my mother was dead, I heard the name Daniel Marsh for the first time. And then suddenly, here I am 30 feet from my mother’s murderer. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him during the arraignment. I wanted to look him in the eye and connect with this being who took my mother’s life – the most precious life to me besides my partner and children. He wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone. He didn’t laugh or cry or show any emotion for five weeks. Even when his own life was at stake, he just sat there stoically through these heinous things that are coming out in court. Jurors are sobbing and throwing up, the audience is completely bawling, and there he is, emotionless. And a 16-year-old, to boot. It was completely surreal.”
The topic of Daniel Marsh’s obsession for torture is difficult for anyone to be at odds with, let alone a family member of the victims. It is an issue that makes us call into question the realities of the human condition, the depth of mental illness, and the timeless question of whether true evil exists among us. Marsh divulged to police that he was motivated by morbid curiosity, coupled with a fetish for murder. In his confession, he admitted to feeling “a powerful high” during and after the murders. An emotion that he described as “something that just felt so right.” His close friends testified in court that he told them killing people was “the best feeling he ever felt in his entire life,” and that he couldn’t stop smiling for several days afterward. Marsh later admitted to inserting random items into the bodies to “mess with investigators.” Shortly after the murder, Marsh walked around Davis in search of his next victim.
Lead prosecutor Michael Cabral noted that it was, by far, the most disturbing case he had ever seen in his 28-year career. The bodies of his victims were left in a state of utter chaos. As Victoria described in her court statement, “Marsh stabbed, dismembered, dissected, and murdered my cherished parents.”
As Victoria revisits the nightmare of her parents’ murder, she once again exercises her amazing ability to turn something horrendously painful into a silver lining. “Despite everything, I feel so fortunate because some people never get to know the details and get the closure that we got. The only reason that Daniel was caught was because his friends turned him in – a judgment call made by two young people that gave me the gift of closure.”
Shortly after the murders, Marsh had difficulty keeping the details to himself. He boasted to friends about what he had done and even showed off the murder weapon, a six-inch hunting knife. His behavior got so erratic that it started to scare even his closest confidants. He began showing up at their houses unexpectedly, crawling through their doggy doors in the middle of the night. His personal notebook, which was filled with detailed drawings of elaborate torture plans, was the playbook of a deeply disturbed individual. As friends began to wonder what Marsh was capable of, fear was ultimately what motivated them to tip off police. Marsh’s five-week trial rendered a unanimous guilty verdict that handed down a sentenced of 52 years to life. Victoria feels the outcome was just.
“My personal opinion about Marsh is that he is a serial killer. I don’t believe this was something that was created by a bad home life or because he was bullied. This is something that I don’t understand. I believe he knew exactly what he was doing when he did it and he is culpable for his actions. This man had been in therapy from a young age. They knew that something was wrong. He had acted out with animals and had been threatening to kill people since 7th grade. Up until the last moment, he was telling the therapist he was going to kill people. The fact that people knew that he was homicidal was a difficult thing for me to come to terms with, but I understand now that there are laws that can dictate what a therapist can do and cannot do. It all stems from the fact that Marsh is extremely manipulative. I watched him in court when the kids testified, they were afraid of him He had manipulated them that he would hurt them if they said anything. It reminds me of the Ted Bundy case where he presents as this perfectly normal person but there’s a monster lurking inside. I remember looking at him and thinking ‘this is someone’s boyfriend, not the person who killed my mom.’ To see him be so dismissive in his testimony and say, ‘I only thought there was one [person] in the house, but then when I realized there was two, I thought “ok – I guess I’ll just kill them both,”’ was heartbreaking.”
Acceptance over the ghastly appalling reality has been a feat that Victoria has come to terms with. “I definitely think he’s where he belongs. I used to have thoughts of revenge, but I’ve tried very hard to work through them with maturity and understanding. Counseling has helped so much. I am grateful he was caught before someone else had to suffer. I’m so grateful for the justice we were measured and the verdict that keeps him in prison, so no one else would be harmed. I wish there was no opportunity for parole, I would feel safer for the future. But, I often see how victims of horrible tragedies are convinced by others that their lives are now defined by this. It’s not! Victims like myself can learn to live with loss, there is so much help available, and that is truly a wonderful thing.”
While discussing the extent of Daniel Marsh’s callous disregard for human life, it became obvious that Victoria was far more concerned with my well-being upon hearing the gruesome details of the murder than her own, despite my probing into her darkest moments. Victoria’s untarnished mental and emotional health was truly astonishing. “My core belief is that forgiveness is key for me to living a full and a free life. To me, forgiveness means letting go of things that hold me back from truly living a life of peace. The life of my mother’s murderer is one of those things. How does one forgive the unimaginable? I cannot. I am not his judge. I leave that to God. For me, in the three years since my mom and Chip were killed, I have found that, as I let go of the things that I had no way of controlling and move forward toward health, toward balance, toward love, the darkness and the poison he brought into our lives loses its power over me. It has been a three-year process that may last a lifetime. But it has been my intention to leave the man who killed my mother and her lovely husband Chip in the hands of God and step away. I refuse to let his darkness define me or my family.”
Although it has been the subject of controversy, Victoria divulges that she found unlikely healing in Susan Klebold’s recent book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. Klebold’s book outlines the overwhelming shame she felt as the mother of Dylan Klebold, the teenage murderer who killed twelve people at Columbine High School. “It almost felt like she was an older sister. She brought tremendous comfort to me in her words. I realized for the first time that I wasn’t alone. I know there are many victims out there, however, their parents weren’t brutalized and murdered by a 15-year-old, so her views as the mother of a 15-year-old murderer were very enlightening.” Moreover, a letter from Daniel Marsh’s aunt (the only member of the family to reach out) was another source of comfort for Victoria.
Throughout it all, Victoria continues to mention how her partner KC has been integral to her emotional recovery. Since the beginning, it was a match that even Claudia knew was right. “Mom fell in love with KC instantly. Mom said to her, ‘Oh darling, I’m so glad you’re here. You came just in time.’ And we said, ‘Just in time for what?’ and mom replied: ‘Everything that’s going to happen.’ And mom was right. KC has been my rock.”
Apart from Victoria’s amazing family, she notes that healing comes from multiple unexpected angles. “It’s a tribe. Everyone. The amazing employer that I have, or my unbelievable coworkers who supported me. Anyone at any given moment can give you the comfort you need if you open your heart and let them. But honestly, opening your heart is the hardest part, even though it is the most rewarding.”
Victoria also lauds those who played a key role in putting Daniel Marsh behind bars. She described district attorneys Michael Cabral and Amanda Zambor (who was pregnant while trying the case) as “phenomenal,” as well as Laura Valdez in Yolo County Victim Services. She continues, “Some of the jurors are even my friends on Facebook now. I mean, we spent eight hours a day together for five weeks. And they were there through it all, just like I was.”
Victoria’s return to life has ushered in new sources of strength as she looks forward to helping others in the midst of grief and crisis. She spoke at the Yolo County Victims Day and plans to do more in service to victims. Above all, she wants to tell people to always choose life.
“The day after my mother’s death, KC took me to the trauma specialist. There was a sign in the waiting room that said, ‘The human spirit is stronger than anything that can be done to it.’ The core lesson that my mother taught was that you always have a choice in every situation. You can choose fear or love. Love might not always be the easiest path but it will lead to freedom. And in the darkest moments, I thought to myself: ‘If I choose fear I will go home and crawl into bed and never come out. If I choose love, and to be loved, I will get through this.’”
Victoria tells me she is absolutely ecstatic for her future. She can’t wait to see her grandchildren grow up as she mothers her own children with her partner by her side. She plans to continue working, to someday retire and spend her life surrounded by family. “My family is my church, my tribe. It was my mom’s tribe and Chip’s tribe, too. When they retired, they dedicated their life in service to the tribe, and that’s what a congregation is. The elders’ commitment to the tribe is to make sure the younger ones are full and happy and have the lessons that they need to learn. So for me to give up and pull the blanket over my head when we have all these lives that need mentoring just wouldn’t be in service of my tribe. I remember on my mom’s 75th birthday, she pulled me aside and said, ‘Look around…Look at our family. We made all these people!’ She took that responsibility really seriously. It was her legacy,” she says with a smile. “And it’s mine too.”