3 Accused of Murder-for-Hire Plot that Left Widow, 96, Dead as She Prepared to Bake Cookies for Her Birthday

Violet Alberts was found dead in her home in May 2022

<p>Santa Barbara County Sheriff

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office

Violet Alberts

A 96-year-old widow was getting ready to bake cookies when she was found dead days before her birthday. Nearly two years later, authorities say her death was part of a murder-for hire plot after she allegedly became the victim of financial fraud and elder abuse.

Violet Evelyn Alberts was found dead in her Montecito, Calif., home in May 2022, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a press conference Thursday. Her death was later ruled a homicide due to asphyxiation, Brown said.

In the aftermath of Alberts’ death, four people have been arrested and subsequently charged with various crimes related to the case.

Pauline Macareno, 48, was arrested in 2022 and was eventually sentenced to six years in prison for fraud related to Alberts' case, authorities said. Sheriff Brown said that Macareno forged documents and established fraudulent entities in an attempt to gain control over Alberts’ assets, including her home.

Brown said Macareno was “referred” to the victim, though did not specify how or by whom. The sheriff added that more charges are pending against Macareno.

Through their investigation, police allege they also discovered that Alberts was the victim of a murder-for-hire scheme, according to a press release from the sheriff's office. Henry Rostomyan and Ricardo Martin Del Campo were charged with murder and conspiracy to murder, Brown said. A third man, Harry Basmadjian, was arrested on "similar charges," according to the release, but suffered a medical emergency and is essentially “brain dead,” according to the sheriff.  Basmadjian's medical emergency occurred when he was in federal custody on an unrelated charge, police noted.

It is not immediately clear if either Rostomyan or Martin Del Campo have retained attorneys or entered pleas.

Brown said Alberts did not have any immediate family in the area and that her husband died in the 1990s. The sheriff noted that before her death, Alberts was in a “distressing” financial situation, having aged out of her savings.

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“She was a vibrant 96-year-old widow, a cherished figure in the Montecito community,” Brown said of Alberts. “Despite her age, she remained active and engaged and was known for her warm demeanor and social nature.”

“Violet relied on her friendships and connections within the neighborhood, through which she achieved a sense of belonging with a tight-knit community,” Brown continued.

On the day Alberts’ body was found, Brown said ingredients to make cookies were found on the table, which she planned to bake in celebration of her upcoming birthday.

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