In Search of Fame, Model/Actress Linda Sobek Instead Had a Deadly Run-In with Murder
Thursday, November 16, 1995 started off as a great day for 27-year-old Linda Elaine Sobek. She had recently scored a role on the popular sitcom “Married With Children,” which she felt would kickstart the acting career she was yearning for. In the meantime, the modeling career she had begun after graduating from Cerritos Community College and during her five-year stint as a Los Angeles Raiderette cheerleader (in which she was named Raiderette of the Year during her third year) not only paid the bills but had kicked into high gear. At only five-foot-four, Linda wasn’t tall enough to be a high fashion model but her pretty looks and her curvy size-three figure got her “body model” work, where she graced swimwear layouts, calendars, car magazines, catalogs, beer posters and Frederick’s of Hollywood.
That morning, Linda called her mother Elaine to say she was running late for a daytime photo shoot but promised to call that evening to discuss plans for a weekend barbeque that was planned at the Sobek family home. Besides her natural beauty and bubbly personality, Linda was perhaps best known for her reliability. So when she didn’t call Elaine that evening, her mother began worrying immediately. She spent a tense evening before phoning one of Linda’s closest friends, Brooke Morales. Brooke, who had been a Raiderette cheerleader with Linda, discovered that her friend had not shown up for several appointments that had been scheduled for later in the day on November 16, including a costume fitting for “Married With Children.” Brooke contacted the police.
The Hermosa Beach house that Linda shared with three roommates gave up no clues. Linda had not told her roommates, friends nor her family who she had that daytime photo shoot with or where it was, seriously hampering efforts to locate her.
On Saturday, two days after Linda vanished, Brooke and other friends contacted television and other media to solicit their help in getting the story of Linda’s disappearance out. It was a news report that aired on Sunday that would provide the first break in the case. On Saturday, the same day Brooke was trying to get Linda’s story out, a road-crew worker made a discovery in a garbage can in the Angeles National Forest. He found a cache of photographs of Linda, a date book and a receipt for the loan of a Lexus 450. He took the photos home with him, thinking nothing of them and the other items, until he saw a news report on Sunday and recognized the pretty girl featured on the tv was the same pretty girl in the photos he discovered. He contacted police, who found the date book and Lexus receipt in the garbage can, where the worker had initially discovered them. On the receipt was the name Charles Rathbun.
Charles Rathbun was a 38-year-old freelance photographer originally from Ohio who lived in Hollywood and who was considered be an excellent and reliable photographer. Amazingly, Rathbun had contacted authorities when the story on Linda’s disappearance broke, telling them that he had met Linda that Thursday morning at a Denny’s restaurant in Torrance, where they had discussed her modeling portfolio and how she could improve it. According to Rathbun, they both had appointments afterward and went their separate ways. Police went to the Denny’s restaurant, where they found Linda’s car — but not Linda.
With the evidence of the Lexus receipt, investigators prepared to question Rathbun a second time on Wednesday, November 22 — but were beat to the punch by a summons to Rathbun’s home. They found Charles Rathbun drunk and threatening to kill himself with a pistol. A female companion of his who was in the home had been “slightly wounded” only moments before police arrived.
Once in custody, Rathbun became tearful and confessed that he had accidentally killed Linda in a horrific accident. He claimed that he was shooting Linda for advertising photos of the new Lexus in a dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert. It was while he was attempting to teach her to do “doughnuts,” high-speed 360-degree turns, and as she was standing outside the car watching him, that he struck and killed her. Rathbun said he then drove around in a panic for several hours with Linda’s body before pulling over into the Angeles National Forest and buried her in less than two feet of dirt.
Only a few hours before cops took Rathbun to the Angeles National Forest, he made what authorities believe was a half-hearted suicide attempt using a disposable razor on both his wrists. Whatever his intent or mental and emotional state, he was recovered sufficiently within hours to spend all night with police, searching for the grave he left Linda’s body in. He had difficulty finding it but once it was discovered, Linda was found fully clothed in shorts and a top and with one arm sticking through the pebbles of her temporary grave. On first glance, her body showed no signs of serious bruising, wounds or extreme violence — no indications that she had made a fatal impact with a vehicle.
During the autopsy on her body, X-rays found no evidence that Linda had sustained broken bones or any other traumatic injury leading to death from being struck by a motor vehicle. It was also determined that she had had a blood alcohol level of .13 at the time of autopsy; the legal level for intoxication is .08%. However, when a body is not kept cool after death, postmortem fermentation occurs, which can cause false positives in blood alcohol level results.
While there was some question as to whether Linda had been drinking and was legally drunk at the time of her death, there was no question that she had suffered a sexual assault antemortem. The coroner found that her death was not caused by a motor vehicle accident but was due to asphyxiation, likely caused by strangulation.
A search of the Lexus revealed no damage or blood on the outside of the vehicle and a small amount of human blood on the backseat.
Police had been skeptical of Rathbun’s story from the start but the autopsy results, combined with the examination of the Lexus, left them in no doubt. Their investigation into Charles Rathbun found that he had been an average person throughout school with a knack for photography who had one run-in with the law before November of 1995. In June of 1979, he had been charged with rape in Worthington, Ohio. The victim worked with Rathburn, who was 22 years old at the time, at a local supermarket and said that he had threatened to kill her if she made a sound during the rape. Following the attack, she said that Rathbun said he wanted to be punished for what he had done and that he had said he was sick but that no one would believe him. Rathbun’s lawyer argued that the there was no rape; it was a consensual sexual act. Charles Rathbun was acquitted of the charge.
Following the rape charge, Rathbun appeared to keep his nose clean. He worked as a photographer’s assistant in Detroit, concentrating mostly on photographing automobiles for advertising agencies and manufacturers. He moved to California around 1989, where he built a successful career with car layouts and calendars.
Very much like Linda, he was respected for his professional reliability. Unlike Linda, however, he could come off as abrasive and had a nasty temper. According to a former employer, Rathbun was known to throw things when he got mad and could never admit his own fault when anything went wrong. He also developed somewhat of a reputation for coming on to the models used in his shoots, going so far as to ask for sexual favors and becoming pushy when he was rebuffed. It caused Rathbun to lose assignments and for some models to refuse to work with him.
Charged with murder, Charles Rathbun’s trial began in the autumn of 1996. By then, he had changed his story yet again. This time, he said that he had bet Linda $60 that she couldn’t chug the remnants of a bottle of tequila. The inebriated Linda then seduced him. He also said that while he did not strike Linda with the Lexus, he came close enough to her to cause her to fall and strike her head, cutting it. That was when he helped her into the back of the car, where she presumably bled on the seat. It was then, according to Rathbun, that she threatened him over the near-accident and began kicking the interior of the car. To stop her, he said he grabbed her foot and positioned his frame on top of Linda’s, pinning her down to the seat. Rathbun said she struggled for about 30 seconds before becoming very calm but he continued to hold her down, figuring she was “playing possum.” It was after he got off of her body that he wasn’t sure she was breathing. He said he put her down on the dry lake bed and attempted to revive her. When those efforts failed, he tried to get her back into the car, tying her ankles together with an Ace bandage.
Prosecutors told the jury a very different tale. They believed Rathbun, who had no job for Lexus which involved a model, took Linda to the Angeles National Forest with the intention of either coming on to her or sexually assaulting her. The six-foot-three photographer then bound the petite model by the ankles and sodomized her, possibly with his .45 caliber pistol. Linda struggled so fiercely against the bindings that her ankles were rubbed nearly raw. They believed she was killed when Rathbun sat on her back and pushed her throat against something to cut off her air supply.
Model Tiffany Richardson testified about a shoot in October of 1994 for All Chevy magazine in which Rathbun was the photographer. Linda’s name came up and Rathbun said he would never work with her again because she was a “bitch” and “difficult to work with.”
Model and actress Amy Weber testified that she had worked with Rathbun four times and in September of 1994, while driving to Malibu for a photo shoot began discussing possible models he could use for an upcoming layout for Sport Truck magazine. Amy suggested Linda and Rathbun reacted violently, clutching the steering wheel and saying that Linda was “a little bitch” who “deserved what she got coming to her.”
Following a five-week trial, on Friday, November 1, 1996, Charles Rathbun was convicted of the first degree murder of Linda Sobek and on Monday, December 16, 1996, he sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He entered the California Institution for Men in Chino on December 20, 1996, where he still resides.
During their investigation into Charles Rathbun, authorities came across two then-unsolved cases for which they considered Rathbun a suspect but for which he would eventually be cleared.
On March 3, 1993, the partial skeleton of 20-year-old model Kimberly Pandelios was discovered in the Angeles National Forest. Kimberly had vanished a year earlier, in February of 1992, after going to a modeling shoot. Despite the similarities of both victims being models, going missing while on a modeling gig, and their remains being found within five miles of one another, Rathbun was cleared in the case once a convicted sex offender named David Rademaker was arrested in 2004 and convicted of Kimberly’s murder, receiving a life sentence.
On December 7, 1993, 18-year-old Rose Larner of Lansing, Michigan disappeared. Following his arrest, Rathbun became a suspect as she lived near an address he had provided six months earlier for his driver’s license. Rathbun was once again cleared when in late 1995, investigators reopened Rose’s case and focused on her ex-boyfriend John Ortiz-Kehoe and her childhood friend Billy Brown. In April of 1996, Brown turned himself in and fingered Ortiz-Kehoe as Rose’s killer. In August, cops arrested Ortiz-Kehoe, who had run to Mexico. Brown secured a plea deal while Ortiz-Kehoe, pledging innocence, was convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for strangling Rose before cutting her throat, dissecting her body and burning the remains.