Alyx Herrmann fought for her life. Her bite mark may have helped catch her killer.

Theo Lengyel played cat-and-mouse with police, reportedly taunting them for "blunders" and trying to find out why he hadn't been arrested.

Alyx Herrmann fought for her life. Her bite mark may have helped catch her killer.
Alyx, who was born Alice Herrmann but also went by Alix, loved music and the outdoors as well as math and technology. Courtesy

In December, murder suspect Theobald Lengyel warned family members that something terrible had happened in his life — but he wouldn't say just what.

"Brace yourself," he told them, according to details that were revealed this week in court. "It's much worse than you can ever imagine."

Lengyel also played a strange game of cat-and-mouse with authorities, speaking to police at some length as he taunted them for "blunders" and tried to find out why he hadn't been arrested, according to court testimony.

All the while, Lengyel reportedly refused to give detectives what they wanted most: details about the crime and the place he'd hidden the body.

"The whole thing was kinda weird," lead investigator Zack Currier of the Capitola Police Department testified Tuesday afternoon.

Lengyel, an El Cerrito resident and former rock musician of some acclaim, was charged in January with the murder of Alyx Herrmann, a gifted software engineer and competitive outrigger canoeist with a PhD in neuroscience and a black belt in tae kwon do, among many other notable achievements.

The two had been "in a dating relationship" for about five years, police said.

Until this week, authorities had said little about the evidence in the case. They still have shared no motive for the crime.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Santa Cruz County judge held Lengyel to answer in the murder of Alyx Herrmann. The case will now proceed toward trial.

"It's what we hoped and expected," said Eric Herrmann, Alyx's brother. "I'm satisfied that the court found that there was enough evidence to proceed, and did not dismiss any of it."

Just prior to his arrest in early January, Lengyel made seemingly damning admissions to Eric in a late-night phone call that lasted 2.5 hours and was partly recorded, Detective Currier said on the stand.

In the call, Lengyel apologized to Eric, saying "he didn't mean to hurt anybody" and that "people were so fragile" and "break easily," Currier testified.

Those admissions were difficult to hear, particularly following testimony from a forensic pathologist who said Alyx's remains showed signs of multiple fractures, including "suspicious" broken cartilage on both sides of her neck.

Lengyel confessed to Eric that he had placed Alyx's body in a fetal position in Tilden Regional Park and covered her with rocks, Currier said.

"He said something to the effect of, 'there's no peace for me' because he made somebody expire," the detective said.

Lengyel also told Eric that he had brought a rope to the park with plans to hang himself, but had failed "because the branch was too high," Currier testified.

Authorities would later find that rope in Tilden park and use it to locate and recover Alyx's body.

"It is still very raw. I'm still very emotional about it," Eric Herrmann said this week. "I feel very strongly that my sister was taken from us brutally and unfairly. She's going to be with us for a long time. And we will celebrate her for a long time."

Police: Flock camera captured suspect driving victim's SUV

Alyx Herrmann was "an adventurous athlete even at 61," one friend said. Courtesy

The details of Alyx Herrmann's last few days remain somewhat scant.

According to this week's court testimony, she emailed with her brothers, Conrad and Eric, over the weekend of Dec. 2-3, 2023.

That Sunday morning, Dec. 3, she was out in the Santa Cruz Harbor with Outrigger Santa Cruz, the paddling and canoe racing club in which she was an active member.

Alyx, 61, went home to Capitola later that day. Detectives would determine that her cellphone never left her residence again.

On Monday, Dec. 4, she worked remotely from her home until 5 p.m.

The next day, Dec. 5, she failed to show up at a company event in Berkeley, which her boss said was entirely unlike her, Detective Currier testified.

That same day just before 3:45 p.m., a Flock ALPR camera captured 54-year-old Theo Lengyel driving a red Toyota Highlander registered to Alyx Herrmann on Arlington Boulevard and Barrett Avenue in El Cerrito, about 2 miles from his home.

Theo Lengyel's home in El Cerrito with his Ford truck parked outside. Google Street View

El Cerrito Police Detective Michael Olivieri testified Tuesday that Lengyel was the only person visible in the SUV.

Three days later, on Friday, Dec. 8, a Capitola neighbor told police she saw Lengyel alone outside doing yard work at Herrmann's house.

"Did she notice anything about his appearance that interested her?" asked prosecutor Yukiko Orii.

"He had shaved his head and … no longer had a beard," Currier said.

Late that night, Lengyel showed up unannounced at his brother's home in Portland, Oregon, Currier testified.

His brother was surprised and "said he knew something might have been wrong," the detective added: Lengyel had sent him the "brace yourself" message he'd also sent to others.

"To me, it looked like a bite mark"

Theobald Lengyel in court in Santa Cruz County in January. Emilie Raguso/Aipsasiamedia

The weekend he went to Portland, Lengyel asked his brother to adopt his dog, give his Ford pickup to a nephew and "take care of all the divorce paperwork" related to his ex-wife, Currier said.

Lengyel also contacted the Santa Cruz public defender's office, and then both men took the train to San Jose, according to court testimony.

The brothers talked, but Lengyel wouldn't say what happened to Alyx, Currier said.

"Throughout the ride, Mr. Lengyel would be crying or sobbing," Currier testified.

During the trip, his brother also noticed purple marks "almost like bruising" on Lengyel's right bicep.

Detective Currier would see the injury himself more than a week later, on Dec. 21, after securing a warrant to photograph it.

Even then, with Alyx likely dead for more than two weeks already, the injury was still clearly visible, about 3 inches tall and 4 inches wide, he said.

"To me, it looked like a bite mark," Currier said. "Almost like impressions [with] scarring on the top and on the bottom."

Police found Alyx Herrmann's blood in her car

Eric and Alyx Herrmann in Hawaii several years ago. Courtesy

Alyx Herrmann's brothers began looking for her in mid-December when she failed to get on a plane to Maui for a planned trip to visit their father.

When they called her, her phone went right to voicemail, said Olivieri, the El Cerrito police detective.

They called the El Cerrito Police Department on Dec. 12 to report her missing.

One of the first questions the police asked was whether Alyx was in a relationship.

The brothers told police about Lengyel and said the relationship was "complicated."

El Cerrito police moved quickly, getting a search warrant for Lengyel's home on Craft Avenue, a dead-end street in the East Bay hills, just over the Kensington border with easy access to Wildcat Canyon and Tilden regional parks.

When police got to the Craft Avenue residence Dec. 13, they found the red Highlander that was registered Alyx Herrmann parked outside.

Inside the Highlander, ECPD also found several suspected bloodstains, including over a rear wheel well, on the ceiling headliner, in the trunk and on the rear (liftgate) door.

Subsequent DNA tests would confirm that it was Herrmann's blood, attorneys stipulated this week.

The areas were about dime-size and shaped "almost like raindrops," Currier said.

"There wasn't a lot. It looked like it could have been from anything," he added. "It wasn't like, 'Oh my gosh, somebody died back here.'"

The same week, Eric Herrmann visited his sister's home with police in Capitola to look for her and any clues about her whereabouts, Olivieri said.

Instead of Alyx, they found her cellphone, wallet and Apple watch — which she rarely left at home.

Lengyel tried to turn himself in

The El Cerrito Police Department. Google Street View

Olivieri also described how he had been in the middle of interviewing Eric Herrmann at the El Cerrito Police Department on Dec. 14 when Lengyel suddenly showed up in the lobby, ostensibly to turn himself in.

"Did he make some sort of a confession to you?" asked defense attorney Annrae Angel.

"He did not speak to me directly about the incident at all," Olivieri said.

"Did you have suspicions at that point?" Angel asked him.

"Yes," the detective said.

Lengyel's sudden appearance sharpened those suspicions, but Olivieri did not try to make an arrest.

"At that point, it was still an open investigation. There were a lot of things to do," he explained, from searching Herrmann's house to tracking down more evidence.

And Lengyel hadn't shown up at the police station alone. He was with the chief assistant public defender for Contra Costa County as well as the lead investigator for that office, Olivieri said.

The trio left after determining there was no warrant for Lengyel's arrest.

A few days later, El Cerrito PD turned over the case to Capitola to take the lead.

Alyx would still be classified as missing into late December.

As the days crept by, family and friends posted missing person fliers online and hoped for the best.

Remembering Alyx Herrmann: ‘Her spirit was just very strong’
“She was fearless,” her brother Eric said this week. “She would uplift everyone around her.”

Suspect "baffled" when he wasn't arrested

Fast forward two weeks to Dec. 30. It was a Saturday on a holiday weekend.

Detective Currier was home when his phone rang. When he answered, it was Theo Lengyel.

He was calling from Fast Eddy's Billiards, a pool hall near Alyx Herrmann's house, Currier said.

"He was confused on why he wasn't arrested yet. He said that he was baffled by it," Currier said, "and that Capitola Police Department had done some blunders."

Lengyel still wouldn't say what happened to Herrmann, the detective added.

That night, security cameras at Herrmann's house captured Lengyel letting himself in the back door.

Eric had installed the cameras weeks earlier when he'd gone there with police to look for his sister.

According to the footage, Lengyel uttered, "Oh, shit," when he walked inside. To the detective, he had seemed overwhelmed.

But he did not otherwise seem distraught or emotional, Currier said.

In the footage, Lengyel appeared to notice a search warrant police had left on a table. He left the house about 10 minutes later.

The next time police checked the Capitola house for a VW Beetle registered to Alyx Herrmann, the car was gone, Currier said.

Lengyel's extended conversation with Eric took place in the days that followed, Currier said.

That's the conversation where Lengyel had apologized and described his failed attempt to hang himself in Tilden park.

When Currier learned about that detail, he asked the East Bay Regional Park District to try to find the abandoned rope.

He also sent law enforcement colleagues from Santa Cruz up to Berkeley as he worked to complete an arrest warrant for Lengyel.

At 11 p.m. on New Year's Day, authorities located the rope in Tilden park. But they still couldn't find Herrmann's body.

"You'll get the answers that you're looking for"

Detective Zack Currier (right) arrests Theobald Lengyel on Jan. 2, 2024. Capitola PD

At that point, Currier and Lengyel spoke again, the detective said.

Lengyel asked Currier to meet him at his home in El Cerrito at 6:30 a.m. Eric Herrmann would be there, too.

"Did he say why?" asked prosecutor Orii, who worked in collaboration with prosecutor Emily Wang during the hearing.

"He didn't want to tell me," Currier said. "I think he said, you'll get the answers that you're looking for."

Lengyel also told Currier to "bring my boots" and said to expect a 15-minute walk.

But the meeting never happened.

About four hours after finding the rope in Tilden park, authorities found Alyx Herrmann's remains. It was 3:09 a.m. on Jan. 2, Currier said.

Later that morning, Capitola police, including Detective Currier, stopped Lengyel near Davenport, a coastal town in Santa Cruz County.

He was driving Herrmann's VW Bug and was arrested without incident, police said.

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No blood found in the Capitola house

On cross-examination by defense attorney Annrae Angel, Currier said the neighbors he had spoken to had not heard any disturbances at Herrmann's Capitola home.

Angel indicated that her client had tried to turn himself in to the FBI at one point.

"That's the first I'm hearing about the FBI," Currier said.

But Currier also agreed with Angel's assertion that Lengyel "wasn't trying to hide" from police.

"You always knew where he was," she said. "For the most part, he was sitting in the El Cerrito house waiting to be arrested."

Angel also asked Currier what police had found when they first searched the Capitola house.

"They didn't see anything out of the ordinary," she said. "Things weren't topsy turvy or looked like there had been some fight?"

"No blood was found in the house?" she added.

"Correct," Currier said.

Angel also confirmed with the detective that Lengyel had contacted numerous attorneys as he tried to figure out "what to do."

She asked Currier specifically about the "brace yourself" message.

"He wasn't trying to hide or to indicate … that nothing big happened," Angel said. "Would that be fair to say?"

"Sure, until he's confronted about it, and then he didn't want to talk about it," Currier said.

The detective did agree that Lengyel had appeared "conflicted" about what he could say to police, in part because of the advice he had received from different attorneys.

"He had concerns about what they were telling him and how he was supposed to comport himself?" Angel asked. Currier agreed.

Angel also made a passing reference to "his public defender's ethical issues" and said Lengyel "was scared for his life if he were to say something."

(Shortly after his arrest, attorneys from the Santa Cruz public defender's office declared a conflict in the case. It was then assigned to the Page & Dudley law firm, where Angel works.)

The autopsy findings

A eucalyptus grove along Nimitz Way in Tilden Regional Park. Daniel Parks

In addition to the two police detectives, Dr. Stephany Fiore also testified Tuesday.

She spoke about her autopsy findings after examining Alyx Herrmann's remains as a forensic pathologist with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff-Coroner's Office.

It was the most graphic portion of the preliminary hearing.

Fiore described how Herrmann's nude body was "partially skeletonized" and in an advanced stage of decomposition when police finally found her.

Many of her organs and other portions of her body were missing, "most likely" due to post-mortem predation from scavengers, Fiore said.

"It limits my ability to make solid concrete opinions about exactly what happened," she said. "There's missing information, which leaves room for interpretation of other things that may have happened that I just can't prove."

Fiore said she found broken thyroid cartilage on each side of Herrmann's neck, fractures around her nasal bones, a cracked rib and various bruises during the autopsy.

Some of the fractures may have been caused after death by the rocks that had been placed on top of her, Fiore said on cross-examination.

But she said this was unlikely to be true for those in the neck, which had been largely protected because of Herrmann's fetal position.

The broken cartilage "horns," she noted, "really sit up high underneath the jawbone," she said. "You have to get something up high onto the neck and squeeze to get those corners to fracture."

Fiore said she had ruled Herrmann's death a homicide, "but I couldn't say specifically how she died."

"The fractures in the neck certainly could have produced death by strangulation," she added. She described those injuries as "suspicious."

Fiore said manual strangulation or the use of a ligature would have resulted in more visible injuries or signs, but that "something like a chokehold" could have been the cause of Herrmann's injuries.

She went on to describe how the carotid chokehold, in particular, is "a very subtle form of strangulation." In it, she said, the neck is placed into the crux of the elbow and squeezed from the side.

Carotid holds "have become popular" because of mixed martial arts, Fiore said: "They don't necessarily cause death but they can make someone go unconscious."

If you're not careful, she added, death can happen before you know it.

Fiore said she had been unable to determine whether Herrmann may have had other wounds on her body because of the extensive scavenging activity.

She said she had also ruled Herrmann's death a homicide because of the burial site itself.

"If she died of natural causes, why did they bury her there rather than go to the funeral home?" Fiore said. "Why is she naked in a park covered in rocks?"

Defense: Evidence against Theo Lengyel "could support a different charge"

Superior Court of Santa Cruz at 701 Ocean St., June 11, 2024. Emilie Raguso/TBS

In addition to Herrmann's murder, Lengyel also was charged in January with the burglary of her home and the theft of her Volkswagen Beetle.

On Wednesday afternoon, his attorney argued that the prosecution had presented "no evidence" to substantiate the burglary and car theft charges during Tuesday's testimony.

Angel said Lengyel had an "implied right to enter" the Capitola home because the couple had shared their two properties and that, in fact, the same key opened both houses.

She told Judge Nancy de la Peña that the murder charge did not apply either, because the prosecution had not proven either premeditation or malice.

"If there is no evidence to support intent to kill, then perhaps there was no intent to kill — and the death occurred tragically," Angel said.

She also alluded to "completely different and reasonable" explanations for various things Lengyel had done.

She said Lengyel had "found himself in a situation where he doesn't know what to do and he's doing his best to figure it out."

"There's no question it was a tragedy," Angel continued. "And, don't get me wrong, I think the evidence presented supports that something tragic happened."

In the end, Angel added, the evidence "could support a different charge." She did not elaborate.

Theo Lengyel in court June 11, 2024. The only photographs allowed in the courtroom were of Lengyel from behind. Emilie Raguso/TBS

Prosecutor Orii, meanwhile, argued that Lengyel did not have permission from anyone to go into Herrmann's home or take her car.

She also pushed back against the idea raised by Angel that Lengyel "wasn't trying to hide" from police.

"This is not someone who was proactively trying to assist in any sort of investigation," Orii said.

She asked Judge de la Peña to hold Lengyel to answer on the murder charge, arguing that Herrmann's injuries were "consistent with a struggle" and that, "in the final moments of her life," she had left Lengyel with a bite mark on his arm that was still visible weeks later.

"There is no question that his conduct was the cause of her death," Orii said.

Judge de la Peña. Santa Cruz Superior Court

In making her ruling, Judge de la Peña kept her remarks brief.

She pointed out that the standard of proof in a preliminary hearing is "significantly lower" than it would be at trial.

"Not all the evidence is here before the court," she said.

With that in mind, she said it did appear that the alleged crimes had been committed and that the defendant could have been responsible.

She said she did have some questions about the ownership of the house and Beetle at the time of the alleged burglary and car theft — but that the issue could be addressed later.

She ordered Lengyel to return to court for arraignment June 26.

After the hearing, Angel declined to comment aside from confirming plans to file a 995 motion to dismiss all or part of the case against Lengyel. Those motions are common following the preliminary hearing.

If her motion fails, as they often do, the case could take anywhere from 60 days to four years to come before a jury.

"It really depends on a lot of things," said Eric Herrmann, adding: "I do feel a little bit of relief that this phase is over. But obviously, we're still going to have to wait for trial."

He said some of the information presented in court this week had not been new to him. But there were other details he hadn't known, such as the autopsy results.

"To be perfectly honest, they were kind of shocking, because it was not something you want to hear," he said. "I was a little disappointed that she can't say for sure what the cause of death was — because that would maybe have made it a stronger case."

Still, he said, it had been good to be together as a family to hear the ruling.

The Herrmann family was joined in court this week by many of Alyx's friends, including dozens of Outrigger club members.

The club held a large vigil for Alyx in January, which was attended by more than 100 people.

The tight-knit group has now planned a floating memorial, or paddle-out, for Alyx in Santa Cruz Harbor on June 23.

Herrmann said the club had also raised money to purchase a canoe that will be named in Alyx's honor. The dedication is also set for June 23.

He said club members had been at every court date since January, offering kind words to the family along with their memories of Alyx.

"It's still very heartwarming to me personally, and probably to the rest of the family, to have that level of support from them," Herrmann said. "They each had a personal connection to my sister."

The family of Alice "Alyx" Kamakaokalani Herrmann has asked those who would like to honor her memory to consider making a donation to the causes that were closest to her heart.

Read more about Alyx Herrman

Remembering Alyx Herrmann: ‘Her spirit was just very strong’
“She was fearless,” her brother Eric said this week. “She would uplift everyone around her.”
Plea put off again for man accused of killing Alyx Herrmann
“We want to let the public know … that she was cared for,” said a member of Outrigger Santa Cruz. Dozens of club members were in court Tuesday.