A month after the bodies of Suzanne and Fernand Wagner were discovered brutally beaten to death in their Millbrae home, the property manager arrested on suspicion of murder allegedly expressed surprise that law enforcement were still in possession of his firearms.
"He said, it’s not like I shot them or anything,” Joy Cua testified about a July 2006 jail house conversation with her husband, Joseph, during the first day of his preliminary hearing.
A news report that the Wagners were fatally beaten convinced Joy Cua her husband was responsible because he returned to their Hemet home the day after the grisly discovery with bruises, a cut finger and a significantly swollen and purple hand.
Until that point, Joy Cua said her husband provided a trio of differing excuses for his injuries and guaranteed his employers’ murders were random and not a sign he was also in danger.
On June 16 — two days after the Wagners were found by a Millbrae officer performing a welfare check at their Lomita Avenue home — Joy Cua said she put two and two together but continued on as if nothing was wrong because she was, she said, "afraid he would know I knew something.” She also believed he had tapped her phone and vehicles.
Cua worked as a property manager for the Wagners — commuting back and forth to Burlingame from Hemet — although Joy Cua said she only had a vague understanding what he did exactly. The first full week in June he returned to the Bay Area to handle a bounced check, Joy Cua said.
On his return drive to Hemet, he was unusually hyper and frantic, she said. He reportedly told his wife the Wagner’s nephew said each were shot in the head which alleviated some doubt about his involvement until she learned of the bludgeoning.
Fernand Gene Wagner, 78, died from a combination of blunt force injury and a 6-inch cut across his jugular vein, testified pathologist Thomas Rogers.
His body showed dozens of blunt injuries and skull fractures, Rogers said, adding that it was impossible to specify an exact weapon for either the beating or the neck wound.
Suzanne Denise Wagner had multiple injuries associated with strangulation and skull fractures so extreme they are typically only seen in car crashes, Rogers said.
Her body was discovered wearing only a bra and had a 5/8-inch cut from her vagina toward her rectum, Rogers said.
The wounds to both were inflicted while the couple were alive, he said, although the average person will die within a three- to 12-minute period, Rogers said.
Police arrested Joseph Cua, 53, in Oxnard June 19 and charged him with two counts of murder plus the special allegation of committing multiple murders. The special circumstances makes Joseph Cua eligible for the death penalty but District Attorney Jim Fox has yet to announce a decision.
Although Joseph Cua has one petty theft conviction in his past according to court records, his wife spent her time on the stand hinting at a man and marriage tinged with tension and animosity.
The couple met in spring 2002 and married in December 2003. Joy Cua said he paid all but the household bills in Hemet but she knew not to inquire about his job or income.
"It was a line not to be crossed,” she said. "There were a lot of lines I was never to cross when we were together.”
In February 2005, she learned from a woman claiming to be Joseph Cua’s domestic partner that he had filed for divorce the previous 2004 but never served the papers. Joy Cua conceded planning to instigate a move to Sacramento, ensure her name was on the deed and file for divorce. In fact, she had been sending money to her mother in Iowa for a year and a half with plans to leave Cua.
During this time, and before the murders, Joy Cua said she began a book about "everything else he did” and now wants to expand it to include his current criminal case. Under cross examination she admitted wanting to make money from a book on the case much as was done with the Scott Peterson trial.
When prosecutor Sean Gallagher asked Joy Cua what her pre-murder book focus was, she didn’t offer specific details.
"Joseph and living with a psychopath,” she said.
Defense attorney Ed Pomeroy got Joy Cua to testify she was previously married and written books about ex-spouses.
During her testimony, Joy Cua said her husband always contended he was the executor of the Wagners’ will and expected to receive a hefty sum in the event of their deaths.
In July 2005, the couple amended their trust to mandate all real estate but their residence be sold after their deaths and named others as the executor, testified estate planning lawyer Robert Pollack.
Joseph Cua remains in custody on no-bail status. The prosecution continues its case today.
Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.