MILTON, Ga. – Two months before police say a high-priced prostitute calmly left a Google executive dying from a heroin overdose on his yacht, the woman panicked on the phone with a 911 dispatcher as her boyfriend lay on the floor of their home in the throes of a fatal overdose.
Police said Thursday they are re-examining the death of Dean Riopelle, 53, the owner of a popular Atlanta music venue. Riopelle had been dating Alix Tichelman, 26, who is now charged with manslaughter in the November death of Google executive Forrest Hayes. She was never charged in Riopelle’s death.
“Both subjects in these cases died of heroin overdoses so there’s just several factors we want to look at to make sure that we didn’t miss anything,” Milton police Capt. Shawn McCarty said.
It is not clear how long Tichelman may have been involved in prostitution, though police in California say she had many clients in the wealthy Silicon Valley. Police there also said that, after Hayes’ death, she had done online searches for how to defend herself legally after administering a lethal dose of heroin.
Numerous social media postings, photos and other articles online suggest she was pursuing a career as a fetish model and a life with Riopelle — one photo posted on her Facebook page shows her displaying a diamond “promise ring” given to her by Riopelle.
Riopelle and Tichelman had been dating for about two and a half years and lived together, said Riopelle’s sister, Dee Riopelle.
In a 2012 interview with a fetish magazine, fIXE, under the pseudonym AK Kennedy, Tichelman describes herself as a model, writer and makeup artist.
One post on her Facebook page, titled simply “heroin,” is a poem that opens with the line: “this private downward spiral-this suffocating blackhole.”
She also said she was interested in bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism, or BDSM. She said she and Riopelle would go to clubs, with her wearing a collar and leash.
Photos that accompany her interview show her in sexually suggestive poses wearing a variety of skimpy outfits, including a studded leather jacket with thigh-high fishnet stockings.
Riopelle was the lead singer of a rock ‘n’ roll band called the Impotent Sea Snakes, known for its wild stage shows and sexually explicit lyrics. Online videos show the band performing at a massive music festival in Germany, with members dressed in drag. Riopelle, under the moniker “13,” is wearing a long, pink wig, a leopard-print jacket, platform boots and tight pants.
Back in Georgia, Riopelle also was known for owning the Masquerade, a popular Atlanta music venue that is a popular destination for rock, punk and metal acts. Housed in a former mill, the venue is composed of three levels: “heaven” upstairs; “purgatory” on the main floor; and “hell” downstairs.
He was also known for his love of monkeys, as evidenced by his well-kept property in Milton. Just to the right of Riopelle’s home stand large animal enclosures, which include a barrel strung up by rope and fencing extending to the top.
Riopelle went to the University of Florida and got a degree in construction engineering. But when he was told by a boss to cut his hair and wear a bigger tie, he decided engineering wasn’t for him, his sister said. He opened his first bar, also called the Masquerade, in the historic Ybor City neighbourhood of Tampa, Florida, his sister said. About 25 years ago, he moved to Atlanta and opened the Masquerade there.
Over the years he also opened several sports bars and a fetish bar, his sister said.
“He was very, very wise when it came to business sense,” Dee Riopelle said. “Everything Dean touched turned to gold.”
In September, however, he and Tichelman’s lives took a dark turn. On Sept. 6, a drunken Tichelman called police, saying Riopelle threw her to the ground, according to a police report. Riopelle told officers that she had taken pills and drank alcohol, and had been stage diving and exposing her breasts that night at the Masquerade. He said he took her home because he did not approve.
Riopelle also told officers that she bit him on the finger and threatened to hit herself and tell police Riopelle had beaten her. A neighbour confirmed hearing Tichelman say that. She was charged with battery and arrested; Riopelle was not.
Less than two weeks later, a panicked Tichelman called 911, saying her boyfriend had overdosed on something and wouldn’t respond. She told a dispatcher that his eyes were open but that he was unconscious, describing his breathing as “on and off.” In the 911 tapes released Thursday, she can be heard saying, “Hello, Dean? Dean, are you awake?”
Tichelman tried for five minutes to revive him before calling 911, according to a police report. She said she had been in the shower when she heard a crash and came out to find Riopelle unconscious. Tichelman said she did not know how much drugs Riopelle had taken, but that he had been on a “bender the last few days,” according to the police report.
Riopelle died at a hospital a week later. An autopsy report listed his death as an accidental overdose of heroin, oxycodone and alcohol. Tichelman had told the dispatcher that he had been taking painkillers and drinking.
Police say surveillance video from the Google executive’s yacht shows Tichelman’s next deadly encounter with heroin in California, on Nov. 23.
Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark gives the following account from the video:
Tichelman prepares the heroin to a liquid and injects it into Hayes’ arm. Shortly after, Hayes clutches his chest, near his heart. Tichelman tries to prop him up, but he then loses consciousness.
Tichelman then starts picking up her belongings, including the needle, and cleans up a counter while stepping over Hayes several times. During that time, Tichelman calmly drinks a glass of wine and surveys the scene.
Tichelman then goes outside the cabin of the boat on the dock, looks back inside, then pulls down a window blind, closes a door and leaves.
“Never does she call 911 or call out to others in nearby boats for help. She never tries to administer any aid to him,” Clark said. “She is more concerned about getting herself out and concealing evidence than helping Mr. Hayes.”
Clark said that investigators learned that Tichelman later did online searches “on how to defend herself after giving a lethal dose of heroin.”
Investigators also learned that Tichelman planned to leave California late last month, possibly to Georgia and maybe even the country, Clark said.
Collins reported from San Francisco. Associated Press reporters Kate Brumback in Atlanta, Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, Michael Liedtke in San Francisco, and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this story.