Sam Haskell, 35, is accused of murdering his wife and in-laws
In the well-manicured San Fernando Valley suburb of Tarzana, Mei Haskell, 37, was considered a cheerful and considerate addition to the community when she arrived with her family in Dec. 2020.
Elle Benami — who lives next door to the six-bedroom home that Mei shared with husband Sam, their three sons, and Mei’s parents, who had moved from China to help with the boys — recalls asking Mei for advice when a water heater went out during a holiday weekend. “I asked her for recommendations for a plumber, and she insisted that we come over and use her shower,” Benami says. “She was a very social, outgoing, friendly person.”
But last fall, when Benami spotted Mei while driving and slowed down to say hello, her friend seemed visibly upset. “I made myself a mental note: ‘I need to go and check on Mei.’”
Days later, on Nov. 8, police arrested Sam Haskell IV, 35, a filmmaker and the son of a well-known Hollywood producer, and charged him with multiple murders in connection with the deaths of Mei, her mother, Yanxiang Wang, 64, and stepfather Gaoshan Li, 72.
At an arraignment hearing on Jan. 12, Sam Haskell pleaded not guilty to three murder charges. If convicted, he could face a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
His lawyer declined comment about the case to PEOPLE.
No motive has been specified for his alleged crimes, and the bodies of his in-laws Li and Wang have yet to be recovered. Says Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman: “We are continuing to investigate these horrific murders in order to seek justice for Mei Haskell and her family.”
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Growing up in China, where she worked as a model in her teens, Mei longed for the typical American lifestyle and immigrated to Los Angeles in the mid-2000s. She was studying accounting at California State University, Northridge, and working as a waitress when she met Sam, a fellow student and the son of Hollywood executive Sam Haskell III, who produced TV specials for Dolly Parton and resigned as CEO of the Miss America Organization after sending sexist emails critical of former contestants in 2017.
The couple were married after graduating and had three sons: Sam, James, and William. Mei owned a consulting business that helped foreign students navigate the American education system, Sam was an aspiring filmmaker and made frequent trips to Japan to tape TikTok videos.
“He thought he was going to be the next Brian De Palma,” says Sam’s former personal trainer Troy Piedade.
Friends say they were an odd pairing. When the gregarious Mei hosted parties at their home, Sam made only brief appearances, says a friend of Mei’s. “He would just stand by himself somewhere, looking down or looking away, and then within a few minutes just disappear. Everyone who met him thought he was creepy.”
Prosecutors allege to PEOPLE that Sam killed his wife and in-laws — who had last been seen around Nov. 6 — at the family’s home, and then hired day laborers on Nov. 7 to dispose of heavy trash bags filled with rocks from his garage. But upon inspection, the laborers allegedly discovered body parts in one of the bags and returned them to Sam, who claimed they contained Halloween props. The laborers notified the police.
According to prosecutors, Sam was allegedly seen on surveillance footage later that day hauling to a dumpster in nearby Encino a similar bag that investigators later discovered contained a human torso. (A coroner determined that the remains belonged to Mei Haskell.)
On Nov. 8, at approximately 8:40 a.m. police responded to a request to perform a welfare check and allegedly found “stains in the driveway resembling blood,” according to a police search warrant affidavit obtained by PEOPLE. Officers entered the home and “observed stains in the master bedroom and bathroom resembling blood spatter.”
In the Haskells' garage, officers found numerous trash bags.
“Officers discovered numerous articles of bedding inside the bags which were covered in stains resembling blood,” states the affidavit.
Sam was taken into custody on Nov. 8 while driving a 2021 silver Nissan Armada and the vehicle was impounded.
Police found a white Tesla registered to Mei abandoned in front of a residence in Encino. Surveillance video allegedly showed the Tesla parking in front of the residence around 6:10 p.m. on Nov. 7 and “a male driver exited and walked southbound,” the affidavit states.
“The male returned approximately ten minutes later driving what appeared to be a silver Nissan Armada and parked to the rear of the Tesla,” states the affidavit. “The male removed numerous items from the Tesla and transferred them into the Nissan Armada. The male then drove the Nissan southbound on Encino Avenue, fleeing the location.”
Criminalists later recovered "possible blood evidence" from the cargo area and front trunk of the Tesla as well as a revolver and a knife with a 3.25-inch blade from the Nissan Armada, the affidavit alleges.
Sam is being held without bail at an L.A. correctional facility. He has a hearing scheduled for Feb. 16.
Meanwhile friends of Mei are shocked and saddened by the loss of the devoted mom, who had dreams of one day opening a boba tea and sushi shop.
“She was incredibly passionate about all aspects of life,” says her friend.
Mei’s sons are now living with relatives on their father’s side of the family. “It’s just so sad,” says neighbor Annamarie Griffin. “All the stolen moments.”
• With additional reporting by Liam Quinn
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