Authorities accuse Samuel Haskell of killing his wife and in-laws
Elle Benami remembers seeing Mei Li Haskell about a week before she went missing.
“I was taking my kids to school and she was taking hers, we passed each other in the car, we rolled down the window and I remember it struck me that she looked very different than normal,” Benami tells PEOPLE. “She looked really somber and sad and upset about something.”
Mei, along with her parents Gaoshan Li and Yanxiang Wang, have been missing since Nov. 6. Her husband, Samuel Haskell IV, the son of a former Hollywood agent, is now charged with three counts of murder, accused of killing his wife and in-laws after authorities allege he was observed dumping a trash bag into a dumpster that contained a human torso.
Benami lives next door to the Haskell home and her kids would often play with their three boys. Mei was an incredibly outgoing person, her neighbor says, and loved planning parties and dinners for her friends.
That’s why it was out of the ordinary when she missed dinner with another one of her friends and stopped responding to messages, Benami says.
Though Benami was not home on the evening of Nov. 7, she says her husband was and he noticed an odor that smelled like rotting flesh. He assumed it was a dead animal caught somewhere. But that night, police showed up and began asking Benami’s husband questions about the Haskells, when he had last seen them and who he had seen.
Later that night, around 9 p.m., Benami's oldest daughter texted their babysitter that she heard what she thought was a child yell out, “hello” and “help,” followed by the sound of a car door slamming and loud screeching.
The next morning, as Benami was getting ready to take one of her kids to school, one of Mei’s closest friends was outside.
“He looked completely pale and he said to me, ‘Yeah, there's something really wrong,’” Benami recalls.
That’s when Benami walked outside and noticed a group of police officers next door. Detectives questioned Benami about her relationship with the Haskells and if she had seen them recently.
Finally, one of the detectives told Benami that there had been evidence of a crime, but that they couldn’t identify the victim because body parts were missing.
“My heart completely dropped,” Benami says. “It’s a crazy thing to hear.”
Eventually, police informed Benami that they had arrested Sam and that the children were safe and accounted for at school.
The body parts found in trash bags have not yet officially been identified. But police believe the torso found in the dumpster is Mei’s.
The news comes as a shock to the residents of Tarzana, a quiet upscale neighborhood in the hills where the family moved in 2020.
Mei is remembered as a kind woman and devoted mother, who also acted as a translator for her Chinese-speaking parents, who lived with the family.
Benami remembers when the family moved in, she and Mei quickly became friends. Mei was always eager to give out gifts and make plans. Sam, Benami says, was “socially awkward” and collected weapons.
Once when Benami’s water heater broke, Mei insisted that her neighbors use her shower.
“She was always available at the drop of a hat,” Benami says. “And she was so dedicated to her kids."
Annamarie Griffin, another neighbor who lives on the same street, remembers seeing Wang, who suffered a stroke shortly before the family moved in, frequently walking up and down the block as she recovered her ability to walk.
“They loved those kids,” Griffin tells PEOPLE about Wang and Li. “I didn't know them well, but I knew the love and it's just so sad. All the stolen moments.”
Griffin says she and her neighbors are planning to tie white ribbons around trees to pay tribute to the family.
Sam Haskell is currently in custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and is being held without bail.
“These shocking and gruesome crimes have sent shockwaves through our community. We stand with the victims’ loved ones during this unimaginably difficult time and will do everything in our power to ensure justice is served,” Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement.
Sam is the son of former Hollywood producer and agent Sam Haskell III, who has represented the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and George Clooney. He has also produced multiple TV specials with Dolly Parton.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.