Rancho Santa Fe murder victims stabbed by aunt
Irrational fears of financial ruin and emotional pressure may have driven a Clairemont woman to kill her teenage niece and a family friend, then herself, in the girl’s luxury Rancho Santa Fe home, a family attorney said Friday, July 1.
Sheriff ’s homicide investigators released autopsy results Friday, July 1, that Hannah Arya, 15, and Los Angeles real estate broker Ihnwon Mia Shin, 56, were stabbed to death by Sayeh Amini, 52, who then committed suicide by stabbing or cutting herself.
Homicide detective Lt. Kenn Nelson said he plans to explain the events to the victims’ families in person early next week before he releases more detail on the double-murder suicide case.
The killings took place Monday, June 27, inside the Via de la Valle home owned by Hannah’s father, Michael Arya, before his death in April. Friends and family members have said Hannah came home from an Arizona boarding school with Shin, a longtime friend and business associate of her father, joining her as a sort of chaperone. It was not clear why Amini went to the house.
Investigators said someone called 911 about 11 a.m. to report possible child abuse at the home. Nelson declined to reveal what was heard or seen, but he said a couple of juveniles and an adult, acquaintances of Hannah’s, had been in front of her house, then went a short distance down the street to call for help. No calls for help were made from inside the house.
Deputies summoned by the call got no answer at the door but saw through a window a woman lying dead on the floor. They broke in and found the other two bodies in other parts of the house.
The lawyer, a family friend of Amini and her husband, James Moliere, described her as delusional and suicidal since the death of her brother, who lived in the home with his Russian girlfriend. He died at age 59 after a three-year battle with lung cancer.
“She (Amini) had it in her head that friends of her brother were going to blame her for her brother’s death, and perhaps people would come after her in lawsuits, to ruin her financially,” said Carl Starett, an El Cajon bankruptcy attorney.
He said Amini’s husband tried twice to have her admitted to a hospital when she became suicidal recently. On June 13 she was talking of harming herself, but refused to accept admission to the hospital, Starett said. Two days later, after she’d visited her brother’s house, a family friend told Moliere that Amini needed help. He took her back to the hospital and she stayed overnight before being discharged.
“I wish she’d gotten the help she needed,” Starett said. “We don’t have any information, specifically, about why she snapped. ... The only answer seems to be that she had a severe mental breakdown that wasn’t caught and treated.”
Hannah was attending Verde Valley boarding and day school in Sedona, Ariz. In social media postings her many friends remember her as a kind, loving and beautiful girl. She took part in equestrian events at school.
Shin looked out for Hannah after her father’s death, according to Leyla Kaya, who used to babysit Hannah and work for Arya. He owned Global Capital Group in downtown San Diego, a mortgage and real estate firm, and for a time owned Cafe Lulu in downtown San Diego.
Kaya described Hannah as “savvy” and intelligent, with an interest in politics.
Shin, who grew up in La Jolla and went to La Jolla High School, was a successful broker herself, her sister said. Her sister, who spoke to The San Diego Union-Tribune on condition that her name not be published, said Shin and Arya had been neighbors at one time.
She said Shin was with Hannah on Sunday, June 26, making dinner for her and a teenage friend.
“She had nothing to do with their family stuff,” the sister said in a telephone interview. “My sister was a practicing Buddhist. This is very odd. She’s always talking about cause and effect. I can’t understand how this has happened. …" She described Shin as a caring, strong, straightforward and assertive, yet vulnerable. Shin was unmarried and had no children.
Kaya spoke of Shin as sophisticated, sassy, charming and tough. She once sold a house to tennis star Serena Williams.
“She went through a rough patch (when Michael was dying),” Kaya said. “She finally felt at peace and felt like her whole life was changing for the better.”
Kaya said Hannah flew into San Diego on Saturday, June 25, and was planning to stay on through the Fourth of July. Kayla was supposed to pick her up, but plans changed and Shin drove down from Los Angeles to get her. Then Kayla, Shin and Hannah ate dinner at Cafe Gratitude in Little Italy, and got yogurt before going to the airport to pick up the girl’s friend, who flew in from Portland, Ore.
Shin was happy that weekend, talking about a $70 million project she had just secured in La Jolla, Kaya said.
“None of this makes sense. It’s very confusing, shocking,” Kaya said of the killings. “Mia was an innocent bystander. She came to help Hannah.”
She said Arya went through a messy divorce, and Hannah lived with Arya and his girlfriend, Marina Ryzhkova.
“Everything he could give his daughter, that was his goal,” Kaya said.
She added that Arya and his sister never had a close relationship.
Ryzhkova returned to Russia sometime after Arya’s death, and signed away her trustee rights to act for his estate in the event that Amini could not fulfill that role, according to Starett. With Amini dead, another family member could step in as trustee, or a professional could be appointed by the court, he said.
Starett said he has known Amini’s husband, Moliere, for 35 years. Moliere, a software engineer, was married to Amini for 16 years and they had three sons, ages 10, 12 and 15. She was a stay-at-home mother who also managed rental properties she and her husband owned.
Starett said Amini was the trustee of the Michael Arya Revocable Living Trust, and in that role had to manage the estate assets, such as paying the mortgage, utility bills, and Hannah’s tuition. Under terms of the trust, Hannah was to inherit 50 percent of the estate, and the other half was to be split among Amini, Arya’s girlfriend, Marina Ryzhkova, a niece and a nephew.
Arya bought the Rancho Santa Fe house for $950,000 in 2014, according to a real estate website. The two-bedroom, three-bathroom home of 2,395 square feet was built in 1986, and is currently valued at $1.32 million, the website said.
“There’s no financial incentive I can see for her (Amini) to kill Hannah,” Starett said. He noted California law prevents a murderer from reaping financial benefits from the killing. He also said he knew of no serious dispute within the family over Amini’s role as trustee or her share of the inheritance.
“The pressures of being trustee might have gotten to her,” Starett added. “There were some checks that weren’t written in a timely fashion. That could have led to some family friction.”
Hannah’s mother, who lives in Oregon, remarried after her divorce from Arya. Starett said public records show that on June 10, she filed a lien against the estate for child support, discovery costs and attorney’s fees totaling $125,246. A judge confirmed an order for the liens to be recorded. Starett said he doubted Amini would have had time to receive mailed notice of the lien before Monday, so it was not a likely trigger for the slayings.
He said Amini’s husband is “numb” while dealing with the murder-suicide and their three sons.
“He’s got to pick up the pieces and go back to work,” Starett said. “James has told me had he known this would happen, he would have done everything he could to prevent it.”
Pauline Repard is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune