How was Hollywood exec's daughter-in-law killed? Headless body gives few clues

Mei Haskell her parents, Yanxiang Wang and Gaoshen Li, all lived in a single-story home in the 4100 block of Coldstream Terrace in Tarzana.
Prosecutors say Samuel Bond Haskell IV killed his wife, Mei Haskell and her parents, Yanxiang Wang and Gaoshan Li. (Los Angeles Police Department)

The headless torso that turned up in a dumpster was certainly a homicide — that much is clear.

But whether the death of Mei Haskell, the wife of a prominent Hollywood agent's son, was the result of being shot, hit in the head, suffocated or even beheaded is impossible to determine, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner.

Body parts found inside a black plastic sack in November and reports by workers of what looked like human remains at his Tarzana property led police to arrest Samuel Bond Haskell IV in connection with the disappearance and deaths of his wife and her parents.

The coroner determined the torso belonged to Haskell's wife, Mei, 37, but police have yet to locate the remains of her mother, Yanxiang Wang, 64, and stepfather, Gaoshan Li, 72.

According to the autopsy report, Mei Haskell was beheaded with a "single sharp force to the base of the neck," although there is "no definitive indication" that the dismemberment occurred after death. A pathologist added that "the possibility that the head and neck removal was initiated prior to death cannot be entirely excluded."

The report indicated that only the upper thighs were attached to her torso, and amputation sites were remarkably smooth.

"This suggests a sharp power tool was likely used to perform these amputations."

Read more: Hollywood executive's son pleads not guilty in triple murder of wife and in-laws

Without a direct cause of death, the medical examiner ruled that the mother of three died of "homicidal violence."

Although toxicology tests showed no indication of drug use, the pathologist's report said that, like other manners of death, poisoning could not be ruled out.

A shirtless man is behind a clear partition.
Samuel Haskell IV was arraigned in January on triple murder charges. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In January, Haskell, 35, entered not guilty pleas to three counts of murder with special circumstances of committing multiple murders. If convicted, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Haskell is the son of Emmy-winning producer Sam Haskell, a former executive at the powerful William Morris talent agency.

Los Angeles police are still trying to sort out the mystery of the Tarzana man and his three missing family members. Authorities say Haskell lived in a sprawling home in the 4100 block of Coldstream Terrace with his wife, their three school-aged children and in-laws.

Yanqing Wang said he never heard of any fights nor any talk of divorce between his niece, Mei, and her husband, but he said his sister — Mei's mother — complained that Mei was the only one paying for their $7,000-a-month mortgage and that Haskell hadn’t offered financial support when they were looking to buy a house three years ago.

Police said that on Nov. 7, Haskell tried to get day laborers to remove bags from his home containing what he said were rocks. The workers told KNBC-TV Channel 4 that the bags’ contents felt like meat, and when they looked inside, they saw body parts. “When we picked up the bags, we could tell they weren’t rocks,” one of the workers said in Spanish.

When that disposal method failed, Haskell was caught on security cameras dumping bags from the back of his Tesla in Encino, authorities said.

The next morning, an unhoused man found a human torso stuffed inside a duffel bag in a dumpster in an Encino parking lot near Ventura Boulevard and Rubio Avenue, about five miles from Haskell’s home, police said.

Haskell was arrested after the gruesome discovery, and during a search of his home, detectives discovered blood and evidence consistent with dismemberment, Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.