WESTMINSTER, Calif. – A woman has been charged with killing a widely known Vietnamese-American fortuneteller and her daughter, slayings that initially mystified investigators because the victims' hands and faces were covered with white paint.
Tanya Jaime Nelson (search) allegedly assumed the identities of the victims after the April 21 killings, spending more than $3,000 on clothing and plane tickets, authorities said.
Nelson, 41, of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., was arrested Monday and charged with fraud and burglary, and charges of conspiracy and double-murder were added Friday, said police Lt. Derek Marsh. Bail was set at $1 million for Nelson, who also uses the name Phuong Thao Nguyen.
Phillipe Zamora (search), 50, also of Roanoke Rapids, is in custody at Halifax County Jail in North Carolina pending extradition to California to face identical charges, Marsh said.
Authorities said fortuneteller Ha Jade Smith (search), 52, and her daughter, Anita Nhi Vo, 23, were stabbed to death when they interrupted a burglary at their home.
Smith, known as Miss Ha (search), was known nationally among Vietnamese-Americans as a skilled fortuneteller and had clients from as far away as New York.
The victims' faces and hands were covered in white paint.
Callers told police the paint may have symbolized the white worn during Vietnamese funerals or the white face coloring of villains in the traditional theater of some Asian countries, but Marsh said it may have been used merely in an attempt to throw off police.
If convicted, Nelson and Zamora could be eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.