Police thought they were handling a routine drug bust at a ritzy hotel — until they opened a large Rubbermaid container and found a woman's body preserved on a bed of dry ice.
In the days since the chilling discovery, the tale has only gotten more bizarre.
Friends insist that Monique Trepp, 33, an aspiring model, died a year ago and her boyfriend, a convicted drug dealer from New Zealand, held a wake in her honor at the hotel where he lived for three years. Authorities said she had been dead "a while," but released few other details.
The person who likely knows more, Trepp's boyfriend, Stephen David Royds, 46, made a cryptic statement from jail, where he is being held on $1 million bail on felony drug charges and a warrant from a 2002 conviction for selling cocaine.
Prosecutors have not said whether they will charge Royds with an offense related to keeping her body or not reporting her death. An autopsy found no signs of homicide. Toxicology tests are pending, but authorities have said Trepp likely overdosed on drugs.
"Right now, we only have sufficient evidence to support the drug-related charges," said Susan Schroeder, spokeswoman for the Orange County district attorney.
Silence surrounding the case has baffled the couple's friends and acquaintances. The pair acted strange at times, but were polite and engaging, said Arturo Flores, general manager of Tapas, a restaurant the couple frequented.
A driver would chauffeur them a few hundred yards from the Fairmont Hotel across the street to Tapas, where Royds and Trepp drank liberally, paid cash and tipped waiters with lottery tickets.
"We saw these people on a daily basis. Just because you see they are weird doesn't mean they're bad people," said Flores. "It's just nuts."
Police had been tailing Royds for some time when they arrested him late last week. An informant said he was selling cocaine on the beach, said police Sgt. Evan Sailor.
In his executive suite, Room 966, Trepp's well-preserved body was stuffed into a giant-sized Rubbermaid container packed with dry ice. The suite, featuring marble floors, a powder room, and a private balcony, goes for up to $400 per night.
A spokeswoman for the hotel said Royds had negotiated a discounted rate because of his extended stay, but did not elaborate.
Christmas presents and drug paraphernalia were scattered about the messy room, said Dennis Conway, assistant district attorney.
Royds used multiple aliases, including Mel Proffitt, a variation on the name of the Kevin Spacey character in the 1987 TV series "Wiseguys," about a drug kingpin, Conway said.
In a jailhouse interview, the New Zealand native told The Orange County Register that "everything that happened was for religious reasons." He repeated the sentence four times, but said no more.
Royds' public defender did not speak after a court appearance Monday and he did not return phone messages left by The Associated Press.
Flores said Royds told wait staff at Tapas that Trepp died a year ago and he held a wake in her honor.
"He was quiet, kept to himself, but then he got social again," Flores said of Royds.
Royds, who wore dark sunglasses, bought pornography magazines, Ketel One vodka, wine and lottery tickets at the Airport Wine and Spirits store, said clerk Jonathon Kang. He once told Kang's boss that he was a Hollywood producer.
"We were just wondering about him because he bought a lot of XXX magazines," Kang said. "He always came in alone."
Royds often engaged Tapas wait staff and customers in long conversations about the war in Iraq, the economy and politics, Flores said.
Trepp never shared stories from her past and would talk mostly about fashion and cosmetics, the staple of the magazines she often carried. Royds liked to show off pictures of a younger Trepp when she was trying to break into modeling.
Mike Smith, the property manager at Trepp's apartment complex, said her rent checks bounced every couple of months, and she was working as a stripper at a club called J's.
"She was real cute, a blue-eyed blonde, a typical beach girl," said Smith. "Whenever I talked to her, she was always going to get a better job and she was going to go back to school. She was always kind of running between the raindrops."
Smith said he believes he saw Trepp as recently as November, when he went to her apartment to report another bad check. He said Trepp's name remains on the lease.
Trepp graduated from Norco High School in 1992, where she was known as Monique Glassman. She was a cheerleader and got solid B's, according to school records. Her senior yearbook picture shows a smiling teen with wavy light brown hair, wearing lipstick and a delicate necklace.
Calls to her younger brother, Allen Trepp, were not returned and her grandmother, Ramona Trepp, told the AP that she hadn't seen Trepp for 20 years.
Similarly, Royds' father, John Royds, told The New Zealand Herald that he hadn't seen his son in 20 years, when he moved to the U.S. to pursue his downhill skiing passion. He said they hadn't spoken in nearly eight years. It wasn't immediately clear if Royds was a legal U.S. resident.
Royds' uncle, Alan Meyer, said his nephew was a difficult child growing up.
"If ever there was a spoilt brat it was Stephen," Meyer told The Press newspaper in New Zealand. "He was spoilt as a kid and it was never corrected. He just got away with everything."
Sometime after his arrival, however, Royds got into drug trouble. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to charges of possessing and selling cocaine. He was to be sentenced to six months in prison when he disappeared.
In 2005, Trepp was charged with several felonies in Colorado, including possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, court records show. But said she disappeared after a much older man posted bail for her, attorney Mark S. Rubinstein said.
There were still outstanding warrants for her arrest when her body was discovered.