VISTA, Calif. - An Oceanside man accused of killing his wife and dismembering her body in their home pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder and other charges.
Frederick Hengl, 68, was ordered held in lieu of $5 million bail in the death of his 73-year-old wife Anna.
The defendant, who is also charged with willful cruelty to an elder and committing an unlawful act with human remains, faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
Deputy District Attorney Katherine Flaherty told Judge Marshall Hockett that police went to the couple's home on North Ditmar Street last Friday after neighbors complained of a very strong, foul odor coming from the residence.
Officers gained entrance to the home through a window and saw what they thought was meat cooking on the stove, Flaherty said.
After contacting the defendant at a nearby bar, police realized that he was in the process of dismembering his wife, according to the prosecutor.
"There was not instantaneous recognition on the part of the officers, understandably, on what it was they were seeing, but they put two and two together pretty quickly after he (Hengl) was contacted," Flaherty said outside court. "They (officers) did find the victim's head, which had been severed at the very top of the cervical vertebrae, in the freezer wrapped in a bag."
In the bathroom, officers found what appeared to be a work area, with a saw and boning knife and other cutting instruments, the prosecutor said. A bag with pieces of bone that had been freshly cut was also found in the home, Flaherty said.
The victim's cause of death is still pending. When the victim died is not known, although authorities said Hengl's wife was seen prior to Nov. 1.
Neighbors told reporters that they had not seen the victim in about a month and had heard what sounded like a power saw in use in the couple's home about two weeks ago.
Several people who live in the neighborhood said Hengl's wife had been behaving bizarrely since last spring, exposing herself, wandering around carrying a butcher knife and making religious pronouncements, telling people such things as "God will smite you."
Her husband, meanwhile, had been going out dressed in women's clothing, makeup and jewelry, neighbors told reporters.
Neighbors reacted Wednesday as details of the case emerged. A neighbor identified as Karina told 10News, "It's disgusting. It's absolutely disgusting."
Greg Abad, another neighbor, added, "Something that graphic… it's actually psychotic. Who does that?"
Neighbor Jordan Kohn said, "Sounds like a horror story… like something out of 'American Psycho,' just cutting up bodies."
Neighbors say that rumors of the gruesome details started making the rounds as gossip, but they did not want to believe what seemed unbelievable.
"It's just weird to think that something that horrific would even happen but that it would happen this close to us," said Kohn.
The judge scheduled a readiness conference for Dec. 3 and a preliminary hearing for Dec. 5.