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Tonight on Dateline.


Everybody get back. It is an explosion. There is a fire.


We have one confirmed fatality at this time.


I knew.


You knew she was gone.


I knew it was her.


He's a cute little bunny.


She was just beautiful inside and out.


This is murder by bombing.




The husband was aware that ill Co was cheating on him.


How many other guys were there?


I'd say five or six.


Elizabeth hated her.


She sent Ildico photos. Right, which we won't show on television.


What's the most common motive in human history for murder? It's love.


If this is intentional, I would be a person of interest. Just naturally.


It was one of those moments where my hair stick on the back of my neck.


You thought, that's the end.




If you watch Dateline, there's always an end. That wasn't it.


A bomb in a day spa and a victim with a string of lovers means no shortage of suspects. I'm Lester Holt and this is Dateline. Here's Josh Menkowitz with death at the spa. Eliso Viejo is a leafy green wedge of the suburban sprawl that makes up southern California's mythic Orange county. It's just down the road from where the real housewives live their best lives. Not a lot happens in Eliso Viejo. And around here. They like that.


Simon one. What is your emergency?


Except on May 15, 2018, just past 01:00 p.m. Something did happen. Something big.


I heard it. I was on my lunch break at home and I'm like, that's weird.


Holly Salcida was about a mile away from what sounded to her like a huge explosion. Others close by saw the aftermath seconds later and began recording. A two story commercial building had been severely damaged. Holly's co workers confirmed it.


They said, well, what street was it on? And they said, mariblu.


When Holly heard that, she worried her friend Ildico Kranyak owned a day spa on Mariblu, had a gas leak inside the building caused the explosion? Or could this be terrorism? Either foreign or domestic? Within minutes, an Orange county sheriff's deputy arrived on scene. Hey, everybody get back.


Everybody get back.


Dash camera recording it is an explosion. There is a fire.


Is there anybody hurt? 283 I've got body parts.


Loss of life was a guarantee. Someone had been blown literally to bits. Severed limbs lay on the ground. Debris from the building was strewn across the street. The sulfurous smell of fireworks and a plume of white smoke filled the air. Valerie Stone was at work several miles away when she heard about the explosion. She immediately thought of her boyfriend, who helped run a spa on Mariblu Street.


I was texting back and forth with Stephen.


Stephen Beal was at home that day. So right after he heard from Valerie, his thoughts turned to Ildico, too. They were business partners at the spa. He texted her in an apparent panic. There was an explosion there. Ildico, are you okay? He got no response.


He was calling every number he had for her, trying to reach her, and no answer.


Stephen wasn't the only one trying to reach Ildico. Sarah Thomas had been at the spa that morning getting her lashes done. Just a few hours later, Sarah saw the building where the spa was located on the news.


I didn't really know what to think of it. I just thought, like, oh, my gosh, there was a gas explosion. Like when I left.


Did you try to contact Ildico?


I did. I texted asking if she was know you see it and you don't want to believe it either. You're hoping that maybe it just looks like it's in that area.


There was a news conference. My co workers put it on.


We arrived at the scene of an obvious explosion.


I didn't have to listen to it. I knew what they were going to say.


We have one confirmed fatality at this time. There were two injuries. Both were transported to area hospitals. Holly dialed Ildico's cell phone with dread.


My iPhone was going to green when it should be going to blue. I knew.


You knew she was gone.


I knew it was her.


Police weren't saying it, but they knew the same thing. 48 year old Ildico Kronyak was dead. The two women critically injured had been Ildico's clients at the spa. One of them told a first responder how she saw Ildico open a box. And then an instant later, came a bright light and then darkness as the shockwave hit and the building crumbled on top of them, Orange county sheriff's investigator Jack Ackerman had been called to the scene. To him, the explosion sounded alarmingly familiar.


In March of that year in Texas, there had been a person doing package bombs.


Tonight, a suspected serial bomber may have struck again.


In my head, I thought maybe somebody was doing a copycat of that.


So Ackerman wondered, were there more packages out there, maybe headed for other targets?


We started a process of trying to interview people who might be close contacts with the victims.


They set up a tip line. Hundreds of calls came in, including one from Stephen Ildico's business partner.


You possibly had information to provide us.


Stephen indicated he knew Ildico well because he was Ildico's ex and helped her manage the spa. He told the dispatcher he'd tried in vain to reach Ildico. Ackerman's team drove 32 miles north of Aliso Viejo to where Stephen lived to ask some questions and also make sure he was safe.


We didn't know if the business was the target. We didn't know if Ildico was the target. We didn't know if Mr. Beal was the target.


When they got to Stephen's house, their concerns felt quite legit because some boxes had just been delivered. It was a horrific scene. A package bomb had gone off at a day spa in Aliso Viejo. A woman had been killed, two others injured.


This isn't a town where crime is rampant or things like this happen.


When things like this do happen, the FBI responds. The bureau's joint terrorism task force mobilized. Special Agent Ashley Merrickle was assigned to speak with the surviving victims. Lead agent Nick Vicencia went straight to the scene.


We had a massive debris field, a huge crime scene, and we wanted to initially come up with an investigative plan and a plan to process the crime scene as soon as possible.


A bomber was on the loose and other potential targets were out there. Agent Vicencia knew timing was everything. He set up a command post, staffed around the clock. Orange county sheriff's deputies had arrived at the home of Ildico's business partner, Stephen Beal, and saw he'd just received some packages.


Our team made quick contact with him so that we could make sure it was safe for him.


They had Stephen step outside. Can they go inside and take a.


Look at those packages, please?


Right as you open the door. The packages are to the left. There's three, and they're in a stack.


Stephen sat with investigators in their car while the bomb squad went to work in his house. They were not devices. They were benign.


They were benign. Right. So he had been doing some remodeling in his house, and he was getting packages with various items for remodeling.


Stephen didn't appear to be a target. So was Ildico. Ackerman believed the answer was yes.


Based off of her injuries and our experts and the interviews with the surviving victims, it was more likely going to be a homicide.


This is murder by bombing.




Investigators asked Stephen the usual first question. If you were going to try to.


Figure on who would want to hurt her or her business, who would your best guess be? I cannot come up with a single thought for who would ever want to hurt her.


Of course, his own ties to Ildico put him on the list of people to rule in or out. Stephen understood that and consented to a search of his home while he continued to talk about Ildico.


She was always smiling. She had great advice for people. She cared. She went out of her way. Know, ease your burden.


Investigators were speaking with Ildico's friends, too, and her story quickly started to emerge.




Look at it.


He's a cute little bunny. Look at the ears.


She was just beautiful inside and out.


Ildico was a well respected esthetician who'd been recommended to Holly. How was she?


Wonderful from the very beginning.


Wonderful, technically or wonderful as a person or both?


Both, yeah. She made me feel like a friend right from the start.


Holly was going through some hard times then, and Ildica was a good listener. They connected the same way. Hairdressers sometimes become a data bank of their clients'secrets.


I confided in her, she confided in me.


They had some things in common. They were both boy moms.


She loved her son. He was number one.


Talked about him all the.


Mm hmm.


Yes. Just like I talked about mine.


There was another frequent topic, Ildico's relationships with man. And not just the one she had with her husband of 22 years.


I knew she had her boyfriends on the side.


How many other guys were there?


A good five or six. There was always someone.


Holly didn't approve of Ildico's affairs, but she did understand them.


She just wanted to be loved, and she loved attention from men.


Her husband's not one of those men.




What was wrong in that marriage?


I do believe, from what she said, he was a good know. He took care of her mother, very good to her mother. But she just wanted to feel loved. And they grew apart when Ildico and.


Her husband, Renilo Vestile met. Ildico had recently moved to the US from her native Hungary. Ildico's cousin, Ava Boney says their relationship was beautiful.


They were a very cute couple, and they were in love.


You could tell.


Yes, of course. Just the warmness, what they have between them.


They had a son who was now in college, and along the way, something in the marriage changed. Ava wasn't sure what.


She would not give me her private life nor asking me my opinion. That was her life.


Like Holly, Ildico's friend and client, Sarah knew about Ildico's extramarital adventures. Did Ildico's husband know what was going.


On in her romantic life, I assumed so. She did make it seem like they had an arrangement.


Was Ildico planning to end that arrangement? When Sarah saw her the morning of the explosion, Ildico talked about a man she had recently started seeing.


She said, I want to be with him. I don't want to be dating all these people, and that she was going to move forward with this guy.


A couple of hours after that conversation with Sarah at her spa, Ildico was gone. Now an intense investigation was underway into Ildico's life. Investigators learned she had recently returned from Hungary. Agents pulled her travel info for the days leading up to the explosion, and they requested her cell phone records. They also spoke with Ildico's husband, Renillo, who actually found them when the explosion happened.


He came down to the scene. He tried to ask if Ildico was okay.


Those feel like the actions of a person who didn't have any involvement.


It felt to us what we observed was a frantic individual looking for information.


Ronilo said he was at work when his brother told him there was an explosion on Marablu and one person had died. He said he wasn't sure if Ildico had returned from Hungary, so he texted asking if she was back in town. Ildico did not respond, and that's when Renilo says he drove to Ildico's spa.


Can we tell him know? Did we see if her car was in the parking lot?


Investigators couldn't answer any of Renilo's questions, so they told him to go home to the house he shared with Ildico.


We put a surveillance team on him right away, so we were watching his.


Movements when Renilo made it home. Ildico's cousin Ava met him there.


I asked him, what does he know? And he said, he doesn't know anything.


And then came a knock at the door.


Five to six, like a military style. With that, I forgot people enter the house.


For true crime fans, nothing is more chilling than watching Dateline.


Have you ever seen such a thing before?


For podcast fans, nothing is more chilling.


Than listening what goes through your mind when you make a discovery like that.


And when you subscribe to Dateline Premium, it gets even better. Excuse me if I sound a little skeptical. Every episode is ad free.


Ooh, wow.


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You ready for what's coming?


Hey, guys. Willie Geist here, reminding you to check out the Sunday sit down podcast. On this week's episode, I get together with one of the funniest people on the planet, Catherine O'Hara, to talk about her new movie Argyle, the wild popularity of her character Moira Rose, and her lifetime in comedy. You can get our conversation now for free wherever. Download your podcasts.


A 48 year old Ildico Kronyak had been killed by an explosion after she opened a package at her day spa. Investigators had ruled out any connection to those Texas bombings and now believed Ildico was the intended target. The big questions were why? Who built the device, and how did.


It get to her spa with an explosive device? They all have their unique signatures. The chemicals, how it was contained, how it was delivered, how it's gone off. So you're kind of working from inside out to trying to find the person or person's responsible for.


FBI bomb. Technicians told lead agent Nick Vicencia the device that killed Ildico was a flashpowder bomb hidden inside the cardboard box. Ildico's client saw her open right before the blast. Agent Miracle spoke with her.


It was definitely rectangular. It's probably shoebox height, but I don't remember it being that wide. Her recollection of that was very good.


As they continued to collect evidence from the debris, Bobtechs were identifying the components of the explosive device. They found the jacket of a CVS brand nine volt battery, completely split open. Cells from the battery were found lodged in the ceiling right above where the bomb went off. Investigators believed that battery powered the bomb. The bomb itself tells you that you're looking for someone who has some specific specialized skills. This is not a device that just anybody could make.


Correct. We were looking for anybody with experience with chemicals and electric fusing systems.


That's a fairly sophisticated piece of knowledge in both those cases, very much so. Investigators needed to find whoever that was. The night of the explosion, what looked like a SWAT team showed up at Ildico and her husband Renilo's house. Neelo, as he was called, was there with Ildico's cousin Ava.


I asked them why you guys are here, and Neelo was very calm, but I was keep asking them, and they couldn't give me any answer. They told me that we don't know anything, ma'am.


Then, says Ava, 20 to 25 agents went through the house inch by inch. The search continued overnight and into the next day. A news chopper captured the scene.


Okay, good. Oh, got them bringing stuff out. There we go. I'm going to follow him, Aldo, with the package.


When it was over, did the house look like a tornado had hit it?




It was upside down.




By now, it was clear to Ava Ildico had been killed in the explosion at her spa and that law enforcement was taking a hard look at Ranilo. Did you at any point think that Neelo could be a suspect?


Never, ever in my life.


I mean, in this country, sadly, marriages break up and husbands kill their ex wives. I mean, that happens.


Yeah, but I would never, ever believe that that's Neelo. I would believe that the neighbor or anyone else, but not them.


The investigators wanted to know a lot more from Renilo about his relationship with his wife. Eldeco and her husband still lived together, but essentially lived separate lives.


They lived in the same home. They were raising a child together. They had dinner on a regular basis together.


But, I mean, Ildico was dating men who were not her husband, and he was aware of that.


I think he had a sense of it, maybe.


But during his interview, Renilo expressed nothing but love and respect for Ildico to investigators, and they found nothing suspicious in Renilo and Ildico's home. One day after the explosion, law enforcement finally released Ildico's name. Ava stood outside Ildico's place as a family friend spoke to the press.


This is a complete shock to family and friends. We're in full support of our public authorities to do their jobs in hopes of finding answers to many of the unanswered questions.


Who'd want to kill Ildico?


I didn't think anybody would.


You'd never heard her express any fear of anybody?


No, but I knew that she had complicated relationships. I don't know, maybe somebody she was. I don't know what she was mixed up in.


Maybe Renilo did. When he spoke with investigators, he did share a couple of interesting details. There was a handyman named Max who had a key to Ildico's spa. Ronilo quoted Ildico as saying Max would sometimes park overnight in the lot and sleep in his car.


So we definitely wanted to talk with the handyman.


When they did, nothing alarming stood out. They moved on. Ronilo also talked about a woman who'd been sending him angry messages recently. She was upset that Ildico had gotten between her and her husband. Stephen Beale had mentioned this same couple. That'll put somebody on the radar screen pretty quickly.


Yes, and it. And it did quickly.


Now, investigators had heard twice about a couple Ildico had somehow become entangled with, a couple that lived in Eliso Viejo, just a few miles from her spa. They were Elizabeth and Gabor Pap, names familiar to Ildico's friends. Tell me about Gabor.


She had a little fling with him, Holly said.


Ildico met Gabor in 2015.


They had an intimate relationship. As far as I knew, it was.


A complicated relationship, too. The major complication here being that she and Gabor were both married. He thought he was going to leave his wife and end up with Ildico. That did not happen. Instead, there was a confrontation at Ildico's spa after Elizabeth said she found Gabor and Ildico having sex. Voices were raised and it got physical. Unclear who started that. In the end, Gabor returned to Elizabeth. Two years later, Ildico poked Gabor on Facebook. According to Elizabeth, she also began seeing Ildico drive by their home, and Elizabeth responded. She sent Ildico some photos, which we won't show on television, but they were intimate photos. Sort of taunting Ildico that I got him. He's mine now, right. What did Ildico say about getting those photos from Gabor's wife?


She thought she was crazy, sending another woman photos like that.


Even so, Holly says Ildico never expressed any fear of Elizabeth or Gabor. Should she have taken the history of that love triangle a little more seriously? FBI agents were wondering the same thing. Less than 24 hours. You're talking to the paps about their relationship with Ildico?




Elizabeth told the agents a long, tawdry story about Ildico's affair with her husband, about the shouting fight at Ildico's spa, and about how Ildico had tried to reconnect with Gabor. That's when the scorned wife, Elizabeth texted the scorned husband, Renilo. She almost destroyed my family. Enough is enough. And then this, just a month and a half before the explosion. Neelo, please ask your wife to stop contacting me or my husband. She did it again. Any contact from her is not welcomed for us. Ronelo texted back, suggesting she block Ildico on Facebook, to which Elizabeth responded, really? You're so blind and accept what your wife is doing instead of stepping up. Be a man.


Elizabeth was very forthright of her feelings for Ildico.


She admitted she didn't like Ildico and it stemmed from an affair that Ildico had with her husband.




The paps gave investigators consent to search their devices and their home.


There was no evidence that her or her husband had any knowledge or materials to detonate a device in this manner.


You didn't find anything?




No evidence of bomb making, maybe. But Elizabeth sure seemed on the verge of detonating whenever she talked about Ildico. She told the bureau they should have no trouble finding suspects because the men in Ildico's life were a never ending revolving door, and agents knew they'd have to speak with every one of them. It doesn't sound as if Ildico was very concerned for her own safety.


She didn't think there was anything to be nervous about.


Sarah, on the other hand, worried. And she couldn't help but wonder about a guy she saw Ildico with the morning of the explosion.


She came out of her room rushed, with keys and mail in her hand, and that's when the guy was starting to come towards us and she sort of shoot him off.


What do you look like?


He appeared to be pretty tall, bigger, gray haired. I asked her who it was, and she said, oh, just a friend.


Ildico didn't share any details.


It was all sort of insignificant to me. It didn't seem out of the ordinary until later. Until you leave a place and a bomb goes off, then everything seems weird.


Which is why she contacted law enforcement. And soon FBI agents were at her door.


They asked me to try to identify who I saw that day, which I could not.


Do they show you any photos?


Yeah, but they were, like, yearbook size, like this small, really grainy, bad photos on a paper like this. And so all I could tell them at the time was, it's definitely not him.


Turns out the man Sarah saw that morning showed up at the spa after the explosion because he had lunch plans with Ildico. His name was Scott Malali, and investigators spoke with him.


He told us that he and Ildico met at a casino a few weeks prior. He dropped her off in the airport when she went to Hungary, and he offered to pick her up.


Ildico agreed. And so he picked her up from LAX the night before. They spent the evening together, and he drove Ildico to her spa the next morning. And so there certainly wasn't any bad blood between the two of them. No. When investigators looked at the video from LAX, there he was with Ildico at baggage claim. He seemed to be telling the truth. Even so, they checked his records and searched his car and home. And there was this. Before landing at LAX, Ildico


made a stop at the San Francisco airport.


We got the airport video. We saw her coming through customs.


They also saw that Ildico wasn't alone. This turned out to be a man named Laszlo Zabo. Who is that?


It was a person she was off and on dating, and she went on the trip to Hungary with.


He and Ildico flew back to the States together and parted ways in San Francisco before Ildico caught a flight to LA and met Scott. You talked with him? Oh, yes. Laszlo told investigators he'd been in Hungary for the last few weeks, and he hadn't visited Southern California in months. Investigators had plenty to keep them busy, including Eldeco's business partner, Stephen Beale, whose house they were searching. His girlfriend, Valerie, said on the day after the bombing, Stephen couldn't stop thinking about.


And he's like, God, I got this know on his shoulders, and he's really concerned about what's going on with the investigation. And so at that point, we decided to go to the police department.


He comes down to our Eliso Viejo substation and says, hey, I'd like to talk to the investigators in charge of the investigation.


So investigator Ackerman from the Orange County Sheriff's Department and an FBI agent sat down with Stephen. That conversation was recorded real quick.


Before we start, I just want to. You're here voluntarily. You came in, drove in on your own.




And he just randomly starts sharing bits of information about the relationship and the business.


Stephen was a grandfather, now a widower with four adult children. He and Eldico met in 2016 when they both swiped right on a dating app and then immediately hit it off.


We went away a lot. We were exclusively dating with one another. And all of those sort of texts that you send at 03:00 in the morning when you can't sleep, saying, I miss you, I wish you were pillows. Not to say, you know all that right?


Over time, Steven says he got involved with Ildico's spa.


We both signed the lease together, and we're building that business quite successfully.


And while their business appeared to be thriving, their romantic relationship started falling apart. About a year and a half into it, Stephen said Ildico seemed to be hiding something.


I confronted her with some changes in her behavior. Like, what happened to me? Well, when we first started dating, she gave me access to. She gave me her sign on credentials for her united account, numerous little things like this. And then at one point, just for seemingly no reason, she changed her password.


Stephen knew full well Ildica was married to someone else, but until then, he thought he was the only other man in her life. Now he realized world traveler Ildico was also a frequent flyer in the world of romance.


The issue was for me, why? And why are you trying to hide it? Because the reality is, if she had said she had come to me and said, you know, I really think that I want to open up our relationship a little bit. I don't want to be exclusive. I want to date other men, I wouldn't say, okay. But it was the hiding it that was deceit. Planned deceit. Sure.


Stephen said the path of their relationship reminded him of a know when you.


Wake up in the morning and you're humming the Carol King song, one of us is changing, or maybe we should stop trying. Know, you know, something is amiss.


And now it was too late. Ildico had been killed by a package bomb that ripped open their spa. Stephen once again said he had no idea who could be behind it.


Like, your whole deal is means, motive, and opportunity, and I don't know anybody that has the motive.


Okay, what about the means?


I don't know what's in my garage. I don't know what chemicals they found. So I suppose I could probably fall into that category.


If the chemicals are right, law enforcement tends to pay attention when you tell them you could be a suspect in the crime they're currently working on. And investigators who were at that moment, still searching Steven's house had found large quantities of explosive chemicals in Stephen's garage. Stephen said there was a simple explanation for that. He used to make his own fireworks and was a longtime rocket hobbyist.


A friend of mine and I, we would build model rockets. And I started this years ago when my kids were little, and it got to be almost an obsession. And so, like, we built a 25 foot tall, six inch diameter, four stage rocket.


It had been years since he built one, he said, and those chemicals were just sitting in the garage, unused. Investigator Ackerman wanted to know more.


When they do their analysis of chemicals found there, chemicals found in your home, would it just be a coincidence if it's the same again?


I don't remember what chemicals are around in the house because I haven't taken them down. I haven't looked at them. I haven't thought of them. I didn't even know where they were. If there's an oxidizer, I'm sure there was some sort of an oxidizer, that it was in the bomb that was placed, because you'd have to, and it clearly is possible that I have that oxidizer.


An oxidizer, meaning a chemical agent that helps ignite fuel and cause an explosion.


Would someone with your type of experience be able to convert that into something on a bigger scale.


I saw the devastation in the pictures and news reports. I have no idea how you would put something together that would cause something like that.


Ackerman now had his doubts about that. I don't know what Mr. Beal was thinking when he came in there and talked to you, but if he was trying to get himself out of the spotlight, it feels like he did exactly the opposite.


He definitely put himself as more of a person of interest as that interview.


Went on and Stephen Beal wasn't done.


He gives us a lot of these extraneous details to things that really don't make much of anything except for kind of allude to what's going through his mind.


Maybe like the idea he was about to reveal for a screenplay about an assassin.


I can't believe he's telling me this story.


Join Hoda Codby for a brand new season of her podcast, making space. I feel this season is more personal to me. Uplifting conversations with television host Maria Menounos, the Office star and author Rain Wilson, and more. All of our guests provide something special, every single one. Come with me on this journey and I promise you'll leave stronger than when you started. All episodes of season four of making space with Hoda Coffee are available now, wherever you get your podcasts.


Had walked himself into the Aliso Viejo sheriff's station, and over several hours he had talked himself into more trouble than he was already in.


The whole interview is odd to me from the beginning, because why is he there, right?


The interview had veered into some truly bizarre territory. Stephen told them about a screenplay he was writing about a soccer mom who was a part time assassin.


Now, she's very good. She plans every step of the way. She covers her track.


He also told several jokes. Then he performed a magic trick on someone in the process of investigating a.


Murder he did know. Pull a coin from behind my ear kind of trick.


You're kidding me.


No, I was blown away.


Unusual. Yes. Then again, Stephen was also an aspiring actor.


How many more people are going to have to die before you do something useful?


Stephen had worked for years as an executive consultant, he said, and was on disability. Now he was apparently looking forward to turning this new, unfortunate set of circumstances into something positive. As he shared a conversation he'd had with his girlfriend Valerie after the explosion.


She said, you know, actually, when you get past all of this, you need to do a stand up comedy routine about it because there's a lot of know, potentially humorous anecdotes that are just wrapped up in the most intense life situations.




And if the audience can relate to what you're going through and it's delivered in a humorous manner, people love to be entertained.


I've never experienced that in all the interviews I've done in my police career. I think he thinks he's outsmarting everybody.


Wrong again. By then, Ackerman was not entertained. He was convinced.


You said you have the means. And I look at the traditional motives of homicide, and there's a couple of motives there that stand out.


Do you think that you fall into.


The categories of having those motives?


Love gone wrong?




Love scored? No, not at all.




I rely on evidence, but in my heart.


You got a gut, too, though.


Yeah, in my heart, my gut, I'm thinking he's the one definitely who killed her.


They had no evidence linking Stephen Beale directly to Ildico's murder. However, in the search of his home, investigators found what looked like sticks of dynamite you'd see as props on a movie set.


This morning, we learned 59 year old Stephen Beal was arrested on.


So the feds arrested him not for murder, but for being in possession of unregistered destructive devices. Ackerman had some reservations about the arrest. He knew evidence in the case was still scarce.


I wanted to get to the bottom of a homicide and not arrest somebody for having some type of devices.


So you wanted to follow him around for a couple of days and see what happens?


I wanted to follow him around. I wanted another chance to interview him, talk to him again at a later date. Any variety of other investigative techniques is what I would have preferred.


And the bureau wanted him locked up?




Then about a week later, Stephen Beal made headlines again.


This was a very unusual move by federal prosecutors. They went to a judge over the weekend to ask that charges be dismissed against Stephen Beal.


Federal prosecutor Mark Tackla.


The FBI lab examiner could not rule out these items as possibly being used in rocketry.


So you end up dropping the charges.




And he walks out of the lockup.


He does.


Ildico's friends didn't know what to think.


I just didn't know if they were ever going to find the person responsible.


I was very upset. I didn't understand it.


You thought that's the end?


No, because if you watch Dateline, there's always an end, and that wasn't it.


Oh, she's right. This wasn't the end. Because a mundane ingredient of the bomb that killed Ildico was about to become a key piece of evidence when video surfaced of this guy purchasing a nine volt battery just days before the bombing.


It was one of those moments where my hair stick on the back of my neck.


And later, a sting operation.


I had assigned documents so that they could go in and put cameras and listening devices in our room. It was a nightmare.


That does not point to the killer. There's not just two people in the room. There's, like, what, 25? Except 23 of them are watching and listening.


It was extremely stressful.


For some people, finding love is easy. Others don't have the same kind of luck. Like Valerie Stone.


I've dated people who were still stuck on their exes, and that obviously doesn't.


Work out in her online dating profile. Valerie warned those guys away.


Must not be stuck in the past or stuck on your ex. Know something like. And because I was so tired of it.


You want to weed out those guys who can't move on.


Exactly. I mean, who wants to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't really want to be with you?


Then she came across Stephen Beal's photo, and she swiped right. So did he. A few days later, they met for dinner, and she says they instantly connected.


It was great. We just. No holds barred on the conversation. We talked about anything and everything. Complete honesty.


And right away, Stephen brought up Ildico, his ex.


He was completely upfront. He says, we're no longer dating. She's moved on. She's dating other people.


Any indication he was thinking about her?


Not at all.


Stephen told Valerie he and Eldeco were still business partners, but that was all.


I was completely okay with it. They were friends. He had nothing but nice things to say about her. I never saw anything in terms of anger towards her.


And you were probably listening for that, weren't you?


You bet I was.


Only a month after that first date, Stephen Beale was at the center of the investigation into Ildico's murder and had been arrested for possession of unregistered, destructive devices. Okay, now, Valerie, reality check. Is there any feeling in your head saying, maybe this is not the guy I thought he was, maybe this is not the person I should be involved with?


Yes. The thought across my mind, I guess the thing is, I've had so many poor relationships, and this one was going well up until this horrific incident happened that it was kind of like, but if he's not guilty, where could this possibly go? How good could this be? Now, maybe that sounds like I'm desperate.


Desperate is not where I was going. Foolish might be where I was going. Okay, I also need to point out to you that there are other men out there online and elsewhere who are not targets of law enforcement.


True. He didn't have handcuffs on up until.


That point, because that point is the point where a lot of people might think to themselves, this is where I get off the Stephen Beale Express.




And here you are. When the government dropped those charges, Valerie was there to take Stephen home, still wearing his jail issue jumpsuit with his belongings in his hand. And you and Stephen both think, that's it. We're done. Nightmare over.




The next day, says Valerie, she and Stephen were running errands when suddenly they realized they had company.


We're going down the freeway, and I see an Orange county sheriff. Next thing I know, he's behind me and his lights are on. I was just like, oh, God, pull over. They're like, well, you see who's in your car with you? And I'm like, yeah. And you guys released him from jail.


Dropped the charges.


Dropped the charges. What's the problem?


Deputies searched their car while Valerie hit record.


Those are posters. You can open them. We spent about 3 hours on the side of the road.




And they brought in a bomb sniffing dog. And I swear, there were probably 13 cars behind us.


They uncovered exactly nothing. To Valerie, it felt like harassment. And even though Valerie and Stephen were allowed to leave, Stephen's daughter, Charlene Brown, says she knew the search for evidence against her father was not over.


They want to bring whoever did this to justice, and they clearly want it to be him.


For investigators, combing through that evidence was a huge task.


We continued to analyze hundreds, if not thousands of hours of cctv footage, tens of thousands of digital media from both Ildico, Stephen Beal, other family and friends, business records, financial records. And it takes a long time to process micro bits of evidence when a.


Bomb goes off just sort of slowly building a case.


We wanted to do it right. Yeah.


Then came what looked like a major clue. A deep dive into Stephen's financial records led to this purchase.


We found him buying a twelve x.


Six by six box, and we were able to obtain cctv footage of him buying that. That was at a store right around the corner from the spa about a.


Week before the bombing.


The box matched the description of the one the surviving witness said Ildica was opening at the moment of her death. Then there was this. Bank records also showed Stephen Beale getting cash from this ATM. When an investigator familiar with the area saw that, he remembered that just down the street was a CVS store. He checked the store's security video. And that guy you saw at the register. It's Stephen Beal, one week before the bombing, buying a CVS brand single nine volt battery and paying in cash.


That changed everything for me. It was very compelling. At one point, you have to stop and say, when do the coincidences stop?


That's the battery, and that's your bomber, right?




What's more, investigators were now hearing stories suggesting Stephen and Ildico's relationship was not at all like the one Stephen had described to investigators. There was one night she told him she was out to dinner with Holly, and he apparently didn't take her word for it.


He did not believe that she was with me, so he kept blowing up her phone, texting her, calling her. He assumed she was with another man. When we walked out of the restaurant, he was there. He was pretty angry that night and pretty jealous.


Yes, well, stories about jealousy are not evidence of murder. And if Stephen had trouble moving on earlier, that seemed to have passed. A couple of months after the explosion. Stephen certainly seemed serious about Valerie.


He wrote me a love letter at the end of the letter, asked me to marry him.


Do you have to think about it at all?


Nope, I didn't. I'd moved into the house. I mean, I'd been through everything in his household. Socks, drawers.


You'd done your own warrantless search.


Exactly. I mean, I did my due diligence in the know. I didn't see anything that was of concern.


You said yes, right?


I did.


Charlene approved.


I think she's good for him. I think he's good for her.


And she doesn't shy away from a guy who has already seen the inside of the lockup.


I said to her that if you at any point decide to walk away, not that it matters what we think, but none of us would blame you. I mean, if I'd been dating someone for four to six weeks and this all happened, I'll be honest, I'd probably piece out of there. Right?


But she stuck around.


But she stuck around.


That loyalty of Valerie's was about to be tested. You get another proposal?




This one from some guys in gray suits.




And you had to say yes to that, too.


I didn't feel I had a choice.


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You ready for what's coming?


Hey, guys, Willie Geist here, reminding you to check out the Sunday sit down podcast. On this week's episode, I get together with one of the funniest people on the planet, Catherine O'Hara, to talk about her new movie Argyle, the wild popularity of her character Moira Rose, and her lifetime in comedy. You can get our conversation now for free wherever you download your podcasts.


Laurie Stone and Stephen Beale were engaged. He gave her a ring, a diamond solitaire. Let's see it.


A little over a carat.


Very nice.


It is.


Sometimes an engagement is when people drop by with gifts. Not these guys.


They pull up in a black suburban and ask me to get in. So I get in and they tell me, we're going to go off site. We need to talk to you.


It was the FBI. They showed up at her work and drove Valerie to a nearby park.


And they say, okay, leave all your electronics in the car.


Then she says, two agents walked in one direction while the agent in charge walked in the opposite direction with Valerie.


He has a file, and he shows me some pictures of the inside of the building after the explosion. And then I think there was one of Stephen buying boxes or something.


All of that's supposed to both horrify you as to what the crime actually was and also suggest that they have evidence that he's.


Yeah, yeah.


The feds were asking Valerie to become what they call a cooperating witness. You might call that an informant.


They were trying to get me to get him to admit that he is the one who packaged up the box and that he had used the box that he had bought to make the bomb.


Valerie says she believed that if she turned them down, her reputation would suffer. And she also felt it was the right thing to do.


I said, I want you guys to catch the person who did know.


Even if that's Stephen?


Even if it's Stephen. I told him I didn't think it was.


But if it is, I'm okay with him being locked up.


It was such a horrendous crime that whoever did this to Ildico deserves to be behind bars. And if it was Stephen, it was Stephen.


How would she bring herself to get the man she loved to admit to such a terrible crime?


I was like, oh, well, we're doing this. Malibu wine hike.


Valerie says the FBI wanted in on the romantic getaway she and Stephen had planned, and they offered some free upgrades that aren't usually included in the resort fee.


And they're like, okay, well, we'll pay for the hotel. So for them to pay for the hotel, I had to sign documents so they could go in and put cameras and listening devices in our room. It was a nightmare.


There's not just two people in the room. There's like, what, 25? Except 23 of them are watching and listening. You guys have fun that weekend?


Not a lot, no. It was extremely stressful.


Your boyfriend's thinking, this is great. We can leave all our troubles behind and have a nice weekend together. You're thinking, maybe I can get him to confess to a murder?




Are you a better or worse actress than you thought you were?


Probably better than I thought I was.


They also bugged Valerie's car and her phone. And it turns out they did have a gift, a necklace with a hidden listening device to be worn the entire weekend. And Stephen did not say, where'd you get that?


Actually, I had a reason. I said, oh, look what I found. I hadn't seen this in forever. I thought I'd lost it.


I mean, that, to me, is like you delivering for them.


I was mean. I tried very hard.


Agents Vicencia and miracle were there for it. And you guys have a nice weekend.


We didn't really enjoy the weekend.


Perhaps because the itinerary was derailed. She brought up Ildico, brought up the bombing, tried to get him to discuss it.




And he didn't really incriminate himself at all.


He didn't really talk about it at all.


The FBI wouldn't give us the tape, but apparently the operation was a bust.


I was doing everything within my power to get him to do something. And nothing. No confession.


FBI agents continued to keep a close eye on Stephen. Online, they found his acting reels.


I believe, though, that an actor has to have a life outside of the camera. Art illuminates life, but also life illuminates art.


He spent more money getting classes and lessons than he did ever making any money from acting.


Welcome to Showbiz.




What do you mean by that?


So when Stephen was cast in the play twelve angry jurors, the FBI was in the audience. We were there, too, to watch the aspiring actor play the role of a jury, four person in a murder trial.


Just remember that this is a first degree murder charge. So if we return a verdict of guilty, the accused goes to the electric chair.


The bureau went to the play. Because agents were investigating Stephen's disability claims, they learned he'd been on disability for more than a decade. Because Stephen said he suffered from aphasia, difficulty communicating, memory loss, and an inability to read.


He was able to memorize lines and recite them, which was contrary to what he was providing on the disability forms. As things that he was not able to do.


He had to know he was still on the FBI's side.


Yeah, he did. And, yes, he was concerned about it. But you can't let that stop you from living your life. Something he loves to do. I don't know. Pretty interesting play that he chose to be into.


Maybe a surprising choice or maybe not.


A surprising choice, maybe a poignant choice.


Because the message of that play is how people can believe one thing, all of them. And then it turns out what they thought they believed actually isn't true. Right now, Stephen Beale's offstage life was about to take yet another turn. You thought this was over?


I thought it was over.




It was just the beginning.


March 3, 2019. It was a Sunday. Stephen had left to run some errands.


I was still in bed. He kissed me goodbye.


Then Valerie's phone rang. Steven was calling.


And he's like, I've just been arrested. And then hands the phone to the special agent in charge.


This time, it was the charges and not the vacation that received an upgrade.


Mr. Beale was arrested pursuant to a federal criminal complaint that charges him with a malicious destruction of a building resulting in death. The charge carries a potential sentence of life in federal prison without the possibility of parole.


This adds up to a murder charge in terms of what he's facing.




What sort of got you over the hump?


The lab finished its analysis and conclusions of all the hundreds of pieces of evidence that we submitted to them.


It sounds like there wasn't any one particular thing.


It was sort of the totality of everything adding up. He's in shock.


And you must have been, too.


I really was. There's like, no way. There's no way. They have a case against Omaha.


And so days, weeks, months went by. Stephen Beale sat behind bars without bond. Valerie once again stood by her man. You've never felt like you were at risk by being with Stephen?




If all this ends with an acquittal and he walks out of jail a free man, you still have no worries?


Nope. You believe him wholeheartedly.


You love him?




Do you believe him because you love.


No. No. I believe him because I believe he's not a sociopath or psychopath murderer.


Is the word.


Yeah. He's not a murderer, either.


Proving that Stephen Beale was a murderer became the job of federal prosecutors Mark Tackla and Anna Martine Salak. You confident you got the right person?






The case finally went to trial in 2022, four years after the explosion. Prosecutors reminded the jury Ildico wasn't the only victim. Two other women have for years dealt with the medical repercussions from that blast. The government played for the jury an excerpt of a poem Stephen Beale recorded for Ildico while they were dating.


I love how when I dream of my life partner, the only person that I can see is you.


They told the jury Stephen Beale was obsessed and infatuated with Ildico, and when he learned of her deceit, he was humiliated. The government showed photos found on Stephen Beal's phone of Ildico's text conversation in Hungarian with her San Francisco guy, Laszlo Zabo. Prosecutors said Stephen found those texts while on a trip with Ildico just two months before the explosion.


And so the only reason that we could determine why he would take those pictures is so they get those translated.


Later on in those texts. Laszlo and Ildico are discussing plans to go dancing during Ildico's trip to Hungary. According to prosecutors, it was then that Stephen made his plan to kill Ildico.


He knew how to make rockets and fireworks, and those are the exact things one needs to know how to make to make a bomb. And he used that to end her life.


Prosecutors also showed jurors a video investigators found of Stephen demonstrating how to safely mix explosive chemicals when making homemade fireworks.


The advantage of this method is that even if you're using highly sensitive materials, this is extremely gentle and will not cause the formulation to spark or self ignite.


That shows his expertise.


Hard to argue that the guy in that video wouldn't have known how to.


Build an explosive device and could do it safely. The person has to be really confident that they're able to put this thing together without killing themselves, and that is a special, special skill set in electrical and chemistry.


The government told the jury Stephen used materials he had in his home to build the bomb, including an oxidizer, which caused the bomb's distinct grayish white smoke.


The forensic evidence was clear. The chemical residue that was found at the scene that was determined to be part of the bomb was from the same specific types of chemicals that Stephen Beale kept in his home.


Prosecutors said that just days before the explosion, Stephen Beal bought two items to complete the bomb package, a box. And that CVS brand nine volt battery. What are the odds that somebody else purchased a battery from that lot available during that time? Same kind of battery as was in the bomb?


I'm not a statistician. I can't talk to probability. But what I can say is that Stephen Beale purchased the exact same type, make and model of battery that the evidence shows was part of the bomb.


And because Stephen was involved in Ildico's business and had full access to her schedule, prosecutors said he found the perfect moment to plant the bomb. And then he waited.


He repeatedly, for no reason that we could discern, was checking her appointment schedule and her Facebook account over and over on the day he knew she would be returning to the United States to the spa to see clients.


And there was this. Prosecutors told the jury Stephen was searching for information online about whether a narcissist could beat a polygraph test.


And so that suggested that he's thinking of a polygraph and he thinks of.


Himself as a narcissist?




According to Stephen Beale's defense team, what that really showed was a massive case of tunnel vision.


The entire force of their investigation was proving Stephen did it rather than finding out who actually killed Ildico.


And they were about to tell the jury how. The government's case appeared to be a strong one, but not if you look just below the surface. What? No, said his defense. Stephen Beale was simply a hopeless romantic.


One of the themes is that Mr. Beal was a jilted ex lover. It's a nice soundbite. It's great for tv. But the evidence directly refuted that Craig.


Harbaugh was Stephen Beal's lead defense attorney. He told the jury the relationship between his client and Ildico Kronyak was complex, that even after he'd moved on, Stephen still cared for her and she for him. These texts were exchanged just a couple of weeks before the explosion. Ildico to Stephen. Miss you. When do we get to cuddle? Seconds later. Stephen to Ildico. Miss you, too, love.


The strongest piece of evidence is Mr. Beal's total lack of motive.


He said there were plenty of others with a motive to kill Ildico, people who weren't thoroughly examined, like Elizabeth Papp, the woman who despised Ildico for getting involved with her husband.


Elizabeth hated her, wanted her out of her life, and made it very clear in all of her communications.


It got to the point where Elizabeth reached out to Ildico's husband, Renilo.


She demanded that he do something about it, challenged his masculinity when he wouldn't stop Ildico.


That was about a month and a half before the explosion when Elizabeth took the stand, she said she had nothing to do with Ildico's murder, even though she knew that after the explosion, law enforcement would seek her out. And when they did, the defense argued the FBI's search of the pap's home was perfunctory at best, as demonstrated by these photos taken at the scene.


The photographs are completely illegible. They're completely dark, in contrast to the hundreds of photos taken of Mr. Beal's home.


The Paps, particularly Elizabeth, were dismissed too quickly as possible suspects, said the defense, as was Max, the handyman, who had full access to Ildico's suite.


She was reporting her fear of Max being there.


The defense pointed out to the jury that the cameras in the building were not working at the time, and a handyman would have known that.


So he knew he could get in and out of Ildico's spa without ever being seen.


And of course, there was Ildico's husband, who had some pretty obvious reasons to be angry with her.


The husband was aware that Ildico was cheating on him while they lived under the same roof.


And as for the government's evidence against Stephen Beal, the defense argued there were easy explanations for some of it. For example, that nine volt battery he bought with cash.


It makes sense that Stephen would have purchased that battery. Ildico needed nine volt batteries as a regular part of her business.


And the box, the government said contained the bomb. Stephen was remodeling his home, packing up his belongings and moving them around. The defense argued purchasing a box wasn't unusual.


He used his staples rewards card, not hiding who he was.


The defense said the government could not prove that box had been used to make the bomb, despite one of the blast survivors saying it was very similar. And they said the chemicals the FBI found at his home were simply part of a harmless hobby, building rockets and fireworks. And as for Stephen's online research about passing a polygraph exam, the defense had an explanation.


Mr. Beal had been offered an audition to be a polygrapher. That search was within days of that audition.


Simply put, said the defense, law enforcement got the wrong guy.


Mr. Beal is a warm, funny, kind of quirky older man, has raised children, has grandchildren, loves his hobbies, which unfortunately, those hobbies made him a target of law enforcement here.


Seven weeks of trial, 66 witnesses. Now Stephen's fate was in the hands of twelve strangers. The jury, probably he did it, but I'm not firmly convinced he did it. Probably is not good enough. Probability is not good enough. Stephen Beale's life and Stephen Beale's art were on a collision course.


Okay, just remember, this has to be a twelve to nothing vote either way. Anyone not want to vote? All those in favor of guilty, raise your hands.


Here. He was acting in real life. Stephen was literally a captive audience as the case against him was laid out for jurors, critics who would have the final say. We sat down with three of those jurors, Maricella, Klaus, and Malcolm. He had the materials, and he would have known how to do it.


Yeah, absolutely, he did.


And I think we all agreed on that. Those were some of the first things we checked off, that no matter what side he fell on in it, we all agreed that he had the means to do it. He had the knowledge to do it.


The question was whether he acted on that knowledge. That's where jurors struggled. They didn't disagree about whether Stephen had purchased a nine volt battery, only about whether it was part of the bomb. To Klaus, there was no doubt that it was.


There's only one way something gets shot into the ceiling at that kind of speed, and that's if it's sitting right on top of the thing that detonates.


Maricella wasn't so sure. You were not convinced, ultimately, that the nine volt battery was part of the bomb?


Not beyond a reasonable doubt.


And there was the motive, or lack of one, based on what you heard in that courtroom, was Stephen Beale obsessed with her? And was he so furious that she no longer wanted to be with him that he killed her as a result? It wasn't obvious from the testimony that he was the kind of person who would fly off the handle. I asked prosecutors about that. I don't really see the venom here from Stephen de Ildico. Where's the text where he says, you'll never be with another man? Where's the text where he says, you will pay for this?


He was an individual that was trying to win her back. And so I think that reaction that you're asking about might not have been the best way for him to interact with Ildico, to keep her in his life.


That's not who Stephen Beale is. Stephen Beal is a calm, calculating individual. Stephen Beal thinks he is the smartest person in the room.


Well, even the sharpest among us are sometimes tripped up by the complex details of the webs they weave. During that very first interview outside his home, you may have noticed Stephen was talking about Ildico in the past tense.


She was always smiling. She had great advice for people. She cared. She went out of her way. Know, ease your burden.


No question she was no longer among us. But up to that point, law enforcement had not yet identified Ildico as the person who had died in the explosion. Jurors took an initial vote, eight to four. Which way?


Eight to four to convict.


I said, probably he did it, but I'm not firmly convinced he did it. Probably is not good enough. Probability is not good enough.


There were raised voices. There was pointing. There was a little bit of some acrimony. Yeah, definitely.


And then they're out forever. Not a good sign.


Not a good sign.


Your mind is racing and speculating. What could I have done better?


Finally, jurors sent the judge a note. A hung jury, no way around it. What was that like?




I was so disappointed.


Just for her family, the judge declared a mistrial. For prosecutors, a setback, maybe a temporary one. Was there ever any thought about whether or not you were going to go ahead and retry?




We were always going to retry that case.


For Stephen Beale, a victory also.


Perhaps temporary acquittal would have been better, but certainly a hung jury is better than a wrongful conviction.


Stephen remained in jail, waiting for another trial that began in June 2023, and prosecutors again presented their evidence. The box, the battery, what they said. With Stephen's obsession with Ildico and his expertise with explosive materials, there was just.


Simply no one who had that amount of overwhelming evidence against them.


Not her husband, not the handyman, not anybody that she had dated, not the. No one. Just Stephen Beale.


Just Stephen Beale.


This time, they concluded their case with a recreation of the explosion that killed Ildico and played it for jurors side by side with the video and photos of the actual aftermath at the spa.


It really showed how that bomb could have gone off and what the effect on Ildico would have been.


It also matched the chemical used in the bomb, which matched the chemicals the defendant had at his residence.


The courtroom was silent as the images played, complete with photos of Ildico's scattered body parts.


And the eerie piece about that demonstration was the mannequin had disintegrated. The hands and arms were blown into bits. The legs were severed from the mannequin's body in very much the same way that Ildico was found after she died.


It was a vivid reminder of what happened to Ildico as well as a demonstration, said the prosecution, of what Stephen Beale was capable of to prove Stephen Beale was no murderer. This time, the defense would rely on the woman who'd been by his side all those years, his fiance, Valerie. You still think he's innocent?


I do.


Stephen Beale's fiance, Valerie Stone, had stood by him for five years.


All I want is a not guilty verdict because I know he didn't do it.


Now she would take the stand for him in court. As the defense's star witness for this trial, Stephen had a new defense team. Megan Blanco and Anthony Solis. They told the jury Stephen Beale was merely a rocket and fireworks hobbyist. He wouldn't have built a bomb. And they said he certainly wasn't furious enough at Ildico to kill her. Instead, he'd moved on. And the proof of that was Valerie. He starts a new relationship. Psychologically, that is not what jilted lovers do. The defense wanted the jury to hear about that relationship directly from Valerie.


We called Valerie Stone to the stand to help give the jury a better understanding of what was going on in Mr. Veal's life. And Miss Stone was able to tell the jury that he had moved on. She was able to explain to the jury what their relationship was like.


Valerie testified about that wine hike in Malibu, the bug necklace she wore, and how the FBI's sting went nowhere.


They instructed her to ask him specific questions in an attempt to elicit some.


Incriminating evidence from him, and nothing came of it.


Stephen Beale never said anything that ended up getting introduced? No, there's no admission. And she told the jury after that was all over, she confessed to Stephen she'd been an informant. She says he wasn't angry at all.


A horrific crime that required a lot of planning. It required a lot of emotion, and we just didn't have that.


Now the case was again in the hands of a jury. In less than 2 hours, five years after the explosion that shook Aliso Viejo, the jury reached a verdict. Guilty. Ildico's cousin Ava.


I was very happy to hear that. Very relieved. It's not going to bring her back, but we did something together, all these people who worked on this case and helped us.


After the verdict, I spoke with Valerie again. It has been, and I checked. 897 days since you and I last sat down.


It's a long time now.


During that time, a few things have happened for both of us. You moved out of southern California to another state.




I went on a big diet. I lost 70 pounds. Here's something that didn't happen during those 897 days, which is you didn't break up with him. You guys are still together? Valerie says she still believes Stephen is innocent, that if he were guilty, he would have confessed. During that sting she was part of.


I did everything that they asked me to. They asked me to try and get him angry to see if know have an outburst. He never did. He was always calm, cool, and collected.


Okay. It's possible I've seen too many movies, but maybe there was a reason for Stephen not taking the bait during those conversations. You hold up a piece of paper like that?




You didn't warn him?


Nope. Did not.


Because she was on the witness list for both trials. Valerie missed a lot of what happened in court. What came next wasn't pleasant for either of us. I read her some text messages between Ildico and Stephen that were presented to the Jury. Those were texts Valerie hadn't seen. If you'll recall, she and Stephen started dating in mid April 2018. And it was then he said his relationship with Ildico was over.


He was still friends with her. They weren't romantically involved any longer.


Are you convinced of that?




Building a relationship with you is the single most important period of my life. Ildico, you rock my world. You are the woman that I've always dreamed of. I will love you forever. That was on April 22 of 2018.


Oh, wow.


April 20 eigth he text Ildico. I'm also missing you.


Wow. That kind of makes me feel right now.


I'm sorry about that. I do want to say that perhaps not everything that somebody says in a text to somebody else has to go through a lie detector.




Sometimes. I know this is going to come as a shock to you. Men say things to women that are not 100% true. Sorry.


Now I really need to reevaluate things.


I mean, it's been five years alone and hoping. Yeah, you owe yourself something here, too, not just him.




Valerie now says she's ready to move on. In January 2024, 64 year old Stephen Beal appeared in court again, this time to hear his sentence, which was life in federal prison plus 30 years. Ava spoke outside the courthouse.


After five years of waiting and wondering, our family and friends have peace in knowing that Mr. Bill will spend his remaining days in present. She will live forever in our hearts and never be forgotten.


What do you miss most about her?


Her calling and checking on me. Like, every day that, what are you doing? You come over, we go here and there, and then just her laugh. She has this energy that you go in and you depress and you leave the salon and you're flying because she will bring up something positive about you.


So go see Ildico and come out feeling great.


Yes, exactly.


For Ildico's loyal client friend Holly, that's exactly the way Ildico made her feel.


She was the sunshine in some of my darkest days, and I just miss her and love her.


That's all for this edition of Dateline. And check out our talking Dateline podcast. Josh Mankowitz, Andrea Canning will go behind the scenes of tonight's episode, available Wednesday in the DatelINe feed. Wherever you get your podcasts. We'll see you again next Friday at nine, eight Central.


I'm Lester Holt.


For all of us at NBC News, good night.