Scene of killings at Santa Margarita Ranch is described

Kathy Yeager, one of the women killed on Christmas at the Santa Margarita Ranch. Photo courtesy of her family.
Kathy Yeager, one of the women killed on Christmas at the Santa Margarita Ranch. Photo courtesy of her family.

The lone survivor of a double homicide Christmas night walked into a macabre and deadly scene — his wife shot to death and his sister-in-law gunned down before him. A man wielding a pistol, naked from the waist down, nearly killed him, too.

The sketchy details of the Saturday killings of two sisters in their 60s from the Owens Valley — Beverly Reilly and Kathy Yeager — emerged Tuesday after John Evans retold the story of the killings as recounted to him by his shaken brother-in-law, Dennis Reilly.

Jo Ann Switzer, who is organizing the memorial for the slain women, corroborated Evans’ story Tuesday. She said she had been told a similar story by another immediate family member.

Andrew Wesley Downs, 20, of Atascadero was arrested Sunday morning on suspicion of murdering the two women. He was taken into custody after attacking a man in an Atascadero home.

Downs was charged with two counts of murder, among other charges, in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Tuesday.

No law enforcement official would confirm or deny the story as told to The Tribune by Evans.

The violent tale

According to Evans, early Christmas night, Dennis Reilly, in his 70s, returned to a mobile home on the Santa Margarita Ranch after feeding horses with his sister-in-law, Kathy Yeager. Reilly’s wife, Beverly, had stayed behind in the house, where the trio was house-sitting.

When they entered the home and Dennis Reilly didn’t see his wife, he asked his sister in-law to check on her. He thought she was napping, Evans said.

When Kathy Yeager walked into the bedroom, Dennis Reilly heard a gunshot. He saw his sister-in-law fall to the ground, Evans said.

A young man holding a pistol and wearing only a shirt — nothing below the waist — emerged from the bedroom. Dennis Reilly fled the house, running through rough brush. The man chased after Reilly.

Dennis Reilly escaped, dove into a creek bed and hid.

After a while, Dennis Reilly flagged down a passing car, Evans said. He told the car’s passengers about the gruesome scene he’d just witnessed. But they were afraid of him, since his clothing was torn from running through the woods, Evans said.

They took his wallet to verify that he was who he said he was and told him they would drive to town and call the police.

Dennis Reilly crawled back into his hiding place and waited until the police arrived.

He waited, Evans said, because he didn’t want his daughter and her husband, who had been away for Christmas, to return to their home if the killer was still lurking there.

“He (Reilly) was sure they’d be murdered also,” Evans said.

Police have said they found the two women shot dead in the house.

Recounting the story

Evans said he and his wife, Patricia Reilly Evans, who is Dennis Reilly’s younger sister, drove to San Luis Obispo from their Ventura home after they heard the news.

Dennis Reilly told them Monday night what happened on Christmas.

“It seems to help Dennis to talk about it,” Evans said.

Many family and friends have come to San Luis Obispo County to be with Dennis Reilly, Evans said. “The place is just full of people.”

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