Top 10 Stories of 2011: No. 9 — East county torture tale was shocking

Editor’s note: This is No. 9 of The Tribune’s Top 10 stories of 2011 as selected by the newsroom staff. Each day through New Year’s Day, we will count down to the top story of the year.

A sensational case that drew national media attention to two California Valley men accused of the kidnapping and torture of another man is headed for a San Luis Obispo Superior Court courtroom in the new year.

On Nov. 11, 27-year-old Travis Dames called 911 and told authorities he had been a victim of torture that included being burned, beaten and stabbed with a fork by two men who held him captive inside a cupboard in a trailer.

Andrew Zeller, 42, and Philip Clyde Williams Jr., 44, were arrested a few days after the alleged crime was reported. The two face a slew of felony charges including torture, false imprisonment by violence, assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats.

They are due back in court for a pre-preliminary hearing Jan. 5. A preliminary hearing, in which the prosecution must present enough evidence to convince a judge that a trial should proceed, has been scheduled for Jan. 19.

Investigators say no motive has been discovered.

The accused men face 13 enhancements to the charges that could add years to a prison sentence if they are convicted.

Both have pleaded not guilty to felony charges of torture, false imprisonment by violence, assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats.

Dames told investigators Nov. 11 that three days earlier, he’d been asked by Zeller and Williams to help dig a koi pond at Williams’ home on Camarillo Road in the sparsely populated community south of Highway 58.

Dames claimed that soon after he arrived at the home, he was ordered by Zeller to get into a cupboard in the trailer and stay there or else he would be killed.

Dames told investigators that, over the next three days, the men assaulted and tortured him, using a hammer, dinner fork and blow torch in the process.

After being held captive for three days, Dames said he was able to free his hands, which had been bound with black tape, and undo latches on a panel inside the cupboard. Dames said he kicked open the cupboard doors to escape and made it to the home of a friend.

Williams was arrested after he tried to return to the scene early Nov. 12. Zeller was arrested Nov. 14 after he was spotted from a CHP helicopter and by deputies in the area.

The series previously

No. 10 — Ian Parkinson becomes sheriff of San Luis Obispo County.

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