This June, a California swimming pool service technician was ordered to stand trial for the murder of a former client.
Benjamin Briones, 60, of Thousand Palms, was charged with one felony count each of murder, burglary, and forging a signature at his preliminary hearing at the Riverside Superior Court on June 23.
The charges stem from a Nov. 30, 2021, incident, when Palm Desert Station deputies responded to a report of a suspicious death. When deputies arrived, they found a deceased female inside the residence suffering from trauma to her body consistent with a homicide. The victim was identified as 93-year-old old Jean Grace Willrich.
Briones, a resident of Thousand Palms and self-employed pool service technician, was arrested three days later near Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra Drives in Rancho Mirage. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said that Briones entered Willrich’s Michigan Drive home on or about Nov. 29 “with the intent to commit theft and a felony.” They said that Briones unlawfully signed a check to be drawn from Willrich’s account in the amount of $7,650.
During the preliminary hearing that took place this June, Riverside County Sheriff ’s Department Investigator Gustavo Castaneda testified that Briones had been Willrich’s former pool cleaner and was terminated after they had a disagreement about his pay.
According to Castaneda, a new pool service tech had been servicing her pool for about three years and went to her home November 30, where he discovered her blinds open and a hose running. He knocked on her door, but no one answered.
Castaneda said it was later discovered that a check had been taken from the victim’s home and deposited at an ATM at an Alberton’s supermarket just a few miles away.
Video surveillance footage both outside of the Albertson’s as well as outside of Willrich’s home showed the same man and pool truck.
Briones was arrested Dec. 3, 2021, and Castaneda interviewed him at the Palm Desert sheriff’s station. Castaneda testified that Briones told him he had been planning to confront Willrich for more than a week and went to her home claiming that he was going to fix her toilet.
“Mr. Briones stated that she initially let him in and that eventually, when he started looking around, a confrontation started. And that’s when he proceeded to assault Ms. Willrich,” Castaneda said at the hearing. “Mr. Briones explained to us how he punched her, choked her, and eventually got on top of her. He continued to punch her, hit her with both open and closed fists because she wouldn’t stop screaming. Eventually, when she stopped moving, he got up and grabbed the checks and left.”
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos ruled that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for Briones on all charges. The post-preliminary hearing arraignment was set for July 10.
Briones has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is being held at the John Benoit Detention Center in Indio without bail.
Anyone with information regarding this investigation is encouraged to call Investigator Castaneda with Central Homicide Unit at 951-955-2777 or Investigator Chua of the Palm Desert Sheriff Station at 760-836-1600.
Photo credit: Jail Management System, Riverside, California Sheriff’s Dept.