A circular saw. A severed head. Walls covered in plastic — and a bathtub coated with traces of blood.
That was the grisly scene police uncovered when investigators entered the home of a missing elderly man in the Outer Mission last month.
Prosecutors described the “ruthless killing and dismemberment” of the man authorities believe is 73-year-old Benedict Ching in court records filed Monday in the murder case against Ching’s daughter and her husband.
Stephanie Ching, 35, and Douglas Lomas, 44, are accused of beheading the man before boarding a flight to China on May 20 with their two children in an alleged attempt to flee the country.
The couple was arrested on a warrant upon landing in Beijing, China and returned to the U.S.
On Monday, Stephanie Ching and Lomas appeared in court at the Hall of Justice for the first time.
Though each has been charged with murder for allegedly killing Benedict Ching, it’s unclear as of Monday whether the Medical Examiner’s Office has positively identified the remains as the missing man.
Assistant District Attorney Omid Talai described the sequence of events that led to the startling discovery in a motion seeking to hold the couple in jail without bail.
On May 20, an officer entered Benedict Ching’s house at 161 Del Monte Street with the elderly man’s sister after he suddenly stopped showing up for work, according to Talai.
Prosecutors say the place was messier than usual. The kitchen had been separated from the rest of the house by a cardboard wall. In the restroom, the walls had been lined with cardboard and plastic.
The officer found “an unknown red liquid and circular saw inside the bathtub,” Talai said in the motion.
Talai said police also discovered “unknown biological matter in the open toilet bowl,” but did not find Benedict Ching.
After the sister filed a missing persons report, crime scene investigators returned that same day and “found human body parts, including a severed head, inside the refrigerator,” Talai said.
Both the bathtub and the circular had traces of human blood, according to Talai. Police also found tools including a latex gloves and duct tape.
By that time, prosecutors say Stephanie Ching and Lomas had already boarded the flight to China.
“The body parts found in the refrigerator are a prime indicator of their disregard for human life,” Talai said in the motion. “The defendants exhibited no remorse or concern for the death of the victim, and hastily fled to China as family members began to question the victim’s whereabouts.”
At the Hall of Justice on Monday, Stephanie Ching and Lomas were expressionless as they each walked into the courtroom in orange jumpsuits from County Jail. There were no family or friends in the room to support them.
“Unfortunately, we’re at a workplace where we see a lot of things,” Alex Bastian, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, told reporters in the hallway. “This case just like any homicide is very disturbing. We have someone who is dead and we’re going to do everything we can do bring justice in the courtroom.”
Jose Umali, a defense attorney for Stephanie Ching, said his client planned to plea not guilty. He described her as a “very pleasant, soft-spoken seemingly kind person born and raised in San Francisco.”
“At this point in time it’s very clear that nothing has been presented to show her guilt other than the fact that she has been charged with the offense,” Umali told reporters. “At this date, she is innocent.”
Umali declined to comment on why his client went to China.
An attorney with the Public Defender’s Office who represented Lomas at the hearing did not comment on the case.
In the court motion, Talai shed light on how investigators tied Stephanie Ching and Lomas to the homicide.
Prosecutors say the couple and their children moved in with Benedict Ching in February.
On May 15, Talai said the elderly man uncharacteristicly missed work.
Then four days later, prosecutors say his boss and his sister went to his house in the afternoon and were greeted by Lomas at the front door.
But Lomas allegedly only cracked the front door and said that the entire family had become ill.
Talai said Lomas “abruptly” shut the door after saying that Benedict Ching had left the house earlier that day.
However, Benedict Ching’s car was parked out front, according to prosecutors.
Investigators later obtained survelliance footage from that same day, May 19, that prosecutors say shows the car outside as well as Stephanie Ching and Lomas at the house.
The couple caught the flight to China with their children at around 2 a.m. on May 20, according to prosecutors.
After being detained, they were flown to Virgina and held in custody until this weekend, when they were sent to San Francisco booked into County Jail on murder charges.
The couple will be held at County Jail until at least Thursday, when a judge is scheduled to decide on the motion to detain.
Both Stephanie Ching and Lomas are also expected to be arraigned that day.