BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Hannah Tubbs promised the group a better life when they moved from Spokane, Wash. to Lake Isabella, a woman told authorities.
Tubbs was second-in-command of what a prosecutor termed a “survivalist transient group,” placed in charge of keeping order and structure. An enforcer.
Whatever order existed collapsed, however, when one of the group’s members ended up dead, allegedly at the hands of Tubbs in April 2019.
Judge Brian M. McNamara found prosecutors presented enough evidence Monday to bound Tubbs over for trial on a charge of first-degree murder. He found insufficient evidence for a robbery charge and dismissed it.
Multiple witnesses said Tubbs admitted beating Michael Clark with a rock, according to a sheriff’s investigator called to testify Monday at Tubbs’ preliminary hearing. Tubbs herself admitted involvement, an investigator said.
“(She) made a comment that it was an accident,” Sgt. Mark Chambless said. “(She) said something to the effect that ‘it had gone too far.'”
During cross-examination, defense counsel pointed out numerous inconsistencies in witness statements, noting various narratives were given to law enforcement. And Tubbs told Chambless she smoked methamphetamine before the interview where she incriminated herself.
Before McNamara’s ruling, defense attorney Kate Lee said about 18 theories as to what happened had been bandied about.
“I think the whole case is such a mess I don’t think the People can get a conviction on this,” Lee said, adding that any member of the group is a potential suspect.
Clark’s heavily decomposed body was found in August 2019 in the Kern River. Prosecutors brought charges against Tubbs, who has made headlines for a child molestation conviction in Los Angeles County, earlier this month.
Tubbs, 26, has pleaded not guilty.
At Monday’s hearing, sheriff’s Sgt. Steven Davis said witnesses told him Clark and Tubbs engaged in a lengthy argument the evening of April 20, 2019, while staying at the Keyesville campground. Tubbs had stolen a $100 Western Union payment Clark received from his father, witnesses said. Clark threatened to call law enforcement.
The next morning, Clark and Tubbs went for a walk, witnesses said. Only Tubbs returned.
Two of the campers, Josef Buffaloe and Brittany Hill, said Tubbs told them she killed Clark to protect them, Davis said.
They only provided law enforcement with this information after being informed Clark’s body had been found and were taken into custody, Davis said.
Tubbs hated Clark and had previously assaulted him in Washington, Davis said the couple told him. Tubbs humiliated Clark, making him perform demeaning actions such as crawling on his hands and knees to pick up a cigarette butt, the couple said.
Buffaloe said Tubbs threatened to kill him if he talked about what happened, Davis testified. He said Buffaloe showed him a scar he said he received when Tubbs burned him with a torch lighter.
Tubbs, arrested May 1, 2019, in an unrelated incident regarding a stolen van, was questioned in jail about Clark’s disappearance before the body was located.
Immediately afterward, Davis said, Tubbs in a recorded jail call told her father to “wipe her phone.” She said two people were “blabbing about some (expletive)” that was going to get her in trouble, Davis said.
Investigators used Clark’s Google account to track his cellphone. It traveled to multiple locations in and around Lake Isabella after April 20, including a Vons.
Davis reviewed Vons’ surveillance footage and saw Tubbs in the grocery store on the date and time Google data showed Clark’s phone present. Tubbs was with an unidentified male on one occasion, and accompanied by Buffaloe during a subsequent trip.
April 20, 2019, turned out to be a busy day at the campground. Tubbs became involved in a confrontation with other campers who fired shots, and some in that group were arrested, Davis said.
Clark was interviewed by deputies that day. It’s believed to be the last contact anyone other than members of Tubbs’ group had with him.
Chambless, the other sergeant, testified he interviewed Tubbs in jail on March 5, 2020. Tubbs told him Clark and a man named Chad Mizer went for a walk and Mizer returned alone, Chambless said.
Later in the interview, Tubbs said she and Clark got in a fight and she shoved him into the river, where he become unconscious and went under, according to Chambless.
May 6 interview
Tubbs gave a different account to District Attorney’s office investigator Don Krueger during a May 6, 2022, interview.
There had been an argument involving Clark, Tubbs and Buffaloe, according to this version, and Tubbs said she and Buffaloe decided to teach Clark a lesson.
Buffaloe wrapped an arm around Clark’s neck, choking him, while Tubbs cheered him on, Tubbs said according to Krueger. Clark turned purple and when Buffaloe let go he collapsed.
The group decided to get rid of the body by throwing it in the river, Tubbs said according to Krueger. Tubbs told him they wrapped it in a blanket threw it in the water.
Bubbles rose as the body sank, Tubbs said according to Krueger’s testimony.
An autopsy determined Clark drowned.
Krueger said Tubbs told him she blacks out when she gets angry and doesn’t remember what she’s done.
“Hate takes over,” Krueger said Tubbs told him.
He said Tubbs described herself as having a “transgender side’ and an “enforcer side.” Tubbs previously was known as James Tubbs but now identifies as a woman.
Clark was much bigger than Tubbs, but Krueger said Clark’s father, Richard Clark, told him Michael Clark had cognitive and physical coordination disabilities. Richard Clark also said his son was schizophrenic and didn’t take his medication.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Kate Lee elicited testimony that Hill gave multiple accounts as to what happened, including saying other people were involved in Clark’s death. In one of her interviews, Hill said another camper strangled Clark with a wire. In another, she implicated herself, saying she had planned to hurt Clark but not kill him, Davis said.
Davis testified their conflicting stories at one point made him suspect Hill and Buffaloe were involved in the disappearance. Hill even said she was going to turn herself in.
“Hill told you she was going to take the fall for the murder, right?” Lee asked.
“Yeah,” Davis said.
Later, Lee asked Davis if he believed Hill and Chad Mizer, another member of the group, had lied to him.
“At some point,” Davis said.
Lee said Hill had a motive: She and others alleged Clark had threatened her child.
Tubbs and other group members had prior contacts with law enforcement in which methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia were found, Davis said.
The Tubbs case has received heavy coverage from Los Angeles media.
In 2019, DNA evidence linked Tubbs to the sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl that happened in 2014 in a Denny’s bathroom in Palmdale.
Tubbs was 17 at the time.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, who has a policy of not trying juveniles as adults, refused to file a motion to move Tubbs to adult court,
In January, Tubbs pleaded guilty and received a two-year term in a juvenile facility, prompting heavy criticism.
Tubbs was moved from that facility to Kern County on May 6 and booked on the new charges.
Tubbs faces life in prison if convicted in the current case. She is currently housed in administrative segregation, sheriff’s officials said.