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A Hollywood Horror – The Murder of Iana Kasian

Blake Leibel lived a life of luxury in Los Angeles, California. Leibel was the son of Lorne Leibel, a sailor on the country’s 1979 Olympics team and prominent real estate developer, and Eleanor Leibel, the daughter of Paul and Leona Chitel who founded Alros Products Ltd.. He grew up in Toronto’s Forest Hill neighborhood before moving to Los Angeles where he lived off an allowance of $18,000 per month. Then when his mother passed away, he inherited the majority of her estate, including the lavish home in Forest Hill which he sold for $5.5 million.

Online, Leibel appeared to be thriving in the bright lights of Los Angeles. He directed several episodes of the cartoon adaption of the movie, Meatballs, and he wrote or  co-wrote a number of graphic novels and a “space opera comic series.” He also helped to run a publishing company that put out a comic in partnership with Wilmer Valderrama. He was married, had two young sons and the family lived in Beverley Hills. However, despite the fact that he seemed successful, Leibel had practically no income from his endeavors and depended on his father to pay his credit card bills. In 2015, he filed for divorce and shortly thereafter, his new girlfriend, Iana Kasian, fell pregnant.

In 2010, Leibel created the graphic novel “Syndrome.” The plot follows a doctor’s quest to isolate the root of evil in the brain and tries his experiment out on a serial killer. In a case of life imitating art, Leibel would later brutally murder Kasian in a crime which was said to “follow a script” from the graphic novel.

Kasian was born in Ukraine and lived in Kiev until her late 20s. She studied law in college and worked in tax inspection. In 2014, she moved to Los Angeles on a student visa. It was here that she met and started to date Leibel. Just the week before Kasian’s murder, Leibel had been  charged with felony rape but was out on $100,00 bail. His victim was not Kasian but when she found out, she moved out of their apartment and moved in with her mother, who was visiting from Ukraine to help with the couple’s new-born baby, Diana.

Blake Leibel and Iana Kasian. Credit: CBS News.

In May of 2016, Kasian returned to the apartment to speak with Leibel. When she didn’t come back to her mother’s apartment or call her to let her know she was staying with Leibel, her mother reported her missing, prompting police to pay a visit to the couple’s apartment in the 8500 block of Holloway Drive. As they arrived at the scene, Leibel barricaded himself in by placing bedding and furniture at the door. “Ultimately, he came out real peacefully and gave himself up,” said Lt. David Coleman.1

Upon entering the dimly lit apartment, it was clear why Leibel hadn’t wanted them to come in. In a blood-spattered bedroom, police found the body of 30-year-old Kasian lying on a blood-stained mattress with a Mickey Mouse comforter. Diana was found beside her mother’s body, unharmed.

Kasian’s autopsy painted a terrifying picture of the pain and terror she had endured. Her blood had been completely drained, her head was scalped and her eyebrows and right ear had been cut off. There were several bite marks on her jaw. Ultimately, she died from blunt force trauma to the skull and exsanguination. The pathologist noted that Kasian had survived for at least 8 hours after receiving the scalp injury. “I have never see this before. And I doubt if hardly any forensic pathologists in this county or abroad have even seen this outside of, perhaps, wartime,” he said.

Leibel appeared in court several days later. He was wearing a sleeveless padded suicide jacket and pleaded not guilty. He was arraigned on charges of mayhem, aggravated mayhem, torture and murder. As defined by the California Criminal Code, mayhem includes disfigurement or dismemberment, while aggravated mayhem is defined as showing “extreme indifference to the physical or psychological well-being of another person” by causing “permanent disability or disfigurement.” His lawyer, Alaleh Kamran, questioned whether her was mentally competent to stand trial. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Keith Schwartz ordered Leibel to undergo psychological evaluation.2

Leibel would be ruled competent and the trial was scheduled for 2018.

During Leibel’s trial, graphic photographs of the crime scene were shown. In his testimony, Sgt. William Cotter pointed out blood stains on drapes, on a headboard, on a lamp. He also showed a piece of flesh on the bedding and Kasian’s lifeless and naked body. She was scalped, bruised and missing her eyebrows and right ear. The pathologist, Jonathan Lucas, said: “Basically her scalp is missing form the top of her head. There’s an absence of tissue, we’re looking directly at bone.” He also testified that Kasian was still alive while being mutilated.3

As for a motivation, the prosecution argued that Leibel was jealous of the attention that Kasian was paying to their new-born daughter. Kasian’s mother, Olda Kasian, read out an impact statement. “He took away the most precious thing that a baby could have. This monster ruined our lives, ruined the lives of his family, lives of his sons, of his new-born daughter – who looks like him, like a spitting copy.” At the time of the trial, Kasian’s daughter was living with her family back in Ukraine.4

Blake Leibel was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In imposing the life sentence, Judge Mark Windham said that the case was unusual due to the “savagery, the defendant’s profound brutality and his inconceivable cruelty.” The prosecution had opted not to seek the death penalty because Leibel didn’t have a prior criminal record but also because of the massive backlog of inmates waiting to be executed in California. “We seek death in, you know, relatively few cases. Given the fact that nobody’s been put to death in over a decade and there’s seven hundred and forty something on death row right now,” said Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman.

Blake Liebel. Credit: CBS News.

In February of 2019, a California judge ordered Leibel to pay the family of Kasian $42 million. “This murder didn’t just kill one person, it really did kill the family, it shattered the family. And the family has had a hard time crawling back from this,” said Jake Finkel, an attorney representing Kasian’s family.

Footnotes:

  1. The Gazette, 30 May, 2016 – “Toronto Scion Held in L.A. Murder Case”
  2. Calgary Herald, 1 June, 2016 – “Toronto Heir Pleads Not Guilty to Murder”
  3. National Post, 12 June, 2018 – “There’s Going to Be Some Rattling Photos”
  4. National Post, 27 June, 2018 – “Leibel Sentenced to Life, No Chance of Parole”
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Kate

Money does not guarantee financial success or compassion.

Ash
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Ash

Who thinks money guarantees compassion..?

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