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After allegedly killing his wife, a San Pablo man picked up his mother-in-law from daycare and drove her home, knowing she’d be next


San Pablo police Det. Alfredo Rodriguez had a question that needed answering if he had any hope of tracking down a mother and daughter who’d simply vanished from his city months earlier: if someone wanted to dump two bodies from a boat, what’s the most discreet pier in the East Bay to launch from?

Rodriguez settled on two locations — the Encinal boat ramp in Alameda, and another small launching pad near Jack London Square. They were both open 24/7, and both locations lined up with the alleged movements of the man Rodriguez believed had murdered his wife and mother-in-law, kept their bodies in a chest freezer for days, and finally dumped them into the water from a motorboat launched in Alameda County.

The victims were 40-year-old Tho Ngoc Ly and her mother, 70-year-old Que Thi Tran, who’d been reported missing by Ly’s husband, 41-year-old Phuc Vo, who claimed that the two had simply up and left without a trace a week before he informed police about their disappearance. Rodriguez’ suspicions about what happened were bolstered last March, when a woman’s body that had washed up near the Chappell Hayes Observation Tower was identified through DNA as Tran.

All these details about the police investigation were made public for the first time Vo’s preliminary hearing, which ended Tuesday with Judge Charles “Ben” Burch ordering Vo to stand trial on charges of double murder. During the three-day hearing, police described in painstaking detail how they pieced together a chilling theory that Vo had methodically planned and carried out the killings, then not only continued on with his life but planned out a new one with a new woman, taking wedding pictures and emailing invitations to “Save the Date” while his wife was still officially listed as a missing person.

Authorities believe that Vo killed Ly through unknown means on the morning of Sept. 5, 2023, then searched online for listings to purchase a chest freezer he needed to store her body. While arranging to buy a freezer through a third-party marketplace online, Vo allegedly received a phone call from an adult daycare in downtown Oakland known as the Hong Fook Center. His mother-in-law, Tran, was two hours overdue from being picked up, they informed him.

So Vo allegedly traveled to the Hong Fook Center, picked up Tran and made the roughly half-hour drive back to San Pablo, knowing that Tran would soon be sharing the same fate as his late wife, according to police. He allegedly waited three days to dump their bodies into the Oakland Estuary or San Francisco Bay, leaving home in a Honda Fit with a motorboat hitched to the back at around 3:30 a.m. that morning, and returned to his residence on Sutter Avenue in San Pablo later that morning.

Finally, on Sept. 13, Vo reported his wife and mother-in law-missing, claiming that they simply left in the Honda Fit on Sept. 6 and that he hadn’t seen them or the vehicle since. He told police that he and his wife had argued before she left but he assumed she went to the grocery store to cool her head, police testified.

San Pablo police didn’t open an investigation for nearly three months, in early December, when Rodriguez was assigned to look into it. This was prompted by another family member reaching out to law enforcement for an update, Rodriguez testified.

“Mr. Vo never once tried to do a follow-up,” Rodriguez testified. “It was always someone else.”

But there was still plenty of evidence to be gathered, according to police. They searched Vo’s home with a cadaver dog, which “hit” on the chest freezer and a room inside the Sutter Avenue home. Also inside the home was evidence that Tran and Ty never left on their own volition. Ty’s identification card and cosmetology license were there, as was medication that Tran needed constant access to for her diabetes, Rodriguez testified.

Police also used digital evidence — a combination of license plate reader data, a city surveillance camera system and cellphone location data — to pinpoint Vo’s movements around the time of the alleged murders. They used this to develop a theory that Vo had driven the victims’ cellphones to Southern California and mailed them further south, to create the illusion they’d traveled southerly together.

Finally, last February, police were ready to search the Sutter Avenue home again and arrest Vo. Before they did so, Rodriguez asked Vo what he’d been doing to cope with the stress of having two missing loved ones. Vo replied that he’d been “fishing” and recently traveled to Vietnam, where he made a point of saying he’d hung out with friends who were men, Rodriguez testified.

But when police searched Vo’s phone, they found evidence he’d been doing a bit more than that. There were “pre-wedding photos” of Vo in a suit and a woman dressed in a wedding gown, along with pre-made invitations, Rodriguez testified. At one point during the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Mary Knox asked Rodriguez about a statement from Ly’s co-worker that Ly had learned her husband was having an affair, but Judge Burch sustained a defense objection and the detective was not allowed to answer.

Also on Vo’s phone were searches on a news app that included “Alameda body found” and “dismembered body found.” These were made on Sept. 27, three days before Tran’s body washed up onshore near Oakland’s middle harbor. It took six months for police to confirm that it was, in fact, Tran’s body.

Ly’s remains have never been found.

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