A Malibu Father’s Fight for Justice

This story has been updated. Please see editor’s note below.

The call from the State Department came at 3 a.m. Howdy Kabrins was told that his 39-year-old daughter, Gabriela, had been murdered while on vacation in South Africa. Every parents’ worst nightmare became a reality for Kabrins.

Gabriela, known as Gaby, had been staying at the luxury resort Camps Bay Retreat near Cape Town with Diego Dougherty in July 2015. Dougherty was arrested and charged with her murder. A Guatemalan national from a wealthy family, Dougherty claims to have no memory of what happened and remains in custody in South Africa awaiting trial. 

Before heading off to Cape Town for the third time for another court hearing, Kabrins, a popular and well-known Malibu restaurateur, has finally decided to tell his story.

“The guy’s family has retained expensive lawyers,” he told The Malibu Times. “I want to make sure there are no flaws in the system or in the case against him, so he doesn’t get off. I want justice for my baby girl, my only child.”

Kabrins will not say Dougherty’s name and refers to him only as “the guy.” He shared that it was hard facing the guy in the South African court at the first hearing. “People had to hold me back,” Kabrins described.

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Although it was clearly painful to talk about, Kabrins shared these details of Gaby’s relationship with Dougherty. They met 15 years ago when she was studying communications at Pepperdine University. Dougherty was not a student there, but the friend of a friend. Their relationship did not last long. He was heavily into drugs, so she ended it.

During the intervening years, Gaby was married for seven years to a pediatrician. The marriage ended in divorce, but her ex-husband remains a family friend.

Gaby built a hugely successful PR company, Conexion, whose clients included Aflac, Ford Motor Company, TJ Maxx, Bank of America and Payless. That operation wound down in 2012 when Gaby started another company that involved traveling all over South America. She won numerous awards for her contributions to Latin communities and was highly respected in the business world. Gaby spoke Spanish fluently.

Two years before her death, Dougherty contacted Gaby via social media. He said she was the love of his life and he had changed. She believed him. 

Around the same time she reconnected with Dougherty, Gaby became ill. She was eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease by Malibu’s Dr. Jeff Harris. She was almost incapacitated with it, but had been receiving treatment until two months before she died.

As far as anyone knows, Dougherty, 41, never had a job. His family’s fortune funded a lavish lifestyle. There are reports that while Dougherty had briefly stopped using drugs, he had started again. Contrary to reports in the media, no cocaine was found in the hotel room where Gaby’s body was discovered, and there were no drugs in Gaby’s system.

Kabrins has read his daughter’s autopsy report.

“The murder was so horrific, it’s not fit for public consumption,” Kabrins said. “The forensic pathologist believed I, as a father, would want to know.”

While it is too harrowing for Kabrins to describe his daughter’s injuries in full, it has been widely reported that Gaby was violently beaten and sexually assaulted before being strangled and her body desecrated.

While Gaby’s stepmother, mother, stepfather, and her many friends continue to grieve, Kabrins wanted to make it clear he is only speaking for himself here.

So far, Kabrins has spent at least $50,000 seeking justice for his daughter. He needs another $50,000 to $100,000 to pay for lawyers and private detectives who are following some promising leads.

“It’s very hard to ask anyone to help, but I have had to make those calls,” he said. “I have no income right now and I need help. I have to make sure my presence is felt in South Africa and around the world.”

As soon as Kabrins sees justice for Gaby (there’s no death penalty in South Africa), he will establish a foundation in her name to promote women’s issues, particularly abuse, domestic violence, Lyme disease and children. He remembers a four-year-old Gaby standing on a milk crate behind the cash register at one of his Malibu restaurants, helping the customers order in Spanish.

“The planet is different for me right now,” Kabrins shared. “I have great memories and old images of my daughter, but, as much as I want to hold on to them, I need to create new memories. A foundation will be a great legacy for Gaby.

“People keep asking me when I’m going to open another restaurant in Malibu. I tell them I can’t do that right now. I have a job to do that’s much more important.”

Howdy Kabrins would like to hear from old friends and customers, and anyone who can help him in his fight for justice for Gaby. Email him at howdy7k@yahoo.com or visit justiceforgaby.com. 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Dougherty did not speak English.

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