The California man suspected of butchering his wife after a torso was found in a dumpster was obsessed with samurai swords, guns and martial arts — and neighbors said they heard a gut-wrenching cry for help the night before she disappeared.
Samuel Haskell IV, 35, had a disturbing fascination with weapons including bows and arrows which he proudly displayed in his home, neighbors told The Post.
His wife, Mei Li Haskell, didn’t like the weapons in the house because they had three boys who were all below the age of 13.
“He definitely had a fixation, bordering on obsession, for martial arts,” neighbor Elle Benami said. “There were also firearms and crossbows in their house. Their boys would tell my kids about the weapons, which always worried me — so much so that I wouldn’t let my kids alone upstairs in their home.
“I know Mei didn’t like having those things inside the house and she wanted him to get rid of them.”
Benami said the last time she saw Mei Li Haskell was on November 2, and the usually bubbly and upbeat mom seemed somber. The women quickly said hello to each other before they drove off in their respective cars to drop their children off at school.
Benami said the night before Haskell was arrested on November 8, her daughter was in her bedroom around 9 p.m. when she heard a scream from one of the Haskell children.
“We’re next-door neighbors, so my daughter’s room is on the side of the house that borders the Haskells’ property,” Benami said. “My daughter said she heard a scream, ‘Help! Help! Hello?’ And then she heard a car door slam and screeching of tires and a car driving off.”
Haskell was arrested and booked on suspicion of murder on November 8 — hours after a homeless man found a woman’s torso inside a dumpster about five miles from the family’s multimillion-dollar home in Tarzana, Calif.
Mei Li, 37, had already been reported missing along with her parents, mom Yanxiang Wang, 64, and dad Gaoshan Li, 72. All remain unaccounted for.
Los Angeles County Medical Examiner officials have yet to confirm the identity of the remains, but neighbors said police told them other body parts found inside the Haskell’s home were female.
Since his arrest last week, other evidence has emerged linking Haskell to a disturbing chain of events.
He allegedly hired day laborers and paid them $500 to get rid of three heavy trash bags which were sitting inside his garage a day before the dismembered torso was found in a dumpster.
The men said they initially drove off, then stopped and decided to inspect the bags. They told local TV station KABC the contents were “soggy” and the bags weighed about 50 pounds each.
Sensing something was wrong, the men went back to Haskell’s house and dropped the heavy bags on the driveway and told him they didn’t want his money.
Audio recordings revealed someone called cops on November 7 around 5:30 p.m. to report a suspicious bag which possibly contained human remains.
When officers responded, the bags were nowhere to be found, said LAPD Det. Efren Gutierrez.
Videos also have surfaced of a man driving a white car then dumping heavy black bags into the dumpster where the torso was discovered. Benami told The Post Samuel Haskell drove a white Tesla similar to the one in the videos.
Benami said she has not seen Mei Li or her parents for a few days, nor their cars. She said Mei and her parents sometimes went on trips without Samuel, but her friend always made sure to let her know if she was leaving town.
Benami added Mei Li’s mother had a stroke just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down, and she often saw the senior sitting in front of the home, waving hello and good-bye.
“Her parents were Chinese nationals and didn’t speak any English, so Mei would pretty much be their interpreter,” Benami said. “They were very warm and outgoing like Mei, who was their only child. They would typically sit on the front lawn or walk around the neighborhood because the mom was trying to rehab from her stroke.”
Mei Li’s parents moved into the Haskells’ Tarzana home in 2020. Benami said she was excited to meet Mei Li because they were the same age and doting mothers who love to cook.
“We had similar interests and had so much in common,” Benami said. “She also grew up abroad and we would just go on long, daily walks during [the COVID-19 pandemic] shutdown.
“Her husband was very reserved, definitely eccentric. Other neighbors found him to be a little weird and I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment.”
The neighbor added that Mei Li told her she and her husband met when they were students at Cal State University, Northridge.
Records viewed by The Post showed Mei Li had her own business called the Haskell Consulting Group where she coached and helped foreign students with their college applications to top-tier universities in America.
A business profile showed the group had three employees and a generated annual income of about $63,000.
But friends who knew the couple said Haskell more than likely provided for the family through his wealthy parents.
Haskell, who is a low-budget filmmaker of slasher movies, is the son of Sam Haskell III, the former executive vice president and global head of the William Morris Agency. The former Hollywood executive, who retired in 2005, represented A-Listers such as Dolly Parton, George Clooney, Whoopi Goldberg and Lily Tomlin.
While Haskell was more reserved and kept to himself during the kids’ birthday parties, Benami said his father was always welcoming, charming and spoke proudly about his close friendship with Parton, who is the godmother to his grandsons.
Haskell also has a younger sister, who arrived at the Tarzana home the day he was arrested.
“She was actually on her way to pick up the boys from school and she didn’t know he was arrested or about the body parts,” Benami said. “I was the first person to tell her. She said, ‘It can’t be! I don’t believe it! I just saw the three boys yesterday and everything was normal.’ She was in utter shock.”
Benami said during their long walks together, Mei Li Haskell never spoke about any mental or physical abuse at the hands of her husband. But days after the gruesome discovery of body parts inside her neighbors’ home and in the dumpster just a few miles away has shaken her.
“She had a really good friend who told me that Mei wanted to confide in me a few times, but she was told not to get me involved,” Benami said with a sigh.
“It’s completely heartbreaking. My good friend has [allegedly] been murdered and she and her parents possibly dismembered. To think this happened in the house next door to me is a lot, and I’m not going to say that I am doing well. Not at all.”
Haskell remains in a Los Angeles jail on a no bail hold, according to LA County Sheriff’s records. He is scheduled to appear in court on Monday.
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