Yeager's Home
Yeager's neighborhood, pictured on the afternoon of Jan. 17. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

On New Year’s Eve in a close-knit cul-de-sac neighborhood on Los Gatos’ east side, 40-year-old Yingying “Dawn” Yu seemed aware there was a real possibility she could be murdered that night.

And that’s exactly what her husband, John Maxey Yeager, 56, is accused of doing, in a two-count indictment filed by the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department in Santa Clara County Superior Court Jan. 16.

“Help, help!” Yu shouted in a desperate cry picked up by security camera on the home of one of their Hershner Court neighbors, about two-and-a-half hours before the arrival of 2024. That’s according to a Statement of Facts prepared by detectives Michael Birley and Riley Frizzell. It notes the video shows her husband chasing her.

“Both parties go off camera as Suspect Yeager closed the distance on Victim Yu,” Birley writes. “Both individuals then reappear on camera and Victim Yu is seen attempting to walk in a different direction and turn away from Suspect Yeager who is seen grabbing Victim Yu by her arm/shoulders and preventing her from leaving.”

Yeager began escorting his wife toward their home, Birley added.

“Taking me back so you can beat me to death?!” Yu is heard yelling, according to the document.

During the encounter, investigators said Yeager appeared—at multiple points—to be trying to corner Yu between his body and a parked vehicle.

But eventually, they both reentered the drab bungalow.

On Jan. 13—after Yu didn’t return to work and police hauled Yeager in for an interview to clear up some inconsistencies in his initial statements—he admitted to strangling his wife with a rope and disposing of her body in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Birley said.

Family justice center
Santa Clara County Superior Court Family Justice Center in San Jose. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

The Almost Divorce

On Aug. 27, 2020, Yu signed her name featuring three large swooping Y’s at the bottom of a potentially life-changing document.

Three days later, this divorce application was entered into the court record.

Yu had married Yeager on May 15, 2020. And less than three months later, they had separated.

Yeager had joint custody of two boys from a prior marriage, but no children with Yu—who had moved to Campbell by this point.

She cited “irreconcilable differences” but didn’t mention any physical violence that precipitated her decision to dissolve their union.

The file was assigned to Family Justice Center Judge JoAnne McCracken.

Yu hoped to divide their assets via an agreement to be drawn-up at a future date.

But by March 10, 2021, the settlement had not materialized. So, the court followed up with her, to make sure she had a chance to finalize the split. And then, again on April 11, 2021.

“The Court will continue to review your case for up to 18 months and will send you a Notice if there is NOT a final judgment in it,” reads the letter. “After 18 months the Court will stop sending you a Notice and if a final judgment is not on file in your case, your case may eventually be dismissed.”

The case remained “active” in the system as of Jan. 17, though Yu herself was dead. 

In 1997, Yeager filed for divorce from a woman named Jun Lu.

He was living in Cupertino at the time. He ended up walking away with a condominium in Irvine.

By 2017, Yeager had a new wife named Sunyi Chang, with whom he owned the home on Hershner Court.

They had boys aged 5 and 8, and he was making more than $11,000 a month. But after nine years of marriage, the couple had separated.

On Feb. 3, 2017, Chang filed for divorce: She got the 2009 Toyota Corolla. He kept the 2015 Scion tC sedan. Yeager agreed to pay $460,000 to become sole owner of the house.

They settled on joint custody, but Chang got the final say in some situations.

She cited “irreconcilable differences,” but there’s no mention of any kind of abuse.

On the day Yeager was charged with Yu’s murder, Chang filed for a protective order.

Judge Audra Ibarra ordered Yeager to stay 300 yards away from his ex, and to have no contact with her whatsoever—except through attorneys.

Yeager's home
Police say a confrontation between Yeager and Yu outside this bungalow was caught on camera New Year’s Eve. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Missing Person Search

A coworker called Los Gatos police, Jan. 8, and informed them that Yu hadn’t shown up for work in 2024. The woman said the explanation Yeager gave for his wife’s absence seemed odd, according to court papers.

That’s when the public safety machine kicked into motion.

A missing person investigation was launched, in which a variety of agencies would end up participating, including the US Department of Homeland Security and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Police determined Yeager’s account didn’t align with the facts they were collecting.

Investigators zeroed-in on the Dec. 31 domestic incident captured by the neighbor’s home surveillance video camera.

On Jan. 10, LGMSPD assembled a team that included the DA’s Office, the County’s Crime Lab, Special Enforcement Team, Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team, Search and Rescue, and Department of Family and Children’s Services—all working around the clock to crack the case (while trying to keep the affected children safe).

Yeager was arrested and booked into jail on domestic violence charges on Jan. 11 as evidence continued to flow in.

Tips from the Summit Road community drew the law enforcement to secure a remote area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, on the evening of Jan. 12, where Yeager had recently visited.

Officials from Cal Fire, the DA’s Office, and Search and Rescue joined LGMSPD for the search, which began the next day, a Los Gatos police spokesperson told the Los Gatan.

The team exhumed what they suspected to be Yu’s remains on Jan. 14 (though this had not yet been confirmed by the Office of the Medical Examiner-Coroner on Friday).

“We appreciate the assistance, trust and confidence placed in us by Dawn Yu’s community, colleagues and family throughout the investigation and express our deepest condolences to all who knew Dawn Yu,” LGMSPD Chief Jamie Field said in a Jan. 16 statement.

Yeager was charged with first degree murder, felony false imprisonment, six aggravating circumstance allegations and an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon.

A neighbor who asked not to be identified told the Los Gatan Jan. 17 the whole Hershner Court community had been shaken to the core.

“We’re close,” she said, referring to just how intertwined the social lives of the residents along the dead-end street had become.

Yeager was at the North Main Jail—with no bail allowed—as of Friday.

His next hearing—a restraining order modification request—has been set for Jan. 26 at 9am in Department 23.

Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Detective Mike Birley at 408.827.3219 or email [email protected].

*Due to a typo, an earlier version of this article stated the case was filed in Santa Cruz County Superior Court. In fact, the case was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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