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The murder of Ira Tobolowsky: A Dallas legal battle turned deadly, affidavit says

Ira Tobolowsky was found dead in his burned garage on Kenshire Lane in North Dallas.
Ira Tobolowsky

DALLAS — The suspect in the killing of a prominent Dallas lawyer stalked the victim through a hole in a fence at his home and then attacked him in his garage, assaulting and burning him to death, according to a police arrest warrant affidavit obtained by WFAA on Friday.

Steven Aubrey, 61, was indicted Wednesday on a charge of capital murder in the 2016 death of Ira Tobolowsky.

Tobolowsky, who was representing Aubrey's mother in a civil case against her son, was found dead in his burned garage on Kenshire Lane in North Dallas.

Aubrey was initially named as a person of interest by police. But for years, the case went without an arrest.

Then, last month, on April 27, police announced that Aubrey, who now lives in Florida, was arrested in Tobolowsky's killing.

The affidavit released by officials Friday pieced together the police investigation that led to Aubrey's arrest.

Initial court battle 

Aubrey came to know Tobolowsky during a court battle with his mother, who removed Aubrey from her will in 2013, the affidavit said.

Aubrey "was not doing well in the court proceedings and turned his anger towards Mr. Tobolowsky," Dallas police detective Brian Fillingim wrote in the affidavit.

Aubrey then began sending anti-Semitic emails to Tobolowsky, who was Jewish, and also created "bogus web pages with defamatory blogs" about Tobolowsky, the affidavit said.

This led to Tobolowsky filing a defamation lawsuit against Aubrey.

As the defamation lawsuit was pending, Aubrey and his spouse moved from Austin to Dallas in February 2016, about three months before Tobolowsky was killed.

The affidavit included a text message Aubrey allegedly sent to someone about moving to Dallas: "I hate to move but that's where I can make the most money and deal with Ira."

In April 2016, Aubrey and Tobolowsky attended a deposition in the defamation lawsuit, and the meeting "escalated" to the point that Tobolowsky threatened to call police if Aubrey and his spouse didn't leave, the affidavit said.

About five weeks later, on May 13, 2016, Tobolowsky went to his garage around 7:45 a.m. and walked to his vehicle.

As he got close to his vehicle, the suspect -- identified by police as Aubrey -- assaulted him, doused him in gasoline and set him on fire, the affidavit said.

Tobolowsky's death was ruled a homicide by the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office, which concluded he died of thermal burns, smoke inhalation and blunt force trauma.

Tobolowsky had fractures on his cervical spinal column, left clavicle and ribs, according to the medical examiner.

Dallas Fire-Rescue crews responded to Tobolowsky's home and put out the fire, finding Tobolowsky dead near the driver door of his vehicle. Also in the garage, according to the affidavit, was a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice that contained gasoline.

Credit: WFAA
Ira Tobolowsky was found burned to death in his garage in May 2016.

A person of interest 

Aubrey "quickly became a person of interest in the case," according to the affidavit, but Aubrey declined to speak to investigators.

His spouse did agree to an interview.

When asked by detectives if he drank cranberry juice, Aubrey's spouse said he only drank the Costco brand, the affidavit said.

Aubrey's spouse also told investigators that he and Aubrey would not get a fair trial due to media coverage, according to the affidavit.

While Aubrey declined to give an interview, he later signed consent forms to search his vehicle, phone and computers. 

On the same day, May 19, Tobolowsky's family found a hole drilled in their back fence. The hole was "painted over to look like a natural knot in the wood," the affidavit said, but it gave an alley view of the Tobolowskys' garage.

"It is believed that the hole was created to watch Mr. Tobolowsky and learn his daily routine," detective Fillingim wrote in the affidavit.

Police then searched Aubrey's two apartments in Dallas and found a drill, drill bits and paint "believed to be used in creating the hole in the Tobolowsky fence," the affidavit said.

Police also searched a laptop at Aubrey's home. The laptop contained Google Maps searches for Tobolowsky's address, his law firm and his synagogue, the affidavit said.

The affidavit also had Google searches for "Walmart tracfone," "burner phone," and "alibi definition," according to the affidavit.

At another apartment owned by Aubrey, detectives found propane torches and clothing that contained "ignitable liquid residue," Fillingim wrote in the affidavit.

Dallas Police investigate the death of Ira Tobolowsky on Monday May 16, 2016. The prominent civil attorney was found dead in the garage of his North Dallas home on Friday. Sources confirm to News 8 the death is being investigated as a homicide.

New look at the case

While Aubrey was considered a person of interest, no arrests were made, and Aubrey and his spouse moved to Florida later that year.

In 2017, a D Magazine story revisited the case and revealed that Tobolowsky's son had received an anonymous letter from someone claiming they committed the murder.

Police learned that the author of the letter was a friend of Aubrey's, but evidence proved the friend was not involved in the killing, according to the affidavit.

Fillingim got assigned to the case in July 2021. He began reviewing case photos initially taken at Aubrey's apartment in 2016.

In the photos, Fillingim noted a book on Aubrey's nightstand titled "Future Crimes, which had "at least four references to cell phone GPS tracking and locations," he wrote in the affidavit.

Fillingim concluded that Aubrey used the book "to educate himself and turn off various apps that could track his movements or simply left his phone at home during the commission of the murder."

Fillingim also noticed a picture of Aubrey's pantry, which held a bottle of cranberry juice from Kroger, differing from his spouse's claim that he only drank Costco brand juice.

In the affidavit, Fillingim also included a text message from Aubrey's friend from the day Tobolowsky died. The text told Aubrey that he hoped he had his alibi ready, the affidavit said.

Aubrey had reached out to another friend for legal advice, according to police searches of Aubrey's phone and Gmail account.

When Aubrey shared a news story about Tobolowsky's death to the friend, the friend responded that Aubrey "took it to a whole nother level when ya dun threw gas on his a-- and torched the mother------," the affidavit said.

Another communication from the same friend told Aubrey to "keep me abreast of developments, and don't kill anyone...again," the affidavit said.

Fillingim also found an email exchange between Aubrey and the reporter for D Magazine in which Aubrey referenced the height of the hole in Tobolowsky's fence, the affidavit said.

To that point, according to the affidavit, the hole had not been referenced publicly. 

Fillingim also reviewed Aubrey's alibi. According to the affidavit, Aubrey claimed he woke up at his personal apartment around 8 a.m. on the day of the killing; Tobolowsky was killed around 7:45 a.m.

Aubrey claimed he was at his apartment until around 9 a.m. and then went grocery shopping.

But when Fillingim checked Oncor power records at Aubrey's business apartment, where police later seized propane torches, there was slight power surge around 6 a.m., the affidavit said. The detective noted a larger power surge at the apartment around 7:45-8 a.m.

When Fillingim checked with the apartment's maintenance staff, he didn't see any documents about work being done 

"The only explanation is that [Aubrey], himself, entered the [business] apartment" on the day of Tobolowsky's killing, the affidavit said.

Fillingim later interviewed Ed Nordskog, a fire death scene expert, about a burn on Tobolowsky's thigh that "does not match the fuel packages and fire progression at the crime scene," the affidavit said.

Nordskog said the thigh burn was more consistent "with results of a torch on the skin," Fillingim wrote.

In his affidavit, Fillingim noted that "not all case details have been included in this report."

But the detective concluded that Aubrey waited in Tobolowsky's alley, "stalking him until the opportune time to act on his plan of attack."

Police said they had enough evidence to arrest Aubrey this April.

Aubrey has not been extradited to Texas yet. He remains in the Broward County Jail in Florida, where his bail is set at $2 million.

   

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