Friends send spirits of Hilltop murder victims skyward in Titlow memorial

Staff writerMay 31, 2014 

A cloud of blue and green balloons drift heavenward at Titlow Beach Saturday to commemorate the lives of two Hilltop murder victims.

JOHN GILLIE — The News Tribune

For many friends and relatives, the bright, nearly cloudless day and the idyllic waterfront setting at Tacoma’s Titlow Beach on Saturday afternoon reminded them of the man whose life they had come to celebrate.

A.J. Geissler’s upbeat, sunny disposition, his selfless demeanor and his regard for others were the attributes they will always remember about the 25-year-old who was killed nine days ago in a friend’s Hilltop home, they said.

“He had a heart of gold and a silk-lined soul,” said Robert Nightingale, a family friend known to many of the 100 or so gathered for Saturday’s memorial simply as “Uncle Bob.”

“He was always smiling. He was full of life,” said Brandy Bonin, a longtime friend of the victim.

Those gathered at the waterfront park that was a favorite of Geissler’s also spoke highly of the other victim in the brutal killing, 60-year-old Denyse Marshall.

Marshall, said a longtime friend, was a kind and caring soul whose fate was sealed because she was at home when a vengeful giant of a man, Aaron Livingston, allegedly came to settle an imaginary score he had with Geissler.

Livingston has pleaded not guilty to two charges of aggravated murder in the deaths of Geissler and Marshall and not guilty to a charge of attempted murder in an attack on his former girlfriend Julia Wheeler.

The tragic events of May 23 did not have to happen, said many of those gathered Saturday.

The night before the slayings, the 6-foot-8, 400-pound accused killer had assaulted Geissler and Wheeler. That assault happened because Livingston believed that Geissler, his friend, was having an affair with Wheeler, prosecutors allege.

Wheeler, her face and neck still purple with bruises from the May 23 attack, said she and Geissler were not having an affair. Livingston misinterpreted Geissler’s actions when he briefly, playfully flirted with her in the backyard of their Hilltop home, she said Saturday.

Livingston responded in a rage May 22, breaking Geissler’s left eye socket and nose and causing numerous contusions and bruises. Geissler’s injuries were so severe that he was transported to the region’s major trauma center, Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center.

Police arrested Livingston but he was released the night of May 23 — shortly before the deadly attacks — after Pierce County prosecutors determined there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with felony assault. They referred the case to Tacoma city prosecutors for them to consider misdemeanor assault charges.

Authorities should have kept Livingston in jail at least until May 27, said Nightingale. That would have given everyone involved in the May 22 incident time to cool down.

Prosecutors allege in charging papers that Livingston returned to Marshall’s home shortly after leaving jail and beat and strangled all three victims. He finished the deed by slitting Geissler’s and Marshall’s throats, prosecutors claim.

Geissler’s aunt, Melissa Geissler, said the May 22 assault should have merited a longer stay in jail. “They just let him slip through the system,” she said.

Saturday’s memorial ceremony was an occasion for the two victims’ friends to gather and share stories. There were no formal blessings or sermons, no ministers talking of the hereafter.

Instead, the assembled multitude released a blue-and-green cloud of balloons over the park and watched them drift heavenward.

“I hope he finds peace in God,” said one friend of Geissler. “He was a good friend to us all.”





John Gillie: 253-597-8663;

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