It’s difficult being a parent. Your job is to raise protect your child(ren) and do your best to raise them the right way. However, the outside world is hard to avoid, and it will always come with its hardships. For one family, no matter how much they tried to love their daughter and give her a promising upbringing, something or someone took her away from them. This is the unresolved disappearance of Asha Degree.
Harold and Iquilla Degree got married on Valentines Day in 1988. One year later they became parents to O’Bryant Degree, and on August 5, 1990, they had their second child, Asha Jaquilla Degree. The young family lived in Shelby, North Carolina, on 3404 Oakcrest Drive, and were very close-knit, with Harold’s mother and sister living down the street from them.
Growing up, the Degree family were very religious and attended Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church every week without fail. Asha thoroughly enjoyed church and was always eager to go to her weekly Bible study. Seeing how the family was Christian oriented, Harold and Iquilla did their best to shelter their children from the deviances of the outside world, with limited television and no access to a computer, saying, “Every time you turned on the TV there was some pedophile who had lured somebody’s child away.”
At the age of nine-years-old, Asha was coming into her own person. She was a fourth-grade student at Fallston Elementary and was described as an outstanding student with an exceptional attendance record. When it came to education, she had a knack for science and mathematics. She also enjoyed reading and writing — even having ambitions to become an illustrator, and her English class had just finished reading the book “The Whipping Boy” by Sid Fleischman — a children’s book about two kids running away from home but eventually return.
Aside from excelling in her education, Asha also loved sports — particularly basketball, where she was the star point guard on her pee-wee team, the Fallston Bulldogs. Asha’s brother was also heavily involved in sports and was on the boys’ basketball team.
Due to Asha and O’Bryant’s upbringing, they were more responsible than your average child. They would often let themselves in their own home after school and would be found doing their homework or chores by the time their mother arrived home from her job at Kawai America Manufacturing, while their father would get home late from PPG Industries, where he worked the second shift as a dock loader.
On Friday, February 11, 2000, all schools were closed for a three day weekend because of Presidents Day. The next day on Saturday, Asha’s school held their first basketball game of the season. Unfortunately, Asha fouled out and her team lost the game. The loss had her visibly distraught because she felt as if she let her teammates down. Nevertheless, as many children do, she quickly recuperated and was back to her normal self.
The following morning things were seemingly normal as the Degree family went to church. Once the services concluded, they all went to [aunt] Alisha’s residence and their grandmother prepared lunch for the family. After spending the afternoon together, Asha and her parents went home because Harold had to get ready for work.
At approximately 8:00 p.m., Asha and her brother — who shared the same bedroom — went to bed early because they stayed up late the night before because they had a sleepover with their cousins, and they had school the next day. An hour later, she awoke due to a blistering thunderstorm, and a power outage occurred in the neighborhood after someone had a car accident in the vicinity.
Harold arrived home at 12:30 a.m. and the power restored shortly thereafter. Upon his arrival, he checked on the children and they were sound asleep in their beds (there are some sources that state Asha was still up and in the living room at the time). Harold decided to relax for a couple of hours and checked on his kids once more before going to bed at 2:30 a.m. (I have seen some people say Harold left home between that two hour period to get Valentines Day candy, but I haven’t been able to substantiate that claim). Not too long later, O’Bryant woke up to the sound of Asha getting out of bed to use the restroom. Moments later, he heard her bed squeak. Thinking that she had crawled back to bed, he paid her no mind and went back to sleep.
This is where things become mysterious.
Iquilla awakened at 5:45 a.m. and got the bath ready for the kids since they didn’t take one the night before. At 6:30 a.m. she went to wake up Asha and O’Bryant. When she went to their room she noticed O’Bryant was sound asleep but Asha wasn’t in her bed. She thought this was peculiar but wasn’t entirely worried, as she scoured the rest of the home expecting to find her. Panic began to seep in, and she went outside to check their two vehicles hoping to find her but to no avail. She proceeded to wake up Harold, who advised her to call his mother to see if Asha was there, but she hadn’t been. Iquilla then called her own mother, and with no luck, Harold phoned the police.
The police arrived ten minutes later at 6:40 a.m. Search dogs were brought in but they were unable to pick up a scent on Asha — possibly due to the thunderstorm. Nonetheless, Asha’s family and the police searched the local neighborhood but no trace of her could be found. By noon, over sixty people, including residents in the area, the church congregation, and a helicopter with infrared heat-detection were aware of what was transpiring and went to assist in the search. Despite an all afternoon pursuit of nearby woods and fields, nothing was found beside a mitten that didn’t belong to Asha or her family.
When Asha’s family examined her bedroom for clues they found that her backpack was missing, which she kept her house key in, along with her Tweety Bird purse, and an assortment of clothing. Moreover, all of the doors and windows in the home had been locked — indicating Asha left on her own volition. This revelation suggested that the squeaking O’Bryant heard wasn’t Asha crawling back into bed. Instead, she was packing her book bag and was getting ready to leave home, for reasons unknown.
Asha’s disappearance was broadcasting on the local news that evening. This coverage prompted several witnesses to come forward. According to three different people, they said they had seen Asha walking alongside N.C. Highway 18 between 3:45 – 4:15 a.m., only one block away from her residence. One driver was very concerned for her well being because it was still storming outside, and she didn’t have any winter clothing on, so he made a U-Turn to see if she needed any help. When he attempted to check on her she darted off into the nearby woods and was never seen again.
With new leads to work on, the police searched heavily into the woods where a witness said she ran off into, and that’s when they uncovered a shed of a nearby business, Turner Upholstery, and discovered that Asha presumably sheltered herself from the storm because candy wrappers were littered about, a pencil and marker were found, and a Mickey Mouse shaped hair-bow was also located. Asha’s family confirmed to the police that those items did indeed belong to their missing daughter.
The month of March was hectic for the Degree family. In order to spread more awareness to the public, they began selling t-shirts with Asha’s picture on the front, but this quickly came to a halt once they discovered someone was trying to pocket the money made in this charitable cause. With the money they did raise they offered $5,000.00 for a reward for any information leading to Asha’s whereabouts. Her case also made headlines across national television programs including The Montel Williams Show, America’s Most Wanted, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Aside from this, her case hasn’t been featured in the spotlight other than local news stations from time to time.
Subsequently, Asha’s family members underwent polygraph testing — a procedure that is routine in a missing person(s) case — and passed with flying colors. Additionally, the lead investigators in the case traveled to Quantico, Virginia to have a profile created of a possible suspect, if this was indeed a case of an abduction, yet the profile was unable to locate any prominent suspects.
Asha’s case was being actively investigated, but her case was turning cold as all leads being phoned in were turning up no results. It wasn’t until August 3, 2001, when twenty-six miles away in Burke County — the opposite direction of where Asha was seen walking — a contractor working a construction project unearthed a backpack that was wrapped in two black plastic trash bags and buried. It was confirmed to be Asha‘s because it had her name and phone number printed on it.
With the latest lead in the case, the police thoroughly examined the construction site and discovered a pair of men’s khaki pants and skeletal remains that belonged to an animal. The findings were sent to an FBI crime laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, but the results and additional details have never been made public. Despite the latest bombshell discovery, Asha’s case wasn’t producing any promising information and her case went cold, though the police did announce they believe Asha left her residence on her own free will and met with foul play.
Thirteen years later in January 2014, lead detectives in Asha’s case hoped to catch a break when U.S. Marshals arrested 52-year-old Donald Preston Ferguson at his residence in Spartanburg, South Carolina for the 1990 murder of 7-year-old Shalonda Poole, who was found strangled, stabbed, and sexually assaulted behind a Greensboro, North Carolina Elementary School.
At the time of Shalonda’s murder, Donald Ferguson was arrested in June 1989 for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He managed to place bail while awaiting trial and relocated to Greensboro, North Carolina, where he eventually met Shalonda Poole through her half-brother, Marvin Cowan. Shortly after her body was found, he moved back to South Carolina. When he finally went to trial in March 1991, he was found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison, but was released in October 1997.
Initially, Melvin Bennett, a mentally disabled individual who had an IQ of less than 70 and was a co-worker of Shalonda’s mother at the University of North Carolina of Greensboro confessed to her murder. He would be indicted for first-degree kidnapping and first-degree statutory sexual offense by a Guilford County grand jury in March 1991, but six months later DNA tests proved he was innocent. After a four day trial in October 1992, he was officially found not guilty.
Shalonda Poole’s case went cold until her case was re-opened in 2007. Through advancements in forensics, the police were led to Donald Ferguson, when DNA was collected from an entirely different sexual assault case that was being examined in 2013, and it surprisingly matched to the DNA evidence obtained from Shalonda Poole’s case. Once he was apprehended, the Cleveland County police focused in on him after looking at his past history and noticing Shalonda’s case bore similarities to Asha’s disappearance.
Shalonda shared a room with her twin sister, and mysteriously vanished in the early morning hours of July 21, 1990, between 6:00 – 8:00 a.m. When she was reported missing many people helped search for her including Donald Ferguson. He had known Shalonda’s family for about a month and had even been to her home days beforehand playing cards with her family. Her body was uncovered one day later, bound and gagged. She suffered 19 stab wounds to the neck and was manually strangled.
After a thorough investigation into Donald Ferguson in a possible connection to Asha Degree’s disappearance, he is considered to not have any involvement in her case. In December 2014, he pleaded guilty to Shalonda’s murder and was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In February 2015, the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office and FBI began to reexamine Asha’s case, going through all the evidence collected and re-interviewing people from the initial investigation. During this strenuous process, a viable new lead was made relevant in May 2016. Law enforcement announced to the public that there may have been sightings of Asha entering a dark green early 1970s Lincoln Continental Mark IV or Ford Thunderbird with rust along the wheel wells.
Three years later in October 2018, the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office unveiled more possible clues related to Asha Degree’s case via Facebook and asked for the public’s assistance. The first piece of evidence was the book “McElligot’s Pool” by Dr. Seuss. It had apparently been checked out at the Fallston Elementary School library around the time of Asha’s disappearance, but the school didn’t contain any records dating that far back.
The second clue was a white t-shirt with a red collar and matching sleeves featuring a picture of the band “The New Kids on the Block” on the front. The police are hoping that by releasing this new information they will be able to jog someone’s memory as to whether or not they remember someone having these items shortly before Asha vanished. As of today, there are no prominent suspects in the case despite the latest information released in the last three years.
Throughout all of these years, the small town of Shelby, North Carolina still has missing pictures of Asha plastered all throughout the area, and blue ribbons are tied around tree and light posts — representing that her case has not been forgotten. They continue to rally behind the Degree family, and despite an awful tragedy, they stay strong as a community, always going out of their way to help a neighbor or friend in need.
As for the Degree family, they have done everything they possibly can to keep Asha’s case shining brightly in the media and in their community. They created a scholarship in Asha’s name after watching their son, O’Bryant graduate high school. To raise money for this award for a local student they sell t-shirts with Asha’s picture on it and other charitable events.
In addition, they host an annual walk, where people gather together at the Degree family home and walk to the location where Asha was last seen — where a billboard now stands tall with Asha’s photograph for everyone to see as they drive on Highway 18. For the better part of thirteen years, they hosted this event on Valentines Day but changed the date to February 7, because Iquilla Degree said it’s not right for people to be sad on a day that should celebrate love.
It has been a grueling eighteen years for the Degree family. They are plagued by so many questions without any answers. Did she leave on her own accord? If so, why? Did someone lure her away from her home? If so, who? Is she still alive? If so, where is she? Iquilla still holds on to hope that her daughter is still alive and refuses to lose faith. Her conviction in God and the support from her family continue to give her strength to endure another day. Meanwhile, her son, O’Bryant, has a daughter of his own and is almost the same age as Asha was when she disappeared. According to Iquilla, her granddaughter is a spitting image of Asha, and seeing her breathes new life into her, and only motivates her more to find her daughter. As long as the family can remember Asha, though she may be missing, she will always be near in their hearts.
Children are the epitome of innocence. As parents, we strive to see the smile on their faces and to enjoy life with a creative imagination before having to face the realities of adulthood. When horrible crimes are committed against such purity people are often left wondering how and why. There are times when those questions get answered; other times a resolution doesn’t occur. In other instances justice is in view but the lack of evidence isn’t adequate enough to provide closure.
Gary Grant Jr. was born on March 8, 1978, to his parents May and Gary Grant Snr. He was the youngest of two other siblings, Michele and Dawn Grant. The family was living in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Gary Snr. worked strenuous hours as a local police detective, in a city where casino gambling had recently been legalized but was an anecdote for many illegal crimes at the forefront. When Gary Jr. was seven-years-old his parents divorced but the separation didn’t come between raising their children and being actively involved in their lives.
On the morning of Thursday, January 12, 1984, nothing was out of the ordinary. Gary Jr. and other students from Our Lady Star of the Sea were home from school because of a Parent-Teacher conference. As such, Gary was excited and told his mother that he had an appointment at 2:30 p.m. May questioned him about what he meant but he insisted that it was a secret. Though she thought it was strange, she considered it innocuous — thinking he was going to meet up with friends or had a playdate with a girl he liked who lived in the vicinity. Around noontime, Gary left his home on the 2500 block of Arctic Avenue to play with friends, and May instructed him to be home by 4:00 p.m. for dinner.
At approximately 4:00 p.m. Gary Jr. failed to arrive home. May wasn’t overly worried because she knew kids would be kids, so she allowed leeway with his absence. One hour passed by without his emergence and panic was starting to seep in, knowing this type of behavior was uncharacteristic. May put on her coat and went to the homes of two friends in the area. They both claimed they had been playing with Gary but they parted ways to go home at 4:30 p.m.
The information provided a moment of relief — hoping by the time she got back home Gary would be there awaiting her return, but that wasn’t the outcome. May continued searching relentlessly but after another hour without any results, she called her [ex] husband, Gary Grant Snr. and informed him of the situation.
An immediate search was conducted, with alleyways, abandoned buildings, the boardwalk, and arcades being scoured but the efforts proved fruitless. By 2:00 a.m. an official investigation began. Nearly the entire police department was searching for Gary Jr. but his father wasn’t allowed to participate in the case due to regulatory guidelines. Nevertheless, those directives weren’t enough to deter him from independently going door-to-door passing out photographs of Gary Jr. and asking residents in the neighborhood if they had witnessed anything.
One witness named Robert Hughey — New Jersey’s Commissioner of Environmental Protection who owned a warehouse two blocks away from where Gary Jr. lived — stated shortly after 4:30 p.m. he was heading home and saw Gary Jr. walking near the warehouse in the direction back to his residence. He didn’t consider it strange, as children often roamed the area because a local park was nearby.
Two days later on Saturday, January 14, Hughey went to his warehouse to search the premises. It was 3:30 p.m. when he stumbled upon a ghastly scene. The deceased body of Gary Jr. was uncovered in an abandoned lot of land near the storehouse. He had been bludgeoned to death with a metal pipe lying near his body and a rug was draped over him.
The police were immediately notified — whom many were still searching for the boy. Gary Snr. was also still pursuing answers as to his son’s whereabouts and was driving down California Avenue to his [ex] wife’s home when he saw a swarm of police vehicles and officers looking in distraught at the crime scene. He immediately knew from their body language that his seven-year-old son was found. As he approached the scene his worst nightmare came to fruition.
Detective Jim Barber and other investigators went on to interview over 500 people hoping to obtain credible witnesses and information that would help solve the atrocious murder of Gary Grant Jr. Several people came forward claiming to see him with one of his friends, Carl Mason; a twelve-year-old mentally challenged kid with an IQ of 65. Mason was often bullied and was given the nickname “Boo,” because he was considered to be the neighborhood “scardey-cat.” Days prior to Gary Jr’s. murder, Carl’s older brother was arrested on robbery charges and there were rumors circulating that he was recruiting younger children to perform burglaries for him.
With the testimonies of several witnesses, the investigators went to Mason’s home where he was living with his grandmother, to follow up on the recent developments. When asked if he was with Gary Jr. on the afternoon he disappeared he denied the allegations — saying he spent time with him on Wednesday at the Texas Avenue Park. Due to conflicting reports, the police asked him and his grandmother to go to the police station for further questioning.
Mason’s grandmother obliged and took him to the police station. When they arrived, the police separated them and the two weren’t consulted on acquiring a lawyer. The detectives spent three hours interrogating Carl. According to investigative journalist Rick Murray, he provided many inconsistent reports and had even confessed to murdering Gary Jr. with a metal pipe but retracted his statement, but from the perspective of the detectives, his intimate knowledge of the crime scene could only be known if he was a member of law enforcement or the murderer.
Shortly thereafter, the detectives typed up an admission of guilt for Carl and asked for his and his grandmother’s signature. The two were lead to believe signing the papers would allow them to go home, but instead, the forms allowed the detectives to apprehend and charge Carl Mason with the murder of Gary Jr. in an official compacity.
Carl was subsequently transferred to a juvenile detention center, and on the following afternoon on January 15, he was given a polygraph test that came back inconclusive. He was given another test three days later but the results were the same. Both tests indicated that he was innocent and had no involvement with Gary Jr’s. tragic murder. One month later, the Superior Court Judge John Himmelberger dropped all charges because of an illegal interrogation and his confession was not admissible in the court of law.
Gary Snr. and many other people believed Carl Mason was the perpetrator or at the very least had more knowledge than he proclaimed. He still did his best to track down answers by contacting the Prosecutor’s Office to speak with the Major Crimes unit but never received a reply. At one point he spoke with the Attorney General’s Office questioning the lack of movement in the case, and in response, he was taken off his son’s case.
With a lack of information churning in the case eventually turned cold, but two years later a chilling discovery was made on the driver’s side back door of a police-issued vehicle that read, “Gary Grant is dead. I am living. Another will die on 1/12/86 if all goes right.” The anonymous death threat was seemingly a hoax and after a thorough investigation was conducted the police were unable to locate the mysterious writer.
Three weeks later another peculiar message was found carved into a sidewalk saying, “Gary Grant Jr. lives. I still killed him. Son of a pig officer. Payback is a M.F.” The logical assumption amongst the police was that the murder of Gary Jr. was an act of retaliation from someone who had been previously arrested by Gary Snr. After combing through their database of prior convictions nobody who had been incarcerated seemed to warrant this type of extreme reaction.
Once more, the case went stagnant and leads ran dry. Years later, Gary Grant Snr. retired from the Atlantic Police Department and relocated to Puerto Rico. His undaunted resolve for solving his son’s murder was always present, however, telling the Press of Atlantic City, “My seven-year-old son has remained on my mind every waking moment of my life.”
With his retirement, his main goal was to find closure, and in 2016 he found two unbelievable clues while browsing through evidence boxes and converting old audio tapes into digital files. He discovered an audio clipping that he never heard before made to 911 on March 8, 1986 — what would have been Gary Jr’s. tenth birthday — and in the midst of the two spinetingling messages found weeks apart.
Dispatcher: Police and Fire.
Caller: Is it possible for me to collect a reward on my own self for the murder of Gary Grant?
Dispatcher: Is it for you to collect the reward … for yourself?
Dispatcher: If you have … yeah, if you have information. What are you saying? That … I don’t know what you mean? Like, you know who did it? Something like that you mean?
Caller: No. How’s if I did it myself and I want to collect the whole reward.
Dispatcher: If you did it?
Dispatcher: Suppose I hook you into the detective bureau?
Caller: Mm, no, that’s okay.
Caller: (Unclear). It’s not a crank call. You’re never gonna catch me.
Dispatcher: You know what?
Caller: You’re never gonna catch me.
Dispatcher: You know what? Take your time. I didn’t hear you.
The other audio file was from a phone call placed on June 2, 1986. The caller remained incognito and said, “Because of his father. The cops know what he looks like,” but never elaborated further. Hoping to generate new leads, Gary Grant Snr. uploaded the soundbite to Facebook to see if anyone recognized the voice. He managed to obtain the name of the suspect and discovered he knew the individual because he lived in a neighborhood that he often patrolled, yet couldn’t recall having any issues with him. Interestingly enough, the caller was arrested in 2013 for child molestation against a five-year-old and was sentenced to prison. It has never been determined if he had involvement in the murder of Gary Grant Jr.
It’s now 2018 and the murder of Gary Grant Jr. remains unsolved. Gary Snr. still believes Carl Mason was the individual responsible for taking his son’s life but remains humble enough to consider the possibility he is innocent. To keep the spotlight on his son’s life, he created a Facebook page to honor his son’s memory and offer words of encouragement to others. As he continues to pursue justice and closure, his dedication is a beacon of light for others to never give up. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
It has been an emotional week since the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker … wait, Joseph James DeAngelo was identified and caught. I’m still trying to process the fact that there are a name and a face to the moniker that has plagued California for over four decades. I can’t even begin to comprehend how survivors and family members are feeling right now, knowing the monster in the dark has been brought to light and there is no escape for him. There are no open windows; there are no glass sliding doors; there are no bicycles; there are only bars. With all of this happening, I want to share an honest message and confession of my own.
For the better part of two years, I became obsessed with this case. The story of it all enthralled me to the point where I absorbed every piece of information I could. When I discovered the EAR/ONS and Unresolved Mysteries subreddit, I knew it was a place where there was an active community that was equally consumed as I was.
To be honest, I was intimidated at first. There were so many knowledgeable people who knew the case backward and forward and I thought there was nothing I could do to contribute in a way that would be beneficial. Nonetheless, I proceeded to learn more and eventually expanded into sharing my thoughts, theories, opinions and creating a 12-part series on the case.
Within that timeframe, I met amazing people here and have developed friendships. I may not know your real names, but the fact that we speak regularly is a beautiful thing to me. Some of you have motivated me; gave me inspiration; pushed me to be better; made me want to be more credible and reliable; irritated me; tested my patience; and it was all for the best, because those traits I acquired seeped into my personal life and it helped me become a better person.
Over time, people considered me well-informed on the case and sought answers from me, even when I didn’t deserve that type of acknowledgment. When I was presented with that responsibility, I wanted to ignore it because I personally felt inadequate, but I finally accepted that role and strove to live up to those expectations.
Due to that level of accountability, I discovered my passion — writing (blogging) about true crime. That’s when I really started to have the genuine desire to not only discuss this case but to also bring more light to it. There were no ulterior motives; I simply wanted to spread awareness (I’m aware of how cliche that is). At one point I considered writing a book about the case, but I felt guilty for doing so. In fact, I felt rather ashamed that I made a “name for my self” here, because none of those things was my intention.
Nevertheless, some of these things were completely out of my control. I simply took things one day at a time and let life unfold as it may. Two years later, I am unbelievably thankful for each and every one of you. That’s not hyperbole. You all have changed my life in ways I never thought was possible, especially in terms of being an adult. To put it plainly, I grew up. In reality — away from the computer — those positive changes has flowed wonderfully and I became a better person; an individual that I thought was impossible to achieve. Thank you, for everything.
I now want to give an honest message about Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. himself. With him now under constraints, I can’t help but harken back to two statements he once made. First was a phone call to the police when he professed, “You’re never going to catch me you dumb fuckers.” The second is to a victim he harassed and told her, “You think you’re smart, but I’m smarter than you.”
What a glorious day it is knowing that this heinous monster is officially apprehended and by some of the original police task force. He may have eluded capture for longer than we all hoped or even anticipated, but he eventually got caught, and his mugshot is spread across the nation. His face is revealed and he looks old; tired; and miserable. Science reigns supreme and the justice will be beautiful.
As I alluded to earlier in my post, I was plagued by this case for two years. I couldn’t look at a glass sliding door or walk by a fence without thinking of him. Every time I read about a burglary in the local newspaper, he came to mind. When I went to sleep at night, I often wondered if he was alive, dead, in prison, or in another country. I scoured over details of each crime scene trying to find a connection that would lead to his identification. A part of me almost came to admire his ability to turn into a ghost and disappear from the responsibilities of life, because so many people knew a lot about him yet also knew nothing at all.
However, answers are revealing, and one thing is made abundantly evident — he’s not unique or special. Some of the theories on him were right; some were wrong. Those that were accurate represent the fact that he is a real human being because over 40 years he almost turned into a myth — an urban legend. He wasn’t a ghost. He had a career; family and children; a means of travel; a place he called “home.” Right now, he’s only a bitter old man whose dark past is now exposed. As a result, it’s becoming clear that many things he left behind in his attacks weren’t all red herrings. Rather, they were insecurities being presented in the crimes because of his own self-hatred and brokenness as an individual.
Ultimately, he is a victim of poetic justice because he was caught at his own game — by people smarter than him. Just as he has done to countless of innocent people, he was surveilled for days. His routines and habits were learned. Then one day unbeknownst to him, he was blitzed — caught off guard and left speechless. His hands were bound behind his back and had absolutely zero control.
Now, he’s going to have to endure the same treatment he instilled in his victims. All of those lives that were dismantled because of him will get their time to speak in court without being interrupted. If he dares to speak, they get to intervene and say, “Shut up!” They get to seize control and walk around the courtroom while he sits helplessly in handcuffs. When it’s all said and done, they get to walk to freedom — opening the courtroom doors and be gone in the night, while he rots in jail for the rest of his life.
People, whether children or adults, go missing every single day. Sometimes, the person decides to vanish on their own accord, while other people disappear in a more sinister nature. When these incidents happen they impact people in ways that are undoubtedly life-changing, especially when those unfortunate circumstances occur in a small populated town where everyone knows one another. The lingering effects of those cases create a void in families, friends, and the entire community that never fully heals.
Angela Marie Hammond was born on February 9, 1971, to her loving parents, Marsha and Chris Hammond. For the first four years, the family lived in Kansas City, but they soon relocated to Clinton, Missouri, where Marsha’s parents, Lloyd and Elizabeth Young were residing.
Clinton, Missouri is a small, rural town populated by fewer than 9,000 people as of 2016. Residents make a living by hard work at factory jobs, farming, and supporting local businesses. It’s a town where people wave to each other as they walk; people meet up in the morning at the local diner to have coffee, and when high school football season starts the community gathers together on Friday nights to support their hometown team.
Not too long after the move to Clinton, Marsha and Chris added another addition to their family, a newborn baby boy, Loren Hammond. Sadly, over time their marriage fell apart, which resulted in Marsha moving twenty miles away to an isolated farm out in the country in Montrose, Missouri, and Chris traveling back to Olathe, Kansas, where he later remarried. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, Angela and Loren grew up in a happy and stable environment, where their parents were actively involved in their lives and made sure they were loved and taken care of.
As time went on, Clinton, Missouri became Angela’s home, and she cherished the friends, memories, and future she was making for herself there. Angela’s best friend, Kyla Engeman, described her as an intelligent woman who knew how to have fun anywhere she went. There was never a dull moment with her, and the energetic and positive energy beaming off of her made people want to be around her.
In November of 1990, 19-year-old Angela met Rob Shafer, an 18-year-old high school star athlete who had ambitions to join the military. The two quickly intertwined and fell in love. The following year in January 1991, she announced to Rob that she was pregnant. Rob was thrilled by the news and subsequently proposed, where Angela ecstatically accepted. The newly engaged couple soon moved in together at a rented trailer home and started planning ahead for their new journey in life. Rob still had plans to follow through with enlisting in the military later that summer, while Angela was working at the Union State Bank as a night processor and taking college courses in Central Missouri State University thirty miles away in Warrensburg, Missouri.
Angela’s relationship with Bob continued to blossom and they were both wanted and accepted into each other’s families. Four months later, nobody could have predicted the mysterious turn of events that continues to baffle the small town to this very day.
On the unusually warm Spring evening of Thursday, April 4, 1991, Angela was accompanied by her fiance at her mother’s residence to have a family barbeque. The entire night had gone smoothingly–where everything seemed to be perfectly intertwined to have a relaxing and blissful time with friends and family.
Shortly after 9:00 p.m. Angela and Rob decided to head back to Clinton because he had plans to be at his mother’s home, Carol Shafer, by 10:00 p.m. to babysit his younger brother, Justin Shafer. The couple had plans to meet up in town later that night when his mother returned in a few hours, so when she dropped him off she proceeded to spend time with her best friend, Kyla, and cruise the downtown square to have a little fun to pass the time.
At approximately 11:15 p.m. Angela and Kyla parted ways for the night. Thereafter, she decided to call Rob at the nearest payphone on the corner of 210 South 2nd Street where the Food Barn Store parking lot was situated — now the Jim Raysik Car Dealership. She didn’t own a home phone and wanted to tell him that she was exhausted and planned on going back home to soak in a bath. The two continued speaking on the phone for thirty minutes, but at 11:45 p.m. the lives of everyone in Clinton, Missouri changed in an unsettling fashion that still looms over the small town.
In the midst of the phone call, Angela alerted Rob to a conspicuous man circling the block several times in an older modeled green Ford F150 pickup truck. Moments later the driver pulled over near her and stepped outside of the truck and walked toward the unoccupied phone booth next to Angela. Seconds later he returned to his truck and grabbed a flashlight and started waving it around as if he was searching for something. Trying to ease the unsettling tension, Angela asked if he needed to use the phone and he told her no. All of a sudden, a horrifying scream could be heard and Rob — who lived 7-blocks away — immediately tossed aside the landline phone and jumped out of his seat to rush to Angela’s aide.
On his way to her, a similar truck matching what Angela relayed darted passed him with a woman struggling with the driver and screaming “Robbie” for help. He hastily put his vehicle in reverse and made a sharp U-Turn to give chase. The pursuit continued for approximately two miles before Rob’s transmission malfunctioned when he made a right turn, resulting in the vehicle stalling in the middle of the road, as the truck with the woman in tow quickly faded out of view.
Unfortunately, Rob had no choice but to walk back to town. Luckily, a passing motorist noticed him and picked him up and Rob asked to be taken to the police station so he could notify them of what just transpired. He arrived at the department just shy over midnight and reported the incident.
Rob told the police Angela described the unidentified male as “filthy and bearded.” He was wearing coveralls, a dark-colored baseball hat, eyeglasses, and had a full beard with a mustache. The truck he was driving was a green Ford F150 with a white top and delineated to be between the late 60s to early 70s. There had been partial damage on the left side front fender, and on the rear window was a mural of a fish jumping out of the water. A composite sketch of the person of interest was created, although it had been met with much scrutiny because it doesn’t feature key characteristics that Angela described to Rob.
Initially, the police were skeptical of Rob’s story, believing it seemed too contrived and convenient. Nevertheless, as they began their investigation they uncovered Rob’s vehicle undrivable in the middle of the street. Shortly thereafter they found Angela’s car abandoned at the shopping center parking lot with her purse still inside.
Detective Damon Parsons of the Clinton Police Department notified Marsha on the scenario unfolding, which caused immediate frantic. She contacted Angela’s father, Chris, and delivered the devastating news. He promptly made the trip to Clinton, Missouri and resided there for several weeks to assist with trying to locate his daughter.
For the first week of the investigation, Rob was considered the prime suspect in Angela’s disappearance, but after passing a polygraph test and two witnesses coming forward claiming to see the same truck as Rob described to police, he was subsequently ruled out.
As the police continued rounding up friends and family for questioning and additional details, they focused on Angela’s ex-boyfriend, 17-year-old Bill Barker. There were rumors going around that he was the father of Angela’s baby, but he denied those allegations and after looking further into things, he was no longer considered a suspect.
The community rallied together distributing missing person’s posters all throughout town, plastering the photographs on local storefront windows, diners, and truck stops that were often frequented. Over 250 volunteers including friends, family and the police, conducted an air and ground search scouring the entirety of Clinton looking for Angela. Water wells, creek beds, old country roads that are isolated, barns, woods, fields, and abandoned buildings were heavily combed with no luck.
Eleven days later the Clinton Police Department contacted the Missouri Rural Crime Scene Squad seeking help into the investigation. As a result, 25 police officers from 15 neighboring counties happily accommodated them. The Missouri Highway Patrol also looked through their database of all registered vehicles. A list of 1,600 potential pickup trucks matching what Angela’s kidnapper was possibly driving was compiled and sought out for new suspects, but the extensive search proved fruitless.
The police were at a loss for words–perplexed as to how a small town crime wasn’t providing evidence and answers that would hone in on a probable suspect. In turn, they started to consider the possibility that Angela’s abduction could be connected to two similar disappearances that had occurred within an 80-mile radius months earlier in January and February of 1991.
In Macks Creek, Missouri — a small country-oriented town with a population of fewer than 500 residents — on Saturday, January 19, 1991, 42-year-old Trudy Darby was working the night shift at the local K & D Convenience Store. At approximately 10:00 p.m. Trudy was in the process of closing up the store for the night when she noticed three men lingering just outside of the store. Feeling unnerved by their presence, she phoned her son, Waylon Darby, asking him to assist her because she felt uncomfortable. Waylon obliged and arrived in ten minutes, but his mother was nowhere to be found. Two days later on January 21, 1991, Trudy’s nude body was discovered fifteen miles away in the Little Niangua River; she had been shot twice in the head by a .38 caliber.
One month later on Wednesday, February 27, 1991, another remarkably similar incident occurred 80-miles away in Nevada, Missouri — another small town about the same size as Clinton, Missouri. Cheryl Ann Kenney, a 30-year-old wife, and mother of two, was working at the Quality Convenience Store located on Business 71 Highway. It was 10:00 p.m. and she was accompanied by the store janitor and a male customer. The store typically stayed open until midnight, but the night was going relatively slow so she decided to close up the shop and allowed the janitor to leave early. Cheryl proceeded to count the till and store the money in the backroom. At 10:17 p.m. she set the store’s alarm system and made her way to her white Chevrolet resting in the parking lot. It’s unclear as to what truly happened afterward, but she never returned home and hasn’t been seen since.
Three years later in the summer of 1994, the case of the abduction and murder of Trudy Darby was solved. The perpetrators were 15-year-old Jessie Rush and his half-brother, Marvin Chaney. They were arrested after Jessie had visited Kansas City and bragged to multiple friends — Elizabeth Corpening, Carl Blakely, and Gretchen Chastain — that he was responsible for Trudy’s murder and successfully got away with it. Jessie’s friends were shocked by his revelations and rightfully alerted the police. Subsequently, he was interrogated and ultimately confessed to the crime.
Jessie didn’t hold back the details of the grisly crime. He professed that he, Chaney, and another accomplice had planned the abduction of Trudy beforehand. They entered the store and held her up at gunpoint — stealing $220.00 from the cash register and forcing her into their vehicle. She attempted to defend herself, which only angered them more. They transported her to a nearby barn, where they sexually and physically assaulted her. Afterward, they shot her once in the head and put her body in the trunk of their car and took her to the Little Niangua River to dispose of her. When they opened the trunk they noticed she was still breathing so they shot her once more and discarded her body.
A few months later on December 24, 1994, Trudy’s father, Wilbert Blecher, passed away at the age of 69-years-old. Before perishing, he expressed his utmost gratitude for being alive long enough to have the resolution and justice he desperately sought after for three years. Six years following on November 21, 2000, Trudy’s mother, Betty Jean Thompson Belcher passed away at 74-years-old.
While Jessie was in jail awaiting trial he became acquainted with several inmates, one of whom was Edward Thomas, who he befriended because he believed he was a lawyer that could help him lessen his charges of abduction and murder. With his misguided faith, Jessie wrote 13 letters to Thomas that incriminated him further with Darby’s murder and also suggested that he and Chaney are behind many more audacious unsolved crimes that hadn’t been solved.
In one particular letter, he proclaimed:
I just wish my brother would have done like I said at the barn and burnt the bitch up but that pussy ass cheevers and parel desided to take the bitch to a fuckin river instead. I was to fucked up to argue with em all I wanted to do was fuck the bitch then shoot her in the head to watch her brains come out. Sounds cool huh? if the bitch would have not moved in the trunk at the river my brother wouldn’t of had to shoot her in the head again just the have the cops find a shell the stupid mother fucker the only smart thing we did was have marshels brother greg burn the barn other wise the mother fuckers would have a lot more on us. im glad they don’t know every thing else we did or i’d be on death row.
In a barrage of additional letters sent to Thomas, Jessie alluded that he Chaney had committed many more unsolved crimes, saying:
I never told you about them other bitchs because if it gets found by accident it can get us involved in killing them other fucking bitchs. the cops don’t even know about my brother and me killing any other bitchs except Macks Creek. them other bitchs in my last letter to you were both like that bitch in Macks Creek we all tortured the bitchs then fucked the dog shit out of em.
Three years later in April 1997, Jessie Rush and Marvin Chaney were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Rush was transported to South Central Correctional Facility in Licking, Missouri, and Chaney was imprisoned at the maximum-security Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Missouri. In September of 2017, Chaney passed away at the age of 56-years-old due to natural causes.
As for Angela’s disappearance in 1991, the first year was emotionally overwhelming for family and friends, because they still had to maintain their responsibilities as an adult. In June of 1991, Rob Shafer had gone to Fort Eustis, VA, to train for the National Guardsmen, while Kyla Engeman planned to relocate to Colorado. Later that year, Marsha won a vacation trip to Florida from her place of employment, but she didn’t want to accept the prize because she felt guilty — spending time having a few days of enjoyment while her daughter was missing. Nevertheless, friends and coworkers convinced her to take the opportunity to recharge her batteries from all the turmoil.
In October of 1991, a new possible lead emerged from a man named Russel Smith. He was living in Libau, Manitoba, Canada, but decided to visit family living in Ulrich, Missouri. He hadn’t any knowledge regarding who Angela was or the circumstances surrounding her disappearance until he saw a missing person’s poster. Once he did, he had an epiphany and immediately contacted the Clinton Police Department. According to his assertion, during September he witnessed a woman matching Angela’s description getting inside of a green pickup truck that had a white top and mural on the rear window after leaving a drugstore in Selkirk, Manitoba, Canada.
Russel’s bold allegation caused Clinton’s Police Chief Bob Pattison to contact Sgt Bob MacQuarrie of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to alert them to the possible new development. In response, MacQuarrie followed up on the sighting. Considering Angela was four-months pregnant at the time of her disappearance, they made the logical deduction that she may have given birth to her child. They proceeded to visit all the hospitals and baby stores in the area with Angela’s photograph to see if any staff members had remembered seeing her, but nobody recognized her.
The following month in November 1991, the production crew for Unsolved Mysteries arrived in Clinton, Missouri, to film a re-enactment of Angela’s disappearance. The episode was broadcasted on television the very next month. With the latest televised coverage, David Rader, the producer for the television show, urged law enforcement to not raise their expectations too high because only two of the 49 missing person cases they covered had been solved by the public. By the end of 1991, the investigation into Angela’s disappearance was met with despondency.
In the summer of 1992, another baffling mystery occurred in Springfield, Missouri, when Sherrill Levitt, Suzie Streeter, and Stacy McCall vanished without a trace on the same night. Their disappearance sent shockwaves across the nation. Shortly thereafter, Marsha became friends with Stacy’s mother, Janis McCall, and formed a unique bond — becoming a moral support shoulder to lean on in the wake of their nightmarish tragedies. The two of them were later invited to be on the Oprah Winfrey show to keep their missing loved ones in the spotlight in the hopes of garnishing new leads that would bring closure.
Regrettably, Angela’s disappearance went stagnant for years. The police had ruled out Jessie Rush and Marvin Chaney as suspects in Angela’s disappearance and couldn’t locate any hard evidence linking them to Cheryl’s vanishing either. In April of 2009, new information was brought forth by the Clinton Police Department. They provided a statement to the media claiming they have new evidence in the case, particularly of DNA nature, due to advancements in technology an forensic science, but they never elaborated fully as to what they unearthed.
Since then, very little updates have surfaced in the subsequent years. 27-years have passed from when Angela disappeared, and lack of answers has continued to plague friends and family of Angela’s. Nonetheless, they had to resume building on to their own lives. The Hammond family still pursues closure with a relentless passion and makes sure Angela’s memory isn’t forgotten. They still remain in contact with Rob and consider him a part of their family. As for Rob Shafer, he eventually moved 60 miles away and works construction and has a beautiful family of his own. Though the heartache and what-ifs still linger, Angela’s family embraces her gleeful personality–honoring her by thinking positive and shedding light in dark places, as Angela so often did.
Urban legends have been around for centuries. Typically, there’s always partial truth to the stories, but they tend to become hyperbole as the tales get passed on to other people. In this narrative, the tragic elements became an anecdote that managed to seep into Hollywood and inspire countless of horror films that have since formed into cult classics such as “Halloween” by John Carpenter and “When a Stranger Calls” by Fred Walton. As you will soon see, the reality is much scarier than fiction.
Janett Christman was born on March 21, 1936. She was the oldest daughter of Charles and Lula Christman, with a younger sister by 18-months, Reta Christman Smith and a newborn baby, Cheryl Christman Bottorff. The young family of five had been living in Boonville, Missouri before relocating to the small, college-oriented town of Columbia, Missouri, known for its football team, Missouri (Mizzou) Tigers, and were living on the upper floor of the business they owned, Ernie’s Cafe and Steakhouse, where they made an honest and reputable living.
Janett was 13-years-old and an 8th-grade student at Jefferson Junior High School. She was described as a loving churchgoing teenager who had a knack for playing the piano in the choir, intelligent, and independent for her age — working fervently for the things she desired.
On the brisk Saturday of March 18, 1950, there was a dance party being held that evening for students. Janett had been invited to go by several of her friends but declined because he had plans to babysit. She would often babysit for two families that were well acquainted with one another; the Romacks and the Muellers. On this evening, she was going to be tending to Ed and Anne Romack’s 3-year-old son, Gregory, hoping the job would provide enough money for a burgundy colored suit she had been saving up for the upcoming Easter holiday.
Dusk began to settle in and around 7:30 p.m. Janett arrived at the Romacks’ residence. The couple had recently moved to a rural and isolated home on 1015 Stewart Road directly on the outskirts of Columbia. At the time, Anne was pregnant, and due to the recent and exhausting relocation they hadn’t been able to have a night out just for themselves in a long while, so when the chance arose to spend time with friends and play cards, they capitalized on the opportunity.
When Janett arrived, Anne assured her that Gregory enjoyed sleeping with the radio on and he shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. Prior to leaving, Ed quickly taught Janett how to load, unload, and fire the shotgun in case anything transpired. As they were leaving, Ed placed the gun near the front door and said they would be back soon and advised her to lock the door and turn the front porch light on if anyone came knocking. With that, they departed in good spirits and went about their night.
Throughout the evening the weather began to worsen. The temperature dwindled down to the mid-twenties with a storm bringing in the rain and sleet. The robust winds swayed the nearby trees and echoed against the home. Despite the unexpected weather, there was no apparent cause for concern until 10:35 p.m. when Boone County Sheriff’s Department received a frantic phone call.
With the treacherous weather pouring in, the night for local police had been going relatively slow. When the phone suddenly began ringing, officer Ray McCowan picked up the receiver and asked what the emergency was. He was immediately met with the howls of a woman screaming in sheer panic, uttering the words “Come quick!” He tried intervening but the phone line was cut short and a dial tone was all that could be heard.
McCowan knew straightaway the horror emanating from the female caller’s voice was genuine and not a prank by doltish teenagers, but all he could do was anticipate the phone ringing again because the call was too short to provide a trace and the woman didn’t mention any additional information as to what was unfolding or her whereabouts.
Shortly thereafter, Anne Romack called home from the Moon Valley Villa — where she, her husband, the Muellers, and other friends were — to check on Janett and see how the night with Gregory was going, but nobody answered the phone. Considering it was quite late, Anne wasn’t too concerned, presuming Janett had fallen asleep. The Romacks continued to spend a few extra hours away before heading home at approximately 1:15 a.m.
It was 1:35 a.m. when the Romacks pulled into their driveway that was filled with rain and seeping mud. They noticed the porch light was on and the front window blinds were open wide. As Ed began to fiddle with his keys to unlock the front door, he realized it had already been unlocked. He was perplexed because of his instructions to Janett before leaving and as he and Anne walked through the front door they were met with a ghastly discovery.
Three days shy of her 14th birthday, Janett Christman was found sprawled out on the living room floor in a pool of blood soaking through the shagged carpet. She had been violently raped and murdered. Her legs were spread out with her right slipper barely hanging off her foot. There was a head wound from a blunt instrument, multiple puncture wounds from a mechanical pencil, and a cord from an electric iron that had been snipped with a pair of scissors was bound tightly around her neck.
A few feet away was the landline phone dangling off the hook — the reason why Anne was unable to get a response when she called earlier that evening. The sight of this horrifying scene sent Anne into a hectic state as she darted up the stairs to check on her 3-year-old son, Greg, who had been unharmed and shockingly still asleep, oblivious to the horror awaiting downstairs.
Ed Romack hastily dialed the police and they he were dispatched immediately. Sheriff Glen Powell from Boone County’s Sheriff’s Department arrived with numerous detectives and bloodhounds. Unfortunate complications soon arose, however, when Lt. Joe Douglas from the city police — a different jurisdiction that hadn’t any authority since the Romacks lived 100-yards out of city limits — arrived at the scene and attempted to take reign of the investigation. The battle of leadership had the separate agencies being uncooperative with one another, and though answers unraveled quickly, there were many disagreements amongst the two groups.
Inside of the home were clear indications Janett had resisted her attacker. Blood smears and fingerprints were found in the living room and kitchen, where the back door had been unlocked and left ajar. As the police followed the trail outside, the search dogs managed to track the assailant’s scent one mile up from Stewart Rd. to West Boulevard and across West Ash St. before losing the trail. Back at the crime scene, an adult male’s footprints were found near a side window of the residence that had been shattered with a garden hoe, where several authorities believed the perpetrator had gained entry, primarily due to muddy papers found on the piano that was situated nearby.
The method of entry is where the two jurisdictions collided. Due to Ed’s instructions he gave Janett, many detectives suspected the perpetrator knew Janett and tried appearing friendly to get inside. This theory was substantiated by the front porch light being turned on, as he told Janett to do if someone came to the door, the loaded shotgun nearby untouched, and the apparent knowledge as to where to locate the electric iron to use the cord for a murder weapon.
With this prevailing theory, law enforcement worked twelve-hour shifts tirelessly performing stakeouts and canvassing surrounding areas under the suspicion the killer may return to the scene to relish in what he had accomplished. Likewise, the police sought assistance from the public, asking for locals to call in if they see anything peculiar or anyone they know acting differently than normal.
Meanwhile, local officers had gone around questioning Janett’s friends, family, and students from her school. During this process, along with local residents phoning in possible leads, potential suspects were formed. However, it quickly became evident that a racial bias was present because the majority of the men brought in for questioning were black men in the community who were unwarrantedly deemed suspicious. Nevertheless, this tactic was fruitless and the police were no closer to resolving Janett’s murder.
This wasn’t the first rape and murder to befall Columbia, Missouri. Four years earlier on the bitterly cold night of February 5, 1946, 20-year-old Marylou Jenkins had been brutally murdered in a similar manner to Janett.
Marylou was at home alone — coincidentally less than a mile away two blocks over from the Romack Residence — while her mother spent the evening a few houses away tending to an elderly couple, while her father was out of town conducting business. When Marylou’s mother had to spend the night away down the street, they conjured up a plan to alert one another if something was amiss. Their scheme was to turn on a light, lift up the shades, and place a phone call.
Late into the night, Marylou’s mother noticed a light on in her house with the shades up, but since she never received a phone call she didn’t believe anything was wrong. The following morning when she returned home, she stumbled upon the gut-wrenching scene of her daughter deceased on the living room floor. She had been raped and strangled with an extension cord.
Two weeks later, Floyd Cochran, a 35-year-old disabled trash hauler, was arrested for savagely murdering his wife. Afterward, he attempted to commit suicide but was unsuccessful. Once the police were aware of what transpired, they took him into custody. Floyd willingly admitted without any remorse that he murdered his wife.
Considering the timeline of events and the desperate need to solve Marylou’s murder, Boone County investigators interrogated Floyd for ten hours, where he supposedly made incriminating statements that led to his guilt, and he later confessed to the crime, despite no evidence connecting him to the murder.
Floyd was subsequently sentenced to die on September 26, 1947, via the gas chamber. A few hours before being executed, he recanted his alleged confession. It was later discovered he was coerced to give a false confession, but the deed had already been done and Marylou’s death is considered solved.
A series of prowlers and peeping Toms would emerge in the following years, and in the late months of 1949, the activity increased with a string of sexual assaults.
The first rape occurred several days before Halloween. A 16-year-old teenager was babysitting on East Sunset Lane, when an unidentified male wearing a white homemade mask with holes cut out for eyes, broke into the residence and violated the young woman in the living room.
The following month on November 29, 1949, 18-year-old Stephens College student, Sally Johnson, became the next target. She lived one block away from where the prior victim was attacked and was home alone falling asleep on the sofa while watching television when an unknown male gained entry and attempted to violate her. Thankfully, she resisted her attacker and was left unharmed, as the perpetrator panicked and fled from the home.
On the very next day, another more brazen incident occurred. A college student enrolled at the University of Missouri was on a date with her boyfriend. They were at Hinkson Creek — a lover’s lane — and in their vehicle when a man draped in a white hood and brandishing a firearm appeared and ordered them out of the car. They did as he instructed and he forced the couple several yards away. He proceeded to rob and bind the male, then ordered the female to walk. When they were a considerable distance away, he sexually assaulted the female and sprinted away from the crime scene.
Days later on December 4, 1949, a 26-year-old black male named Jake Bradford had been arrested after the police caught him in the act of peeping inside a young woman’s window. Bradford spent a week in jail and after intense questioning, he confessed to assaulting the 16-year-old in October and the attempted rape of 18-year-old Sally Johnson, even though she was brought in to ask if he was the perpetrator and was unable to provide an adequate answer.
Nevertheless, the reports of peculiar prowlers and rapes in the area diminished. The police believed they apprehended the right man, and locals began to feel a sense of relief, then all of a sudden the nightmare resurfaced when the tragedy fell upon Janett Christman, with shocking parallels to Marylou Jenkins, causing many people to cast doubt on law enforcement’s original affirmation.
As the police continued on with their investigation into Janett Christman’s murder, one prime suspect named Robert Mueller materialized, and the circumstantial evidence against him began piling up heavily.
Mueller was 27-years-old and friends with Ed Romack since high school. After graduation, Mueller served in World War II as an Army Air Corps Captain and had a distinguishable record. He later returned to Columbia, Missouri, overlooking his father’s restaurant, Mueller’s Virginia Cafe, and working as a tailor. Many people remember him for dressing well and always carrying around a mechanical pencil in his front shirt or jacket pocket.
When Mueller and Ed Romack reacquainted, they shared mutual friends and would frequently spend time together. According to Ed, he had a lustful eye for virgin women and spoke about having a desire to defile someone young. Moreover, he knew Janett since she babysat for him on numerous occasions, and Ed recalled him making lecherous comments about her well-developed hips and breasts.
Additionally, Mueller’s lewd behavior stemmed over to Ed’s wife, Anne, who felt uncomfortable around him because of his uninvited sexual advancements. Much to her dismay, one day before Janett’s murder Mueller had been visiting the home helping Anne hemp a dress and reportedly tried groping her breasts. In a formal statement given to police, Anne described Mueller as a man who “doesn’t use words, he uses his hands.”
The oddities didn’t end there, however. The morning of Janett’s death, Robert contacted Janett to ask if she would babysit his children for the night, but she declined because she already had prearrangements to look after the Romacks’ son. Furthermore, Mueller attended the gathering with the Romacks and their mutual friends but hours into the party he excused himself claiming he had to meet a doctor who was meant to tend to his son. Mueller disappeared for two hours before returning to the party. The police questioned Mueller’s doctor and discovered he never went to the Mueller residence that evening.
To implicate Robert even further, Ed Romack got a phone call from Mueller at his father’s home on the morning after the murder. Supposedly, he had asked if he needed any assistance with cleaning up the blood throughout the house. However, he shouldn’t have known about the tragedy that took place because the crime hadn’t been printed in the local newspaper yet.
Additionally, Ed claimed Mueller would later speak to him regarding the crime and began expounding on how he believed the crime unfolded, claiming that breaking a window to climb into the home would be too loud and noticeable. Instead, it would be much easier to knock on the door and say, “Ed sent me here to get poker chips.”
The circumstantial evidence against Mueller was staggering and overwhelming. In May 1950, law enforcement compiled all the evidence against him and went to his residence to speak with him. Rather than following the basic guidelines of an arrest warrant and interview procedure, the officers didn’t take him into custody — rather, they transported him to a farmhouse outside of city limits and interrogated him at length throughout the course of the night. Mueller was subsequently taken to the state capital, Jefferson City, where he was given a polygraph test and passed.
With the unfortunate results of the lie detector test, the detectives had to let Mueller go free. However, all of the evidence pointed in his direction and the court judge, W.M. Dinwiddle, felt compelled to arrange a grand jury to investigate Mueller’s case further.
Over time and legal issues, Robert Mueller was never charged because of the profound level of incompetence police conducted during their investigation into him. These intertwined factors led Mueller to not be apprehended and he later sued the police department but lost the lawsuit. Afterward, he relocated with his family to Tuscon, Arizona, and in 2006 he passed away at 83-years-old.
After everything that had transpired in the small town of Columbia, it seemed as if all families involved in some form or another needed to uproot their lives from the haunting memories and start anew. The Romacks moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho, and lived with sincere regret that conclusive answers were never given. In the 1980s, Anne passed away. Ed eventually remarried and in 2016 he passed away at 93-years-old. As for his son, Gregory, he grew up successful and settled down in Alaska.
The Christman family remained in Columbia and continued running their business until Janett’s father, Charles Christman, passed away on September 24, 1974, at 60-years-old. After his death, his wife Lula Christman moved to Kansas City, where she would remain until her passing in 2009. Her oldest daughter, Reta, would settle down with a wonderful man and start a family of her own, while the youngest daughter Cheryl — who was only a baby at the time of Janet’s murder — moved to Florida.
It’s now been 68 years, and the once loving, hard-working, and independent 13-year-old who was saving up for a burgundy dress for Easter, would have been 82-years-old on March 21, 2018. While the Romacks and the Christman family believed Robert Mueller is responsible for Janett’s murder, they were painfully stricken with the unsatisfaction for receiving legal justice and closure, and the case officially remains unsolved.
With this post, I am going to analyze interesting details the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department unveiled to the public on February 27, 2018, regarding criminal activity occurring in Rancho Cordova and other East Sacramento towns between 1972-1973.
First and foremost, I’d like to examine what this bombshell news could mean. Since the information isn’t necessarily confirmed to be the work of the East Area Rapist, speculation and theories will be a big proponent of this analysis while remaining grounded in the known facts for the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer case.
This may be overwhelming if you’re a newcomer to the case so let’s start with the basics. The East Area Rapist is a serial rapist and killer who operated in Northern and Southern California for ten years between 1976-1986. For three years he violated fifty women — teenagers, single, married — inside of their homes. In late 1979, he traveled south and turned into a cold-blooded killer. He committed his last murder on May 4, 1986, and vanished into thin air and has remained elusive ever since.
M.O. (modus operandi) and Signature:
Extensive prowling of neighborhoods
Speaking through clenched teeth or a harsh whisper
Waking victims up with a flashlight and gun saying he is only there for food and money, often for his van
Having the female bind the male and then remove her from the bedroom
Stacking dishes on the male’s back and threatening to kill him if he heard them rattle
Forcing the female to masturbate him with her hands bound behind her back
Prank calling or hang-up calls before and after the home invasion and rape
Using shoelaces and cutting towels into strips for binding
Ransacking the home in-between numerous rapes
Eating and drinking food from the victims’ kitchen
Sometimes crying and hyperventilating after raping the women
Stealing odd items that had little value despite items of expensive worth being present (taking coins instead of cash, one earring instead of two, etc)
Physical Description and Characteristics:
Early to mid-twenties (could be in his sixties to seventies as of now)
Blond or brown hair (medium length)
Athletic build and between 160-175 pounds
5’8 – 5’11
Size 9-9.5 shoe
Blue or hazel eyes
Type A blood
Sometimes stuttered and had a high-pitched voice
The first confirmed victim of the East Area Rapist occurred on June 18, 1976. However, there is circumstantial evidence suggesting he may have been active as early as October 21, 1975, when an unknown assailant dressed in camouflaged apparel with a homemade ski mask, and brandishing a large buck knife gained entry to a Rancho Cordova, California home through an unlocked garage with three occupants inside; a mother and her two daughters, ages seven and eighteen.
When he was inside, he cut towels into several strips and proceeded to wake up the oldest daughter, subsequently binding her and threatening to kill her if she screamed. Once she was restrained the perpetrator shifted his attention to the mother and followed the same routine–placing the two women in the same room together. Thereafter, he made his way into the seven-year-old daughter’s bedroom who was still asleep and fastened her hands and ankles and kept her away from her family.
Throughout the course of the night, the mother made numerous pleas with the intruder to leave her family unharmed but she was met with harsh whispers ordering her to be quiet. The mother and oldest daughter were repeatedly beaten and raped. Once he finished, he ransacked the residence — stealing inexpensive jewelry and an assortment of coins before fleeing the home at 6:30 a.m.
The authorities arrived at the crime scene shortly after and took the victims’ statements. They described the assailant to be in his early twenties and 5’7 in height. They also claimed he could have been a black male but couldn’t provide a definitive conclusion because of how dimly lit the home was during the attack.
For approximately a year this assault was considered to be apart of the East Area Rapists’ timeline once he made his presence more apparent in summer of 1976 and the media blackout being lifted the subsequent November. More victim testimonies started piling in and the descriptions of their attacker was that of a Caucasian male. As a result, the October 1975 attack was removed from having any connection to the East Area Rapist.
It wasn’t until a 1977 follow-up interview conducted with the 1975 victims that they recanted their initial statements on their attacker’s ethnicity. They said he could have been a white male. With the inconsistent testimony, the assault was never officially put back in canon with the East Area Rapists’ emergence, but the main consensus amongst the original detectives is that he was responsible.
Aside from this sexual assault, there weren’t many detailed incidents of similar criminal activity available to current detectives predating this crime because the reports were on microfilm. They were recently transferred to digital and Sergeant Paul Belli and other investigators in Sacramento County’s Sheriff’s Department began examining all of the 35,000 plus reports that were filed in 1973 — particularly those that featured similarities to the East Area Rapists’ modus operandi — and are now being presented to the public with the hope of garnishing new leads and tips. With that, let’s look at the latest information revealed by the Cold Case Investigations Unit.
A cat burglar operated in the Rancho Cordova and eastern Sacramento County during 1972 and 1973, striking over 30 times during that time period. His crimes were linked by M.O. and it was recognized by detectives of that time that the crimes were the work of one man. Only one other cat burglary series (albeit brief, and with a different M.O.) was occurring simultaneous to this series. When caught, the suspects in that case said they saw the success the cat burglar of Rancho Cordova was having, and thought it was an easy crime to commit (for them it wasn’t.) A gap occurred at the end of 1972, but by spring of 1973, his offenses began anew and his re-emergence was documented by detectives. His method of operation was to enter a home quietly after the occupants were asleep. The burglar typically exited out a different pre-opened door from his point of entry, and evidence indicated the door was likely opened immediately upon entering the home as an escape route. The front door was frequently the exit point. A commonly hit area was the area between Dolecetto Drive and Malaga Way and near Coloma Road with over a dozen strikes. He also struck other areas of Rancho Cordova, and branched out to Carmichael, Citrus Heights, and other nearby areas. He was known in the reports as “the cat burglar that strikes the Rancho Cordova and East Areas of Sacramento.”
Once inside, the burglar went throughout the home as the occupants slept and took purses and wallets belonging to the victims. Victims included families with children, couples, and single women. Evidence from many of the scenes indicated the burglar had spent extensive time searching the residence, but most of the time items of value outside of the purses and wallets were disregarded. However, the burglar would sometimes take coin collections, silver, or other items including food and alcohol. The burglar also spent considerable time in the bedrooms of the victim(s) as they slept, without disturbing them. The purses/wallets were typically found nearby in an adjacent yard, or on the sidewalk of the residence.
Occasionally they were left elsewhere in groups with other victims’ property from the same night. The only item typically taken from the purse was money, but occasionally small items or identification was also missing. In a few instances, victims awoke as the suspect was in the residence. The suspect would flee the residence out of one of the open doors, sometimes with the victim in pursuit. Additionally, the suspect would frequently strike multiple houses in a single night.
On one occasion, the suspect touched a woman’s breast as she slept, but left when she told him he needed to leave her house. That woman was alone at the time of the attack. In another case, a victim was awakened by a noise in her bedroom. She looked up and saw a man standing near the bedroom door, approximately 8 feet away. She sat up in bed and the suspect pointed a gun at her. The victim said nothing to the suspect, but an odd interaction occurred. The suspect stated “I just took a dollar off your dresser.” The woman told the suspect he should put it back and leave. The suspect complied and returned two dollars to the dresser, despite claiming he had taken only one dollar. He walked down the hallway, but stopped and looked in at the 17-year-old daughter, who then yelled at him to leave. Though the suspect left the residence without further incident, he took a quarter and a nickel from a table near the exit door.
The suspect in this series was seen by several victims and witnesses. Most only observed him briefly and in very low lighting conditions. Descriptions were of a white male in his 20’s, 5’6” to 6’0”, with a slender to average build.
Extensive investigation was conducted in attempts to apprehend this cat burglar, but it does not appear he was ever identified. The areas targeted include Rancho Cordova, Carmichael, Whitney/Mission area, and Citrus Heights. Three of the Citrus Heights cat burglaries were each within a block of one of the two East Area Rapist strikes four years later. The Rancho Cordova strikes were within blocks or closer to the Rancho Cordova EAR attacks. It was also believed the suspect had extensive knowledge of the drainage canals and of the American River Parkway.
Why does this information have valuable importance to the East Area Rapist? The locations are very significant. Rancho Cordova seems to be a vital area for the emergence of this prolific cat burglar. Moreover, he struck residences in Carmichael and Citrus Heights. Not only did he tally up a large number of home invasions, he targeted homes that were in the proximity to future sexual assault victims where the East Area Rapist often frequented between June 18, 1976 – May 17, 1977.
Another intriguing detail is the cat-burglar touching a woman’s breast while she slept. The East Area Rapist hardly ever focused on that region of the body; as if he was uninterested entirely. One of the rare incidents where he focused on the upper-chest was in Walnut Creek, California, on June 2, 1979, when a seventeen-year-old babysitter was raped and had bitten her nipple numerous times. The victim described her assailant to be a slender white male approximately 5’6 tall.
As for the evidence law enforcement has to conclude this cat-burglar had extensive knowledge on drainage canals, the reasons are unclear, but in future events with the East Area Rapist — specifically in the Rancho Cordova area — tracking dogs would often pick up his scent from crime scenes that lead them to canals which were used for making a quick exit. In the targeted locations, there is a significant drainage canal that is easily accessible from each home that was attacked. This trend transcended through several towns he earmarked including Goleta in southern California.
On several occasions, indecent exposures occurred within a couple blocks of the Rancho Cordova cat burglaries, on the same day and in the following days. It is unknown whether these incidents are related to the cat burglaries or if the responsible was a separate offender.
This indecent exposure suspect also struck other areas of Rancho Cordova and Carmichael, on nights where no cat burglaries were reported. These incidents involved a male suspect who would knock on the front window, front door, or sliding glass door of the residence wearing only a t-shirt when a woman or teenage girl was standing near it. It appears based on the timing that he had been watching for a period of time until the desired victim was near the window/door. He was observed by the victim(s), committed lewd acts, and did not leave immediately. He was not observed to be holding anything including pants, and was occasionally chased by males who were also in the home. In one case, the suspect knocked on the front door, stood in front of the victim naked from the waist down, and demanded: “Give me a match.” She screamed, and alerted others in the house, but when they checked outside, the man was gone.
On another occasion, a teenage girl left a party and was walking home on Newton Way in Rancho Cordova at approximately 12:30 a.m. During the walk, she realized a man was following her. She walked faster and the man quickened his pace, but was still a considerable distance away. The girl ran to the home of a stranger and knocked, prompting a middle-aged woman to answer the door. Both parties then observed the man walk to the edge of the driveway, look up at them, and drop his pants to his ankles exposing himself. He stood staring briefly, and The subject then walked from the area on foot. The description of the suspect in the above cases is as follows:
20 to 25 years old
Light brown/reddish brown hair to dark brown hair
5’8” to 6’0”
Thin to average build, 160-170 pounds
I have a hard time believing this Flasher was the East Area Rapist. While the physical description matches, it’s not an uncommon illustration amongst many males in that era. What is notable, however, are where these events transpired and how oftentimes they occurred on the same nights as the cat-burglaries; making it difficult to completely disregard.
There aren’t any details pertaining to the East Area Rapist being bold enough to knock on someone’s front door without a mask on and expose himself as the occupant(s) opened the door. However, there are a handful of incidents that portray his brazenness. A prime example would be his third attack on August 29, 1976, in Rancho Cordova on Malaga Way.
The occupants were a mother and her two daughters ages twelve and fifteen. Their father had recently left for the night shift at his new job. Shortly after 10:30 p.m. the youngest daughter awoke to sounds resonating from the backyard. When she peeked out of her bedroom window she saw a masked individual with gloves on creeping toward her window and attempt to remove the screening. The two locked eyes and she screamed in horror as she quickly ran to her mother’s room.
The mother panicked and quickly ran to her oldest daughter’s room to notify her of the situation but she shrugged it off and continued sleeping. Thereafter, she ran to the kitchen with her youngest clinging to her side and tried calling the authorities on the landline phone. All of a sudden, a loud thud was heard emanating from the youngest daughter’s bedroom. A few seconds later they were confronted by a masked intruder nude from the waist down and armed with a handgun and club.
He immediately blitzed them and the mother attempted to wrestle away his gun. The man retaliated by clubbing her on the head several times until she fell unconscious. He proceeded to force them into the living room where the mother tried resisting the assailant again. She sprinted for the front door and in the process, she was struck again multiple times but managed to break free and scream for help with her youngest daughter following close behind. They hurriedly ran to their neighbor’s home and the oldest daughter met up with her family as she escaped from her bedroom window.
The police were called and they arrived within two minutes. A neighbor living adjacent to the victims told authorities she heard the commotion and glanced out of her window. She claimed to see three women running away while a fourth person wearing a ski mask was pantless and fled across the street to hide behind a set of bushes. Moments later, he stood up and casually walked away into the dark.
It has been theorized the East Area Rapist lived in Rancho Cordova — particularly near his victims — because of him walking away in a calm demeanor without wearing pants of which were never found. This theory can be substantiated if he was the 1972-1973 cat burglar that successfully invaded thirty homes.
Another example showing the perpetrator’s bold demeanor is of him not being deterred from his desired goal. In his seventh attack in Carmichael, California on October 18, 1976, a ten-year-old boy woke up to his dog barking relentlessly. He went to check on his dog and they both went to the kitchen’s sliding glass doors that lead to the backyard. When he let the dog outside, he spotted a man tampering with the kitchen window. The dog darted after the assailant, and he sprinted toward the backyard fence and perched himself atop it until the dog calmed down. The boy immediately ran back inside to alert his sleeping mother and in the process, they heard stampeding footsteps echoing from the hallway to the bedroom, where the intruder pressed onward with his attack.
This level of confidence was built over a period of time as he continued to hone his abilities and escape without being apprehended. If the East Sacramento Flasher was the East Area Rapist — which would mean he successfully outran people chasing him — all of those things culminate into him having the audacity to dive deeper into darker atrocities and still feel in complete control.
The last example would be after his fifteenth attack in Rancho Cordova, California, on March 18, 1977. The media began to point out his cowardliness — mentioning he was only attacking women who were alone, and wouldn’t dare attempt to strike when a male was present — husband, boyfriend, teenager. The East Area Rapist must have kept up with the news coverage because his very next attack was on April 2, 1977, on a couple living in Orangevale, California.
Ultimately, it’s hard to see the connection between the East Sacramento Flasher and the East Area Rapist. Though these crimes were taking place in similar geographical areas, their M.O.’s are vastly different. An argument could be made where — if the two are the same people — the Flasher was relatively young in his criminal maturity. As he got older, he developed a higher level of sexual appetite and was acting on those fantasies in a more upfront way. However, it seems inexplicable that a prolific cat burglar in 1972-1973 would act childishly by putting himself in danger by exposing himself to people when they answered the knock on the front door. It detracts a lot from the methodical nature that was the 1972-1973 cat burglar and the East Area Rapist.
Cordova Meadows Burglar (1973)
A burglar operated in the Cordova Meadows subdivision and nearby area in 1973. He struck at all times of the day and night, including when people were home. It is unknown whether his activities are related to the cat burglaries occurring in the greater Rancho Cordova and East areas of Sacramento that were previously described, but the few descriptions of the suspects are somewhat consistent. These burglaries were occurring at their heaviest in the first half of 1973, and included over 20 burglaries by mid-March. Some of the items taken include coins, piggy banks, jewelry, binoculars, hunting knives (some in scabbards), photographic cameras and movie cameras, two-dollar bills (numerous,) Blue Chip Stamps, handguns, food, alcohol, and prescription medication. Larger items, most electronics, and other items of value were noted to be disregarded by the suspect.
The burglar exhibited numerous quirks both in his behaviors as well as things he chose to steal. On one occasion, the burglar dumped the contents of a bottle of prescription Codeine pills into the sink, but took the empty bottle with him. Among the unusual items stolen by the offender were two sets of two car magnets, which are signs placed on the sides of vehicles typically to advertise a business. Two of the signs taken by the burglar advertised a painting and drywall company owned by the resident, and the other two were for a different business venture, also operated by the victim. Also taken during some of the burglaries were photos of female occupants, including a set of nude photos taken by the model’s husband. Additionally, single earrings were taken from pairs.
Not all of the incidents have all M.O. factors in common, but many are present simultaneously on some of the crime scenes, and some are present on most all of the cases. Geography and links via date and time of occurrence were also considered. Some of the M.O. factors (some quite rare) that frequently crop up in this series include the following:
Entry through a kitchen or sliding glass door.
Opening of a window in a back bedroom and placing of the screen on the bed or inside
Deputies processing the scene noted that, in these instances, the window was as being used as an emergency escape only and was not the point of entry or preferred exit. This escape exit was used on two occasions where the homeowner interrupted the burglary
Unplugging of forced air furnace
Secondary securing of front door by chair, security chain, or other blocking item
Killing of small dogs by blunt force
Heavy ransacking of bedrooms and scattering of clothing articles on floor
Women’s undergarments stacked in other rooms
Ransacking of kitchen
Leaving numerous burnt matches on the floor of the home
In addition, this burglar was responsible for other burglaries of the same type as that suffered by the family of a future EAR victim. The burglary to her home in March 1973 was one of three M.O.-linked burglaries that happened the same day, including one at the residence next door.
In the burglary of the home next door to the future EAR victim, the suspect stole a movie camera, other related equipment, and money from a piggy bank (bank broken by suspect.) The burglary to the future victim was believed to have been a “no loss” burglary, and it occurred at the same residence where she would later be assaulted early in the East Area Rapist series, three years later. This victim also had a single earring stolen from her during the sexual assault incident (1976).
A strange burglary occurred the same night and based on the timing is believed to be the last of the three. This burglary occurred across the river in Carmichael near Mission Ave and El Camino Ave that included the theft of eighty two-dollar bills and silver coins. There was heavy ransacking of the bedrooms, and a small poodle was also killed by the suspect.
In another suspected related burglary two days prior in Rancho Cordova, entry was made through a side kitchen door. The suspect blocked the front door with a barstool, and ransacked the bedrooms heavily with drawers open and clothing scattered on the floor. The suspect took a Ruger, 7 shot .22 caliber revolver, watches, three rings including a ruby “Elks” head ring and an engagement ring, old silver coins and bills, a left handled hunting knife in a scabbard with name “Walt” printed on the scabbard, a single earring, Avon “Model A” yellow after shave lotion, and a broken lamp. Other items of value were left behind.
Hang-up phone calls and odd communications were also present in this series, and were reported by victims in the area. One particular victim, a 17-year-old girl, was living in the 10100 block of La Alegria Drive. She received a suspicious unsigned letter stating:
“I love you.” She then received numerous hang-up phone calls and a final call where a subject with a low, adult male voice, stated: “I love you, this is your last night to live.”
This victim lived next door to the home where the killer of Brian and Katie Maggiore jumped the fence and fell into bushes in his escape from the crime scene on La Alegria Drive five years later.
Out of all the recent information released, this is probably the most significant. There are a few details in the summary above that stand out to me. First of which is the proclivity for Rancho Cordova. Secondly, the modus operandi has many facets of which the East Area Rapist expanded on as he fine-tuned his skills by experience. Third, the stolen items are very common with what the future EAR/ONS would be infatuated with. Here is a comprehensive list of stolen items created by “EchoMint” from the EAR/ONS/GSK ProBoards. I also have created a list of stolen items per home with added context and suspicious vehicles in the area that can be viewed here.
From the list, you can see the glaring similarities between the two offenders and the items they preferred to steal. Additionally, one particular burglary stands out more prominent than the rest. According to the description from the Cordova Meadows Burglar in 1973, he once took:
On one occasion, the burglar dumped the contents of a bottle of prescription Codeine pills into the sink, but took the empty bottle with him.
If you look at attack seventeen committed by the East Area Rapist on April 15, 1977, in Carmichael, California, you will see how similar to a theft the two incidents were. To provide additional context, after the rape he found a bottle of codeine in the victim’s purse that was prescribed by her dentist. He took the pills and discarded the bottle into the kitchen sink. It’s unclear whether or not he actually consumed the pills because he told the victim he was in need of a “fix,” but the following afternoon their neighbor discovered a plastic bag with watered down pills in his backyard.
Overall, there are some slight deviations in the modus operandi. Just because there are similarities doesn’t mean they are the same individual. However, considering the 1973 burglar was focused primarily on stealing — although a sexual component can be attached to it — the method of operation will be different to an extent because the motives vary.
Likewise, the East Area Rapist often gained entry to homes by prying open sliding glass doors or removing window screens. He would occasionally turn off the thermostat inside of the home as well. The theories surrounding that detail have ranged far and wide, but many people believe he did this in order to hear better inside of the home.
Another interesting component of the Cordova Meadows Burglar is how he provided extra security by blocking the pathway or placing something in front of a door to alert him if someone came inside. The East Area Rapist followed the same pattern when he was attacking his victims. Once he began targeting couples, he would take dishes and stack them on the subject’s back and tell them if he heard the appliances rattle he would come back and kill them. Everything these two offenders did was done under the circumstances where they seized control of the entire scenario from beginning to end.
The article also states how a burglary in 1973 happened on El Segundo Drive, and three years later, the occupants — primarily the nineteen-year-old daughter — was a victim of the East Area Rapist. Whether this was a coincidence or something more is interesting. In fact, I have provided an in-depth analysis of these two events. You can read more about those two events by clicking this link.
There are two more characteristics mentioned in the article that I’d like to briefly discuss. The first one is:
Killing of small dogs by blunt force
There aren’t many incidents where animals were killed conclusively by the East Area Rapist, but one explicit account happened mere hours before Dr. Robert Offerman and Dr. Debra Manning were brutally killed by the perpetrator.
A family living on Queen Anne Lane — two minutes from where Offerman and Manning lived on Avenida Pequena — was returning home from a night out when they spotted a stranger inside of their home running into the backyard and jumping a fence leading to Mountain View School. As the homeowners went inside they found their poodle dog had been injured (Some accounts say the dog was murdered while others mention the dog was injured). There were shoe impressions left in their yard and they were soon matched with the prints found at the Offerman and Manning murder scene hours later.
The next characteristic I’d like to bring up is:
Leaving numerous burnt matches on the floor of the home
This may or may not have any significance, but leaving behind burnt matches has its own connections to the East Area Rapist. At the crime scenes of the Goleta murders and the murder of Manuela Witthuhn in Columbus, Irvine, on February 6, 1981, investigators found burnt matches littered throughout the residences. Whether there’s a connection or not is undetermined, and whether or not it has any meaning to when the East Sacramento Flasher said, “Give me a match” is unknown.
Last but not least, we can’t ignore the Visalia Ransacker, who between 1974-1975 was heavily active. His modus operandi and physical description are similar to the Cordova Meadows Burglar and the East Area Rapist. He managed to successfully burglarize upwards of 120 homes. On September 11, 1975, he attempted to abduct sixteen-year-old Beth Snelling, and as her father, Claude Snelling — a professor at the College of Sequoia — went to her aide, he fatally shot him in the stomach and he passed away. Three months later on December 10, 1975, Detective William McGowen encountered the suspect. The assailant shot at him and pierced McGowen’s flashlight. The force caused him to fall down to the ground. The criminal eluded the swarm of police officers and vanished into thin air. Afterward, he never appeared again. Six months later on June 18, 1976, the East Area Rapist made his presence known with a similar modus operandi in Rancho Cordova, California.
Finally, I want to examine the last bit of information released by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department:
Burglary and Assault September 14, 1973
Just before 11:00 a.m. on September 14, 1973, a 28-year-old woman had just put her 18-month-old son down for a nap when she heard a knock on her front door. Assuming it was a religious solicitor, she disregarded it and did not answer. Additionally, she had only a few minutes earlier seen a man in the backyard, prompting her to arm herself with a handgun, although she believed it was just an electrical utility man. He eventually left the area. Within a few minutes, she heard a noise in the rear portion of the home where the bedrooms are located. She went back to check on her son, and when she came to the master bedroom she observed the suspect attempting to break into her house via the master bedroom window. The suspect was removing the screen, and she observed the gate that opened to the school behind her home was open. The suspect, upon seeing the victim, ducked and ran around the side of the house.
The victim secured the residence by checking every door and window. She made sure everything was locked, and put a chain lock in place on the door from the garage to the kitchen. The overhead garage door was open as the victim had been doing laundry in the garage. She called her husband at work and advised him of the incident. A few minutes later, the suspect forced open the door between the garage and kitchen. He also defeated the chain lock by forcing the door open with enough force to pull the nails holding the lock away from the frame base. The victim, still armed, raised the handgun and yelled to the suspect that if he came in she would shoot him. With that, the suspect walked away from the door and out of the garage. The victim called the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department to report what happened.
While the victim waited for the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, she heard the screen door between the garage and kitchen opening and the suspect came through the still broken door rapidly and attacked her. He grabbed her hands and they struggled over the handgun. The suspect forced the gun towards her, but she was able to quickly pull it up. The gun then discharged over her shoulder and the suspect fled out the garage door again and did not return. The victim passed out briefly as she was recovering from a recent surgery and was medically fragile, but she awakened and began writing a description of the suspect as she waited for the Sheriff’s Department. They arrived and a check of the area was conducted, but the suspect wasn’t found. The investigating deputies felt the incident was likely sexually motivated, and noted the persistence of the suspect.
With this Sparda Way incident on September 14, 1973, a composite sketch was created. What’s shocking is how the sketch is practically identical to one (of two) composite sketches created of a prowler and shooter on Ripon Ct. in Sacramento, California, on February 16, 1977. A big thanks to Mike Morford from True Crime Guy Blog that created a side-by-side comparison.
The two sketches are staggering in their resemblance. However, it needs to be reiterated that this doesn’t mean they are the same person. As the article released by SCSD represents, there were at least three people operating in Rancho Cordova between 1972-1973. These three people could be the same person, but as of right now we have to consider them separate individuals. Subsequently, in 1976 the East Area Rapist emerged, thus making four prolific criminals roaming the area.
There is one more offender who was active for four years between 1972-1976. He was dubbed the Early Morning Rapist and attacked thirty-six women (possibly forty-one) who were typically living in apartment buildings — a characteristic that differs drastically from the East Area Rapist. He often ambushed women at knife-point and forced them into lewd acts. The victims described him to be a white male in his mid-twenties to the early thirties, between 5’8-5’9 in height, and approximately 170 pounds with a stocky frame and potbelly.
Many original detectives who worked these cases — particularly Richard Shelby — believe they know the identity of the suspect but didn’t have enough evidence to convict him. In the spring of 1976, the suspect relocated with his family to Montana. The case officially remains unsolved.
In conclusion, we are left with more questions than answers. Were all of these people separate individuals or were they of one man — the elusive East Area Rapist? We don’t know. What this new information does tell us is that criminal activity is very common, especially for the 1970s.
Likewise, despite variations between the modus operandi of all of the possible offenders above, a lot of the believed-to-be unique traits aren’t as distinctive as commonly thought. Delinquents do not want to be caught or identified. If they have the urge to seek out their desires by home invasions and thievery, they are going to make logical decisions to enhance their possibility of escaping.
While this new information does create more questions, it also allows law enforcement to narrow down a point of origin which could lead to a viable suspect that may or may not have been overlooked. Whatever the result may be, new information is always beneficial. The questions may be growing but the net is closing in. Answers are on the way.
On March 7, 1973, a police report was filed regarding a burglary on El Segundo Drive in Rancho Cordova, California. The thief managed to pillage an assortment of coins and other items that weren’t considered valuable.
Why is this interesting?
Three years later on October 9, 1976, the same family — particularly the daughter who was then nineteen-years-old — was viciously violated by the East Area Rapist while her parents were away from home for the evening. Subsequently, he stole her driver’s license and a single earring.
It can only be speculated as to whether or not the burglar from March 7, 1973, was the East Area Rapist or simply a common criminal. However, it’s the details that create a compelling coincidence; especially when the thief had stolen coins and jewelry — a common theme amongst many victims of the notorious rapist years later.
In nearly every attack throughout his ten-year tenure — whether successful or botched — featured clear signs via modus operandi (aside from DNA evidence) that linked the crimes to the offender. With this attack, however, he did something very perplexing all the while following his typical routine so I’d like to reexamine the details available pertaining to the perpetrator’s sixth confirmed victim the night she was sexually assaulted.
Once the suspect gained entry to the residence by removing a window screen from the dining room, he took a rope and went throughout the home tying one end to the bathtub faucet and all of the bedroom door-handles in the hallway other than the victim. This implies he knew precisely where she slept.
The question has to be asked: Why did he do this? This oddity was only portrayed once in his extensive crime spree.
When he entered the victim’s bedroom, he made a few remarks that are interesting given the context of the 1973 burglary, if indeed he was the perpetrator. As he woke her up, he used one hand to clamp her mouth shut as he whispered her name three times, “Heather, Heather, Heather” (this is not her real name, only a pseudonym given by Detective Larry Crompton and author of “Sudden Terror”). Throughout the attack, he mentioned he had dreamt about having sexual interactions with her for a long time, and if she dared to scream he would kill her because he lived down the block from her.
It’s typically believed the East Area Rapist purposefully threw out red-herrings to confuse investigators, whether this was by relaying fallacious information to victims or leaving behind false clues. For the sake of speculation, let’s consider the possibility he spoke some form of truth with this assault because if he was responsible for the burglary three years beforehand, it provides fascinating new outlooks.
First of all, many victims claimed their attacker was anywhere between being in his late teens to the early or mid-twenties. This victim mentioned her attacker could be in this suspected age-range as well. Additionally, she stated she believed he discovered her name from stealing her driver’s license shortly before assaulting her. This is a logical conclusion, but if we assume he was a young offender as women often proclaimed, that could suggest he actually knew her to some degree aside from learning her name from an identification card.
“Heather” was sixteen-years-old when her home had been burglarized in 1973 and nineteen-years-old when violated in 1976 which could indicate he was around her age as well. That assumption transitions to high school. Moreover, even if he was older than her by a few years, he could still have had contact with her to an extent considering the range between freshman and senior students. This could validate another option as to how he knew her name (especially if they shared any classes together) and would provide a reason to believe him when confessed about wanting to have sex with her for a long time.
Furthermore, what if he truly lived down the block from her or on a nearby street at the very least? To be fair, this theory is a stretch but not out of the realm of possibility. To continue with this particular angle, her 1973 and 1976 residence was within a few blocks from the first, third, eighth, and Brian and Katie Maggiore Victims.
Victim #1 lived on Paseo Drive, only one minute away from Victim #6 on El Segundo Drive. Victim #3 lived close by on Malaga Way, and Victim #8 lived on Los Palos Drive. Brian and Katie Maggiore were murdered as they were walking their dog in their Rancho Cordova neighborhood. They walked near Malaga Way, La Gloria Way, and La Alegria Drive.
As far as this theory is concerned, there is an intriguing story that comes attached to it that can be deemed suspicious or just another person trying to insert themselves into a criminal investigation, thanks in large part to the incredible and very talented author and researcher, Kat Winters.
Apparently, the victim had a neighbor in his mid-twenties who had recently moved back in with his parents. His bedroom was situated where he could look out of his window directly into the victim’s, and he would often watch her at night as she got ready for bed.
As law enforcement was tending to the aftermath of the crime scene, the same neighbor unexpectedly visited the investigators. He began to act strangely, even showing up with a bag full of jewelry that he claimed he discovered in parents’ bedroom but he was certain it didn’t belong to them and wanted to notify the police already at the scene.
Additionally, he uninvitedly made his way inside of the home where he proceeded to ask if the victim was okay and also explore various parts of the home. He even went on to show the officers on duty where his bedroom window was located from inside of the victim’s bedroom.
The police finally escorted the neighbor out of the home, but they noted him as being a potential suspect in the crime. Moreover, he matched the description of the East Area Rapist and owned a green Chevy Vega. This was profound because a green 1952 Chevy Vega was reported in Citrus Heights, California, when the perpetrator attacked his fifth victim, Jane Carson Sandler, four days earlier on October 5, 1976 (there is no clarification as to what year the neighbor’s vehicle was).
With law enforcement’s suspicion raised, they decided to keep tabs on the neighbor. According to the author of “Hunting a Psychopath” and Detective Richard Shelby — now retired — he was ruled out because the authorities received a call from dispatch during a stakeout detailing another victim had been assaulted on October 18, 1976.
There is another avenue to explore and that’s the victim’s personal life. According to her statements, she would often frequent Mather Air Force Base to go dancing; a hobby she partook in for years before the assault (I’m not sure if it pre-dated the 1973 burglary). While the theory of the East Area Rapist having military connections is very common, if he was the assailant behind the 1973 and 1976 incidents, that would provide more substantial credence on his statements about fantasizing about her.
In conclusion, what are we to believe? Unfortunately, we can only speculate, create theories or add on to the ones already made available, since there is no pertinent evidence that can pin down a specific answer that would open this case wide open. Sometimes, we are left with coincidences, but maybe one day a coincidence will become more. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Edit and Update — 2/27/2018 – There is a discrepancy between the living locations. I initially believed the victims lived on Dawes Street located one block away from El Segundo Drive. A huge thanks to Mike Morford for clarifying this information for me and the latest information released by the Cold Case Investigations Unit from Sacramento County Sherrif’s Department. This family (victim #6) was not living on Dawes Street in 1973. They were living on El Segundo Drive the entire time. The day of this burglary, two other residences were broken into, one of which was the victim’s neighbor. Additionally, the latest information also details a set of thirty break-ins in the Rancho Cordova area between 1972-1973, but it’s not certain to be the work of the East Area Rapist — however, the suspicion is pointed in his direction.