How Can Two Girls Not be Missed?
Los Angeles Times
Sept. 5, 1989
It is not just the killings that haunt Garry Davis, though they were horrible enough. Two teen-age girls were driven deep into an almond orchard 11 miles north of Bakersfield. Trucks passing on California 99 might have masked their screams. The younger girl, bound hand and foot, was taken out and shot once behind the left ear. The older girl, bleeding from a bullet wound in her thigh, was dragged one row of trees away. She was laid down on her jacket and raped. Afterward she was given time to arrange her underpants. It appeared she was pulling on her jeans when the bullet smashed into her cheekbone.
Davis first saw the girls lying beneath the trees three days after Easter Sunday in 1980. For the nine years since then he has thought about their horror in the orchard. But he is a seasoned homicide detective. Even that is not what gnaws at him. The killer, Davis says with certainty, is a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot -- a bodybuilder known for taking his rage out on women -- now on Death Row, convicted of two other murders. Davis considers the girls' murder solved. "I did my job," says Davis, the sergeant in charge of homicide detectives for the Kern County Sheriff's Department.
But the case file is not closed. Nine years later, there is unfinished business.
The girls were pretty and looked enough alike to be sisters. They wore clean clothes and little makeup, and didn't look the sort to fall easily into serious trouble. The older girl wore a senior class ring from Walnut High School. Judging by her age, her graduation might have come in two months. A sour look ripples across Davis' soft features, twisting his detective's poker face. He is 42 and has worked homicides almost 10 years. But this case is different. There's so much he still wants to know. How did the girls cross paths with the monster who killed them? How long were they with him?
Most of all -- who were they?
No one -- no parents or brothers, no grandparents or neighbors, not even cops -- has come looking for these girls who might be sisters. At least not with enough thoroughness to reach Bakersfield. Davis has checked and rechecked missing persons reports. They are still being checked. No mention of two neatly dressed white girls -- one age 16, the other 17 to 19 -- missing in the western United States in the spring of 1980. Teen-age girls shouldn't just vanish quietly over Easter vacation. That's what haunts Garry Davis.
His own daughter is 15. "From what I can see of these girls, I can't imagine a parent not missing them," Davis says. "I can't imagine a parent taking the attitude, 'Well, I reported it,' and then dropping it. There's got to be some parents out there going nuts."
The girls' bodies were discovered in late afternoon. Juan Orono, a farm worker checking irrigation hoses, saw them first, face down in the green grass that grows on orchard floors in April before summer scalds everything brown. In the orchard that afternoon, Davis figured that attaching names and a history to the bodies would be easier than catching the killer. No purses or identification were found. But, Davis says, these girls provided a wealth of clues.
They had lain in the orchard no more than two or three days. They were "fresh" in the cynical lingo of violent death. The coroner lifted full sets of fingerprints and dental charts, gave Davis reasonably usable photographs from the autopsy, and blood types. Both girls were probably O positive. There were plenty of potentially identifying scars and jewelry that a parent or friend might recognize. Most important was the high school ring from Walnut, a city along the Pomona Freeway east of Los Angeles. Ed Christie, then an investigator for the Kern County coroner, showed the ring to Davis. It bore a girl's name -- Carolyn Jordan. "We all thought, 'Aha! We got her,' " Davis recalls.
The bodies were taken to the Kern County morgue in Bakersfield. A Los Angeles County coroner's deputy was sent out to Walnut to give the bad news to the Jordan family. But Carolyn Jordan was very much alive. The ring had been stolen in a burglary almost two years before. She was pleased to get it back.
What Davis and Christie thought would be the end of a mystery was only the beginning. They could never explain how the ring got to the girl in the orchard. Davis arranged for a Bakersfield artist to sketch likenesses of how the girls might have looked in life. Details and the sketches were sent to Sacramento and hundreds of police agencies. The FBI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police were contacted.
Flyers and sketches were circulated at Walnut High School and sent to nearby schools. The girls must be known by somebody close to Walnut High, Davis figured. The girls fit the description of any number of teen-agers at Walnut High or any other high school in Southern California in 1980. Both girls had brown eyes and shoulder-length brown hair.
Jane Doe No. 1, the younger girl, was about 16 and on the autopsy table measured 5-feet-two and weighed 112 pounds. A dark blue uniform-style shirt with the number 21 on the front and back was tucked into white jeans when she was found. No one made notes of any clothing labels. On her sneakers -- blue with a gray stripe -- was something more personal. Someone had penned: "Robert is a fox . . . foxy Robert." Her pierced ears carried earrings in the shape of a crescent moon, with a star beside the moon and flecks of blue stones on the moon's face. She wore a necklace with a tomahawk-shaped pendant, a ring shaped out of a spoon and a barrette in her hair. Her appendix had been removed, and she bore small scars on her chin and right knee.
Jane Doe No. 2 was 17 to 19, the autopsy doctor concluded. She stood 5-4 and weighed 120 pounds. Her clothing included brown leather sneakers and a blue V-neck pullover shirt. Two pairs of pants were found with her, the blue denim jeans and, beside the body, brown corduroys with a bullet hole matching the wound in her thigh. She also had scars -- an inch-long one on her left kneecap and a small circle on the outside of her right knee. She wore a Timex watch, a bracelet of two loops and a ring made of braided wires. And the Walnut High School ring.
Nobody at Walnut High or other nearby schools could help. The net was cast a little wider, to schools and police agencies all over the inland basin east of Los Angeles. Still nothing. By now it was clear there were no missing persons reports on these girls on file with the state Department of Justice in Sacramento. "We were in daily contact," Davis says. He and Ed Christie turned back to what they knew.
The younger girl, the one wearing clean white jeans, was found lying with her head on a white cloth coat with a fur-lined hood. "That was a good quality car coat," Davis recalls. "Somebody had spent some money on her." The older girl's jacket was also white, with red stripes on the cuffs and red patches. It was waist-length and made of nylon. It was in the high 70s in Bakersfield that week, even warmer in Southern California and across the Southwest. The heavy car coat suggested travelers, possibly runaways. So did the two pairs of pants found with the older girl.
Davis has a theory to explain the girl's thigh wound. "He picked them up someplace, I feel, where he could manage them. The further he took them away from where they wanted to be, they got more uncomfortable. He had to do something to control them." As he drove them past Bakersfield and into more isolated terrain, they may have become very difficult to control, Davis goes on. "He tied up the one and shot the other one to disable her."
Davis feels less certain about why the two girls had three pairs of pants. If they were runaways, they didn't seem to have traveled far, Davis and Christie concluded. The girls' clothes were clean. White jeans pick up dirt quickly, but the younger girl's white jeans were immaculate. "Runaways are tired and dirty. These (girls) were so well dressed and well groomed," says Christie, who retired from the coroner's office later that year.
Davis considers it possible the girls were chronic runaways. Perhaps the parents became frustrated with their delinquent daughters and did not report them missing. But he thinks that theory is flawed. "I have a hard time fitting that in with what I see," says Davis. "I don't think they're that type of girls. Those kind have hit juvenile hall a couple of times (so would have fingerprints on file), maybe have a little tattoo, and their clothes definitely aren't clean white Levi's."
For five months the case of the two girls got nowhere. Davis kept in contact with the state Department of Justice in Sacramento, which in 1980 was starting a system to match dead bodies in California with missing person reports. A new state law required local police to send in fingerprints and dental records on anyone missing for more than 30 days. But it took years for the system to begin to work smoothly. "That was just coming in (in 1980) and a lot of agencies said they were too busy," Davis says. "There were just too many runaways then. I'd say probably only half of law enforcement agencies were cooperating."
He also was gaining no ground on the killer. Davis had only one real piece of evidence, a bullet fragment recovered in the orchard, plus a few pubic hairs. Then he read in a newspaper about the murders of two 15-year-old cousins in Fowler, about two hours' drive north of Bakersfield. Mark Hatcher and Mary Booher had ridden their bicycles into an orchard behind Hatcher's house before dusk. Thirty minutes later Hatcher's mother and grandmother heard a gunshot and saw a pickup leaving the orchard. They got a flashlight and discovered Mark's body. Mary's body was found five days later in a nearby orange grove. The bicycles were dumped in an irrigation canal eight miles away.
An ex-Marine pilot was arrested and the murder weapon found. The .357 magnum Colt Python revolver was just the sort Davis was looking for to pair with his bullet fragment. Ballistics tests showed a match. Davis focused his search for the killer -- now also his best lead to the girls' identity -- on Fernando Eros Caro Jr., the man charged in the Fowler murders. The gun belonged to Cathy Lozano, a waitress Caro lived with in Fresno. At the time the Bakersfield girls were killed, Lozano was staying with her mother in Arizona. The gun was with Caro.
Court files show that Caro, the oldest of eight children raised by poor farm laborers in the Imperial Valley, came from a violent home. But he excelled at school and in sports. He enrolled at San Diego State University and left a year shy of graduation to join the Marines, where he earned aviator's wings and lieutenant's bars.
Caro exhibited "superior intelligence," a court psychologist testified later. The Marine also was known for flashes of rage, especially with women. In the early 1970s, he forcibly took his wife-to-be from San Jose to San Diego, and threatened her with a gun when she vowed not to marry him, court files show. But they did marry and, during one of their many separations, Caro tried suicide.
Five years before the Bakersfield girls were killed, when Caro's wife was pregnant with their second child, he picked up a hitchhiking law clerk in San Diego, drove her 50 miles into the desert and raped her. Caro was driving his victim deeper into a quarry to kill her, Davis says, when the woman leaped from the car and escaped. Caro pleaded guilty to kidnaping and served less than two years at Tehachapi State Prison, where he was a model inmate. He was paroled to Fresno in 1978.
As Easter of 1980 approached, Caro was 30 years old and divorced, off parole and working at a Fresno chemical plant. He spent the holiday weekend with his mother in Brawley and reported back to work the afternoon of Monday, April 7. The Bakersfield girls were found two days later. They could have been killed on Monday before Caro went to work, Davis says.
Caro's exact movements were never investigated, in part because charges were never filed. Davis' theory is that Caro picked up the girls somewhere along his return route from Brawley to Fresno. He drove through Bakersfield, the last large freeway town before Fresno, then took the first exit that led into an orchard of any size.
"I'm convinced he got them on that weekend coming home from his mom's," Davis says. Caro quit his job the day after the girls were found, then returned a month later. Three months later the cousins in Fowler were murdered. Caro was arrested within days based on reports from two men involved in a hit-and-run accident with Caro the night of the murders. Caro was convicted of killing the cousins, wounding the men who gave chase and trying to escape. Though the Kern County district attorney decided not to file charges, evidence that Caro killed the Bakersfield girls was presented to the jury in the Fowler murders so they could decide between a life sentence and the death penalty.
Davis would like to drive up to San Quentin and ask Caro where he picked up the two girls. "He could just tell us," Davis says. But Caro and his attorney, a state public defender, have refused all overtures to talk about the Bakersfield killings. The testimony about the girls is a crucial part of Caro's death sentence appeal. The jury was told it could apply the Bakersfield evidence in deliberating only if all agreed beyond reasonable doubt that Caro killed the girls. But all the jurors did not agree. So the jury was instructed by the judge to somehow ignore the evidence that Caro may have committed not only two, but four, cold-blooded murders.
Caro's attorney has appealed, contending that hearing the Bakersfield evidence prejudiced the jury to choose death over a life sentence. Caro's automatic appeal under California law was rejected by the state Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. Caro's last means of avoiding the gas chamber -- he has a tentative execution date of Dec. 12 -- is a series of appeals in federal courts.
The girls were buried in December, 1980, at the Union Cemetery in central Bakersfield. Their unmarked graves are across a dirt path from a stand of tall oleander bushes where, Davis says, drug users and prostitutes hide out. The girls are in good company. On one side lies a former Kern County supervisor, John Thomas Bottoms, who died in 1904. On the other side are a couple who also died young. Julia R. Hale was 22 when she died April 6, 1894. Her husband, Robert, died in 1899 at the age of 29.
Davis recently visited the cemetery and considered the mystery from a distance of nine years. "I think they were reported missing," he says. "But some detective somewhere probably put it in his inactive file. He was probably overloaded, so he worked those cases he could solve. "It could just be a snafu. If it is -- well, it happens."
But that is his stoic side. Davis insists that his detectives get emotionally involved in their cases. "Wouldn't it be great to identify them? Then I could throw my file away. I don't mind an unsolved homicide. It happens. But on this, I did my job. I've solved this crime."
Before the girls were buried, Davis had suggested a new tactic to the coroner's office. He asked them to find a mortuary that would fix the girls' hair and makeup as they might have looked. Photos could then be shot and distributed. But the mortuary beautician gave the girls conservative, flip hair styles that made them look like 1950s high school sophomores. "As soon as I saw the photographs I thought, no, this is not what 1980 teen-agers look like," Davis says. The photos were never circulated.
The artist's sketch sent out instead shows the girls with nearly straight hair. One fashion flourish that still troubles Davis is that the girls' eyebrows had been plucked into arches. "It didn't fit with what I saw in their clothes," he says. They seemed too clean-cut and conservative. But the plucking looked recent, he recalls. "Maybe they were runaways, and once they got away from mom, they plucked their eyebrows to display their independence."
Occasionally the national network for locating missing persons still distributes an inquiry about the Bakersfield girls. There were never many. "I can count the inquiries on one hand," says Davis. They are fewer now.
The girls' file remains open at the Department of Justice in Sacramento. Information is kept on 1,673 unidentified bodies, 483 of them female. The girls' case is also entered in the computer of the National Crime Information Center at FBI headquarters in Washington. But even that system has flaws. An aide in the Kern County coroner's office last June noticed that the girls were no longer carried on the Crime Information Center's list of unidentified bodies. Their cases were re-entered, and quickly there was an inquiry from San Jose. But they turned out to be the wrong girls.
If these girls were murdered today, Davis says, he would have a better chance to identify them. But nine years is a long time. If they were from out of state, say, Idaho or Iowa, the odds are stacked against Davis ever hearing about it.
Mostly Davis thinks about the family. Why aren't they trying harder?
"I've seen so many homicides," he says. "You come to realize that death is a terrible thing. But people can accept death. When you tell someone their son or daughter is dead, yes, it's traumatic. But then they move on to the coping. There is relief in knowing."
On a personal level, Davis would like to close the file on the girls. "I feel responsible to those girls. They can't take care of themselves anymore. Their parents can't take care of them anymore." Solving a homicide, he says, is like a chess game. "It's not a team game at all. It's one on one" -- cop against killer.
"In this case it was one on one, and I won. I beat him. But in a way, he's still beating me. I got the check, but not the checkmate."
©Los Angeles Times 1989
Not for publication without permission
In 1993—four years after this story was published, and almost thirteen years after the murders—the girls were identified. Charlena Marie Simon, 15, and Robin Denise Snead, 16, lived a few blocks from each other in Pomona, Calif. The childhood friends ran away from home together in March, 1980. Their bodies were discovered in the Kern County orchard on April 9. Their parents had reported them missing, but the reports fell between cracks in the system of tracing missing persons. The cases languished there until a Pomona police detective acting on a hunch entered some information in a computer and was led to Garry Davis in Bakersfield. The girls' remains were disinterred from Union Cemetery and returned to their families.