Nov. 5, 1996 – On 30th anniversary, RCC murder still unsolved

By Isaiah Akin

By Isaiah Akin

“She was young and beautiful. But now she is battered and dead. She is not the first and she will not be the last.”

It was a chilling confession to a brutal murder at Riverside Community College which remains unsolved 30 years later.

The slaying of RCC student Cheri Jo Bates on Terracina Drive on Halloween eve 1966 “shocked the conscience of the community,” former Riverside police detective Bud Kelley said.

Although Kelley said he believes he knows the identity of the killer, a prosecution has never been attempted because there is not enough physical evidence.

There are some that say that the murder was the “Zodiac” killer’s first.

Exactly one month after the murder, a typewritten letter titled “The Confession” sent to The Daily Enterprise – the then-morning version of what is now The Press-Enterprise – gives a chilling account of the murder and ends by saying “Beware … I am stalking your girls now.”

The letter is believed to be from the killer because it contains details about the murder that were not released to the public.

Kelley, who worked on the case for 24 years, said he hopes new DNA technology will allow them to build a better case against the police’s suspect, whom they would not identify.

Bits of human hair, skin and debris found under Bates’ fingernails initially only told police that the killer was a white male but could now become the key to solving the murder.

Kelley calls the theory that the “Zodiac” killed Bates “unsupported and unsubstantiated.”

Although police have long discounted any connection between the Bates case and the “Zodiac,” the story is hard to shake.

The connection between the “Zodiac” and bates began in 1970 when handwriting experts from the Criminal Identification and Investigation Bureau said a note mailed to the Press-Enterprise and Riverside police six months after Bates was slain had been written by the “Zodiac.” The note said simply “Bates had to die. There will be more.”

The experts also said that a bizarre poem found on the underside of a desk in the music room in 1968 was written by the “Zodiac.”

“Sick of living/willing to die.

Cut.

Clean

if red!

blood spurting, dripping, spilling,

all over he rnew dress.

Oh well,

it was red anyway.

life draining into an uncertain death

she won’t die, this time

someone will find her

just wait till next time.”

It was signed, “rh.”

Kelley dismissed the handwriting by pointing out that there have been handwriting misidentifications previously in the “Zodiac” case.

He also points out that there is a significant time lapse between the note, the poem and the murder.

Kelley said the evidence his suspect committed the murder is substantial.

The shoe size of the suspect is the same as footprints found at the scene, and the suspect owned a Timex watch with leather straps like that found at the scene, according to Kelley.

“Sure, that doesn’t prove he did it, but what it doesn’t do is eliminate him,” Kelley said.

What Kelley cited as the most compelling evidence was, “Our suspect was telling people that he killed Cheri Jo Bates before the body was found.”

Kelley also pointed out a difference in modus operandi.

“She was vivaciously slashed, strangled and kicked. Her throat was cut almost to the point of decapitation. … This was the work of someone that was enraged … not a calculated killer,” Kelley said.

“Zodiac” has officially been linked to five murders from 1968 to 1970, but he claimed to have killed at least 37. Most of his victims were in northern California.

The suspect — who has been out of the country for 14 years — was a spurned love interest, according to Kelley. “We believe the suspect misinterpreted Cheri Jo’s attention for affection.”

This would fit with the “confession,” which says, “Her breast felt very warm and firm under my hands, but only one thing was on my mind. Making her pay for the brush offs that she had given me during the years prior.”

The letter continues: “I told her that my car was down the street and that I would give her a lift home. When we were away from the library walking, I said it was about time. She asked me ‘about time for what.’ I said it was about time for her to die.”

The murder came at a time when such events were rare in Riverside.

“It really created a very strange feeling on campus,” said Glenn Hunt, who taught physical science at RCC at the time.

Police went to the unusual lengths to try to solve the murder. At one point police actually staged a reenactment, asking everybody who was in the area at the time of the murder to wear the same clothes, park in the same place and do the same things they did that night.

Kelley still thinks that the murder will be solved.

“But then maybe I’m just an optimist,” he said.