VALERIE OSIER |STAFF WRITER
It was something that simply did not happen then, not in peaceful Riverside.
Many have said it, “stripped Riverside of its innocence.” And 47 years later, people still haven’t forgotten.
“Nobody from my generation is going to forget this, it rocked the town,” said Jeannie Casil-Miller, who knew the victim.
It not only shook the town, but it shook Riverside City College even more.
“I remember students and faculty were on high alert for a long time after it happened,” said Jan Schall, a part-time professor at RCC at the time.
A murder on campus
Cheri Jo Bates, 18, left the RCC library at 9 p.m. to head home in her little green Volkswagen Bug on Sunday, Oct. 30, 1966.
At 6:30 the next morning, she was found dead, face down and fully clothed on the RCC campus in a dirt driveway on Terracina Drive between two unoccupied houses.
Her throat was slashed and several stab wounds were in her back. Police found her car near the scene, where she had parked it before going into the library.
It had the keys still in the ignition and the engine had been tampered with to prevent the car from starting.
The killer had disabled the engine to prevent Bates from leaving.
The only evidence the police have are scrapings from underneath Bates’ fingernails that contained bits of skin and hair, a result of Bates fighting her attacker, as well as greasy palm and fingerprints found on the victim’s car.
They found a man’s Timex watch with its leather band broken at the crime scene and footprints thought to belong to the suspect, also found at the scene.
From the fingernail scrapings, police know the killer was a white male.
“We recently went through all the physical evidence and resubmitted it to the lab, but it came back inconclusive,” said Jim Simons, who is the current detective on the case.
A continuing mystery
Police had a suspect whom they felt confident killed Bates, but they lacked enough evidence to press charges.
The suspect has been living out of the country, but several years ago, he flew into California. Detectives obtained a warrant for his DNA and tested it against a hair fiber sample they had from the crime scene. It didn’t match, but, according to Simons, the police aren’t sure if the hair fiber sample they have is even that of the killer.
A month after the murder, a typed letter titled “The Confession” was sent to The Daily Enterprise newspaper, which is now The Press-Enterprise.
The letter gave an eerie account of the murder and contained accurate details of the crime scene not yet released to the public, and therefore was believed to be from the killer.
The ‘Zodiac’ rumors
Six months after Bates was killed, a handwritten note was mailed to the Riverside police and The Daily Enterprise. It simply said, “Bates had to die. There will be more.”
Handwriting experts from the Criminal Identification and Investigation Bureau said the “Zodiac Killer,” reportedly responsible for several murders in the San Francisco Bay area, had written the note.
This has long been discounted by police because the “Zodiac’s” habits and pattern apparently didn’t match those in the Bates’ killing. There has also been several previous handwriting misidentifications in the “Zodiac” case.
Although, no matter how often the police refute the connection, the legend has stuck.
Despite police working around the clock to solve the case when it occurred and in the years since, it has become a cold case with an even colder trail.
An ordinary day
That sunny, warm morning started out like any other Sunday.
According to regional newspapers at the time, Cheri went to Mass at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church with her father, Joseph Bates, and she ate their usual breakfast with him after.
After breakfast, Joseph asked Cheri if she wanted to go to the beach with him.
The Bates family usually enjoyed going to the beach together, but this time Cheri was unable to go because she had to work on a research paper. Joseph left for the beach and later came home to read a note Cheri had left: “Dad – went to the RCC library.”
According to witnesses, she studied in the library until closing time.
After she left, police speculate and the confession letter later states that she went to her car and found it would not start. There, the killer, suspected to be someone she knew, approached her and offered her a ride home. The police think the suspect led her down the dark driveway on Terracina, where he attacked her.
Cheri Josephine Bates was only 18 years old when she was murdered. She was born on Feb. 4, 1948 in Omaha, Neb. According to most, she was a “sweet, outgoing girl.” She was a cheerleader during her junior year at Ramona High School and was involved in student government.
She was a “Junior Princess” candidate at her high school as well.
She always seemed to have a lot of friends, but she wasn’t clique-ish,” said her brother, Michael Bates.
As a student, Cheri studied hard and got good grades. She went to RCC, and had plans of becoming a stewardess.
She played the piano and made a lot of her own clothes.
She also liked to make things for others, according to her brother.
Joseph Bates had always raised his children to earn what they got. Cheri had a part-time job at Riverside National Bank to help pay for her Volkswagen, something she was proud to have earned.
In high school, she was often busy with friends and activities.
At the time of her murder, Cheri’s brother – one year her senior – was in the Navy.
In the year prior to leaving for service, Michael recalls he and Cheri not spending a lot of time together.
Michael was working at Sears and going to school at RCC, and Cheri was busy with school and work as well.
“Without realizing it, we weren’t doing a lot together,” said Michael. “You don’t think about it when you’re young.”
Cheri had a boyfriend of two years, Dennis Highland.
He was also reportedly her fiancé. He had gone to RCC and then transferred to San Francisco State College to play football.
The weekend before her death, Cheri and Highland’s parents had visited him in San Francisco. Friends recall they were head over heels for each other.
In high school, she baby-sat quite often. “What a sweetheart, she was such a sweet gal, she never talked to me like a kid,” said Jeannie Casil-Miller, who was 12 years old at the time Cheri baby-sat her and her young brother. “Everybody liked her.”
Bates was also known for being a sweet and giving girl. One friend recalls when, in junior high, they competed in a talent show together, dressed up like sailors and sung “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair” from the musical “South Pacific.”
“For me, the best part of our story was, I was an underclass person who she wanted to help out,” said Cherie Curzon, a friend of Cheri. “The people who were going to do the talent contest with me backed out and she volunteered to be my partner.I will never forget her kindness… We had so much fun rehearsing and then performing, I loved her generosity and kindness toward me…She did it because of who she was; just a wonderful person.”
Joseph Bates set up a memorial scholarship at RCC in Cheri’s name called “The Cheri Jo Bates Memorial Endowed Scholarship,” awarded to a student majoring in music, preferably piano or organ.
“She always had a smile for everybody,” said Casil-Miller. “She needs to be remembered.”