Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Roger Reece Kibbe: The I-5 Strangler

The Pick-Up

Roger Reece Kibbe
Roger Reece Kibbe

A fisherman traipsed down a remote trail near Terminus Island outside Sacramento, Calif., in July 1986. In a flooded irrigation ditch where he often got bait, he spotted a semi-nude female body, floating facedown. It was clear to him that she was dead, so he returned home and called the police.

Detectives arrived from the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department to inspect the body before pulling it from the water. It was clear from dirt on her back and twigs caught in her bra that she had been dragged before being dumped. There was also a purplish mark on the back of her neck, indicating she had died from ligature strangulation. They looked for evidence in the immediate vicinity and found flattened grass in one area that helped identify the place to which she had been dragged. Leather sandals were also found near the water, but there was no purse or wallet from which they could get an ID. The pathologist said that rigor mortis had set in, but he needed more data to estimate time of death. It had probably been within the past day. No one knew whether she had been killed by a sudden attack or if she had been with her killer for a period of time.

The first task was to identify the victim, which would not be easy unless there was a missing persons report that matched her particulars. In this case, the investigators did find it easy. On the afternoon of July 15, the family of Stephanie Brown had filed a report. Sergeant Harry Machen picked up on it and brought it to the attention of Lt. Ray Biondi, head of Sacramento County Homicide unit. Biondi had been on the force for two decades, perhaps most famous for his capture of the so-called "Vampire of Sacramento," Richard Trenton Chase.

Richard Trenton Chase
Richard Trenton Chase

Chase, 27, had murdered a woman in her home in 1978, eviscerating her and drinking her blood. Three days later, he struck again, slaughtering three people in their home and grabbing a baby, which he'd clearly harmed or killed. After a massive manhunt the police found him in his grubby apartment, where they discovered body parts, empty pet collars, and bloodstained glasses and bloody food blender. Chase lived alone, was unemployed, and had a history of psychiatric incarceration, having been released only months earlier. His arrest prevented a string of murders that, from marks on his calendar, was to include some forty-four more victims. In fact, his first ritualistic murder had actually been his second killing, as he had shot a man in his neighborhood more-or-less at random to try out his new rifle. After Chase was convicted, Biondi wrote a book about the case.

Stephanie Brown had been missing for twelve hours, reported to her mother by her roommate, Patty, who insisted something must have happened to her. Stephanie had been on her way home the night before, but had not made it. It seemed that after midnight, Stephanie had taken Patty and her boyfriend, Jim, to Jim's house to pick up Patty's car. Jim lived in a part of Sacramento unfamiliar to Stephanie, and she had been apprehensive about finding her way back home. Jim had directed her to take I-5 North, but she possibly had gone south instead, onto a desolate stretch of the highway. Somewhere there, she had disappeared.

The police asked questions to make certain Stephanie had not decided just to leave abruptly. They then asked for dental x-rays (since DNA analysis was at the time only just being tested in England and had not yet been acknowledged as reliable for identification purposes). A yellow Dodge Colt fitting the description of the car Stephanie was driving was found on I-5, going south from where she should have turned north, and a crumpled map was found beside it, as if she'd been looking at it.

Officers from San Joaquin County who were calling around about their discovery of the car happened to talk with Sgt. Machen about his missing person, and everything matched: white female, around eighteen, five-foot-eight, short blond hair, brown eyes. A match was soon made via fingerprints to Stephanie, 19, and now it was clear that she had been murdered and dumped about twenty miles from her car. Then certain discoveries made it clear that there was something rather odd about this fatal assault.


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