Famed cold-case investigator and forensic analyst Paul Holes brings us two murder cases from Northern California that remain unsolved. These murders are eerily similar to three others that were committed by serial killer Phil Hughes. But with scant physical evidence, and Hughes remaining tight-lipped, Paul is forced to dig deep and come up with new ways to identify the killer and get justice for the victims.
Paul Holes spent the majority of his 27-year career investigating cold cases and serial-predator crimes in the Bay Area of California. Just before he retired in April 2018, Paul led the team that broke the Golden State Killer case, which brought him worldwide acclaim. Other notable cases he’s worked on include The Zodiac, Laci Peterson, Jaycee Dugard, Darryl Kemp, Joseph Naso, and Joseph Cordova Jr. He’s co-authored several books with former FBI profiler Jim Clemente, including “Evil Has a Name,” “A Devil in the Valley,” and “The Riddle of Emmon Bodfish,” all available on Audible. You can hear Paul on his own true-crime podcast, which he co-hosts with investigative journalist, Billy Jensen, called “The Murder Squad.” And Paul’s memoir about his career entitled “Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases” is scheduled for release in April 2022.
Yeardley: [00:00:03] Hey, Small Town Fam, it’s Yeardley. How are you, guys? I hope you’re all wonderfully well. Maybe you’re getting ready for Thanksgiving next weekend that’s here in the United States. Today, we have the enormous pleasure of catching up with the one and only Paul Holes. Paul tells us about two cold cases that are never far from his mind, and that he never gives up hope of solving. These two cases actually circle back to another case he brought us in Season 5, a case about a young teen named Elaine Davis. We called that episode Buried. If you want to take a deep dive into the details of that case, it’s definitely worth a relisten.
Paul also talks in depth today about the serial killer, Phil Hughes. We first heard about Paul’s investigation of Phil in an episode from Season 7 called Then There Were 3. Also, totally worth a relisten. Now that you’re all caught up, please settle in for Never Forget.
(Small Town Dicks theme)
Yeardley: [00:01:10] Hi, I’m Yeardley. This is Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:01:12] Hey there.
Yeardley: [00:01:13] And his identical twin brother, Detective Dave.
Dave: [00:01:16] Hello.
Yeardley: [00:01:17] And this is Small Town Dicks.
Dave: [00:01:21] You will hear detectives from Small Towns around the world discuss their most memorable cases.
Dan: [00:01:25] We cover the intimate details of what went wrong and what went right.
Yeardley: [00:01:29] As these dedicated men and women search for justice and crack the case.
Dan: [00:01:34] Names and certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of the victims and their families.
Dave: [00:01:39] So, please join us in maintaining their anonymity out of respect for what they’ve been through.
In Unison: [00:01:44] Thank you.
Yeardley: [00:01:51] Today on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. We have Detective Dave!
Dave: [00:01:58] I never know when she’s going to go with me first.
Yeardley: [00:02:01] (laughs)
Dave: [00:02:02] Hello Yeardley.
Yeardley: [00:02:03] Hello, David. It’s so good to have you.
Dave: [00:02:05] It’s good to be here.
Yeardley: [00:02:06] And we have Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:02:08] Hello.
Yeardley: [00:02:10] Hello. Nice to see you.
Dan: [00:02:11] Great to be here.
Yeardley: [00:02:12] Thank you. Small Town Fam, ah, such a good day. We’re so happy to welcome back, one of our all-time favorites, the juggernaut of true crime, the one and only Paul Holes.
Paul: [00:02:28] Juggernaut? (laughs) How’s it going? (laughs)
Yeardley: [00:02:32] It’s so good to have you sitting across the table.
Paul: [00:02:34] Oh, it’s awesome. It’s been too long.
Yeardley: [00:02:36] It’s been too long.
Paul: [00:02:37] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:02:38] Paul, really his reputation precedes him. There’s not much of an introduction I can give. I’m just going to hand it over to you.
Paul: [00:02:46] You’regoing to hand it over to me.
Yeardley: [00:02:48] Hand it all over to you.
Paul: [00:02:50] Oh, geez. (laughs)
Yeardley: [00:02:51] (laughs)
Paul: [00:02:52] Well, I guess your listeners are probably listening because they want to hear a little bit about true crime.
Yeardley: [00:02:59] They probably do.
Paul: [00:03:00] Since the pandemic, we haven’t been able to see each other. And so now finally, be in the same room–
Yeardley: [00:03:06] It really is wonderful. You have some really big things happening. I know you have a book coming out, which I’m super excited for.
Paul: [00:03:13] I do have a book coming out.
Yeardley: [00:03:14] And would you say it’s a biography?
Paul: [00:03:16] It’s memoirs.
Yeardley: Yes. Oh, fabulous.
Paul: [00:03:19] When I first retired and I thought, “Okay, I’ve got this big Golden State Killer case,” I thought, “Well, that’s what I need to write about.” So, I started writing a book on the investigation of Golden State Killer, very detailed, very deep dive. But then as we got further into the process, and I linked up with an author, and then, of course, literary people are weighing in and hearing about my career, they’re saying, “Oh, no, we need to know more about Paul.”
Yeardley: [00:03:44] We want to know about you.
Paul: [00:03:45] Very unnerving.
Paul: [00:03:49] So, yes, it is a memoir of my career. Of course, I do talk about aspects of the Golden State Killer investigation. There’s exclusive aspects that have never been released publicly before, but I’ve been involved in so much more. There’s select cases that are significant cases in my career that I talk about. Again, there’s details about those cases that have never been made public before. But it’s also the impact of working this type of job, these types of cases have had on me and my family, my relationships. This is where I feel very exposed in terms of talking about my career, my life. But it is what it is, people will learn about me for better or for worse. So, we’ll see what happens.
Yeardley: [00:04:30] I think certainly for better. I also think that conversation about the deep impact of seeing the worst of humanity every day is profound. We’ve discussed it some on this podcast, and our listeners certainly respond so favorably to that. But I also think you have to take care of the people who take care of us. And if you don’t, we’re kidding ourselves. And so, hats off to you for being courageous enough to let us in. I can’t wait.
Dan: [00:04:58] What’s the name of the book?
Paul: [00:04:59] The name of the book is Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases.
Yeardley: [00:05:04] And is it March that it’s coming out, March 2022?
Paul: [00:05:07] April 26, 2022.
Yeardley: [00:05:09] Wow! The actual date!
Paul: [00:05:11] Yes. [chuckles]
Yeardley: [00:05:11] Small Town Fam, put that on the calendar. Ah!
Dan: [00:05:14] I just preordered it.
Paul: [00:05:16] Oh, I actually have a mockup of the cover. You want to see that?
Yeardley: [00:05:19] Yes.
Dave: [00:05:20] This isn’t good for podcasting.
Yeardley: [00:05:22] [giggles] Oh, wow. Okay. It’s great. Small Town Fam, it says Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases, Paul Holes. There’s a big fingerprint, and it looks like the title was ripped from pages, like a serial killer would write a note for ransom and not want you to know what his writing look like. It’s very classy.
Paul: [00:05:45] The fingerprint, that’s actually out of my case files, that’s a suspect 10 print card. I won’t divulge who that is from, but it’s actually real.
Yeardley: [00:05:54] That is fabulous. Wow, that’s the fingerprint that’s on the cover, Small Town Fam. On the cover of the book. Oh, my God, I’m seriously so excited. This is going to be fantastic. Okay, well, back to the present. Tell us what you brought for us today.
Paul: [00:06:09] Well, what I’m going to talk about is, actually, we’re going to go from the present back to 1969. As you know, I dug into many, many different cold cases. In Contra Costa County, we had an unusual spike of cases involving girls and women that were being killed. As I ended up digging into these cases, turns out that we had multiple serial killers active during this time in this very small area, in the Bay Area. But I want to talk about some cases that few people know about, but I think they’re significant cases and out front, they’re unsolved at this time, but doesn’t mean that there isn’t a prime suspect.
This is where I’m going to bring up the 1969 case of Leona Roberts. She was 16-year-old girl. She was in a relatively short-term dating relationship with a 21-year-old boyfriend named Greg. Greg lived in a town, Rodeo, California. It’s a very small unincorporated area, so sheriff’s office jurisdiction. It is right on the north West Coast of Contra Costa County. For the listeners, Contra Costa County–
Yeardley: [00:07:34] It’s Zipper.
Paul: [00:07:34] Zippers.
Yeardley: [00:07:36] Can’t record in the dining room without Zipper.
Paul: [00:07:39] Zipper adds a little bit of ambience. That’s right. Look at this.
Yeardley: [00:07:44] See if you’ll just sit down, cat. She loves her some Detective Dave.
Paul: [00:07:48] Yeah, that’s right.
Yeardley: [00:07:48] She’s going to pray at the altar of Dave. Okay.
Paul: [00:07:52] Contra Costa County in the Bay Area, Contra Costa means opposite coast or other coast. So, it’s across San Francisco Bay from San Francisco. To orient people as to where I worked my entire career, it was just Northeast of Oakland. Where Rodeo is, is it’s on the coastline, but as the Bay turns into the Sacramento River Delta, there’s a smaller bay, if you will, called San Pablo Bay. So, that’s where Rodeo is located at. It’s an industrial blue-collar town. Oil refineries are huge. Contra Costa County is actually– I think it’s the third most industrial county in the state of California, in part because it has such a long coastline, so you get a lot of the tankers and stuff that are coming in for the oil refineries.
[00:08:40] The boyfriend, Greg, he works up at a barber shop in Napa, and he worked there until 6:30 at night, and then he drives home at about 7 o’clock, comes down to his Rodeo apartment and he sees Leona’s 1957 Volkswagen parked. He was expecting her to be there. He goes to his front door, and for whatever reason, he says he knocks on his front door, which I thought was a little odd. This is where he lives. But after knocking, he opens the door and notices that it’s unlocked. He goes inside. This is December 10th, 1969. He sees the Christmas tree has been tipped over onto the couch, and the rug has been bunched up as if somebody had really kind of been dragged across the rug. Leona’s smock, she was a student at a beauty College up in Napa. Her smock is on the bed, and it appears that she possibly got home after she got off work, and I’ll get into where she was working in just a little bit, but she’s not there.
Yeardley: [00:09:43] Can I ask you a question? Is this a one-story house?
Paul: [00:09:46] It is a one-story, single-floor apartment.
Yeardley: [00:09:50] Okay. So, from the living room, you might be able to see the bedroom and see that her smock is on the bed?
Paul: [00:09:56] Well, he ends up walking through to look for Leona. It looks like she came inside, her car’s outside. Looks like she came inside but she’s not there. And then he calls Leona’s mom. Leona is 16 years old. She lived with her parents up in Napa and was attending the beauty college up in Napa. But she had just started a job at White Front department store down in Pleasant Hill. I want to expand upon that in a little bit. But literally, this was her first day at work. She did a half shift in the afternoon from 1:00 to 5:00.
[00:10:32] Greg calls her mom, just to say, “Hey, Leona’s car here, but is she up with you?” And Mom says, “No.” “I was expecting her home by 9:00.” Leona’s plans when she got off work in Pleasant Hill was to go to Greg’s apartment, cook dinner, enjoy the evening with Greg and then go back home but now she hasn’t. Leona is reported missing, they don’t know where she’s at. Sheriff’s office responds and starts taking a look at the crime scene. They do process the crime scene, but minimally, at this point in time. Right now, they have a potential missing person. But one of the things that is noted is that even though her smock was present, Leona’s purse is not in her car, and it’s not inside the apartment, and none of her clothing is in either location either. Sheriff’s office responds, and then they start talking, they start doing a canvass and start talking to people that live– It looks like a house, but there’s like a four plex–
Yeardley: [00:11:34] A house that basically has four apartments in it.
Paul: [00:11:38] Yeah. And the upstairs witness, a woman said that around 5:30 to 6:00, she thought she heard a woman’s scream maybe three times, and possibly heard this woman attempt to come up the stairs to where she was at. She recalls that when she got home earlier that day after work, she saw a suspicious male near a blue station wagon. When she hears the woman scream, and then she hears the door shut, ultimately, she looks out her window and she sees the blue station wagon driving away. So, of course, okay, whose blue station wagon is that? She does give a brief description of the suspicious male. He was roughly 25 years old, blond hair, and about 180 pounds. When he had seen her pull into the parking lot, he went back to that blue station wagon.
Yeardley: [00:12:39] When you saw this woman upstairs pull into the parking lot?
Paul: [00:12:42] Yeah. When she comes home earlier, and she sees this guy that she doesn’t recognize, and he sees that she sees her, he goes back to this vehicle. And then after she’s hearing what appears to be a struggle going on downstairs where Leona’s at, then she sees the blue station wagon driving away later. So, of course, this very well could be the abductor of Leona. So, that was a good bit of information. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to provide a composite or anything, like a license plate or partial license plate or anything. We just have, it’s a blue station wagon that had ribs on the roof, so an old-style vehicle.
[00:13:18] As they get this information, they recognize, “Okay, this seems like this is a bad thing. Leona just didn’t walk away.” She’s not a runaway. It does appear that she’s met with some foul play. So, sheriff’s office ends up doing extensive searching in the area. Of course, you search any area, you’re going to be finding some woman’s articles of clothing. But in essence, this just goes nowhere. Leona is gone, and nothing.
Yeardley: [00:13:48] They never find her body or anything.
Paul: [00:13:50] For 18 days.
Paul: [00:14:09] 18 days later up in Marin County– Marin County is the county that’s just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. In the Bolinas Lagoon, this is a little lagoon that’s right off the Pacific Ocean just north of Stinson Beach, they find a body. This body is off the side of Bolinas Road, about three quarters of a mile down from where Bolinas Road intersects with Highway 1, Pacific Coast Highway. Nude female, she is in the tide line of the lagoon, but it’s obvious based on the vegetation, there’s very tall– They describe them like celery stalks that have been crushed down obviously from somebody taking her body down or her body rolling down the side of the embankment. Her hair is tangled in blackberry bushes. At the time her body is found, it’s low tide, but it was obvious based on the waterline that at one point, her body was at least partially underwater, the upper part of her body. Advanced decomposition, a lot of insect activity, so Marin County authorities end up documenting that scene and then this body’s autopsies. It’s a Jane Doe at this point.
[00:15:30] The body has a class ring from Napa High School on with the initials, JAS, on the ring itself. There was a scar low down on the abdomen. It turns out the body had the appendix removed. But Marin doesn’t know that there’s a missing person for a few days until Contra Costa authorities contact and say, “Hey, we’ve got this missing 16-year-old girl and you’ve got this recovered body.” Sure enough, the class ring was a clue because it was Napa, and Leona was out of Napa. The initials were actually Leona’s girlfriend. This was Leona’s girlfriend’s class ring who lived across the street and so those initials were the girlfriend’s initials. So now, they’re getting a clue this is likely Leona. Of course, we’re in the days before DNA testing, and her hands, the skin, the ridge detail on her hands were so bad that they couldn’t get prints to identify her. But ultimately, they do identify her as Leona from dental records. So, once they got a possible, “Oh, this could be Leona,” then they were able to track down the dentist, get her dental records, and identity was effective.
At autopsy, there was no obvious signs of trauma. However, both her writs showed evidence of bindings as well as her ankles, and the bindings had been removed. The pathologist takes a vaginal swab and does a vaginal smear and says no sperm present, and I’ll talk about that in a little bit. But what do you think the cause of death was determined to be?
Yeardley: [00:17:01] Strangulation or drowning?
Dan: [00:17:03] I hope it’s not drowning.
Paul: [00:17:04] Not drowning.
Yeardley: [00:17:05] Not strangulation?
Paul: [00:17:07] No.
Dave: [00:17:07] Going through my rolodex of obscure.
Paul: [00:17:10] I guarantee you’re not going to guess it. The pathologist ruled the cause of death as a viral infection.
Yeardley: [00:17:15] What?
Paul: [00:17:17] This is a huge miss. Here is a girl that has been abducted, she’s got evidence of being bound. She’s in an advanced state of decomposition. So obviously, there’s going to be some difficulties in determining what happened. But you can’t issue that as a cause of death.
Dan: [00:17:34] It would be so much better if he just said ‘undetermined.’
Paul: [00:17:38] Yes, right. We don’t know. From my perspective, it’s homicide with the circumstances, we just don’t know what killed Leona. Likely it was what we’d call a soft kill. It was likely a strangulation or asphyxiation in which, with the advanced decomposition, the evidence of that could potentially be gone. But this case at least investigatively was from law enforcement pursued as a homicide for sure.
Yeardley: [00:18:03] So, even though they said she died from a virus, the police said, “No, no, we’re going to investigate this like–”?
Paul: [00:18:09] There’s been a struggle inside this apartment. She’s been bound, unless, she’s being held captive somewhere and contracts a disease and then dies of that disease, which probably not.
Dave: [00:18:21] I mean that’s just a brain-dead call. You look at the totality of the circumstances, you’re like, “How did this person die?” And you’re like, “I’m going to ignore all the binding evidence and the fact that the body’s naked and that this is a missing person with a purse gone.”
Yeardley: [00:18:36] And she’s in this marsh.
Dave: [00:18:38] Right. It defies logic.
Paul: [00:18:41] And this is another one of my pet peeves, and I see this all the time, and there’s nothing that can be done on it. But they’re in this area, I mentioned that, the pathologist did take a vaginal smear, no sperm, so no signs of sexual assault. You’ve got a nude female that’s been bound. This is a sexually motivated crime. But what many people don’t recognize is that how these smears, whether it be done at autopsy or whether it be done, let’s say, on a rape victim in a hospital, is that they’ll take the vaginal swab, and then they take a microscope slide. And with the wet swab, they just run it on the microscope slide. Everything’s smeared across a very large area, and then it’s put under a microscope, and there’s some staining in order to differentiate the different cells that are present, but it’s extraordinarily insensitive for detecting sperm. I’ve done this many times where a pathologist has said negative for sperm. You get it into a lab and we actually concentrate the cells and put them in a real small area. We can even do what’s called differential digest to get rid of some of the other debris, the vaginal cells from the victim that are obscuring. We often find sperm when a pathologist or a doctor in a hospital setting has said there’s no sperm present. What ends up happening to that vaginal swab, 1969, he threw it away.
Yeardley: [00:20:04] Oh, no! Oh, that could have been DNA!
Paul: [00:20:07] Yes. And I see this over and over and over again from this era where the pathologist is saying, “I am visibly seeing a foreign, glistening substance inside this woman,” takes a swab going, “Numerous intact spermatozoa. And you’re going, “Score. I can solve this case. Where’s that swab?” He’s thrown it away, and that’s the only evidence in the case. It is so maddening. And it’s just like, I have to remember that, okay, back then they couldn’t do much with that. All it was, really was okay, there was a sexual assault, so there was another criminal charge. But they didn’t have the technology in order to be able to use it as evidence to identify this person left this DNA evidence. So, from their perspective, it’s like, “Well, I did everything I could with it. And, yes, if somebody is arrested, they could be charged with a sex act because of where I found the semen.”
Yeardley: [00:21:02] Yes. But, nowadays, I would guess even if you can’t imagine where technology takes us, say, even in a decade, probably people are hanging on to all sorts of evidence because they’re like, “I don’t know. But don’t let me be the determiner of what’s coming down the lane.”
Paul: [00:21:18] Right. But there’s still a little bit of a gap between the criminal investigation and the death investigation. It varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and it varies from, quite frankly, pathologist to pathologist in terms of the diligence that they take in order to recover evidence for the criminal investigation. Oftentimes, let’s say you do have a victim of sexually motivated homicide, and so her body is being– basically the typical orifice swabs. The oral, rectal, vaginal swabs are collected. Minimally, you want two swabs. And so that’s what they often do. But some pathologists, they put it in, pull it out, and it’s really a very poor sampling. You can’t guarantee that you have really adequately sampled what was present. So, from a forensic perspective, it’s like don’t rely on two swabs. Rather you do 10 swabs. I’ve seen this where the pathologist will put all six swabs together and swab it around. Well, those swabs that are in the middle of that bulk, actually touching anything? No, we want six independent swabs to ensure that there’s an adequate sampling, because you don’t know what’s on each swab.
[00:22:35] And this is where it really is that communication between the investigating agency and the detectives and/or the criminalists or the CSIs and the pathologist to have that cooperative aspect. But this is just one of those frustrations from 1969. I don’t even have photos of Leona at autopsy, or even where she was recovered in order to be able to independently assess and go, “Okay, maybe there is something that this pathologist didn’t have the eye, the experience, or expertise, and he missed just because he doesn’t have that skill set.” But we don’t have that documentation. This is a homicide. She likely was strangled or asphyxiated in some capacity. Her tox was completely negative, she had 0.7 blood alcohol, which a lot of that is likely due to decompositional changes that happen, what we call endogenous production of alcohol through decomposition.
So, here we have now this Leona Roberts case. Of course, Greg, the boyfriend is being looked at hard.
Yeardley: [00:23:36] How old was he?
Paul: [00:23:37] He was 21. She was 16, he was 21. They had dated for about five months total but she had broken up with him and dated and another boy in between and then got back together with him. His alibi was he was at work up at the barber shop in Napa until 6:30, driving time, getting home at 7 o’clock in Rodeo was spot on. They look at him, but they do move away from him, and this case literally just disappears. Everybody just forgets about this case. And then, that’s when I’m digging into it. The sheriff’s office from the missing person side did a fair amount of work. Marin County did a fair amount of talking to witnesses and family and even some potential suspects but it was suspects that were based on her social circles, her past history. Two years prior, she had been raped by her girlfriend’s boyfriend.
Yeardley: [00:24:26] Oh, my God!
Paul: [00:24:28] So, he becomes a suspect just because of that crime that had occurred. And so they’re talking to him and trying to figure out his whereabouts on the time that Leona had gone missing. So that was really their focus, is just looking at who Leona knew. That’s what law enforcement does, especially in 1969, when there isn’t looking at the region, that’s where I’m going to go, and understanding you may have an act of predator. But unfortunately, we don’t have any evidence in this case.
Yeardley: [00:24:59] If you had DNA, you could do that genealogy chart.
Paul: [00:25:03] If that one swab had been saved, I don’t know how many swabs he took, but if those had just been saved, that literally could potentially solve this case.
Dan: [00:25:11] So, in this case, the abduction occurs in Contra Costa County and presumably you get a body in Marin County. So, Contra Costa is investigating a kidnapping and Marin is doing a homicide investigation?
Paul: [00:25:27] Yep.
Dan: [00:25:27] And are they cooperating?
Paul: [00:25:28] To the extent that I could tell, there was at least communication between the two agencies, but literally, once Leona’s body is found up in Marin, the sheriff’s office case file pretty much ends. There are some supplements in there about the body being found up there, but in essence, they punted to Marin. This is where knowing what’s going on regionally becomes so important. So, remember, I said Leona worked at this White Front department store in Pleasant Hill.
Yeardley: [00:25:59] That’s what it’s called?
Paul: [00:26:00] I guess that was a store, like a Montgomery Ward’s or something. First day on the job, 16-year-old girl drives down from Napa. In fact, she drove down, she dropped by a girlfriend’s house to pick up a couple of dollars and the girlfriend had a, “Hey, you’re going to White Front? I’ve got a refund that’s needed. Can you bring me some cash back?” with whatever this receipt that she had. And so Leona had accepted that. The friend didn’t detect any type of Leona seemed on edge or anything. It was just a normal day for Leona.
[00:26:30] White Front department store in Pleasant Hill was on Contra Costa Boulevard. This is now where looking at other cases. I know previously, when we recorded, I talked about another case, Elaine Davis. Obviously, I’m not going to go into great detail since that’s already out there.
A little bit of a summary on Elaine Davis. In December of 1969, right before Leona’s case, Elaine Davis is abducted out of her house. The neighborhood that Elaine lived on, now technically, she’s in Walnut Creek, but the neighborhood she lived on was right off of this Contra Costa County Boulevard corridor. Elaine’s a 17-year-old girl, Leona was 16. Elaine, ultimately, we identify her. This is where I talk about one of my proudest moments in my career, is being able to dig this Jane Doe up and having an anthropologist identify her as Elaine Davis two weeks before mom died. Elaine was dumped in the ocean down in Santa Cruz and washed up on the beach. So, within less than two weeks of each other, you have two teenage girls that are abducted out of residences, and then their bodies are taken out of the jurisdiction and dumped in bodies of water or near bodies of water. They both have a connection to this location of Contra Costa Boulevard.
Yeardley: [00:27:54] That is remarkable.
Paul: [00:27:56] Now, we get to three months later. March 3rd, 1970, 15-year-old Cosette Ellison is a student attending Campolindo High School in Moraga. Moraga is further south of where Leona was working in Pleasant Hill. The best way to explain the location of Moraga is, it’s a tiny town that is just on the other side of the Oakland Hills. And there is a road that connects the Oakland area that goes through the hills and then goes up into the town of Moraga. Cosette gets out of school, she catches the bus, and she takes the bus home. Now, where she lived was just south of the town of Moraga. Her parents owned a property and a house that was East Bay MUD property, the utility district property, it was like a park area, and the house was a quarter of a mile off the road. Cosette would have to get off the bus and walk a quarter mile through literally, just on a dirt gravel road, through wooded area through hills in order to get back to the family residence. So very isolated.
Paul: [00:29:07] The bus driver drops Cosette off and is interviewed, and Cosette to seeing crossing the road and other students say, “Yeah, we saw Cosette.” She slid her books underneath the metal gate that went across the driveway and started to climb that in order to be able to get on the other side, in order to walk back to her family residence. When parents come home several hours later, Cosette’s not home. Her schoolbooks aren’t there, and she is gone. She is just a missing girl for 10 months. And then, her body is found, and her body is found dumped on the east side of Mount Diablo. She’s dumped into a creek off of Morgan Territory Road, very, very remote location, very forested. Obviously, now it’s a homicide. We know this for sure. Talking to Cosette’s friends, the early investigators, “She’s just a runaway.” And the friends were so upset, and that’s the way it was treated back in the day.
[00:30:09] Now with Cosette, this is just three months after Elaine and Leona, Moraga is a small, tiny little town. Everybody knows everybody there. There’s an older woman, when I say older, I think she’s probably my age now.
Yeardley: [00:30:27] We’re the same age, I think, Paul. You’re younger than me. (laughs)
Paul: [00:30:30] [chuckles] Five months, right? We’re about the same age.
Yeardley: [00:30:32] That’s right.
Paul: [00:30:33] Yeah, we listened to the same music.
Yeardley: [00:30:35] That’s right, we do.
Dave: [00:30:37] Justin Bieber.
Paul: [00:30:42] But this woman who was driving back from work from Oakland, she was taking that back road that goes to basically the Oakland Hills, and so she would come by where Cosette would be dropped off by the school bus. She sees Cosette talking to a man. She describes this man, a handsome man, she gives a composite and he was wearing a hat. We have this composite of a man, good-looking man wearing a hat. This ends up becoming important, and if anybody has listened to my Audible book, A Devil in the Valley, you’ll see where I’m going, because I really started digging into a serial killer in the area by the name of Phil Hughes.
Yeardley: [00:31:20] Oh, yes.
Paul: [00:31:38] Philin 1972, so two years later, after Cosette, Leona, and Elaine, Phil abducts Maureen Fields, when she gets off work at the Kmart in Pleasant Hill, which was right next door to where Leona got off of work at the White Front department store. Contra Costa Boulevard is Phil’s hunting ground. Maureen Fields is assault case, he was convicted of that case and to others. He’s serving time for three cases. Maureen Fields in 1972, the induction of 15-year-old Lisa Beery out of the Oakland Hills the Montclair area in 1974 where he buried her body in the town of Moraga up on a hill, and then the 1975 homicide of Letitia Fagot in Walnut Creek who was a housewife. He broke into the house and raped and strangled Letitia. Ultimately, Phil’s wife, Sue, is the one who came forward and said, “I know my husband has done these three crimes because I helped him.”
Yeardley: [00:32:41] That’s right. I remember.
Paul: [00:32:43] Now, this is where having that regional perspective, going back in time, and understanding the investigations that have occurred in these other cases becomes important because in Phil’s cases, they end up interviewing his girlfriend, Kathy, who lived literally– I could probably throw a baseball from Cosette’s house over a hill and hit where Kathy lived. Kathy had an on and off, very tumultuous relationship with Phil, he would strangle her during consensual sex. The parents thought he was a bad guy and parents were right. But Kathy, when she was being interviewed for three cases in 79, when Phil was arrested for those three cases he was convicted of, she had told those investigators that when they were first dating, Phil had come to where he said, “I’ve killed and mutilated three women.” That statement was made before any of the three other cases that Phil was known to. So, that’s when we start looking at Elaine Davis, Leona Roberts, and Cosette Ellison. For a long time was my mission in life was to see which cases and there’s other cases out there. Three days after Cosette, we have Patricia Keene who is found strangled at the Diablo Valley College after she got off this figure control class.
Yeardley: [00:34:03] Figure control? What is that? It’s got to be like an exercise class or something.
Paul: [00:34:09] Exactly. She went to figure control class in the gymnasium at night and then left that early because she had some potatoes in the oven. And then, the next day her body is found, has been pulled behind a wall. She had gotten to her Volkswagen Bug and it looks like she was blitzed there, pulled behind the wall. She’s been strangled with her own pantyhose and the knot was tied from behind. And then two days later, in the men’s restroom at Diablo Valley College, there’s a writing that basically I’m going to paraphrase, “That girl I strangled was sure fun to fuck in the ass.” It matched exactly with what probably happened with Patricia. Diablo Valley College is right off Contra Costa Boulevard. So, you start to see, need to have the regional perspective and you need to have an understanding of the details of the various cases that have occurred during that time, because none of these cases really were being looked at as possibly being by the same offender back in the early 70s. And then, when Phil Hughes came forward and he was convicted of the three cases, they say, “Well, he’s good for all of these.” So, they stopped doing any investigation.
[00:35:13] My Audible book, I start talking about, “Well, I’m going to hang another case on him because I wanted to get a death-eligible case.” Because he’s eligible for parole, I wanted to get a death-eligible case. So now we could basically drop something on his head, to make him uncomfortable, and try to get him to admit to everything he’s done. But as I’m digging into these other cases, some cases that were soon to be Phil, it turned out to be other serial killers active in the area.
Yeardley: [00:35:38] Really?
Paul: [00:35:39] Yes, you get a Darryl Kemp, you get a Charles Jackson, we had Joe Naso that was active in the area at the time. And there’s probably more. There’s other unsolved cases, but fundamentally, that’s really kind of what I’m trying to underscore about this case, starting with Leona Roberts today but it’s not just Leona Roberts. Because that case right now, there really is no direction to go investigatively or forensically, but it could still potentially be solved because of other cases that may have evidence.
Yeardley: [00:36:09] Right. Two questions. One, does the composite that the older woman driving by Cosette’s driveway and gate, that rural sort of family home, does it more or less match Phil Hughes? And/or was there a car present because it’s pretty remote? Was there the blue station wagon? I’m guessing no.
Paul: [00:36:30] No blue station wagon was ever identified in Leona’s case, that’s an unknown. The composite, when I’m digging into Phil Hughes, I’m now going into Alameda Superior Court evidence down in their basement, and they bring out a box of stuff. What I’m trying to do is I want to get all the transcripts from testimony at trial and all that. In that box, I find three color print photographs that are Phil from 1970-1971. He’s holding a bowling ball. He’s a big bowler, he’s holding a bowling ball, and is in a parking lot and he’s got a hat on. And the hat matches the hat in the composite from the Cosette case. I tracked down the woman who took those photographs, and she was a girl friend. She had a crush on Phil at the time, but it wasn’t reciprocated. And she goes, “Yeah, I took those photos.” It was behind Green Valley bowl in Moraga. And he was kind of upset about the game that he bowled that day, but he agreed for me to take the photo.” And she goes, “Well, he wore that hat all the time.”
Yeardley: [00:37:32] Wow. And would you say the woman said that he was a good-looking man when he was fit?
Paul: [00:37:38] When you look at him from the early 70s, yes, he’s a decent-looking guy. The composite is clean shaven, Phil would be clean shaven, but he would also wear facial hair. He just changed his appearance up over time. And this is Phil’s area. He went to Campolindo High School, the same school that Cosette went to just years before, but that was where he lived. That’s where he was at all the time, and he matches the composite. The frustrating thing is in order to really solve this case, either we need Phil to admit, or we need to have the evidence. And that’s what I thought. I’ve had other cases where I got DNA evidence, and I’m going to close a case on Phil, and it turns out it was another serial killer. So, I can’t guarantee any of these cases are Phil Hughes’ cases, but you look at the pattern. And it’s like, you know what? He is suspect number one until proven otherwise.
Dave: [00:38:24] I’m guessing Phil doesn’t talk to investigators.
Paul: [00:38:26] No. When he’s convicted of the three, he went to San Quentin to be classified and he’s at California Men’s Colony down in San Luis Obispo.
Yeardley: [00:38:35] What does that mean, classified?
Paul: [00:38:38] They evaluate the inmate in terms of, does he have any gang affiliations? Does he have any special needs? Does he have a target? Was he sexually assaulting kids?
Yeardley: [00:38:45] Like Jeffrey Dahmer kind of thing.
Paul: [00:38:47] Exactly. And then, they figure out within their system, where’s the best place for this person to be housed that not only keeps that inmate safe, but also makes it easy for the prison system to basically house him so he’s not going to just be a problem because he’s disrupting the entire facility because of his presence. Imagine, target number one in the nation for inmates is going to be Joseph D’Angelo, the Golden State killer. He’s a former cop and he’s the most notorious serial killer now and he’s in the prison system. But he is in Corcoran, where they’ve got the best administrative segregation where they literally keep him isolated from everybody else and they can control him and protect him at the same time. Otherwise, you get a Jeffrey Dahmer situation or Whitey Bulger, which is just insane. You got an old man in a wheelchair and the inmates are seen wheeling him away, and then he ends up being bludgeoned to death. It’s like, how does that happen within a facility?
[00:39:42] When Phil was at San Quentin waiting to be assigned to his facility, the Alameda County prosecutor, Dick Iglehart and the Oakland homicide investigator Alex Smith, who I both met with or spoke with when they both have since passed away, but they both told me that went to Phil and basically said, “Okay, Phil. We got you on three. We know you’ve done more.” They knew. This is now 1980, I think, “So just tell us.” And Phil looked at them, he literally goes, “Fuck you. I’ll be out in seven. If not, I’ll be out in 20,” which at that time was real, because that’s the type of sentencing that was happening for these types of cases, which is just absurd. Phil basically was convicted of three abduction homicides, and was eligible for parole after a few years, and these families have to keep going to these parole hearings in order to basically tell the parole board the trauma they suffered, the life that was lost in order to convince the parole board to keep Phil inside. That’s why I was trying to find another case going, this is just retraumatizing these families over and over and over again.
Yeardley: [00:41:07] When is Phil due for parole?
Paul: [00:41:09] He just had a hearing, and I think they gave him the maximum, which now in California, I think is 10 years before he’s eligible to be heard again. I went to his 2001 parole hearing, which was his 20th.
Yeardley: [00:41:25] His 20th year in prison?
Paul: [00:41:28] Yeah. So, that’s where he thought he would get out. That’s when I met the family, and that’s when I was hoping to actually see Phil in person. Then, Phil heard about all the family that was out there and he just sent his attorney out, and he was just a coward. He didn’t want to confront the family. At that time, the parole board chair came up to me and said, “This guy shouldn’t be eligible for parole.” But we did the best we could. We gave him six years, which was the max at that time. And then, Phil came up for parole again and I don’t know how many times since but I think it’s at 10 years now. So, maybe in another five years, he might be up again.
Yeardley: [00:42:04] And how old will he be?
Paul: [00:42:05] Phil was born in 1948.
Yeardley: [00:42:08] Okay, so he’ll be in his 70s.
Paul: [00:42:09] Yes, he’s in his 70s.
Dan: [00:42:11] He’s 73 right now.
Paul: [00:42:14] Believe it or not, he’s married.
Yeardley: [00:42:16] Really?
Paul: [00:42:17] And he’s adopted that woman’s children who are now adults. That woman is a local school teacher. I’ve got letters she had to write to the prison warden, basically saying, “I know what Phil’s been convicted of. He’s been convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering three women. I still want to marry him.”
Yeardley: [00:42:34] Okay. Well, to each his own. Is there a DNA for Cosette?
Paul: [00:42:41] No. One of the interesting things with Cosette, it’s not outside the realm of possibility is that– and this Dan and Dave will recognize how incredible this find was. When Cosette’s body was found off in this very remote location, found in January of 1971 in a creek, off of Morgan territory road east of Mount Diablo, very isolated area, one of the investigators that went out there was going, “Hey, hold on, six months ago, there was a pile of clothes found on the side of the road, just up the road.” At the time, it was just a suspicious circ because there had been some sexual assaults on the east end of the county way away. And they thought, “Well, maybe these clothes are related to those sexual assaults.” So, they rolled out and collected those clothes and decided, “Well, they’re not related to the sexual assaults.” So, they just throw them into property as found property. And so now this investigator’s going, “Wait, there’s that pile of clothes,” and then they go, property still has them. It turns out to be Cosette Ellison’s clothing. Those clothes weren’t dirty, because this is now five to six months after Cosette went missing. Those clothes were clean. So, it looks like the killer went out, killed Cosette, dumped her body, but still had her clothes. And then, five or six months later, dumps them, and then they’re found right away. And then, Cosette’s body is found later. On those clothes, my wife actually did the work.
Yeardley: [00:44:01] Oh, wow. I don’t know if our listeners know that your wife does what you used to do. She’s a forensic investigator.
Paul: [00:44:10] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:44:11] A sciency person. That’s cool.
Paul: [00:44:13] She found a little bit of sperm. But at the time, this is now early 2000s, she couldn’t get a DNA result. So, now it’s like we need to go back.
Yeardley: [00:44:23] So, you can go back and retest that little bit?
Paul: [00:44:26] Try to rescreen and see if we can find a better sample. This case I’d love to see solved. Cosette Ellison is one of my passion cases for sure. And that really is what it’s going to take. Her books have never been found, her purse was never found, her clothes were found, and the clothes show the cutting that the offender did with a knife in order to cut the clothes off of this petite little girl. So hopefully, there’s evidence there that could identify who her killer was. Whether it’d be Phil Hughes, there’s another serial killer in play Roger Kibbe, who was killed in prison recently.
Dan: [00:44:56] Is Kibbe the one that had a very unique way of cutting the clothing?
Paul: [00:45:00] Yeah, he did the nonfunctional cuts. He had this peculiar thing, his mom was a nurse or something, and there are some psychological things going on with him and his mom. He would take like scissors or knives and just randomly cut some of his victims clothing. There’s some aspect of that with Cosette’s clothing. But one of the more interesting connections with Roger Kibbe is that his brother participated in the search for Cosette after she went missing. His brother was a ranger with East Bay Regional Parks district at the time. His brother ended up becoming a homicide investigator. Roger always protected his brother and would never talk about it but there’s always been a thought that his law enforcement brother, and Roger may have had a closer criminal history together, and both are now dead. But it’s sort of like, “So, I’ve got the brother of a serial killer searching for Cosette Ellison whose clothing were cut–” And there’s a question as to whether Roger Kibbe was actually out of custody, he was serving time for some minor offense. And technically on paper, it looks like he’s in custody for Cosette’s case, but then there was also work release programs. Records for that from 1970 are just– you’re not going to get it.
Dan: [00:46:16] I mean amazing work by that investigator to have the presence of mind to recognize, “Hey, I remember a report about some clothing being found up here about six months ago,” and tying that together. A lot of people, it would have just went right past, it would have blown right past that.
Paul: [00:46:32] And those clothes would have just been dumped in the trash and property probably within the next week. So, that was an amazing find. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t turned the case yet, but it could.
Yeardley: [00:46:42] That’s incredible. Before we wrap this one up, one of my questions is, it seems as though every time a girl went missing, she was considered a runaway. What did it take back then for somebody to go maybe not a runaway? Do you have to end up dead?
Paul: [00:47:00] Unfortunately, at least with what I’ve seen in my jurisdiction back in the 1970s, there needed to be very concrete evidence of foul play. Unfortunately, a lot of times, if you just have a girl that just disappears, their primary assumption is runaway. The public doesn’t see this, but law enforcement is dealing with these types of reports day in and day out. On the surface, many of these reports read the same of got a missing family member.
Yeardley: [00:47:29] Right. Back then, they didn’t have computers where you could just do a digital search for information. So, I imagine it’s much harder to separate the wheat from the chaff when you’re just dealing with stacks of paper literally.
Paul: [00:47:43] Exactly. This is something that on my podcast with Billy, we talk about it where you’ve got to listen and judge the family. There needs to be policies to make sure there’s resources being put in earlier, and not just assume it’s a voluntary runaway or something like that. But, yeah, either have that issue or you have laziness. I just don’t want to do this right now.
Dave: [00:48:04] It comes down to work quality, comes down to just basic investigative skills that some officers frankly lack, because they can’t ask the critical questions, or the answers that they’re getting don’t raise any hairs on their neck, whereas somebody else who’s like, “I need to dig into that.”
Yeardley: [00:48:24] Right. It seems really important that in law enforcement, you be able to read the room.
Dave: [00:48:29] You’ve got to read the family, and you’ve got to read the circumstances, you’ve got to read the history. Even if the person is a constant runaway. If you go into that house and the Christmas trees tipped over and the rugs are disheveled, I would go, “That didn’t just seem like they walked out the front door.”
Yeardley: [00:48:44] And also Leona’s smock from work was there, but her purse wasn’t there. So clearly, she had been there.
Dave: [00:48:52] Right. Why didn’t she take her car? If you’re going to run away, I’d rather drive away then walk somewhere.
Paul: [00:48:57] We have witnessed hearing screams, hearing a little bit of a commotion, not necessarily an argument but two voices, so there’s something going on downstairs, and a suspicious man and a blue station wagon. It was like, “Yeah.” Unfortunately, a lot of attention was put on the boyfriend, but they did move off of him. He actually sent me a letter. I talked to him on the phone. He sent me a letter and he’s still bitter about the way he was treated from back in the day. He was in love with Leona and it devastated him. She was advanced state of decomposition with insect activity, maggots, and they took him into the morgue to look at her to try to effect an identification. And it’s like, “What the hell is that? You don’t do that to somebody?” No.
Dan: [00:49:39] Shake him, rattle him.
Paul: [00:49:40] Yep. Shake him, but that’s just so inappropriate.
Dave: [00:49:42] We don’t do that anymore.
Paul: [00:49:45] No.
Dave: [00:49:46] That’s a good way to get suspended.
Paul: [00:49:47] Absolutely.
Yeardley: [00:49:48] Cosette was the one found 10 months later?
Paul: [00:49:50] Yeah.
Yeardley: [00:49:51] Was it just skeletal remains?
Paul: [00:49:52] Skeletal remains, some soft tissue still present.
Dan: [00:49:55] Connective-type tissues.
Paul: [00:49:57] Connective, a little bit of skin. But, yeah, she was not in good shape.
Yeardley: [00:50:01] So, because of that, because most of the flesh was not present, could you tell how she was killed?
Paul: [00:50:07] No. Not a clue. Let’s say you do have– say it’s a stabbing or gunshot where you have significant damage to the bones or even bludgeoning–
Yeardley: [00:50:16] -or the hyoid.
Paul: [00:50:17] The hyoid if it’s recovered. Like with Cosette, she’s in a stream, a creek with at times heavy currents. So small bones, like the hyoid, once it degrades to where the connective tissue is gone, the hyoid is sometimes never found, but you can sometimes determine cause of death on skeletal remains and that’s where the anthropologists come into play. But with Cosette, no. In all likelihood, she was either stabbed because I know the offender had a knife based on the types of cuts to her clothing, but I don’t see any stab wounds, stab defects to the clothes. In all likelihood, she was probably strangled.
Yeardley: [00:50:50] Right. Oh, Paul, we’re still hoping that these will be solved, yes?
Paul: [00:50:55] Oh, absolutely. I have many cases in my past that I’d love to see solved. Cosette is probably number one.
Yeardley: [00:51:03] And is it reasonable to think that somebody out there knows something? Somebody other than the killer probably knows something, right?
Paul: [00:51:12] With Cosette, that’s hard to say. It depends on, is this killer, the offender, somebody who would divulge what he’s done to somebody? Some of these guys do, some of them don’t, and if it’s somebody who doesn’t, and it’s just him and the victim, then it’s only him in the victim that know.
Yeardley: [00:51:32] Whereas Phil Hughes confessed and his wife was in on three of them, and he confessed three others to the girl he was seeing on the hill.
Paul: [00:51:41] Well, I wouldn’t say he confessed, but he at least put that carrot out there. Phil claimed he was just testing her.
Yeardley: [00:51:47] Really? That’s not how I would test my new boyfriend.
Dan: [00:51:52] It just so happens he actually kills women.
Paul: [00:51:54] Yeah, just so happens he does. I know he’s done more than the three he’s been convicted of.
Yeardley: [00:51:58] And we know, Paul, that you won’t rest until you get justice for those victims, if you possibly can. You’re a rock star, Paul. This has been such a joy. It’s been so great. You are a sight for sore eyes.
Paul: [00:52:12] It’s great to be with all three of you again. I love it.
Dan: [00:52:16] Thank you.
Dave: [00:52:16] Yeah, enjoyed it.
Yeardley: [00:52:18] Please come back and see us. Thank you.
Yeardley: [00:52:30] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and co-produced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Soren Begin, Gary Scott, and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor, the Real Nick Smitty, and Alec Cowan. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. Our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
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