Paul Holes takes the team through a series of cold cases that sat unsolved for years until modern DNA testing shed new light on the killers. This is an episode about persistence and keeping a close eye on even the smallest speck of evidence.
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. Paul recently released an audiobook titled “Evil Has a Name” which is available on Audible. You can also hear him on the true-crime podcast, “The Murder Squad.” which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Billy Jensen.
Yeardley [00:00:03] Hey, Small Town Fam. How are you? How are you doing? It’s Thanksgiving week here in the US. This year is sure to be one like no other. Thanks, 2020. But I hope that you know, it gives us untold joy to take every opportunity to thank you our brilliant fans for your support here and on Patreon. For today’s bonus episode, we have a fascinating conversation with the one and only Paul Holes, investigator, extraordinaire. We recorded this episode almost a year ago, in the before times, when we could all still gather without social distancing. The conversation is lively and informative. Basically, Paul at his best, so please settle in for, “Then there were three.”
Yeardley [00:00:56] When a serious crime is committed in a small town, a handful of detectives are charged with solving the case. I’m Yeardley, and I’m fascinated by these stories. So, I invited my friends, detectives, Dan and Dave, to help me gather the best true crime cases from around the country and have the men and women who investigated them, tell us how it happened.
Dan [00:01:22] I’m Dan.
Dave [00:01:23] And I’m Dave. We’re identical twins from Small Town, USA.
Dan [00:01:27] Dave investigated sex crimes and crimes against children. He’s now a patrol sergeant in his police department.
Dave [00:01:33] Dan investigated violent crimes. He’s now retired. Together, we have more than two decades experience and have worked hundreds of cases. We’ve altered names, places relationships, in certain details in these cases to maintain the privacy of the victims and their families.
Dan [00:01:48] So, we ask you to join us in protecting their true identities, as well as the locations of these crimes out of respect for everyone involved. Thank you.
Yeardley [00:02:03] Today, on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. We have Detective Dave.
Dave [00:02:09] Good afternoon.
Yeardley [00:02:10] Good afternoon. And we have Detective Dan.
Dan [00:02:13] Happy to be back.
Yeardley [00:02:14] So happy to see you. And (imitating trumpet) there’s a little trumpet. We have back with us, Small Town Fam, Paul Holes.
Paul [00:02:23] Hi.
Yeardley [00:02:24] Hi.
Paul [00:02:24] How are you?
Yeardley [00:02:25] So good. Really, really good.
Paul [00:02:27] I’m looking at Dan and Dave’s watches and I’m feeling kind of naked here.
Dave [00:02:31] This is a new development actually.
Paul [00:02:33] Is it?
Dave [00:02:34] Two days ago, I flew down here after working graveyard shift. So, I was probably at about 5% brain capacity that day, much like I was this morning. They surprised me, they took me to a jewelry store and gave me my Christmas present because I’m going to be working during Christmas. Took me to a place where Dan got his watch, I assume.
Dan [00:02:53] No.
Dave [00:02:53] Different?
Dan [00:02:54] Dave, we took you to a pawn shop. There’s a difference.
Dave [00:02:58] They surprised me with buying me a watch. It’s like the child with the new toy. It goes everywhere with you, sleep with it, that’s what I’m doing.
Paul [00:03:06] Some bling there, that looks good.
Dave [00:03:08] It is. I’m going to be a robbery victim.
Yeardley [00:03:12] Paul, it’s always such a pleasure to see you. I think you are now the busiest man in the world.
Paul [00:03:17] Oh, it’s been busy. I don’t know if that description is right, but I couldn’t imagine being any busier than what I’ve been.
Yeardley [00:03:22] I bet. You have, of course, the wildly successful The Murder Squad podcast, which we’re all big fans of, and the fantastic The DNA of Murder on Oxygen, which we’re also all big fans of.
Paul [00:03:35] That’s great.
Yeardley [00:03:36] And thank you for making time to come and see us here on Small Town Dicks podcast.
Paul [00:03:41] Anytime. It’s my pleasure.
Yeardley [00:03:43] Thank you. So, you, of course, have all these high-profile cases in your history of law enforcement, which we thought we would ask you about some that are perhaps less well known. Really our only mandate is what are cases that you’re really proud of working? And you said, “Well, how about this?” And we were like, “Yes. Yes, please sign us up.” So, just take it away.
Paul [00:04:10] You’ll see a common theme here. The very first cold case that I got involved with was the East Area Rapist, ultimately the Golden State killer. And then once I started working that case, I had gone to my boss in the lab at the time saying, I’m interested in doing more cold case work seeing what I can do with this DNA technology. She said, “Well, there’s a case that always bugged her.” It was a 1978 homicide, 42-year-old Armida Wiltsey. She was a jogger around the Lafayette Reservoir. It was just a manmade lake that had a trail that wrapped all the way around it in a nice hilly area, kind of an upper-scale community in the Lafayette a random part of Contra Costa County.
Armida Wiltsey had gone jogging and she failed to come home. Eventually, husband calls sheriff’s office and they do a big search. She’s found, she’s been pulled off the trail into the bushes. She’s nude from the waist down her sweatpants and underwear right there. Her shoes are still on, her top is still on. She’s been strangled. there was evidence that her wrist had been bound at one point with the binding marks present, but the bindings had been removed and weren’t present at the scene, and unsolved case. So, I start digging into that case.
Yeardley [00:05:33] About what year is it that you’re digging in?
Paul [00:05:35] This would have been 1995-1996 timeframe.
Dave [00:05:38] Just about 20 years after.
Paul [00:05:39] Yes, afterwards. This is a case where the evidence had been stored. This is pretty typical for law enforcement from that 1970s timeframe. Of course, this day, we know biological evidence needs to be preserved in a certain way, you want to dry the samples out, if you have bloody clothing, you dry the bloody clothing out and then wrap it in paper. The paper allows it to breathe, as well as you want to store biological samples frozen, to try to preserve them for as long as possible. I use this, when I’ve trained, whether it be new officers or whoever, about how to store biologicals. Think about a loaf of bread, when it’s in that plastic bag and it’s just sitting up on the counter, what ends up happening to it at room temperature.
Yeardley [00:06:25] Mold.
Paul [00:06:26] It molds, that plastic doesn’t breathe, there’s enough moisture in there that now the mold is able to grow and that mold actually will eat the DNA. So, if you have blood-stain and if it’s put in plastic, and there’s still enough moisture there, the micro-organisms start to grow and they will eat the DNA, they’ll eat the components that we’re interested in to try to identify whose blood or semen or saliva that was.
Fortunately, in the Wiltsey case, everything had been collected and stored from the 1970s knowledge base appropriately, but it was at the sheriff’s property room, which was an unair-conditioned warehouse and all the evidence, and all the homicide evidence had been stored up on the second storey in the summertime, it gets an excess of like 120 degrees. All these biological samples are being just bait.
Dave [00:07:16] 18 years of summers.
Paul [00:07:17] That’s right. Every single summer, it is just horrible for the evidence. Now I’m in the lab, and I’m working on her clothing and trying to find potential DNA. In this particular case, there’s several examples to illustrate advances in technology. There was a suspect in this case at the time, and his name was Phil Hughes, this guy is a convicted serial killer.
Yeardley [00:07:43] Oh, yes, I remember you’ve mentioned Phil Hughes before.
Paul [00:07:46] Right. So, I know more about Phil Hughes than anybody. I really dug into this guy. I thought he was responsible for Armida Wiltsey’s case. There was a hair found on her clothing in what your hair examiner back in the day had said that looks like a forcibly removed hair, like during a struggle, had been pulled out of the head with good root on it. I mean, if you take your hair and you pull it out, and then you see the light ends, well that’s actually tissue. And that is a ton of DNA, relative to hairs that just fall out naturally. They don’t bring all that tissue with them. They just shrivel up and they go through their lifecycle.
I was excited because this hair examiner had compared that hair back in the day and had said, that is consistent with Phil Hughes. I was like gold. Here, I’ve got this evidence where I’ll be able to take this unsolved case and tie it to a known serial killer, who was operating in the very area at the time that Armida Wiltsey had been attacked. So, that was my plan. I was going to go after that hair, and I try to find other DNA evidence. The only other thing I could find is underneath one of Armida Wiltsey’s fingernails was a tiny, tiny little fleck of a red stain. And I ended up just looking at it, it had previously been tested by the original criminalists that had collected it and it had given a positive test to color test to indicate it might be blood. Fortunately, that person at the time, that analyst at the time realized they couldn’t do anything with something that small, so he didn’t do anything more. Otherwise, I would not have had that.
Dave [00:09:27] Yeah, thank you.
Paul [00:09:28] Yes.
Yeardley [00:09:30] Were there other samples of DNA in this bundle of evidence, but it was degraded because it was living on the second floor of this warehouse?
Paul [00:09:39] I couldn’t find anything else to indicate that. I literally just had these two samples. A hair and this fingernail with a tiny, tiny fleck of possible blood. So, the first step was for me to get a source of Phil Hughes DNA to do a direct comparison and his dried blood reference standards had been moved as evidence during his trial back in 1980, so it was court property. And so now I had to get a court order in order to be able to access that. So, I have to go through that process. I get it. Get Phil Hughes’s reference standard, and I’m thinking, “Okay, I’ve got this case solved, I get it assigned out to a DNA analyst.” And that analyst ended up getting a good profile from the hair. And it turns out to be Armida Wiltsey’s own hair.
This really underscores kind of the state of the science of hair examination because that hair examiner had said was consistent with Phil’s and not Armida Wiltsey’s. That’s where in this day and age, you don’t see crime labs doing hair comparisons anymore. They just evaluate the hairs, characterize the hairs, is it suitable for DNA, and let’s move it forward for DNA. I have concerns about well, who’s in custody has been sentenced because of hair examinations.
Dave [00:10:54] Right. It’s all coming out, now you see it all the time.
Paul [00:10:58] That’s right. In fact, before I left forensics, the FBI had sent out letters to all labs saying, if your lab was trained by us, or if we came and did work, we’re notifying you that we have concerns about your cases and who may potentially be in custody as a result of our testimony or our work or the training that your hair examiners had. So, now, of course, public defender’s offices and defense attorneys and innocence projects are now scouring looking for those types of individuals that have been convicted, and there had been testimony related to hair examination. And was there enough weight on that testimony to be concerned that that’s the reason why they were convicted, or at least influence a jury to consider for conviction. And now you could start to see these individuals having their sentences overturned, and probably re-tried, and hopefully with modern forensics being applied to that very evidence to see what’s there or not.
Yeardley [00:11:53] Yeah. You had this dried sample of Phil Hughes’s blood and evidence and he is incarcerated?
Paul [00:12:00] Yes.
Yeardley [00:12:01] What was the crime?
Paul [00:12:02] Well, Phil was convicted of three homicides in the 1970s. He was convicted for 1972 homicide of Maureen Field. 1974 abduction homicide of Lisa Berry, she was a missing girl for five years before he was found because Phil’s wife who assisted him came forward and basically said, “I’ve helped my husband with the disposal of three bodies,” or the selection of victims, one or the other, depending on the case we’re talking about. The 1975 key killed Letitia Fago in Walnut Creek, and she was a housewife, and she was killed in her own house. Phil’s a very, very interesting character that I’ve done a lot of time on. In fact, I’m going to be doing an Audible original on Phil Hughes and going into great detail about who he is and the crimes that he committed in the crimes that I suspect that he’s involved with.
Dave [00:12:59] I’m looking into Mr. Hughes a little bit, and I pulled up a news article, and in the first paragraph of that article that it describes, and I’ll quote it, “Hello, Mr. Field, a man set over a crackling connection 39 years ago. Your daughter is dead and I’m the one who killed her.” And that was Mr. Hughes’s first victim. This guy’s a monster.
Paul [00:13:22] Phil was a very accomplished burglar. When his house was searched, he had what was called the Haines Directory. Of course, this is way in the days before internet. His house is being searched in 1979. Back in the day for telemarketing, for somebody to get your phone number to be able to call you, they had these directories, and they can just go down and the phone numbers were listed by the address. So, if I drove by your house and saw your address, I could go to the Haines Directory and get your phone number, just from your address. I didn’t even need to know your name. Well, that’s what burglars would do back in the day, is they could utilize the Haines Directory.
When are people gone from their houses, when they’re at work or in the middle of the day, and the culture back then, if you had a landline and your phone rang, you answered the phone, so burgs would sit there and just call a house. They’d be sitting in their own house just going, “Okay, this is a good house to attack. It looks like it’s got good valuables inside. I’ll call at 8:00 in the morning. I’ll call at 10:00 in the morning.” If there’s no answer, then they would know, person’s not home on a Wednesday at 11:00. And then they could plan when they would break into your house without even being around the house, just by utilizing the landline. That’s what Phil was doing, but he also would do that type of thing to the victim’s families.
Dave [00:14:43] I’m curious about when you speak about how much you know about Phil Hughes. And I don’t want to spoil your book either. It’s more of a teaser, but just to get into the mind of these guys and just learning that little fact about the phone call, it just goes on a list of, “This is what this guy did, and you won’t believe what this guy did.” I remember the first time we met out in DC, and you’re telling these stories, and my jaw was just dropping like, “Good God, I thought it couldn’t get worse and holy shit.”
Paul [00:15:12] Yeah.
Dave [00:15:13] It’s crazy.
Yeardley [00:15:13] It is crazy, and I cannot wait to hear your Audible original on Phil Hughes. But since we do have to wait, Paul, take us back to Armida Wiltsey’s case. What happened once you figured out that the hair that you’d had in evidence all that time, didn’t belong to Phil, but in fact was Armida’s own?
Paul [00:15:35] So, the hair it turns out not to be prohibitive.
Yeardley [00:15:39] What’s prohibitive?
Dan [00:15:41] So, it didn’t hurt Paul’s case or help it either.
Paul [00:15:44] Yeah.
Yeardley [00:15:44] Got it.
Paul [00:15:46] And then the blood sample, we’re able to get a male profile from the little speck of blood underneath the fingernail.
Yeardley [00:15:51] Really?
Paul [00:15:52] Yes. I mean, I think when we did this work was probably 2001, 2002 timeframe. DNA has advanced tremendously since then, in terms of sensitivity, but considering this finger now had been baked over the course of almost two decades, and it was such a tiny sample. I have a photo of this bloodstain that I use in my training slides. And nobody can believe how small it is. The scale in the photograph is showing what one millimeter is and this thing is just a speck of that one millimeter. That is how sensitive the DNA technology is. We got this male profile, of course, I’m just thinking, “We’ve got Phil. Yeah. Now we’re going to get him on in another case.” It turns out, it’s not Phil.
Yeardley [00:16:35] Shit!
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Yeardley [00:17:52] So, that teensy drop of DNA under the fingernail is not Phil’s, which means basically now you have to start from scratch.
Paul [00:18:01] Yeah.
Dave [00:18:02] But now you have another thing like, “Oh, this guy’s maybe not in custody and we got another guy out there.”
Paul [00:18:09] Right. And I should say a side note, the analyst that did the work on this case, ended up marrying her.
Paul [00:18:18] Not just because she did such a great job on this case.
Yeardley [00:18:20] (chuckles) Sure. I hope there are a few other qualities as well. (laughs) But admiring someone’s work is always a really extra sort of icing on icing.
Paul [00:18:30] That’s right. She listens to Small Town Dicks.
Yeardley [00:18:33] Oh, I love her.
Paul [00:18:33] Yes. Her name’s Sherry.
Yeardley [00:18:35] Sherry, we should have her on. We love the scientists.
Paul [00:18:35] She would be good to have on.
Yeardley [00:18:40] Yeah, okay.
Paul [00:18:40] Yeah. So, anyways, now I’m just kind of deflated. At this point. I had been digging into Phil for multiple years. The interesting thing about Phil, I mean, he convicted of three sexual homicides. He was sentenced back in the day, in 1980, to seven years to life, became eligible for parole after 20 years of incarceration. So, here’s a guy that you’re going, how–
Yeardley [00:19:10] How is he ever out?
Paul [00:19:12] Yeah. My goal was is to try to find a death-eligible case to hang over his head with the intent of ultimately confronting him to say, “Hey, we’re going to go through, prosecute you.” Of course, I’d need the DA’s approval, but prosecute you for this death-eligible case, unless you tell us everything you’ve done, because he’s done more.
Yeardley [00:19:33] Okay, so let me just make sure I’m tracking here with you, Paul. A death-eligible case would mean that you have found an aspect of Phil’s crimes that can bump his case up from life imprisonment to the death penalty?
Paul [00:19:50] Correct.
Yeardley [00:19:50] And you’re hoping that that will motivate Phil to confess to other crimes he’s committed that you suspect him of, so that you can then take the death penalty off the table once more, because with Phil already facing a life sentence, you really don’t have any leverage. There’s no incentive for him to tell you anything else?
Paul [00:20:11] Exactly.
Yeardley [00:20:12] Okay. And this sexual assault with a murder is not a death penalty case?
Paul [00:20:18] Not in California in the 1970s.
Yeardley [00:20:21] Oh my God!
Paul [00:20:22] This was a result of this Rose Bird decision.
Yeardley [00:20:26] Oh, yes. Judge Rose Bird, right?
Paul [00:20:27] Yeah.
Yeardley [00:20:28] I remember, you’ve mentioned her in the past. For our listeners, Judge Rose Bird was the first woman appointed to the California Supreme Court, by Governor Brown actually. She was extremely liberal and vehemently opposed to the death penalty.
Paul [00:20:47] Right. Ultimately, the death penalty was overturned, and some predators were released back into the public as a result of this decision. And they proceeded to kill again.
Dave [00:20:58] Right. They just resumed their activity. It’s like being out in dodgeball and then you get back in the game, all because of a short-sighted decision that impacts a lot of people.
Yeardley [00:21:09] Yeah. I just want to go back to something you said a few minutes ago, Paul. You said seven years to life. Does that mean that back in the 70s, Phil could be eligible for parole after serving only seven years?
Paul [00:21:23] If it had just been the one case, but because he had three. So, this was something where even the original investigators on Phil’s case, one was an Oakland PD homicide guy, and the other was Alameda DA. After Phil was convicted, they knew he had done more. When he’s over at San Quentin, waiting to be classified and then distributed to where he was going to be housed. They went over there and said, “Hey, Phil, we know you’ve done more, talk to us.” Phil basically was, “FU. I know I’m going to be getting out in seven years, if not in 20 years. So, no.” He’s not a guy that’s going to just confess.
I was crushed, because I thought I found a death-eligible case that the evidence was going to be so strong that it was going to be able to be hungover Phil’s head. And now it’s like, “Ah.” I ended up talking with a detective over a sheriff’s homicide. Her name is Roxane Gruenheid. Roxane was great because he was one of the assigned homicide individuals over there that was interested in cold cases. She’s going through the case file, and then she calls me up and says, “Hey, in the case file, there’s this guy. His name is Darryl Kemp. It looks like the original investigators talked to him. I remember seeing his name, but I was so locked in on Phil that I just kind of you know– and I know they’ve talked to other people, but Phil’s the guy. I just know it. I’ve got male DNA, male blood underneath Armida’s fingernail, it’s not Phil.
She’s saying, it looks like they contacted this Darryl Kemp, but when they talked to him, his girlfriend alibied him, said, “No, he was with me that day. He wasn’t at the Lafayette Reservoir.” And so, investigators moved on. Well, the reason Darryl Kemp first came to the original investigator’s attention is because his parole officer had called up after reading about the Armida Wiltsey’s case said, “You might want to look at my guy. He’s done similar things. So, take a look at him.” They go and they look at him, and they go, “Nope, he’s alibied out.” They move on. This is where I never trust these types of alibis because people do lie. You have to evaluate the veracity of the alibi. Girlfriend is saying he was with me.
Dave [00:23:28] That’s why it’s important to just take it the extra step and verify the alibi. Where did you guys go? Something where I can check that box and say, “That’s legit.”
Paul [00:23:37] It’s been documented, you can actually show proof where somebody’s at. So, there’s this Darryl Kemp. Roxane had brought his name up to me. I’m now looking through it thinking, “Okay, let’s see, I’ve got a DNA profile. I see that in addition to the original investigators contacted Darryl Kemp back in 1978, a criminalist had gone out and had just processed his body and had collected some of his clothing, but it also collected head hair standards from him. That’s a source of DNA.
Yeardley [00:24:06] Can one of you just loosely define what head hair standards are? I mean, it’s probably pretty obvious, but I don’t know it sounds kind of technical.
Dave [00:24:15] It’s basically this suspect, that this person that they’re asking for hair from, it’s a representative sample of their head hair. So, in this case, we’re talking about Kemp’s hair sample. 25 hair follicles is a representative sample of Kemp’s.
Yeardley [00:24:33] That’s the standard.
Dave [00:24:34] That’s the standard.
Paul [00:24:34] Yeah.
Dave [00:24:35] Is 25 hairs from Kemp’s head.
Yeardley [00:24:37] Not 24?
Dave [00:24:38] Not 24 or 26. It’s got to be 25.
Yeardley [00:24:41] Got it.
Paul [00:24:43] So, now I’m in my property room, going through boxes, desperately trying to find that head hair and I find the head hair. I bring it back. Give that to the analyst Sherry. Fortunately, when you collect standards, you’re generally trying to get 25 or more hairs because you want to represent a sample of all the various hairs on a person’s head to compare to the evidence hair. So, you’re usually collecting a fair amount and you want to pull them. Remember, I talked about that plug at the end. Head hair standards can be great sources of DNA. Head hair standards are given to the analyst and she’s able to get a profile and it matches the blood underneath Armida Wiltsey’s fingernail.
Dave [00:25:27] So, it matches Kemp.
Paul [00:25:29] Correct. Of course, I’m calling for Roxane and I hear her, she’s jumping up and down on the other end. Here I’ve been involved in this case for, I don’t know, how long, and she just kind of goes through the case file and is like, “I think that’s him.” She was right.
Dave [00:25:45] So, no other link between Armida and Mr. Kemp?
Paul [00:25:47] No.
Dave [00:25:48] They’re strangers.
Paul [00:25:49] They are. This is where you will be disgusted when you hear about Darryl Kemp’s background because now we’ve identified him as being the source of the blood underneath Armida Wiltsey’s fingernail, and of course, it is, “Well, who is this guy? All we knew is that he was in a case while, he was on parole. Didn’t know anything more about him. And then where is he at now?” First, “Where is he at now?” Well, he was in custody in Texas. He was finishing up serving 20 plus years for the rape of six women that occurred after the Armida Wiltsey homicide, and he was about to be paroled. Who is Darryl Kemp?
Well, Darryl Kemp back in the late 1950s committed multiple rape homicides of women, and was sentenced to death in early 1960s, and was on California death row from, I think in 1961 to 1978 when he was paroled to Contra Costa County two months before Armida Wiltsey was killed.
Yeardley [00:26:49] What?
Paul [00:26:51] This guy was on death row for rape homicides, and he was released. And then because of an alibi, he wasn’t caught for Armida Wiltsey, he was allowed to just live and he somehow got out to Texas where he ended up raping six women.
Yeardley [00:27:09] Holy shit.
Dave [00:27:10] Yeah, I mean, you can just feel the mood in the room just drop.
Dan [00:27:14] The ripple effect of these decisions that are made, sometimes the people are making these decisions don’t take into account how many lives that decision is going to touch.
Yeardley [00:27:25] Right. But I don’t understand how you get parole once you’ve been on death row. I understand how you might be on death row, your sentences commuted to life in prison. How do you suddenly get out?
Paul [00:27:38] Well, this has to do with Judge Rose Bird’s decision. It’s known as the Rose Bird’s decision in California, in which basically, death was now considered cruel and unusual. And now these individuals that had received death penalty, all their death sentence got commuted, and some of these individuals became eligible for parole, as in Darryl Kemp. In this day and age, we know better about the types of crimes and what predatory crimes are. But back then, they didn’t even know the term serial killer in 1978. They were lust killers, and of course, people knew that these guys would commit these crimes over and over again, but they didn’t understand the psychology behind it. And so, here’s a prime example of a guy in the 1950s was committing this kind of crime, incarcerated for basically 20 years on death row, he’s released, and he starts up.
Yeardley [00:28:33] In no time.
Dave [00:28:34] Immediately.
Paul [00:28:35] Yes. Roxane goes out, tries to interview him in Texas as soon as Kemp knows what case, he shuts down. Then he’s extradited back to California and stands trial, and the DA that prosecuted Mark Peterson became the elected DA, and he’s the one that created the position to allow me to go to the DA’s office because of this case. And me helping him during the prosecution, he knew my passion for cold cases, and he wanted to do cold cases out of the DA’s office. I’ve always owed Mark a fair amount because he basically allowed me to finally have the freedom to do what I do, which ultimately led to me being able to work the Golden State Killer case to the fullest extent that I could and then had success there. So, there’s a whole domino effect that came out of this particular case, but Mark ended up prosecuting Darryl Kemp, and Darryl Kemp is back on death row in California. So, you got full circle.
Yeardley [00:29:29] He was convicted for the sexual assault and murders from the 50s?
Paul [00:29:35] He was, yes.
Yeardley [00:29:36] Okay. So, you already knew about that?
Dave [00:29:38] Yeah, he goes death row, release, Texas. Now, he’s back in California.
Paul [00:29:43] Yep.
Dave [00:29:43] And is that a jury trial, I’m assuming?
Paul [00:29:45] That was a jury trial.
Dave [00:29:47] I mean, most people don’t plead guilty and take the death penalty.
Paul [00:29:49] Right. And his defense was he accidentally strangled her. This is a true predator. He was in the bushes, watching the people go past him, and he sees Armida Wiltsey, makes a decision, probably checks and says, “Hey, I could probably grab her, and nobody would know.” It’s like that trapdoor spider approach. He just emerges out of the bushes, grabs her, and pulls her back in. Even though we don’t have semen evidence in this case, it’s definitely a sexually motivated crime. She fought, she got his blood underneath her fingernail.
Dan [00:30:17] And she had been bound to, we had ligature marks.
Paul [00:30:20] Yep, around her wrist. So, he spent some time with her body. I mean, he does strip her of her lower garments. He is a true predator, and this was broad daylight. This was not in the middle of the night. This was in a very well used area, and he just saw victim of opportunity and snatched her and killed her. I don’t know the circumstances of the rape cases in Texas, but he had those. It’s like, “Well, what did he do in between?” Armida Wiltsey was in 1978, I think he goes into custody in Texas in 1981. He’s out for three years. I have no idea where he’s at or what he’s doing in between those cases.
Dave [00:30:56] He’s not going for a hike at the reservoir. He’s not going for a jog. He went there to find a victim.
Paul [00:31:02] Yep. In all likelihood, that’s what he’s doing.
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Yeardley [00:32:56] And what about Phil Hughes?
Paul [00:32:58] Well, Phil’s still in custody to this day. There’s other unsolved cases in Contra Costa County or regional that I think he potentially has involvement with.
Yeardley [00:33:06] Wereyou ever able to find that death-eligible case to hold over his head?
Paul [00:33:10] No. When he first became eligible for parole at his very first parole hearing, I was there. The families that he impacted, the three victims, they all were there. Once Phil knew the families were there, he failed to show. The coward and his attorney was in the room, and the families gave very impassioned pleas on why Phil should not be released and how they’ve lived without their loved ones. The parole board at that time could only give him a maximum of six more years. And so that’s what they did, is they gave him a max of six years. And then, the chair of the parole board came up to me afterwards because he knew who I was and my involvement and said, “We did everything we could, six years is the extent, but he should never get out for his own assessment.”
Phil subsequently had, I think, a couple additional parole hearings. And they’ve since extended the maximum. Now he’s got a much longer-term before his next parole hearing. I forget what that timeframe is, but he’s still eligible for parole.
Dave [00:34:13] Right. The clock’s ticking, and you’re hoping you can come up with a case that sticks and puts him away forever.
Paul [00:34:18] Yeah.
Dave [00:34:18] So, little bit under the gun.
Paul [00:34:21] Little bit under the gun. At one point, I was seeing if I could do some face to face interviews with Phil and just establish a rapport and see if he would be willing to start talking about some other cases, but then an FBI profiler that had evaluated his cases, and him said, “Unless you have something nude hanging over his head, then don’t bother.” Like, “Okay.” But he’s getting older, my concern is, is he’s going to die before we know what else he’s been involved with.
Yeardley [00:34:45] How old is he?
Paul [00:34:45] He is now 74. He’s about the same age as DeAngelo, maybe a little younger.
Yeardley [00:34:54] DeAngelobeing Joseph DeAngelo, of course, the Golden State Killer.
Paul [00:34:58] Correct.
Dave [00:34:59] What was in the water back then?
Yeardley [00:35:02] Really?
Paul [00:35:03] Well, this underscores something that many people don’t necessarily recognize. One of the things that happened to Armida Wiltsey’s case as well as other cases back in 1979, is when Phil’s wife came forward. And then Phil’s taken into custody. He’s convicted of the three cases. Well, all these other unsolved cases that were in the same area where Phil was operating, they just assumed Phil was good for them, including Armida Wiltsey. Literally, all investigations, all forensic work shut down on these cases then. Well, turns out, no, it wasn’t just Phil there. We now know Darryl Kemp was in the area. And then another case, the Cynthia Waxman case, 11-year-old girl who was basically pulled back into the bushes right on the other side of the hill from where Armida Wiltsey was abducted. She’s killed. Everybody thought she was a Phil Hughes’s victim. I did too. And then got DNA. DNA came back and it hit some CODIS, hits to another serial killer, Charles Jackson. Right in this very wealthy, nice area in the 1970s, I have three active serial killers committing at least one of their crimes in that region.
Yeardley [00:36:14] That’s insane.
Dan [00:36:16] You just wish they’d come across each other one day. And then, you get rid of one.
Paul [00:36:21] Even though you may have some similar crimes, don’t just assume. You have to prove that all these crimes were committed by that person, because it is possible to have multiple predators operating in the same region at the same time committing similar types of crimes.
Dave [00:36:37] Yeah, three great white sharks in the same bay. That’s horrifying for a community. What’s Jackson’s story?
Paul [00:36:44] Well, Charles Jackson, he was a black male. Predominantly, he committed his crimes, mostly in the Alameda area, Oakland, Alameda area. He would go into houses and go after women and stab them. Though., he’s a true crossover offender when we start talking about age of victims earlier in his criminal career, and it was an extensive criminal career. He goes inside a house and he ends up sexually assaulting a little girl. So, he really knew no boundaries. Cynthia Waxman was 11 years old.
It appears that where Cynthia was killed is in a small town called Moraga. I mean, it’s a tragic, tragic story. She, on a Saturday morning, had gone with her cousin and her cousin’s family to this baseball game at the local high school, which is basically right across the street from where Cynthia lived. So, they’re at the baseball field, and Cynthia and Stephanie, her cousin, who’s one year older, had seen this kitten. And so, they decided to go play with the cat and they’re out there playing with the cat. And they think the cat’s hungry. Stephanie goes to her dad at the baseball field, leaving Cynthia alone with the cat to get some money, so they could go buy some cat food. When Stephanie comes back, Cynthia isn’t there. Stephanie, here’s what she thinks, sounds like two male voices in the bushes and she does see this cat run away. She goes back to her dad at the baseball field saying, “Cynthia is gone.” And her dad’s like, “Oh, she probably just walked home.”
They finished the baseball game. Go back, check with Cynthia’s mom, and she’s like, “She’s not here.” Cynthia’s mom goes and is the one that finds Cynthia’s body back in the bushes. She’s fully clothed. She’s been strangled with a length of synthetic rope and her hands been bound in front of her with the length of synthetic rope, and she has suffered massive vaginal trauma.
Dave [00:38:37] She’s still bound when she’s found?
Paul [00:38:39] Yep, still bound. Unsolved case. And it turns out, again, improvements in forensics over the years. The original analyst that did the work had looked at Cynthia’s underwear, which is on her body, there’s some soil marks, it looked like there was almost like a boot print on it, and had a reaction to a chemical test that would indicate the presence of semen on the underwear, but then dismissed that saying, “Nope, it’s just false positive.” When we redo the test, decades later, turns out it’s a neat semen stain. It was an easy, easy find.
Yeardley [00:39:18] What do you mean by a neat semen stain? Do you just mean it’s like, obviously, a semen stain?
Paul [00:39:24] Correct. And that’s what ultimately hit to Charles Jackson in CODIS. Again, I’m thinking I’ve got Cynthia Waxman, I’ve got this great evidence. It’s going to come back to Phil. It’s not Phil, it’s Charles Jackson.
Dave [00:39:38] Just even the realization that it’s not Kemp, it’s not Hughes.
Paul [00:39:41] It’s another serial killer.
Yeardley [00:39:43] Ugh. Where is Charles Jackson now?
Paul [00:39:47] Charles Jackson died in Folsom Prison back in 2002. He actually died before we identified him as Cynthia’s killer, which is one of those, “Oh, you want him brought to justice under that particular case,” this type of case just a such a strain on the parents that they ended up divorcing. But the father was very thankful just the fact that we kept this case alive and that he had an answer. It’s not going to bring Cynthia back, but he at least knew what happened. Charles Jackson probably is responsible for additional cases in the Bay Area. A very well-known prosecutor out of Alameda, Rockne Harmon, was the one that prosecuted Charles Jackson. He’s the foremost expert on Jackson and his crimes and the details of them.
Yeardley [00:40:32] Right. What a terrifying time to live in Contra Costa. I think one of the things that I never get used to on this podcast, or any of the true crime podcasts I listen to, are the horrible things that people do to each other.
Paul [00:40:47] No, I know.
Yeardley [00:40:47] It just seems infinite.
Paul [00:40:49] It is. It’s just constant. On one hand, these types of cases are fascinating, the psychology of these types of offenders. But just to think, I’ve got kids, got a wife, to think that any of them could become victims of somebody like this, that’s horrifying.
Yeardley [00:41:04] Yeah. When I do interviews, and they say, “Why a true crime podcast?” For me, I often say that I was always a rule follower, and I like order. But there are people in our midst who do not observe the rules that the rest of us observe in order for society to function well. And therefore, we really want to know, as a society, that there are people go, “That’s okay, I got it.” I will make sure that the whole thing does not explode.” I cannot tell you how grateful I am for what all of you do in order to make that right. I can’t put words to that.
Paul [00:41:45] Yeah, it just seems like you’re swimming against the current.
Yeardley [00:41:49] I bet it does.
Paul [00:41:51] The outrage of somebody like a Darryl Kemp who somebody did the right thing and caught him, only to have that reversed. It basically undid the good work that had been done down in Los Angeles to get the guy into custody and get him convicted. And he’s not the only example of that. There was another guy that I was digging into, and not as in-depth, but similar circumstances. In 1966, in Contra Costa County, he killed two young teenage girls, shot them both, sexually assaulted them, put them under a bush out in this point, an old area up on the shoreline. And then he’s caught, and his name is Dennis Stanworth. He’s sentenced to death. He’s on death row.
Then in the 1970s, there’s a legal thing. He ended up doing some weird appeal, there’s something going on from the legal side. It’s called the Stanworth Decision, and he was released off death row. And so, I start marching down on him. And this is later on when I was still with the sheriff’s office, probably 2012-ish. So, it wasn’t that long ago, but just with the Darryl Kemp, I was like, “Okay, this guy has been out and about since the late 1970s. What else has he done since he’s been out?” He was living up in Vallejo. At that time, I was reaching out to Vallejo PD, and he was a registered sex offender. And so, they maintain folders on these sex offenders. And so, I was asking them, “Can I see his folder? I want to know more about him. So, I can start assessing my unsolved cases to see what his involvement would be.” Unfortunately, that particular investigator just did not want to cooperate with me. So, I never did get to see Stanworth’s folder, and I moved on.
Then a couple years later, Stanworth’s name is in the headlines. He killed his mom. Basically, was like, “Yep, I was just done. I was done with her. I was done living this life. I’m here, here I am.” And so, he’s back in custody, but here’s another victim that lost her life that should never have lost her life under the circumstances. And I still go, “What else has Stanworth done?”
Yeardley [c] Yeah, it does make you wonder.
Dave [00:44:07] You don’t go from the ability to shoot two children, and kill them and sexually assault them to, “Ah, I’m good for the next 20, 30 years.” “Oh, Mom pissed me off. I’m done. Do it again.” There’s got to be something.
Paul [00:44:22] Yeah.
Yeardley [00:44:23] There are transgressions in there.
Dave [00:44:24] Right. You don’t just retire. I just refuse to believe that.
Yeardley [00:44:27] Geez. Well, Paul, we could talk to you all day. We could build a whole season with you. But other people have claims on your time. Thank you, and it’s so good to see you. You look well, despite being run ragged with your schedule.
Paul [00:44:42] Thank you very much. It’s always a pleasure.
Yeardley [00:44:44] Thank you.
Dan [00:44:45] Thank you, Paul.
Dave [00:44:46] Yeah, always a pleasure. I enjoy these.
Yeardley [00:44:48] I really do.
Yeardley [00:44:52] 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 produces are Erin Gaynor and The Real Nick Smitty. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. And our books are cooked, and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
Dan [00:45:20] If you like what you hear and want to stay up to date with the show, visit us on our website at smalltowndicks.com.
Yeardley [00:45:28] Small Town Dicks would like to thank SpeechDocs for providing transcripts of this podcast. You can find these transcripts on our episode page at smalltowndicks.com. And for more information about SpeechDocs and their service, please go to speechdocs.com.
Dan [00:45:44] And join the Small Town Fam by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @smalltowndicks. We love hearing from you. And if you support us on Patreon, your subscription will give you access to exclusive content and merchandise that isn’t available anywhere else. Go to patreon.com/smalltowndickspodcast.
Yeardley [00:46:05] That’s right. Your subscription also makes it possible for us to keep going to small towns across the country.
Dan [00:46:11] In search of the finest rare true crime cases told, as always, by the detectives who investigated them.
Dave [00:46:18] So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.
Yeardley [00:49:20] Nobody’s better than you.