Piercy, California 1987. A blip on the map punctuating the border between Mendocino and Humboldt Counties. On August 29 of that year, Jerry Garcia’s solo band played at French’s Camp on the banks of the Eel River. Harley Davidson junkies roared their motorbikes down the rural 101 and stopped in Piercy for their Annual Redwood Run.
Meanwhile, families lived their lives in the small hamlet amongst the trees. Michelle Ogletree and her partner Neil Kemp were raising two children, Zach and Brandy. They took the kids to school, Ogletree waitressed at some local eateries and worked hard to be a good mom.
The rustic lives of the four would be violently disrupted forever when on November 30, 1987 Michelle Ogletree would be found murdered in her rural home.
Brandy Ogletree, Michelle’s daughter, remembers that day. Five-year-old Brandy and her brother Zach awoke, got ready for school, and Neil Kemp, not their biological dad but father-figure nonetheless, dropped them off that morning. She remembered her mom had wanted to go with them that morning but ended up staying at home. (It should be noted, Neil Kemp is the biological brother of Kym Kemp, the owner of Redheaded Blackbelt and Brandy is her adopted niece.)
Brandy recalled being at school when a police officer pulled her from class. The officer asked Brandy and Zach about the morning and then Neil came on the scene “doing everything he could not to cry.” Brandy and Zach were then taken to their grandparent’s car outside the school and then burst into tears when they were told about their mom.
Brandy said for weeks afterwards she would ask, “When is my mom coming home?”
In the aftermath of her mother’s murder, Brandy lived with Kemp and his parents before moving to Los Angeles where she lived with her biological father’s parents. Then she moved to Missouri and lived with her biological father. Life after her mother’s death has been rough, Brandy said.
As an adult, Brandy had returned to Humboldt County to raise her children and live in the land that holds her “best memories.”
Media reporting regarding Michelle’s death is limited at best. The most immediate coverage after the crime came from a December 2, 1987 article from The Press Democrat entitled “Mendocino County woman found slain.” The article states that Michelle was “believed to have been shot at least once” and was “found dead by her friend at her home at 9:40 a.m.” Conflicting information regarding the number of gunshots was embedded in the article saying, “The sheriff’s office at first said the woman had multiple gunshot wounds on her body, but later reported only one gunshould wound was found.”
On that same day, a shorter piece on Michelle’s death appeared in the Ukiah Daily Journal‘s Police and Fire Log, again asserting investigators were “uncertain how many times she was shot.” The small article went on to say MCSO originally reported Michelle had been shot multiple times but then said “she was probably shot only once.”
The article concluded,”No motive for the kill has been established.”
Another piece in the Ukiah Daily Journal written by Lois O’Rourke in 1992 provided more details about MCSO’s investigation into the crime. Entitled “Year Later, Murders Remain a Mystery,” O’Rourke interviewed MCSO Lieutenant Phil Pintaine about several cold cases at the time. Regarding Ogletree, Lieutenant Pintaine told O’Rourke that five years after her murder the“detective had no leads in the case” adding that investigators “don’t even know what kind of gun we’re looking for.”
He added that cannabis was found in the home suggesting the motive for the killing might have been a “dope ripoff.” 34 years after Michelle’s death, Lieutenant Pintaine’s words to O’Rourke strikes a sharper note: “As time passes on [evidence] will be more difficult to recover.”
Brandy addressed the suggestions that her mother’s death was a result of a cannabis robbery characterizing them as wrong. She said there was thousands of dollars in the home and processed cannabis that was still there when Michelle was found. “If it was a pot crime, why didn’t they take anything?” Brandy asked.
As to what happened to her mother, Brandy has heard many rumors over the years. There was a story circulating that a girl had shown up in the area casing their home to rob Michelle. Brandy said that her father figure Neil Kemp did cultivate cannabis, but if robbery was the motive, why was so much cannabis and cash left in the home?
Providing a vivid picture of the day of Michelle’s death, Brandy said she was told that Michelle had been on the phone with a friend that morning when their phone conversation came to an abrupt end as Michelle began screaming. This was followed closely by the sounds of a scuffle and loud voices saying, “I got her, I got her.”
This tragedy has forever haunted Michelle’s family. Brandy is hoping for resolution soon because both of her grandparents are in their 90s and deserve some sort of closure, she said.
For Brandy, she said the biggest question for her is why. She remembers Michelle as a caring mother who held great Christmases, birthdays, and picnics in the redwoods. Brandy said some people feel like at death that someone is “really gone,” but told us she “still feels my mother at moments.”
Brandy told us she has spoken with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office throughout regarding the investigation into her mother’s death. Brandy remembered going to their headquarters in Ukiah and the detective looking at her saying how much she looked like her mother.
Today, Michelle Ogletree would have turned 59 years old. She’s been dead longer than she was alive. Instead, her family is left mourning the woman they lost.
“What happened to my mom was horrible. Her whole life was stolen from her,” Brandy reflected.
Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall told us investigators are “still actively working on the case.” Michelle’s case is one of many dating farther back than the 1990s that MCSO is currently working to solve, Sheriff Kendall said. He encouraged anyone with information regarding Michelle, her death, or the circumstances surrounding it, to reach out to investigators.
If any member of the public has information regarding Michelle Ogletree, please contact the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Tip-Line (707-234-2100) and the WeTip anonymous crime reporting hotline (1-800-782-7463).