Murdered in Mendocino County 34 Years Ago, Michelle Ogletree’s Case Remains Cold on this, her 59th Birthday

[All pictures of Michelle Ogletree provided by her daughter Brandy]

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.”

[Police log from The Press Democrat on December 2, 1987]

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.”

[Police Log from the Ukiah Daily Journal on December 2, 1987]

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.” 

[An excerpt from the Ukiah Daily Journal article entitled “Year Later, Murders Remain a Mystery” by Lois O’Rourke]

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).

The Drive-By Shooting Death of Mendocino County Coastal Resident Nicole Smith Remains Unsolved Three-Years Later

The starlight shone upon the Mendocino Coastline in the early morning of November 19, 2017. Nestled in after an evening of laughter and dance, 32-year-old Nicole Smith and her family slept, not knowing that death approached. 

At approximately 4:00 a.m., gunfire rang out, and bullets pierced the walls of the home. By the sun’s rise, Nicole Smith would be dead, and today her family seeks answers. 

Nicole Smith was born and raised in Mendocino County, living on the Manchester Rancheria for a significant portion of her childhood. The rancheria is the tribal land of the Manchester Band of the Pomo Indians located approximately four miles north of Point Arena along the Mendocino County Coast. As a young woman and into adulthood, Nicole had a passion for her Native American culture practicing tribal dances while wearing traditional, ceremonial clothing. By the age of 32-years-old, Nicole would be the mother of three children.

Nicole Smith playing football as a young woman

Star Brightman, Nicole’s niece, recalls admiring her aunt because “she was one of the first girls to play football” in the area. Star described Nicole as some who “loved talking with anyone and got everyone laughing when they were in a bad mood.”

Nicole and her three children had lived in Ukiah, where Star described her aunt began to “struggle.” Star said Nicole chose to leave inland Mendocino with her children and live at the Manchester Rancheria with her sister Bernadette Antoinette Smith.

The evening of November 17 was on a Saturday where Star said songs were sung and dances were danced. 

According to Bernadette, Nicole’s sister, there were five kids in the home that evening and four adults. She said three of the children were sleeping in the living room, one of them on a sofa pullout under a front window.

Star who was inspired to play football like her Aunt Nicole

Star recalled going to bed early in her Aunt Bernadette’s room. At one point, Star remembered waking up for a glass of water, but at that time, the house was quiet. Just a short time later though, shots would ring out. 

Star described waking to what she thought were fireworks and quickly realized she had suffered a bullet wound. Star was shot on the right side of her buttocks during the drive-by shooting, and she described how, afterward, her “adrenaline was going, and I was just walking back and forth.” 

Bernadette described waking up to a loud thump-” like something hitting the wall”-when she saw Star walking down the hall, saying her leg was bleeding. 

Nicole Smith’s boyfriend Orlando, who was with her that evening, ran out of their room, screaming, “They’re shooting!” 

In the chaos of gunfire, Star said her Aunt Nicole jolted awake and went to the front door when a bullet ripped through it, hit her in the chest, and killed her–right in front of her son.

Bernadette said, at that point, all of the children were awake, so she had everyone in the home get down on the floor.

After everyone was down on the floor, Bernadette recalled seeing muzzle flashes through the glass as bullets punctured the front window above the sofa where a child had moments before been sleeping. Bernadette heard a vehicle rapidly leaving the scene. 

With her family by her side, Nicole Smith laid on the floor, experienced a seizure, and bled to death as her family, including her 10-year-old son, helplessly looked on.

Fearing the shooters would return, the children were moved to the Smith’s parent’s home a few doors down. After contacting law enforcement, Bernadette, Star, and Star’s friend waited with Nicole for approximately 1.5 hours before Mendocino County Sheriff deputies arrived on the scene.

Bernadette recalled Nicole’s boyfriend picking up four shotgun shells discharged by the shooters left on the porch after the shooting and throwing them in the house.

That night, Star was flown to the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital because of her bullet wounds. To this day, Star said shotgun pellets are still in her body and even set off a metal detector at one point when entering a Raider’s game. 

One day after Nicole’s murder, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office took a person of interest into custody named Ramon Soto.  Reporting from Santa Rosa’s Press Democrat and the Anderson Valley Advertiser indicates that 28-year-old Ramon Soto was rumored to be involved with the shooting.  An article from the Press Democrat explained law enforcement arrested Soto in Ukiah the day after Smith’s death and booked him inside the Mendocino County Jail, where he assaulted a fellow inmate. Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office would later release him due to insufficient evidence he committed the murder.

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Captain Greg Van Patten said, “Unfortunately, I am unable to comment in detail about this case as it is an active homicide investigation.  My comment will be limited so that I do not jeopardize the integrity of the investigation.”

Captain Van Patten did say that “Sheriff’s Office Detectives have expended a lot of investigative efforts into this case to date, and they are hopeful that it will reach a successful conclusion in time.”

Star desperately wants answers for her aunt’s murder: “Honestly, this case is never going to get solved unless someone speaks.”

Regarding the status of the investigation into her sister’s death, Bernadette said, “The investigation is still going.  My family was never informed if [Soto] was cleared or not. The Sheriff’s Office has been out of contact with my family for over 2 years.”

The family is offering a $20,000 reward for anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of all responsible suspects in Nicole’s murder.

If you know anything about Nicole’s murder, please contact the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 463-4611. Other reporting options include emailing us at, or messaging us via Facebook, or calling in a tip at (707) 560-1543.

[UPDATE: Located] Ukiah Woman Goes Missing After Meeting Up with Friend at Low Gap Park on Thursday Night

Cherice Novo [Picture provided by her daughter Nesha Beaty]

44-year-old Cherice Novo met a friend to have some drinks in Ukiah’s Low Gap Park parking lot on the evening of Thursday, November 5, 2020. According to her oldest daughter Nesha Beaty, her mother and the friend fell asleep in the car, and when Novo’s friend awoke the following morning, Novo was gone. Novo’s friend told Beaty all that remained was her lighter and cell phone. Beaty said her mother has not been seen or heard from since.

According to Beaty’s conversations with the friend Novo shared drinks with that Thursday night, Novo acted normal and did not demonstrate any signs of paranoia. Beaty did note her mother has a history of mental illness but said Novo had been regularly taking her medication. 

Beaty said the last time she heard from her mother was Thursday night between 9:00-10:00 p.m., saying she was getting a ride home from the friend she had been hanging out with but never arrived. 

Beaty characterized her mother as “super friendly and trusting” and is concerned that when she left her friend’s vehicle early Friday morning, Novo could have been in a compromised state and been taken advantage of.

In efforts to track down Novo, Beaty used her mother’s tablet to ping her cellphone’s location. Beaty described her and her partner going to the cellphone’s pinged location and finding it in possession of the individual Novo drank with that Thursday night. 

Beaty said a review of the phone indicated that Novo had texted someone else at approximately 4:30 a.m. Friday morning.

According to Beaty, Novo has lived in Ukiah for approximately six months; therefore she does not know the area well and is “desperate for friends.” Beaty fears this leaves her vulnerable to people with bad intentions.

Beaty told us her mother, Cherice Novo, is 44 years old, 5’3’’, and 150 lbs. She has brown hair/eyes and has a short “tom-boy” hair cut. Novo was last seen wearing a pull-over sweater, orange-reddish yoga pants with black cheetah prints, black flip flops, and characterized her as very talkative with a loud, distinctive laugh. 

If you have any information about the whereabouts of Cherice Novo, please contact the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at (707)463-4086.

UPDATE 11/9/2020 7:26 a.m.

The following statement was provided by Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office’s Public Information Officer Captain Greg Van Patten:

Her whereabouts was determined on 11-09-20 around 1AM and she requested that her family not be notified of her whereabouts.

Since she is an adult we have to comply with her request.

So in essence she is not a missing person.

Human Skull Found Near the Mendocino/ Humboldt County Line Not Far From the 2012 Discovery of a Skeleton in Sneakers

On October 8, 2020, a forester conducting timber harvest inspections in a creek bed southeast of the convergence of Highway 101 and 271 near the Mendocino and Humboldt County line made a grim discovery–a human skull.

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Captain Greg Van Patten confirmed his agency was alerted to the discovery at 2:29 p.m. that Thursday when the skull was recovered by detectives. Captain Van Patten specified that as of now “no other remains were located” and the “case is under investigation at this time.”

Captain Van Patten explained that MCSO’s Search and Rescue team has been delayed in search of the area where the skull was found due to “two major missing person’s searches on the coast from last weekend.” The two missing person cases Captain Van Patten is referring to are those of Sharon “Chris” Bear and Patricia Ahern who both returned home safely. Captain Van Patten said Search and Rescue will be engaged in a “large scale…search next week at some point” to comb the area where the skull was located.

The discovery of this human skull is within five-mile proximity of an unidentified human skeleton discovered on October 29, 2012. Known locally as the “Skeleton in Sneakers” case, a kayaker on the Eel River with his young daughter had for years noticed a sneaker sticking out of the riverbank. Then, a few days before Halloween giving into dark curiosity, the kayaker dug around the sneakers and found a sock full of bones. 

The tips of a pair of Pro Wing tennis shoes sticking out of the ground that led to the discovered of the “Skeleton in Sneakers” in October 2012. [Picture provided by a witness of the scene]

According to conversations with Captain Van Patten, MCSO was able to recover DNA from the “Skeleton in Sneakers”, but the DNA did not match any known missing persons. Captain Van Patten surmised the body could be someone from out of the area or “this could be a person that never was reported missing.”

The “Skeleton in Sneakers” case has entered Mendocino County’s cold case lore and the remains are unidentified to this day. Anyone with information about either of these cases is urged to call the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Tip-line at (707) 234-2100.

Willits Man Missing Since Friday Leaving Behind Wallet, Keys, and Phone

Jim Whetstone, a 69-year-old Willits man, has been missing since Friday, October 9, 2020. His daughter Sophia Martinez said Whetstone “left his home about 9 am Friday while the rest of the family was asleep.” 

Martinez said her father’s disappearance is “totally out of character for him.” She added he left his phone, wallet, and key, and since Friday morning, the phone has not received any unknown phone calls or messages. 

On Friday morning, Martinez said, “everyone was asleep, but my grandma saw him standing at the window looking out as if he may have been waiting for someone.”

Addressing Whetstone’s mental state as of late, Martinez said he displayed “no signs of depression” and he “had plans to go to my brother’s kids as a birthday party on Saturday.  Martinez did state Whetstone has a registered firearm that is still locked in his safe giving family “no reason to believe it’s suicide.”

Martinez said her father is a long time Willits resident graduating from Willits High in 1969. He later worked as a welder up on Cobb Mountain, and then the family moved to Ukiah, opening up the Oak Factory Outlet.

Martinez said Whetstone is 5’10”, weighs approximately 200 lbs, has White/Gray hair, and blue eyes. She added he usually wears sweatpants and a colored pocket t-shirt, but “no one saw him that morning, so we don’t know.”

Martinez expressed deep concern for her father’s disappearance: “My dad is a wonderful man that has helped many people. We want him home so bad.”

Martinez said Whetstone’s disappearance has been reported to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. She described deputies doing a cursory search of the residence. As of the time of publication, MCSO has not returned our calls requesting comment. 

Anyone who knows of Whetstone’s whereabouts is encouraged to come forward. Contact the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at (707)463-4411 if you have any information. 

[UPDATED SUBSTANTIALLY] Human Remains Found Not Far From Missing Berkeley Woman’s Vehicle

Please note that due to a misunderstanding, this article has been substantially changed as a crime is not suspected in this case, according to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office. Please see note at the bottom for more.

Yesterday evening, social media rumors began to circulate claiming the body of Beebee Baxter Simmons, a Berkeley woman whose vehicle was found abandoned on a rural Humboldt County road, had been discovered by searchers. Earlier, a spokesperson for the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department told us that they suspected a crime had occurred. *

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Samantha Karges confirmed last night, “Human remains were located today in the area of Snow Camp Road. We are unable to confirm that they belong to Simmons but it is possible. We will have more information Monday after the coroner’s office obtains identify confirmation.”

The search for Baxter began after the September 24, 2020 discovery when her abandoned Toyota Prius was found by a timber company employee on Snow Camp Road near Korbel, according to Karges. Karges told us the employee found a note on the vehicle’s window, which read “Tow to Berkeley.”

On Thursday, Karges told us in a written response that deputies had found evidence at the scene indicating the vehicle had been parked on the logging road for an extended period, becoming stuck after trying to turn around at a locked gate. Karges told us that “deputies located a cell phone, luggage, and food” in the vehicle and she said unspecified “evidence indicates a crime has occurred, which we are unable to determine at this time.”

Karges said investigators have surmised Simmons could have been traveling to a Buddhist temple in Trinity County after locating “a sheet of paper with instructions to a temple in Junction City.” Karges explained, “The instructions were reportedly given to Simmons by a State Farm Insurance Agent a few days prior to her leaving the Bay Area. We cannot confirm that she was attempting to visit the temple.”

Linda Cashen, a neighbor of Simmons in West Berkeley, told us on Saturday, September 5 she overheard Simmons packing up her vehicle. When Simmons did not return after three weeks, she informed the landlord out of concern for her friend. Cashen said the landlord then contacted the Berkeley Police Department and a missing person report was taken. 

Cashen said when she moved into the West Berkeley apartment complex she remembers Simmons welcoming her into the neighborhood. “She helped me do laundry,” Cashen explained. “She is a really friendly person.”

Cashen described Simmons as comfortable in the outdoors, being an avid walker, and active for her age. “She’s 75 and acts like she’s in her 40s,” Cashen told us

Lolita Porlaris, another neighbor of Simmons, provided a different timeline of events finding Simmons packing up her vehicle in a rushed, hurried manner on Thursday, September 3, 2020. 

Porlaris described finding a guitar case outside Simmons’s Prius that day and proceeded to let her know. Porlaris said she did not notice any problems with Simmons thinking she could be on her way to a local club or open mic night. Porlaris did recall Simmons mentioning something about a “five-hour drive” and seemingly “rushing around.” Simmons said something about picking someone up, which Poralris attributed to why she was hurrying that afternoon.

Anyone with information about Simmons’ circumstances is encouraged to call the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at (707) 268-2539.

*NOTE: The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office has informed us that we misunderstood and there is no evidence that there was a crime involved in Ms. Simmons disappearance nor is there a crime suspected in the death of the human remains found near her vehicle.  

Fort Bragg Man Missing Since Late June; Family and Law Enforcement Seek Public’s Help in Locating Him

[All Photographs of Robert Gettings provided by his mother Ann Gettings]

Ann Gittings woke up in the early morning of June 27 to find her adult son Robert Gittings nowhere to be found. In the weeks preceding his disappearance, Ann said she was concerned for her son’s declining mental health. After he had been missing for several days, Ann reported her son’s disappearance to Fort Bragg Police Department.

Ann explained that the morning Robert disappeared, he came over to her home at approximately 4:00 a.m. to have breakfast. Ann described the property as a two-acre parcel south of Fort Bragg with Robert living in a home immediately adjacent to Ann’s. When she fully awoke at 5:15 a.m., he and his vehicle were gone.

Robert Getting’s dark gray 2007 Scion TC sedan (California License #5XMS399)

Ann said Robert has never left home without notice for extended periods of time. Before his disappearance, Ann said Robert’s mental health appeared compromised. She had reached out to Mendocino County’s mental health resources but found them difficult to obtain due to COVID-19 closures. 

Ann said she had contacted all of Robert’s known friends who expressed concern about his disappearance and joined in social media efforts to bring attention to finding Robert. 

Sergeant Jon McLaughlin said Fort Bragg Police received the initial report regarding Robert’s disappearance on July 3. Based on the information the officer received, the department entered Robert’s information into a nationwide missing person database and issued a Be On the Lookout for his vehicle to California law enforcement.

As to potential locations of Robert Gettings and his vehicle, both Robert’s mother Ann and Sergeant McLaughlin expressed having no indications of where he might have gone at this point. 

Sergeant McLaughlin described the department’s next investigatory steps include attempting to reinstate cellphone service to the phone Robert is known to carry in attempts to ping his location, reviewing Robert’s credit/debit/EBT card history to identify where he might have gone, and message Robert’s various social media accounts encouraging him to get in touch with law enforcement.

Being that the location Robert went missing from is not in Fort Bragg’s city limits, Sergeant McLaughlin said there is a possibility the case will be taken over by Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. He explained that the State of California requires the agency who first took the report of a missing person to conduct the initial investigation. 

Robert Gittings is 29 years old, 5 ’11’’, and approximately 260 pounds. He is described as wearing black pullover hoodies, pants or basketball shorts, and always a hat and black-rimmed glasses He drives a dark gray 2007 Scion TC Sedan (California License #5XMS399).

Sergeant McLaughlin asks that if anyone has information about Robert Gitting’s movements or location, please contact the Fort Bragg Police Department at (707)964-0200.

Trinity County Man Missing for 12 Days Grew Increasingly Erratic Before Disappearing

[Photographs of Michael Wade provided by his daughter Vanessa Graham]

On May 16, 2020, Michael Wade, a 64-year-old Trinity County man, met up with a female friend for breakfast. After their meal, the pair walked together until coming to Big Bar’s Post Office where they went separate directions. This would be the last time anyone has seen Wade. Wade’s daughter Vanessa Graham hopes “that someone saw him that day and can help us locate him.”

According to Graham, Wade has lived on a parcel of land just outside of Big Bar on Highway 299 for nearly 25 years sharing the property with several tenants. Graham said no one from the property had witnessed her father return from his breakfast outing with the female friend.

Graham was told that in the days leading up to her father’s disappearance, he had been displaying signs of mental instability. She said, “The person who reported my dad missing is named Dave, he lives on the property. He said that my dad had been talking kind of weird, looking up at the water towers, talking about cracks in the earth and people in the mountains.”

The female friend he had breakfast with also noted that Wade appeared mentally unstable.

According to Graham, it is unclear when specifically her father’s disappearance came to the attention of the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office. She knows that on approximately May 20 or 21, a representative from the Trinity County Food Bank came to deliver meals to Wade.“A tenant named Dave on the property that rents from my dad told the food bank guy that he hadn’t seen Mike in four days, she told us. Encouraged by the representative of the food bank, Dave contacted law enforcement, reported Graham. Graham was told that TCSO deputies had done a brief search of the “property, its buildings,  and surrounding woods, but didn’t find anything.” 

According to Trinity County Sheriff Tim Saxon, “Deputies searched the area around Mr. Wade’s residence on two occasions over the last week.”

In conversations with a Trinity County Sheriff detective, Graham was told that law enforcement had found Wade’s EBT card was used in Redding on May 9. Graham explained that the next steps would be looking into her father’s pre-paid social security credit card to  “see when and where the most purchase my dad made was.”

Graham was told by a woman Wade had lived with in the past that he had contacted her on May 9 expressing interest in visiting her Klamath Falls, Oregon home. Sheriff Saxon corroborated this stating, “Information was developed that Mr. Wade may be traveling to Oregon to visit relatives. Pending further information on that lead, Trinity County Search and Rescue will be deployed this week to conduct a search of the area where Mr. Wade was last seen.”

Wade does not have a driver’s license and Graham assumes her father hitchhiked often. Wade grew up in Arcata where his parents owned property and Graham postulates in his confused state he could have traveled there. 

Graham characterized her father as a lover of nature who “is very good in the outdoors.” She told us, “He is a survival type, very outdoor-oriented. ” She hopes that “maybe somebody was driving by that day and saw him walking down Highway 299.”

Mike Wade is a 64-years-old white male, approximately 5’ 9’’, 150-160 lbs. He wears a full beard that is salt and pepper in color. The only last known item of clothing that he was wearing was a pair of blue jeans. 

Sheriff Saxon encourages anyone with knowledge of Mike Wade’s whereabouts to “Please call Detective Sergeant Josh Ford at 530-623-2611 if you have any information on the location of Mr. Michael Wade.”

[UPDATE: 5/22/20 3:30pm] Fortuna Teenager Ran-Away Over Two Weeks Ago; Mother and Law Enforcement Concerned for Her Safety

[All pictures of Alianna Gordon were provided by Stevanie Smith, Alianna’s mother]

Alianna Gordon, a 17-year-old girl from Fortuna, California, told her grandmother that she was going to take a nap on May 1 but,  later that day, her grandmother discovered she had run away from their Whitethorn home. Alianna, who also goes by “Anna”, was seen in the afternoon of April 30 by her aunt near Whitethorn Junction. She told her aunt she was going to go swimming. Based on this information, Stevanie Smith, her mother, described spending “all night looking in the waterways” and contacted the Fortuna Police Department on May 2 after not finding any signs of her daughter.

After Alianna ran away, Smith discovered that her daughter had stolen her grandmother’s credit card. Reviewing the credit card purchases, Smith described approximately $1,000 in charges and the items being sent to an address in Warner Robins, Georgia. Smith was told by her daughter’s friend that Alianna had been communicating with a man from Georgia and based on that information, Smith contacted the Warner Robins Police Department and Air Force Base. After contacting these agencies, Alianna’s friend told Smith that the man had stopped picking up Alianna’s phone calls. Smith assumes that “the Warner Robins Police showed up at his house [and] informed him she was a minor.”

Smith has received several tips regarding her daughter’s movements over the weeks she’s been missing. She was told that Alianna was “staying with a friend in Fortuna.” Smith described sending “the Fortuna Police Department over to the friend’s house and missing Alianna by 15-20 minutes.”

After posting on the Facebook group “Hey Garberville. What’s Going on” regarding her daughter’s disappearance, Smith was told of a sighting of her at the Shop Smart convenience store on May 9. Smith was told Alianna was accompanied by a male named “Louis.” Smith said Humboldt County Sheriff deputies investigated this sighting but did not come up with anything conclusive. 

Another person contacted Smith and told her that in early May, “a girl came walking up to my driveway and asked me if I could give her a ride to her house in Rio Dell.” Inquiring as to why the young woman had approached her Redway home, Alianna said she had “gone to a party the night before and just wanted to go home and no one would help her.” The good samaritan was unable to give Alianna a ride to Rio Dell but wished Smith luck in locating her daughter.

Fortuna Police Department Lieutenant Matt Eberhardt characterized Alianna as a “voluntary missing person” who is “actively trying not to be found.” Lt. Eberhardtsaid, “Indications are that she is attempting to avoid contact with the family.” Upon receiving the report on the missing juvenile, Eberhardt said FoPD officers broadcast her missing status to all Humboldt County agencies and she has been entered into the missing person database.

Lt. Eberhardt said Alianna has connections with friends all throughout Humboldt County including Whitethorn, Rio Dell, Willow Creek, and Fortuna. He said investigators have “spoken with friends and tried to contact her.” 

The phone number associated with Alianna “is no longer active and Mom believes it might have been disconnected,” Lieutenant Eberhardt added. 

Alianna Gordon is 5’8’’ and weighs about 150 lbs. She has hazel eyes and brown hair, though her mother was told she “might have shaved her head.” Smith described her daughter as “mixed-race” being “black, Mexican, Thai, and Native American.” Alianna has reportedly been seen wearing green pants and one of her friends said she had seen her wearing a pair of True Religion jeans and a green jacket. 

Lieutenant Eberhardt asked for the public’s help in locating the missing Juvenile. “Her family and us just want to make sure she is safe and returns home,” he said. “If anybody has information on her whereabouts or information that may assist us in locating her, please contact the Fortuna Police Department at (707) 725-7550.”

UPDATE: 5/22/20 3:30pm

Alianna Gordon, the Fortuna 17-year-old who was missing for over two weeks, is now home, reports her mother Stevanie Smith. Smith said she got information that her daughter was with a male juvenile in Fortuna and Fortuna Police Department took her into custody at around 11:00 pm on Thursday, May 21.

Search for San Jose Missing Man Prompts Mendocino County Sheriff Response to Round Valley’s ‘Invasion of Illegal Marijuana Grows’

A video posted on the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page Tuesday featured Sheriff Matt Kendall describing an “invasion of illegal marijuana grows” propagating in Round Valley and vowed to increase efforts to eradicate them. The video explained the case of a missing San Jose man Victor Medina, who was last known to be working on a grow site near Covelo,  prompted a search warrant being served on a Round Valley farm resulting in the arrest of two workers, detainment of 8 more, and the eradication of 22,148 plants. 

Victor Medina, a 30-year-old man from San Jose, California, was working on marijuana grow in Covelo. He video-chatted with his family on the night of April 20, 2020. The following day Medina’s friend and fellow plantation worker Benjamin Chavez Reynoso arrived in San Jose, California dropping off a vehicle to Medina’s wife. Curious as to where her husband was, Medina’s wife inquired about his location, and Reynoso said, “He’s on his way. He was driving behind me.” Medina never came home that night and the following day a police officer arrived at Medina’s San Jose home to inform his wife that his truck had been found smoldering on a rural road outside Hollister, California. The missing man’s family’s concerns mounted when, on the morning of Wednesday, April 29, they were contacted by Spanish-speaking men demanding a $10,000 ransom for their loved one. 

Yesterday, Sheriff Kendall spoke with us about his agency’s responsibilities to protect Round Valley’s residents and resources from the incursion of illegal marijuana grows.

Kendall explained how illegal growers are displacing and intimidating Round Valley residents from their tribal lands. He described prospective growers finding “a distant relative of someone that has ties to the reservation” and paying that person to use their tribal lands “even though it’s not their land because there are 300 other names on it.” The grower will then “set up a grow” on that land and “any native that goes up there, they run them off.”

Sheriff Kendall expressed concern that “there has been a lot of violence associated with these grow sites.” He described over the last fifteen years, there being thirteen homicides in Round Valley, and “about 10 of them are directly related to illegal grows.”

Kendall also candidly spoke about a dramatic disparity in wealth now observable in the town of Covelo between the outsider growers and the locals. “They are people who have come from out of the area who have come up to make money.,” he explained. “To be honest with you, when you drive through Covelo now, you’ve never seen so much money surrounded by poverty.”

Environmental degradation caused by these illegal grows, Sheriff Kendall explained, included: “water pumped out of creeks…herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers being spread all over the ground.” Sheriff Kendall added, “There is no doubt in my mind” that massive algae blooms in the Eel River are directly connected with fertilizer usage. Kendall celebrated Round Valley’s stewardship of its natural resources “hoping they’ll be there for future generations” but feared trespass grows could compromise those resources.

Sheriff Kendall addressed MCSO’s limitations when attempting to mitigate the rise in illegal marijuana grows: “We can’t put the genie back in the bottle. It used to take a couple of hours to chop down a 500 plant grow. Yesterday, we were just under 23,000 plants which is an all-day event and it takes a lot of manpower to get it done.”

To bolster his agency’s efforts in combating the illegal grows, Sheriff Kendall emphasized the importance of seeking resources for support: “We’re going to seek out every resource that we possibly can. I’ll ask for resources from the US Forest Service if these grows touch the forest. I’ll be asking for resources from CAMP and the California Department of Justice, DEA,  DOJ, and FBI. Any resource that I can use to help take care of the problem without putting the burden too much on the taxpayers.”

Addressing the jurisdictional challenges MCSO navigates when enforcing marijuana laws in Round Valley, Kendall explained, “Tribal lands, for the most part, are federal lands. The tribe can allow members to grow 25 plants but if the federal government shows up, they don’t care.” Sheriff Kendall expressed trust in the Round Valley Tribal Council in determining what is right for their tribal members and said he knew that when “they started calling us and saying ‘we’ve got a problem’ if we don’t be good partners to them, they won’t be good partners to us.”

MCSO’s support of Round Valley’s law enforcement efforts is legally mandated by Public Law 280 which “compels county sheriffs to enforce the laws on tribal lands,” Sheriff Kendall explained. According to Kendall, tribal law enforcement has a limited toolset to mitigate these illegal marijuana grows: “They’ve been running around kicking …non-tribal members off tribal property” and then tribal police can “make a citizen arrest and then the sheriff has to go and accept that arrest. 

Sheriff Kendall assured the increased eradication of illegal marijuana grows will not infringe on those following the law. “We’re not going to mess with anybody that’s legal,” he explained. “It would be a waste of our time. This work is not cheap. I cannot afford to waste money on people that aren’t breaking the law.” 

Kendall argued that increased enforcement against illegal marijuana grows could incentivize these growers to consider crossing the threshold into the legal market. He asked, “If we just go after the ones that are just doing the damage and being illegal, how long will it be until we don’t have to deal with it anymore because everyone moves into the legal market?”

As to any illegal marijuana grower, Kendall simply said, “If they’re breaking the law, they are breaking the law.”