[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.

[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.  

An Extortionist is Preying Upon the Families of Northern California’s Missing People

Three families of missing people across Northern California have received text messages demanding a ransom in exchange for their missing loved ones. All of these text messages have been sent from the same phone number, request similar amounts of money, and share common themes in their threats. In aggregate, it is clear that a scammer has set their sights on vulnerable Northern California families of the missing, exploiting their sorrow, and attempting to bilk them of cash. 

All three of the recipients of the ransom scam received the text messages after they had posted about their missing family members on social media. These posts got spread far and wide on Facebook groups and pages associated with Northern California communities and missing people. All three of the recipients had posted their personal phone numbers to aid in communication. 

A representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s San Francisco field office explained that if the scammer is identified as living out of state, these threats would constitute Interstate Threats as per 18 USC Section 876 C.

The first person to receive the ransom text messages was Alicia Audelo, the daughter of missing Weitchpec man Virgil Bussell Jr. On April 4, she received text messages claiming “i have Virgil” demanding $7,000 for his release. Audelo requested verification of the claims asking to speak to her father. The extortionist responded, “IF YOU DONT FUCKING CALM DOWN, I WILL MAKE YOUR DAD PAY FOR YOUR STUPIDITY WITH HIS LIFE”.

At this point in the text message exchange, a tactic emerges that can be seen across all three scam attempts: the extortionist says the missing person in their custody is “sick” attempting to create a sense of urgency to the situation. Audelo proves unswayed by the tactic and reasserts the need to speak with her father or see a picture before moving forward with any ransom. The scammer makes an excuse explaining why that would be difficult: “I keep him miles from where I live and I still have to drive over an hour to get the picture or let you talk to him on the phone.” The scammer tells Audelo that they are sending a “code” claiming “I am doing this so the cops wont have my number traced through the call.”

The scammer’s tone shifts and they begin claiming to have a daughter who “wanted a card for her birthday.” The scammer demands Audelo “Now you will have to go to the nearest store to pick up amazon gift card of $50 now and send the card to me here. once i give it to here, i will drive down and let you talk to him [Virgil] and have pictures of him too.”Audelo does not respond to this ploy and the scammer begins to plead: “That is the best I can do. My daughter needs the card to watch movies on Netflix. And without the card, she won’t let me leave her to get you proof.”

Exasperated and skeptical, Audelo replies saying “You’re sick!!! You dont have my Dad!!!! I dont give a fuck about your daughters bday. You’re pulling this sick fucking game to get $ FUCK YOU”. The final message from the scammer simply read, “fine, come for his body later today beside the fucking gas station. Bye”

Upon receiving the first message from the scammer, Audelo said that, “I was terrified. I wanted a picture of my dad and to hear his voice & I would have given them anything they wanted.” Her fear turned to anger: “after I got the text demanding I send the code to them I was beyond enraged.” Audelo became extremely skeptical of the scammer’s authenticity after they demanded the “code” be sent: She told us, “I knew it was fake when they sent a google verification code to my phone and demanded I send the code back. I knew if I did that my phone would be disabled and they would have had total access to my bank account, etc.”

The second and third verified occurrences of these ransom scams both occurred on Easter Sunday, April 12. Brandy Murray, the aunt of missing Yreka boy Maaron Delray Murray, has been looking for any sign of her nephew since Monday, April 6 when he was taken by his mother. 

Around 6:00 in the evening, texts from the same phone number that had contacted Audelo claimed: “i have Maaron and his mom”. Similar to the tactics employed in the messages to Audelo, the scammer claims “he [Maaron] is sick and wants to talk to his dad… his mom is sick.” This time the scammer demands $8,000 threatening “I am not releasing that boy until I have a ransom.” The scammer adds that “the saddest news is that his mom died hours ago because she was high on drugs”. Murray, fearing the worst, pleads with the anonymous person to not hurt Maaron: “The boy has nothing to do with this.”

The scammer feigns mercy and says since it’s Easter “I will be kind” and “drop him off at the nearest hospital.” Murray is thankful and earnestly pleads, “Tell us where we can get him no questions asked.” The scammer’s mercy gave way to their true motive now demanding $2,000 claiming “I am being nice enough here” and threatening “Do not let me change my mind by probably making the poor boy pay for your stupidity. Do not act smart or I will kill him.”

The threats give way to a back and forth regarding Cash App in which the extortionist demands the money being sent using the app while Murray genuinely asks, “How do I cash app?” Similar to the text exchange with Audelo, the demands of $2,000 via Cash App pivot quickly to a simple $50.00 Amazon gift card. In a non-sequitur that is almost verbatim to the Audelo text exchange, the scammer write “I keep him miles away from where I live and I still have to drive over an 40 mins to get the picture or let you talk to him on the phone.”

When Brandy Murray first received these text messages about her missing nephew she, “couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know what to do. Totally freaking out inside. Desperation. My heart sank.” Murray only came to realize the messages were a scam when Yreaka Police Department contacted the family informing them the threats were a hoax.

An example of the text exchange between the extortionist and one of their intended victims, Ashley Hepburn. [Screenshots provided by Ashley Hepburn]

The third verified occurrence also took place around 6:00 pm on Easter Sunday, at the same time that Brandy Murray was being scammed. Ashley Hepburn, a Crescent City woman, had posted on social media that her daughter had gone missing on Saturday, April 11 accompanied by two male juveniles. On Sunday evening, Hepburn received text messages from the same number as Audelo and Murray claiming they had taken her daughter and one male into captivity and “now she is sick and unfortunately, the dude died hours ago.” Once again, like the Audelo and Murray exchanges, the scammer attempts to heighten the recipient’s concern by claiming their loved one as fallen ill. 

The solution proposed by the scammer to reunite Hepburn with her daughter was, like the Audelo and Murray exchanges, $7,000. Hepburn sensed the scammer’s swindling and responded simply, “This is bullshit.” The scammer was clearly flustered by Hepburn’s tenacity and countered with threats like “come for her body later tonight” and “the innocent girl will pay for your rudeness with her life”.

Unfazed by the scammer’s growing hostility, Hepburn challenged them to “Prove u have my kid.” Hepburn’s doggedness in the face of a confidence artist attempting to exploit a mother’s love forced the scammer’s surrender: “The proof you will be getting will be the picture of her body after I kill her.” 

Ashley Hepburn said that when she first received the text messages “My heart dropped and I felt like I was punched in the gut. My anxiety was so bad I was having chest pains”. Soon, though, it became clear that the texts were a hoax when they claimed to have Cody, one of the male juveniles her daughter had left with, and Hepburn knew that Cody had separated from her daughter and the other male on Saturday night returning home. 

This scam is not new. In May 2019 Fox’s Cleveland affiliate reported on a family receiving threatening text messages demanding a ransom for their missing child. In July 2019, ABC’s Denver affiliate reported on a similar scam being perpetrated on the parents of a missing child in Aurora, Colorado. Just three weeks ago, a Tennessee mother was sent text messages demanding money for the life of her missing son.

Eric Brogdon, a Senior Security Researcher at TalkItUp with an expertise in malware and ransomware,  told us that preying “on people’s hopes is common. You see it all the time on dating sites, get rich advertisements, work from home schemes, even hair dye [preys] on  people’s hopes of looking young again. Receiving fake ransom notes should be expected.”

Brogdon suggested the airing of Netflix’s Murder Moutain documentary gave these sorts of scammers inspiration to target families in Northern California: “after seeing the documentary, scammers know that people go missing up here all the time.” Scammers can use forensic software where they “query for ‘missing people’ and get a list of all posts about missing people”, Brogdon explained.

Brogdon suggests that if the family of a missing person receives a text message containing a ransom, they “go to law enforcement. It is too hard to trust anybody in these circumstances other than law enforcement.”

Weitchpec Man Still Missing: Family Received a Ransom Note and Tracker Found Possible Evidence Indicating Foul Play

Virgil Owen Bussell Jr [Photo from his daughter’s Facebook page]

Virgil Bussell Junior, a 52-year-old Hoopa man, was reported missing over two weeks ago when his family found his truck abandoned on rural Deerhorn Road outside Weitchpec, California. Since this discovery, Humboldt County Sheriffs have employed Search and Rescue to find Bussell’s whereabouts. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Activist Jesse Armstrong volunteered to assist Bussel’s family in their search for their loved one. Northern California tracker Kevin Hodges was recruited to scour the site that the truck was discovered to determine what could have happened to Bussell before he disappeared. 

As of today, Bussell has yet to be found.

Initially, Bussell’s daughter Alicia Adueno grew concerned because as she said, “It had been roughly about three weeks since he’d been to my house so I kind of had a feeling that something wasn’t right because he always comes to my house.” Virgil’s twin sister posted on social media inquiring if anyone had seen her brother and someone commented they had seen his vehicle on Deerhorn road, explained Audelo.

Virgil Bussell’s truck at the site where it was found abandoned. [Photo provided by Alicia Audelo]

On March 25, Virgil’s family found the vehicle “parked at an incline with a full load of wood in it, the windows were rolled down, his keys were in there, and the jacket that he always wears was in on the passenger side seat, ” Audelo recounted.

In the preceding days, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office conducted a two-day ground search partnering with the Sheriff’s Special Services Unit, the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Posse and the Hoopa Volunteer Fire Department to comb the densely vegetated area where the truck was located. According to HCSO’s Public Information Officer Samantha Kargas, based on these efforts investigators “have yet to determine whether a crime has been committed.” She added, “We are still investigating whether or not foul play was involved or he left on his own.”

According to Bussell’s daughter Alicia Audelo,  after these initial search efforts,“We haven’t had any law enforcement help with searching since.”

Anonymous threatening text message sent to Alicia Audelo regarding her father Virgil Bussell Jr. [Screenshot provided by Alicia Audelo]

Since going public with her father’s disappearance, Alicia Audelo was contacted by an anonymous individual demanding a ransom for the return of her father. Via text message, the anonymous individual claimed to be a “fugitive, human trafficker, drug trafficker”  who was holding Bussell. The individual demanded $7,000. If the demands were not met, the individual threatened, “I WILL [kill] HIM AND DROP HIS LIFELESS BODY OFF THE ROAD”. Audelo believes the author of the ransom texts “was some sick person that was trying to scam me to get [money] but the local sheriff’s office didn’t even read them and at least try to assure me that they could try and trace to find this person.”

The author of the anonymous texts threatens to kill Bussell and dispose of his body. [Screenshot provided by Alicia Audelo]

To incentivize members of the public to come forward and offer information about her father’s whereabouts, Audelo has created a GoFundMe to raise money for a reward. The GoFundMe’s description says the funds will go towards reward money and funding search efforts including hiring a professional tracker and helicopter search services.

Saying that they’ve been left without support from law enforcement, the family has been collaborating with Humboldt County local Jesse Armstrong to assist in determining the fate of Bussell. Armstrong describes himself as “a missing and murdered indigenous women and men’s activist” who hopes to “shake things up” in communities prone to silence by assisting families in finding answers.

Humboldt County local Jesse Armstrong and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Men’s Activist [Picture provided by him]

Armstrong traveled to the site where Bussell’s truck was found and located a grove of fallen trees where he believes Bussell cut wood. He says the wood there is the same type of wood found in the bed of Bussell’s truck.

The area Armstrong and Hodgin suspect Bussell was cutting wood when he was confronted and dragged away. [Photo provided by Jesse Armstrong]

According to Armstrong, conversations around the Witchepec community suggest three to four suspects are involved with Bussell’s disappearance. He said that the suspects are drug addicts who might have grown aggressive when they found Bussell cutting wood off of Deerhorn Road.

Armstrong recruited Kevern Hodgin, a Northern California tracker who has helped families find loved ones, to analyze the site where the truck disappeared. According to Armstrong, Hodges saw signs of a physical struggle near the grove where Bussell was felling trees and parallel drag marks from there indicating a body was dragged. The tracker reports being able to track the drag marks to the home of a person the family considers a suspect. Based on these findings, Bussell’s family is fearing the worst. 

His daughter Alicia Audelo said she fears “that my Dad was murdered and his body was hidden.”

HCSO has yet to assign a lead detective to the case. Kargas explained, “The case is in our criminal investigations division. There’s not a lead detective on it just yet, our lieutenant is working on it and is going to be assigning someone. He is doing a review over the initial investigative work that’s been happening.”

Kargas discussed some of the impediments investigating Bussell’s disappearance: “The difficult part about this case is the timeline is so long ago…[i]n terms of being able to find somebody in a search and rescue situation. No one had heard from Mr. Bussell in about 1 to 3 weeks. We’ve heard varying stories about people thinking they had seen him. We don’t even have the last known location for him. That definitely makes the case difficult…however it doesn’t make the case cold. We are definitely still investigating. We need the community’s help to let us know if they’ve seen him or if they have any information regarding his whereabouts.”

Virigl Bussell Jr. is a Native American male, 5 feet 8 inches tall, approximately 180 pounds, a short mohawk style hair cut with a goatee and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans and work boots.

Missing Poster generated by Jesse Armstrong

Bussell Jr.’s daughter Alicia Audelo said her father often goes by “Uppity” or “Buscat”. She also provided some of her father’s notable physical characteristics: “He has tribal tattoos on his arms and on his chest, he is graying on his face and on his head. On his right upper arm he has “BUSCAT” tattooed and a noticeable lump on his forehead.”

HCSO’s Samantha Karges asks that “anyone with information regarding Bussell Jr.’s whereabouts should contact the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.”

Cold Case Mendocino works hard to tell the story of the missing and murdered. If you appreciate our efforts, please consider donating.

Earlier Chapters

[UPDATE: Good News] Eureka Teen Missing since last Friday; Considered a ‘Runaway Juvenile’

Jonathan Fields [All pictures provided by Jonathan’s mother, Sarah Morgan Edge]

The immediate family of Eureka 17-year-old Jonathan Field has not seen or heard from their son since Friday, January 17, 2020. According to his mother Sara Morgan Edge, “he went to school on Friday and when he did not come home that night,  I figured he was with friends and would be home by Sunday at least.” When Sunday night came and Jonathan had not arrived home, his family reached out to the Eureka Police Department

EPD’s Public Information Officer Brittany Powell stated, “We took a runaway juvenile report, on January 19th at 5:00 pm. The information we received was that the last time family saw him was Friday, January 17th when he was leaving for school. He has run away before. At this time, he is still listed as a missing person. If anyone has any information regarding his whereabouts, they should reach out to Eureka Police Department.” The number to call is (707) 441-4060.

Jonathan Fields is 5’8’’-5’9’’, weighs 140 pounds, has shaggy brown hair and brown eyes. He wears a retainer. He also commonly wears dark Levi jeans, black Vans shoes, hoodies. Other brands he is partial to include Adidas, North Face, and Humboldt Republic sweaters. 

Sara spent the weekend contacting Jonathan’s friends attempting to pinpoint his location. After speaking with school personnel, Sara established that he had attended at least some of his classes on Friday.

Over the weekend, Sara was told her son had been staying at friends on F Street near the Muni. EPD officers would be dispatched to that address and, according to EPD’s Public Information Officer Brittany Powell, “Officers responded to a residence at the 1000 block of F Street on January 20th around noon based on information provided by the mother.  Adults told officers that Field was not on scene.”

Just today, an extended family member of Jonathan’s told his mother that she actually saw him at Fresh Freeze Drive-In on Sunday at 11:23 a.m. where he was eating.

Compelled by worry for their son Jonathan, Sara’s husband actually “canvassed F Street. He approached anyone on F Street and showed them Jonathan’s picture.” Fliers were also taken to the Bayshore Mall’s security office and the Eureka Teen Center. Sara had “50 colored fliers” printed up and will be distributing them throughout Eureka this afternoon. 

In hopes Jonathan will read this article, his mother says, “We just want you home and safe. Everyone loves you. You mean so much to this family.”

Cold Case Mendocino works hard to tell the story of the missing and murdered. If you appreciate our efforts, please consider donating.

UPDATE: 1/21/2020 5:00 PM

According to a counselor at Eureka High School, the friend that Jonathan was supposedly with on Friday and Saturday said that Jonathan had in fact came to his house on Saturday, accompanied by an unknown blonde male, “skater-looking”, approximately 6’2’’. The friend thought the unknown male was from Fortuna. Based on this information, the family is suggesting Johnathan could be currently in Fortuna.

UPDATE: 1/23/2020 4:00 PM

According to Eureka Police Department Public Information Officer Brittany Powell, “Jonathan Field returned home and has been cleared from the missing persons system.  His mother called today around 3:40 p.m.”

[UPDATE: Good News]15-Year-Old Girl Missing out of Ukiah; Mother Files Missing Person’s Report

Marie Blake [Photograph provided by Kimberly Schaal, Marie’s mother]

Marie Blake, a 15-year-old Ukiah girl, was last seen by her mother Kimberly Schaal at their Redwood Valley home on Wednesday, January 8, 2020. “Marie told me she was coming home to stay after being gone for a week or so. She came back with a couple of friends and that night they jumped out the window and I haven’t seen her since.”  After “being on the fence about what to do”, Kimberly contacted Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office on the evening of Friday, January 17th and filed a missing person report.

After posting about her daughter’s missing status on Facebook, Marie actually responded to her mother’s post: “i’m literally fine. my mom knows where i am she just wants to embarrass me.” Marie then called her mother from a blocked number “wanting me to know she’s safe, that she doesn’t want to live with me.”

Minutes later MCSO contacted Kimberly reporting Marie “had called them from a blocked number and told them she was fine and she was coming home.” Kimberly was concerned that “since she called” MCSO would no longer consider her missing. The deputy assured Kimberly,  that the search will continue until MCSO physically knows she is okay.

According to Kimberly, MCSO is actively working the case and has been in contact with her consistently regarding their investigation. Cold Case Mendocino has reached out to MCSO regarding their investigation of the teen runaway both emailing and leaving a voicemail with the Public Information Officer.

Kimberly believes that Marie could be with “two other girls and her 18-year-old boyfriend”. She has information that suggests Marie could have traveled to Santa Rosa and the Bay Area. Kimberly also has reason to believe that there are some adults in the community “currently enabling her by providing her with a car and a phone”. There is a possibility that she is driving around in a white, 4-door, Mercedes sedan that Kimberly describes as an “older model”.

Kimberly recounts a difficult year for her daughter Marie: “she was a cheerleader and always well-behaved. She was a good student and then got mixed in with the wrong crowd. She has been ditching school, her grades have dropped, and she’s hanging out with people known to use and deal drugs.” 

Kimberly offered a message directly to her daughter Marie: “I really want Marie to know if she does see this article if she really doesn’t want to return to my home, we need to make a plan so she is in a home with a safe adult. I have been reaching out and I have several options for her for a safe place to be if she truly doesn’t want to come home. I’m willing to be flexible to help get you on the right track again.”

Marie Blake is 5’ 4’’, 110lbs. She has blond hair that grows passed her shoulders. She often wears skinny jeans/leggings Vans or Nike Air Force Ones. She is known to frequent Ukiah’s Oak Manor neighborhood, 

Marie Blake [Photograph provided by Kimberly Schaal, Marie’s mother]

Anyone who knows of Marie’s whereabouts is encouraged to come forward. Contact the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at (707)463-4411 if you have any information. Other reporting options include contacting Cold Case Mendocino at coldcasemendocino@gmail.com, message via Facebook, or call in a tip at (707) 560-1543.

Cold Case Mendocino works hard to tell the story of the missing and murdered. If you appreciate our efforts, please consider donating.

UPDATE: 1/18/2020 11:15 PM

**UKIAH TEEN MARIE BLAKE HAS BEEN FOUND AND IS BACK WITH HER MOTHER***

Marie’s mother Kimberly Schaal contacted Cold Case Mendocino and informed us that Marie has been located and is home. She was appreciative of CCM and our followers for helping spread the word.

[UPDATE: Good News]Lake County Man Missing Over 3 Weeks; Family and Law Enforcement Seeks Public’s Assistance

Walter Stuart amongst family [Photography provided by his sister Crystal]

Walter Leland Stuart, Junior, a 55-year-old man who generally resides in Lake County, has been missing since December 22, 2019. His sister, Crystal Stuart, said she knew something was wrong when “he didn’t call on Christmas” and reported his disappearance to her local law enforcement agency, the Fairfield Police Department. In collaboration with the FPD, Lakeport Police Department is requesting the public’s assistance locating any information that could help them find the missing man. 

Walter is 6’0’’ and approximately 160 pounds. Distinguishing features include a scar on his neck, a tattoo on his chest that reads “CHARITY”, and a significant limp from a leg injury. Suffering from alcoholism, Walter lives a transient lifestyle and is known to frequent an encampment behind Clearlake’s Dollar Tree and Austin Park.

Before his disappearance, Walter was traveling between Lake and Solano counties. His sister Crystal resides in Solano County’s Suisun City and reports her brother arrived at her home unannounced on December 21 “while I was at work.” Due to Walter’s intoxicated state, Crystal’s boyfriend called the police. According to Crystal, when the police reached her home they found Walter’s health in such poor condition that they chose to take him to the Vacaville Hospital Emergency Room.

The last contact Walter’s family had with him was on December 22, 2019. Crystal explained Walter “called our uncle and it seemed like he was in Clearlake with a friend.” Regarding Clearlake Police Department’s press release that says the family’s last contact with Walter was on December 19, Crystal simply said, “They have it wrong.” Crystal insisted her brother has “never gone this long without contacting us”. 

Fairfield Police Department’s Public Information Officer Lieutenant Jausiah Jacobsen explained that after contacting Lakeport Police Chief Brad Rasmussen, the two agencies were sharing information and collaborating about Walter’s case. 

Anyone who knows of Walter’s whereabouts is encouraged to come forward. Contact the Lakeport Police Department (707)263-5491 or Fairfield Police Department (707) 428-7300. Other reporting options include contacting Cold Case Mendocino at coldcasemendocino@gmail.com, message via Facebook, or call in a tip at (707) 560-1543.

Cold Case Mendocino works hard to tell the story of the missing and murdered. If you appreciate our efforts, please consider donating.

15-Year-Old Kansas Runaway Laila Cross Has Been Found

Laila Cross back home in Kansas before her time in California [Photography by Sandra Cross, Laila’s mother]

Laila Cross, the 15-year-old Kansas girl who roamed Northern California with her 18-year-old boyfriend Wrangler Walker for the last 3 months, was finally intercepted by law enforcement on Sunday, January 12th.  According to Sandra Cross, Laila’s mother, the pair were pulled over by Sacramento Sheriff’s Department deputies and Laila was detained and taken to the SCSO’s offices to be picked up by her grandparents. Sandra said, “they had been pulled over because they ran the plate and it was associated with a missing child”.

Screenshot of the Humboldt County Arrest Log describing the charges against Wrangler Walker

Laila and Wrangler had originally run away from Kansas on October 11, 2019. Four days and 1,500 miles later, on October 15 police would find her and Wranger at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Wrangler was taken into custody for carrying a concealed weapon in the vehicle and Laila was detained by officers and placed in the custody of a friend of the family in Eureka, California. On October 19, Laila fled the friend of the family’s home when on “the morning of the flight, she jumped out the window.” 

The next confirmed sighting of Laila and Wrangler occurred on November 19th, 2019 in Hopland, California. In hopes to disrupt law enforcement’s search for the unique green/white Geo Tracker they were driving, Wrangler attempted to exchange the vehicle for a gray Corvette located at a Hopland speed shop. In hopes to spot the unique Geo Tracker, this reporter traveled to the location of the speed shop and shockingly spotted by the vehicle and the runaways. Wrangler was clearly seen walking along Highway 175 while Laila was crouched near the roadway.

Dashcam Footage of Laila Cross and Wrangler Walker Sighting near Hopland, California on 11/19/2019

For the next month and a half, Laila and Wrangler were in Chico, Oroville, Daily City, and even claimed they had a job “shining shoes” in San Francisco. Despite this extended period of time on the road away from home, Laila reportedly looks “healthy and well-fed”.

At this point, Laila’s family is working to schedule a flight home. Her grandparents will be “bunking with her” to prevent their granddaughter from fleeing once again. Wrangler purportedly was sitting in the SCSO parking lot when Laila’s “grandparents were picking her up” suggesting an intention to reconvene with Laila.

Cold Case Mendocino has reached out to SCSO for comment regarding this case and left a voicemail for their Media Relations Officer.

BART Station Agent Recounts Encountering Missing 13-Year-Old Fort Bragg Girl and Male Companion

Brian Sanchez, the BART Station Agent who described his encounter with the missing 13-year-old Sienna Carter [Photo provided by him]

Sienna Carter, a 13-year-old girl from Fort Bragg, disappeared from UCSF Mission Bay at 3:30 pm on Friday, January 3 while her family was dealing with a sister with medical issues at the hospital. She was not known to have been seen again until the morning of Sunday, January 5 when Brian Sanchez, a Station Agent for Bay Area Rapid Transit System, noticed a “young and nervous” Sienna Carter accompanied by a “seemingly older man” attempting to evade paying the toll. Sanchez later contacted the family and recounted seeing her.

Sanchez first encountered the pair at about 10:00 am when they came into the Bay Point BART station where he works, 40 miles away from UCSF. According to Sanchez, the couple approached the gate and “the guy all the sudden reached down to pull the gate open to let the girl in without paying.” Tasked with reducing the number of toll evaders, Sanchez and a BART police officer approached the couple to ask “what was going on.” The BART officer requested identification and both said they had none. When asked about their age, according to Sanchez, the male said“he was 20 and she said she was 18.” The BART police officer asserted that “they needed money to ride and they’d need to leave if they didn’t have it” and the couple left the station.

About an hour later the couple returned and approached Sanchez’s booth directly. “They asked me if I could give them a ticket to get to the Civic Center. The man was doing all the talking. She was just standing there.” The man explained to Sanchez “they had got drunk on Saturday night, boarded a train, fell asleep, and had woken up to BART officers escorting them off the train at the Bay Point Station where they slept outside the rest of the night.” While listening to the story, Sanchez noted that “something about the man seemed too polished”. Curious about the “young-looking girl”, Sanchez asked her where she was from when the man interrupted saying, “he was visiting her from Los Angeles and then she said she was in San Francisco visiting her mom and she really needed to get to San Francisco to see her mom.”

Hearing the couple’s plight, Sanchez decided to give them complimentary tickets. According to Sanches, BART station agents are allowed to give out these complimentary BART tickets “using your own discretion. I personally use my judgment and try to assess if there’s really a need or they are trying to work the system. So it’s not often that they are given out.”

As Sanchez was handing over the complimentary passes, the same BART officer from an hour earlier approached. The male companion immediately began “to speak with the BART officer.” Sanchez overheard some of the conversation revolving around a shared Asian heritage: “The man asked if the cop was Filipino because he was Filipino.”

While the man schmoozed with the BART officer, Sanchez took the opportunity to speak candidly with the girl about his suspicions. He asked, “What are you doing with him?” The girl responded, “I’m visiting my mom.” Sanchez then warned the girl that “you need to be careful, he’s going to get you in trouble. He’s going to get you to do things that you aren’t supposed to be doing.” Clearly uncomfortable, the girl nervously “adjusted her jacket, and under her scarf, she had a hickey on her neck.” It was at that moment that Sanchez said he “knew she was too young.” This realization prompted Sanchez to ask the girl her name and, “she said Sienna, which is my niece’s name.”

At this point, “Sienna started to leave and literally pulled the man away from the officer. She had to interrupt their conversation.” Sanchez was so troubled by the interaction with the girl that he said to the officer “I think he is corrupting that little girl.” The officer responded by stating that he “didn’t believe she was actually 18.”

Sanchez went about the rest of his workday. “There were around 20 toll evaders that day but those two stuck in my mind”. When he got home from work and unwound with some social media, he saw a post about Sienna and he “knew that was the girl I had seen.”

When addressing whether BART staff had been informed of the missing minor in the Bay Area, Sanchez said “There was no Be On the Lookout put out in the transit agencies. Had there been one, they would’ve been arrested at that point.”

Sanchez addressed what it was like having sensed distress in the little girl: “I knew something was wrong in her demeanor, in her eyes. I knew she was scared. My instincts felt validated when I saw the posts that she had been found.” Sanchez promised himself that, “If I ever get into a situation like that again, I’m going to do more, be more probing, try to get to the bottom of things. I will be more diligent.”

Photography of BART Provided by WikiCommons, User:Pi.1415926535