Read an Excerpt
By Carlton Smith
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Carlton Smith
All rights reserved.
PLEASANTON, CALIFORNIA DECEMBER 2, 1997
It was still dark when Vanessa Samson awoke on the last day of her life. The wet fog that seeped over the hills from the bay fell to the lowest places in the valley and hung on tight, an ice-cold blanket that muffled everything, even sound. A cold front had moved in a few days earlier, driving overnight temperatures to just above freezing. It wasn't the kind of weather for walking, but then, Vanessa didn't have a car.
Vanessa pulled on her clothes: a gray sweatshirt with its red San Diego State University lettering across the chest, a pair of blue jeans, and white Nike tennis shoes. She went out into the kitchen, ate a bowl of Cream of Wheat cereal, packed a lunch in her red nylon Safeway Stores lunch box, and put her things into her JanSport backpack. She went to the doorway of her mother Christina's bedroom and said goodbye.
A simple goodbye. That was it, a last word from a beloved child. But that's the way it is with unexpected death. There are no warnings, no omens, no instinctive realization that someone you've cherished for all her life will never come home again. It's just goodbye, a word that will stretch into the silence of eternity.
At five feet three inches, 120 pounds, with long dark hair flowing down her back, 22-year-old Vanessa Lei Samson was an extraordinarily attractive young woman. After graduation from Amador High School in Pleasanton, Vanessa had taken a series of jobs as an office clerk while she saved money to pay for a higher education. She lived at home with her mother Christina, her father Daniel and her sister Nicole on a quiet Pleasanton cul-de-sac not far from Interstate 680, the multi-lane freeway that tied together the string of communities lying in the long valley east of the Oakland Hills. Vanessa had a regular boyfriend, Rob, who was attending college in the San Diego area, and a wide circle of friends in the Pleasanton area.
Because her old car had broken down irreparably the year before, Vanessa was accustomed to walking to work at SCJ Insurance Services, located in a Pleasanton business park perhaps a mile away. Her route, from her family home in the cul-de-sac to Singletree Way, then down Singletree past the Lucky Supermarket to West La Positas Drive and the insurance office, generally took about twenty to twenty-five minutes.
On this early morning as Vanessa walked, the fog was unusually thick. A schoolgirl neighbor of Vanessa was perhaps 200 feet ahead of her on the sidewalk. The 13-year-old noticed Vanessa walking her usual course behind her, dressed in her tennis shoes, with her black jacket and her backpack. Meanwhile, a host of others living in the homes along Singletree remained inside, preparing breakfast or getting ready to go to school as the fog clung to the ground.
Near the corner of Page Court and Singletree Way, two men were eyeing the roof of a house one of them had recently purchased on the north side of Singletree Way. The roof needed to be replaced. The two men, David Valentine and David Elola, had arrived at the house earlier that morning and had noticed that the roof surface was slick because of the just-above-freezing temperature and the fog. After spraying the roof with water from a hose to get rid of the slippery frost, Valentine and Elola climbed up on the roof and began removing the worn shingles.
Valentine and Elola started at the peak of the roof, ripping the shingles off and throwing them to the ground. Elola was on the side closest to the street. About 7:45 a.m., both men heard a piercing scream that was abruptly cut off, followed by the sound of a sliding car door being slammed shut. Both men looked up and saw a forest green minivan — they thought it might have been a Ford — roll slowly forward down the street, make a stop at the corner, and then turn right and disappear. Both men saw a woman with long dark hair behind the wheel of the minivan. The scream troubled both Valentine and Elola; but because the van was hardly speeding off, neither thought that anything terribly awful had occurred. Elola told Valentine not to worry: it was probably just a mother disciplining a child. They could not have been more wrong.CHAPTER 2
JIMMY AND CASSIE
James Anthony Daveggio came into the world at 7 a.m. on the dot at Mary's Help Hospital, now defunct, at 145 Guerrero Street, San Francisco, just behind the old headquarters for Levi Strauss & Co., on July 27, 1960. It was a far different world from the one that would swallow Vanessa Samson whole almost 40 years later.
As baby James was taking his first breath, Dwight Eisenhower was still president, the Soviet Union's Nikita Khrushchev had just promised to bury us, Fidel Castro was a young rebel, and the Republican Party was about to nominate young Dick Nixon for president against the Democrats' John F. Kennedy.
On that day, former President Herbert Hoover complained that the United States was in a "moral slump." Out at the Alameda County Jail in Pleasanton, 93 prisoners were testing the latest in fall-out shelters by "volunteering" to spend five days underground. A two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with a deck, garage, swimming pool and a spectacular view from Telegraph Hill rented for $200 a month. Weird people called beatniks were beginning to flourish in San Francisco's North Beach. Four San Francisco cops were on trial for extorting food, drinks and money from the owners of an otherwise ordinary bar that was patronized exclusively by men.
Baby Jimmy was the second child born to his mother *Donna, then 19 years old, and her husband, *Johnny, who was 23. Jimmy's birth certificate listed his father's occupation as driver for a liquor supply company. It didn't record the fact that little Jimmy was Johnny's second child by his second wife, or the fact that by the time Jimmy was born, Johnny had already left behind his first wife and three other young children. Before another two years would go by, Donna would give birth to a third child, Jimmy's younger sister, *Jodie. Within a year of Jodie's birth, Johnny would divorce Donna and marry yet again, this time fathering two more children, only to get divorced a third time. By the time he reached middle age, in fact, Jimmy's natural father would have married a total of six times. Jimmy would never know the man until he was more than 12 years old.
Jimmy's mother, Donna, was herself the youngest of eight children; her mother, Annie, had married a man named Luther Hance in Missouri just before the Great Depression. Times were hard for Luther and Annie and their brood. Luther, traveling in Texas, died in 1941, and eventually, Annie and the children wound up in northern California, near the small town of Santa Rosa. Years later, Jodie would have the impression that her grandmother Annie had taken up the World's Oldest Profession in order to make ends meet; and that her mother, Donna, had been raped by one of Grandma Annie's drunken paramours when she was just 16. Donna dropped out of high school after the 11th grade.
Jodie never did find out exactly how her father Johnny met her mother Donna, except that it was somewhere near Santa Rosa in the late 1950s; Jodie guessed that they'd met in a bar someplace. Jodie did know that her father's father was named Horace, and indeed, San Francisco telephone books for 1959 show a listing for a Horace Daveggio, a cab driver, but no listing for 1960.
When little Jimmy was born, joining his older sister *Tillie, the Daveggios lived in Number 5 of 13 units contained in the El Cerra Apartments, a rundown apartment building at 570 Page Street in San Francisco; today the old building has been completely renovated, and stands as one of the upscale residences just west of San Francisco's city center.
The Daveggio family's stay in San Francisco was apparently a short one; the 1961 city directory for San Francisco lists another occupant for Apartment 5. By the following year, when Jodie was born near Santa Rosa, her father Johnny had already moved out and was working on his third family. Like her older brother, Jodie would have no contact with her natural father for almost ten years.
Early in 1964, Donna remarried. With three toddlers to care for and limited job skills, there was little else she could do. Her new husband was *Ron Kerlan, who had recently been discharged from the Air Force; Donna and Ron were married in Carson City, Nevada, in March of 1964.
Ron found a job working for Safeway Supermarkets, and as Jodie later recalled, the family moved frequently in the 1960s, taking apartments in Fremont, Hayward, Newark, and Milpitas, all of them southeast San Francisco Bay area bedroom communities. One of Jodie's earliest memories was one of Jimmy playing with matches in the family apartment while the three children were watching cartoons. Jimmy, four years old, struck off a match and threw it, burning, into the air. The match came down on his shoulder and set his teeshirt on fire. Jimmy leaped to his feet, screaming, and began running around the living room. Grandma Annie, who was in the kitchen, ran in and smothered the flames, but Jimmy suffered extensive third-degree burns to his back, shoulder and armpit that required skin grafts. Jimmy blamed her for the incident, Jodie said later, even though she was barely over two years old at the time.
By 1966, the marriage between Donna and Ron began to deteriorate; Ron filed for divorce in Alameda County, citing Donna in those pre-no-fault-divorce days for "extreme cruelty"; the couple separated on Valentine's Day, 1966, and Ron filed for the divorce a month later.
Somehow, though, Ron and Donna patched things up, and Donna later became pregnant with her fourth child, Ron's son *Greg. The family moved to Oakland in the late 1960s, and it was there that two other unusual events happened, both involving Jimmy. In the first, Jimmy and another boy were briefly held captive by a neighbor woman in her basement; the details of the incident never made it to the public record, but it seems to have had some sort of traumatic effect on Jimmy; and in the second, a young black girl was found murdered in a drainage ditch not far from the Kerlan family home when Jimmy was 10 or 11 years old.
By 1971, the Kerlans moved again, this time to yet another East Bay bedroom community, Union City. The family occupied a small tract house on Shield Avenue just to the east of the Nimitz Freeway, the East Bay's north — south link between Oakland and San Jose.
Years later, like many of the East Bay communities and those over the hills like Dublin and Pleasanton, there seemed to be two incarnations of Union City: an older, small town with roots that went far back in the century, which was in turn surrounded by a far newer community made possible by the extension of the freeways. Most of those who moved to the newer parts of town had little in common with the preexisting residents, or each other, for that matter. Neighbors knew each other, if at all, only in the most superficial way; the sort of social fabric that enforced community mores in older, more established towns was for all practical purposes non-existent.
It was while the family was living in Union City that a third unusual thing happened to Jimmy Daveggio; and it was something that would haunt his sister Jodie for years to come.
It was late September, 1974. Cassie Riley was 13 years old, about to be 14. She and her father, Kenneth Riley, and her little brother Kenny, had been living on San Juan Court in Union City for about nine months with her stepmother, Grace, and Grace's daughter, Tammy Moody, 12. Even at 13, Cassie's life had had its share of tragedy: her own mother had died in a car wreck in 1966. Her father had married the former Mrs. Moody a few years later, and now the combined families lived together as one.
After moving to Union City in December of 1973, the Rileys put their two daughters into Alvarado Middle School, in the older part of town about a mile to the northwest of their home in the Casa Verde subdivision of Union City. Cassie was a year ahead of her step-sister Tammy, who was the same age as Jimmy Daveggio's sister Jodie, who also attended Alvarado Middle School. During the previous spring or summer, Cassie had briefly been Jimmy Daveggio's girlfriend. As often happens with young teenagers, the relationship only lasted a few weeks, and now, in the fall, both Cassie and Jimmy Daveggio were freshmen at Union City's only high school, James Logan.
On the afternoon of September 24, Cassie came home on the bus from school around 2:30 p.m. Two days earlier, Cassie had had a tiff with her step-mother about a boy she'd met at school. The pair had words, with Grace telling Cassie that if she didn't like the rules of the house, she could always find some other place to live.
Cassie's father, Ken, was an installer for Western Electric, a subsidiary of the telephone company. He had been called to a job in Tahoe City the week before, so it was just Cassie, little brother Kenny, Tammy and Grace at the San Juan Court home. Grace had a job at a market in Hayward.
Around 3:40 on the afternoon of September 24, Tammy Moody came home from classes at Alvarado Middle School. On her way through Casa Verde Park, which ran through the middle of the Casa Verde tract of houses, Tammy saw her step-sister Cassie on the grass of the park with a boy she didn't know. Cassie invited her step-sister to sit down with them, but Tammy didn't stay long; she wanted to get home to get dressed, because her father was coming to take her out to dinner. Tammy's own 13th birthday was five days away. Tammy left Cassie with the boy in the park.
About ten or fifteen minutes later, Cassie also came home. It appears she did not go inside right away, because several neighbors later recalled seeing her lying on the grass in front of the Riley home on San Juan Court. Both Tammy and Cassie's little brother Kenny had the impression that Cassie was sad that day, whether from her tiff with Grace the day before or for other reasons was not later made clear.
Sometime after 4 p.m., Cassie went inside the house, and talked to Tammy, who was getting ready to have dinner with her father. Cassie was hungry. She asked Tammy to loan her some money so she could go to the Quik Stop Market, a nearby convenience store at the corner of Santa Maria Drive and Alvarado/Niles Road. Tammy gave Cassie all she had — 16 cents. About 4:40 p.m., Cassie set off for the store, about a ten-minute walk away.
After this, accounts of events become somewhat murky. A clerk at the convenience store later told police that she'd seen Cassie in the Quik Stop between 4:55 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., which seems like an extraordinarily long time for a hungry 13-year-old girl to decide how to spend 16 cents. The same clerk also told police she'd seen Cassie at the store between 5:15 and 5:30 p.m.
Still another witness, a Union City police cadet, said he'd seen Cassie at the store that afternoon, and a few minutes later as she was crossing Alvarado/Niles Road, presumably on her way home. The girl the cadet thought was Cassie was talking to a dark-haired man in a brown, uniform-type shirt. As the cadet drove through the intersection, he saw the man — the cadet thought he might have been Hispanic — walking west on Alvarado/Niles Road toward a small tidal drainage swale, Alvarado Creek, that paralleled Alvarado/ Niles Road.
But the cadet also told police that he'd seen the girl at the store between 3 and 4 p.m.; further, the cadet had previously worked at the store and knew the clerk who was working there when Cassie came in; the clerk said she hadn't seen the police cadet at any time that day.
Two other witnesses, students Joyce Hiramine and Gena Gloar, were on a bus coming into the Casa Verde tract that afternoon around 5 p.m., and may have seen Cassie Riley in the company of a boy neither girl recognized near the intersection of Alvarado/Niles Road and Santa Maria Drive, just across from the Quik Stop Market. Joyce knew Cassie from school, because she was friends with Tammy Moody. Joyce, who admitted her vision wasn't the best, turned to Gena.
"Look, there's Cassie," Joyce said. Joyce pulled the bus window down and yelled out, "Hi, Cassie," but the girl she thought was Cassie made no response. The boy with her had long hair down to his shoulders, and had his back to the bus.
At almost the same time, two elderly Fremont women, sisters-in-law, were visiting one of the women's sons at San Luis Court in the Casa Verde tract, one street away from the Riley house on San Juan Court. Both saw a young man get out of a large blue older-model sedan, and start walking toward the creek area. About half an hour later, one of the women saw the man return to his car and drive it away.
At about 5:33 p.m., a Union City Police Officer, Joyce Honebein, was on patrol in the Casa Verde tract, and saw a 1961 light blue Lincoln Continental with a dent in its front fender parked near the corner of Santa Maria Drive and San Luis Court, the street between Rileys' house and Alvarado/ Niles Road.
Excerpted from Hunting Evil by Carlton Smith. Copyright © 2000 Carlton Smith. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.