Our card this week is Kelly Poppleton, the Nine of Hearts from California.
I’ve been looking forward to sharing Kelly’s case with you all because it is so close,
and I mean like investigative inches away from finally being solved.
And after almost 40 years of her case going unsolved,
detectives are now ready to share new information
that has never been released to the public.
Information that, with your help, could get Kelly’s family the answer to the question
that they’ve been asking for decades.
Who killed Kelly?
I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.
It was about 5.30 p.m. on Friday, December 2nd, 1983,
and this evening was anything but normal for a man named Hans Kruger.
Unlike every other Friday night before, Hans wasn’t just leisurely making his way home.
Something happened on his drive.
And when he tore into the driveway of his small California mountain town home,
he rushed to the phone to make this call.
My name is Hans Kruger.
I live at 1000 Kill Care Road in Snow.
And on my way home tonight, I found a body on the side of Kill Care Road at approximately 500.
500, what, the address?
Yeah, it was about halfway between Snow and my house here at 1000.
Are you certain it was a body?
How certain are you?
Female body with a bag over its head.
Pants were pulled out.
At about 500 Kill Care?
At about 500 Kill Care.
After hearing this call, which was edited down for clarity, by the way,
the operator wanted to dispatch an ambulance as well as law enforcement.
The thing is, Snow, California is a tiny town, like less than a thousand people,
so it didn’t have a police department or a hospital.
So in addition to sending units from the county sheriff’s office
and an ambulance from the nearby town of Fremont,
operators dispatched the local Sunol Fire Department.
Two firefighters were the first to arrive on the scene at 540,
just under nine minutes after that call came in.
When firefighters arrived, they saw exactly what Hans described.
On the side of the road was a woman’s body.
Her blue jeans were pulled down around her knees,
and there was a brown garbage bag over her head.
She was only wearing one shoe, and according to firefighters,
she was twisted in a weird way, almost like she’d been thrown out of a moving car.
Firefighters couldn’t find a pulse and immediately wanted to start CPR,
which meant they needed to get the bag off her head.
It was secured with a black coaxial cable, like the kind that runs cable to your TV.
When they cut it off, they found another bag underneath it
that said, welcome to Korea and duty free on it.
And they also found a gray men’s sweater.
Now it’s not clear whether these two items were also over her head
or if they just happened to be inside the garbage bag.
But regardless, as soon as firefighters were able to get everything off,
they could see that the young woman’s head was covered in blood.
They quickly cut off a red polka dot necktie that was tied tightly around her neck
and started CPR.
Evidence be damned.
At this point, they were trying to save her life.
After about five minutes, the ambulance from Fremont arrived.
They loaded her up and got her to the hospital by 10 after six
where doctors continued their lifesaving efforts.
While medical personnel were fighting to save her life,
deputies with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office
were arriving at the scene where she was found.
Since the woman had already been taken to the hospital,
there wasn’t any chance of preserving the crime scene.
But detectives were able to catalog the evidence that had been cut off of her
and left at the scene.
The two bags, the sweater, the cable, and the necktie.
They also took measurements and photos that were obtained by our reporting team,
which you can see on our website, thedeckpodcast.com.
It wasn’t long before detectives got the news.
The victim had been pronounced dead only about 10 minutes
after arriving at the hospital.
Patrol units went out to the hospital to see if they could identify the woman.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t find any form of ID on her,
so her name was still a mystery.
But as soon as the deputies saw the woman’s injuries,
one thing was certain.
They were dealing with one of the most brutal homicides the area had ever seen.
The trauma to her head was severe.
She had a large open cut on her chin,
a skull fracture above her right eye,
and several other wounds on the back of her head that were still bleeding.
While they knew she’d been pretty severely beaten,
they wouldn’t know the full extent of her injuries until the autopsy,
which was scheduled for the following morning.
That autopsy was performed by Alameda County pathologists,
and they determined that the victim’s cause of death was asphyxiation
due to strangulation.
Not manual strangulation, but more like with a ligature,
such as the necktie or the TV cable.
And she had multiple blunt injuries.
They also concluded that she had been sexually assaulted.
And while they still didn’t know who the woman was,
they estimated that she was somewhere between 18 and 22 years old.
She had short, reddish-brown hair, blue eyes.
She was 5'5", 123 pounds,
and she didn’t have any scars or tattoos.
She was wearing a red and white striped blouse and a blue jacket with blue jeans,
which, like I mentioned earlier, were found around her knees.
Detectives’ first move was to start looking through the missing persons reports
to try and find one that matched her description.
While they were doing that, they sent out an extremely detailed bulletin
describing her appearance and clothing to other law enforcement agencies in the area.
And they sent out a slightly less detailed bulletin to the media.
That same day, the news started to break
that a body of a young woman had been found on Kilcair Road.
Sometime after 3 a.m., the sheriff’s office got the call that they’d been waiting for.
A woman named Teresa Rusk told the sheriff’s office
that she had seen the news stories about a girl’s body being found,
and she was worried that the girl was her teenage daughter, Kelly Poppleton,
who she had literally just filed a missing persons report for 24 hours earlier.
Kelly’s stepdad, Tracy, agreed to go down to the coroner’s bureau to identify the body
because Teresa didn’t want to.
Probably because she didn’t want to see her daughter like that if it did turn out to be her.
When Tracy saw the body, he confirmed their worst fears.
The woman who was found on Kilcair Road was Kelly.
And she wasn’t 18 to 22 like the coroner thought.
She was only 14 years old and in the 8th grade.
So now that they knew who their victim was,
they needed to find out how this middle schooler
ended up beaten and strangled on the side of the road.
Teresa and Tracy told investigators that at 8.45 a.m. on December 2nd,
they dropped Kelly off at the middle school that she attended in Fremont,
which was basically a school for students who struggled with truancy.
See, there had been a lot of turmoil in Kelly’s life in the past few years,
which led to some issues with school.
Teresa explained that after she and Kelly’s dad divorced a few years ago
and she’d married Kelly’s stepdad, Tracy,
Kelly had been moved around a lot, bopping between houses.
Teresa and Tracy finally settled into an apartment complex in Fremont that summer,
but unfortunately they’d recently been evicted
and just a few days before Kelly went missing, they all moved into a hotel.
And all of this moving around had definitely taken its toll on Kelly.
So less than a month earlier, she’d been transferred to the Opportunity School.
So on the afternoon of December 2nd, Kelly’s mom was expecting
that when Kelly got out of school at 1 p.m.,
she was going to take the bus northwest to the ambulance service
where Teresa and Tracy both worked as dispatchers.
When Kelly didn’t show up at their office a little after 1,
they were concerned, yes, but not panicked.
They just expected that when they got off work that evening,
they would go back to the hotel and there they’d find Kelly.
But when they did get off and they did go back to the hotel, she wasn’t there.
They still weren’t super concerned though
because they assumed that she was just hanging out at their old apartment complex
and maybe just lost track of time.
Because even though they didn’t live there anymore,
Kelly had a lot of friends over there
and it wasn’t unusual for her to go hang out there in her free time.
But when Teresa and Tracy talked to her friends,
they say that they hadn’t seen her at all.
And that’s when Teresa and Tracy really start to worry.
They searched the area for hours and couldn’t find Kelly anywhere.
So that night at 11.30 p.m.,
they contacted the Fremont Police Department and filed a missing persons report.
By the time they saw the news the next day,
it had been more than 24 hours since they’d heard from Kelly.
So that’s when they feared the worst and contacted police.
After getting that call and once Kelly’s identity was confirmed,
detectives picked up their investigation
in the last place that her mom and stepdad saw her, at school.
Kelly’s teacher told them that she had been at school all day
and even stayed a little late to finish an assignment.
And then some of her classmates told police
that Kelly took a bus to her old apartment complex.
There was also a convenience store called 00 Liquors
and a shopping center in this area.
So it was basically like the ideal pre-internet teen hangout spot.
Some kids who knew her from her old school told police
that she went inside the convenience store to get a book of matches.
Then she called her boyfriend from one of the payphones on the side of the building.
Police thought that the payphones might have been the last known sighting of Kelly.
But then that same day,
two boys from Kelly’s previous middle school came forward
and told police that they spotted Kelly at around 2.30,
walking behind them when they were strolling down Darwin Drive,
just north of 00 Liquors.
But here’s the thing.
It wasn’t just Kelly that they saw.
These kids also reported seeing two men
standing next to a cream-colored Plymouth Duster
that was parked on the opposite side of the same street.
When the boys looked back moments later, Kelly was gone.
And the men were sprinting toward an apartment complex
in the opposite direction of Kelly’s old one.
So this is promising, yeah, but one problem.
Since the two boys who reported seeing the guys
had only seen the guys from across the street,
they couldn’t give a super detailed description of them,
certainly not enough that police could go looking for these two men.
So police asked around for other eyewitnesses,
specifically anyone who was near Killcare Road
or downtown Sunol around the time Kelly’s body was discovered.
One witness described seeing a light-colored 70s Dodge Colt
or Datsun B210 driving recklessly off Killcare Road,
maybe at around 5.30.
That was right before Kelly’s body was discovered.
And another witness said that they saw a black
or maybe dark blue Pontiac Trans Am
parked somewhere on Killcare Road around the same time.
But neither of these witnesses could describe the drivers.
So police started with the only lead
that they could actually get traction on, Kelly’s boyfriend.
There wasn’t a specific reason why they suspected him,
but from what they’d been told,
he was one of the last people to hear from her,
so they definitely wanted to talk to him.
Kelly’s mom actually knew her boyfriend
and approved of the relationship,
so he wasn’t hard to track down.
He was an 18-year-old man named Mitchell Reese.
Mitchell Reese agreed to an interview,
and to detectives’ surprise,
he claimed that he hadn’t gotten a call from Kelly that day,
which directly contradicted
what Kelly’s old classmate told police.
Mitchell agreed to take a polygraph, and he passed.
But detectives weren’t fully satisfied,
so they got the phone records from the payphones
outside of the convenience store
and determined that no calls were made to his number.
He was telling the truth.
So detectives moved on.
For a few days,
detectives thought the leads in this case
might have been drying up.
They didn’t know where else to turn.
But then, on the evening of December 9th,
a week after Kelly’s body had been found,
police got a call from a woman
that led them to a shocking confession.
The call was from a woman named Pam,
who said that her 13-year-old daughter, Trina Bence,
had information about who killed Kelly.
Investigators dropped everything
and headed to their home
in the wee hours of the morning on December 10th.
And what Trina had to say
absolutely floored detectives.
And buckle up,
because this story is quite a bit to unpack.
Trina told police that she, Kelly,
and another 13-year-old girl,
who we’re gonna call Beth,
all sold drugs for a man who she knew only as Mario.
She told investigators
that Mario lived in her apartment complex,
which was right by where Kelly used to live.
According to Trina,
Mario and a 17-year-old boy
who also sold drugs with them
and who we’re gonna call Chris,
had recently gotten into some legal trouble.
And they thought that Kelly had snitched on them.
Trina told detectives that Mario and Chris
asked her to bring Kelly to a location
where they could get her into their car
so they could, quote-unquote,
pay her back.
According to Trina,
Kelly came over to her school,
which was about a 15-minute drive away
early in the morning on December 2nd,
just before school started.
Now, right off the bat,
Trina’s story doesn’t really make sense to detectives
because Trina’s school started before Kelly’s.
And remember, Kelly’s mom and stepdad
had said that they dropped Kelly off
at her own school at 8.45 that morning.
And her teacher said that she’d been in school all day.
But detectives have no reason at this point
to think that Trina would lie,
so they just keep listening to what else she has to say.
And she continued.
She told police that when they were together that morning,
she asked Kelly to meet up at Double O Liquors after school
because that’s where Mario and Chris
had told Trina to take her.
Trina said Kelly came to her school again
at around 2.15,
and they took the bus to Double O.
For some reason,
she said that she and Kelly got on the bus
at different stops,
but when they got to Double O,
Mario, Chris, and Beth,
that other 13-year-old girl,
were all sitting and waiting for them
in Mario’s cream-colored 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix.
Trina said that she and Kelly got into Mario’s car,
and the group headed towards Sinol.
On their way there,
Trina said that Mario and Chris started beating Kelly.
Now, detectives were a little confused
about the logistics of this,
so they asked who was driving,
and Trina said Mario was.
She claimed that he was beating Kelly while driving.
She said they stopped along the road at some point,
and he continued assaulting Kelly outside the car.
She said one was wearing some kind of weighted gloves,
and they were beating Kelly with clubs.
Trina said that Beth participated in the attack as well
by holding Kelly down
while the two guys assaulted her.
She even mentioned the bag over Kelly’s head
and some kind of cord or wire being tied around her neck.
After the attack,
Trina said that they put Kelly back in the car
and continued driving towards Sinol,
where they dumped her
and then left her to take her last breaths alone
in the cold on Killcare Road.
Detectives were understandably flabbergasted
hearing this story.
I mean, Trina was implicating four people,
including herself, in Kelly’s murder.
On top of all of that,
investigators were shocked
that this story of such brutal violence
was coming out of the mouth of a 13-year-old girl,
a middle schooler.
But as shocking as it was,
in a lot of ways,
Trina’s story actually made sense.
Like, parts of her story were matching up,
like the locations,
Double O Liquors and Killcare Road,
even Kelly’s injuries and the bag over her head,
and possibly most compelling,
Mario’s cream-colored 73 Grand Prix,
which could have easily been mixed up
with the Plymouth Duster
that those two boys saw parked on Darwin Drive.
So, with information about this car
and the apartment complex he lived in,
it didn’t take detectives long
to identify the person that she was calling Mario.
He was 27-year-old Julian Ramirez.
And listen, law enforcement wasted no time.
They arrested Trina and Julian that evening
and Chris and Beth early the next morning.
That day, all three of them,
Julian, Chris, and Beth,
were interviewed separately.
They all gave statements
denying any involvement in Kelly’s death
and each provided alibis.
So, the next few days were go time for detectives.
They got busy trying to vet these suspects’ alibis.
They searched Julian’s car
and found some suspicious stains
that they thought could be blood,
so they sent samples out for blood typing
to see if it was the same type as Kelly’s.
They also found that the trunk was wet,
like it had recently been cleaned,
which was obviously very suspicious.
All in all, things weren’t looking good for this group.
But as investigators followed up on their alibis,
they found that their stories
were actually checking out.
On top of that,
they started to see more and more holes
in Trina’s story.
Detectives interviewed her multiple times
over the following days
and as they did,
small details in her story started to change.
For one, she told them that
instead of riding the bus to meet Mario and Julian,
she and Kelly had actually gotten picked up by him
and they had all gone to Double O Liquors together.
She also changed her story
to implicate her boyfriend at the time,
which definitely had detectives scratching their heads.
So not only was the story changing,
but as detectives were trying to corroborate
what she was saying,
that’s when they really saw
that things weren’t adding up in a big way.
they were looking at the timeline after school.
That’s what didn’t make sense
because Trina’s school day ended at 2.15
and her school was like 15,
maybe 20 minutes away
from where Kelly had last been seen at 2.30.
So for Trina’s story to make sense,
she would have had to make the 15 minute trip,
which would have inevitably been longer by bus.
She meets up with Kelly
and they have to be on their way in Julian’s car
in just 15 minutes.
So it could still technically be possible
if witnesses had gotten the time maybe slightly wrong
or if the bus had been running ahead of schedule
but it was definitely a stretch.
It’s at this point
that police went and talked to Trina’s brother
who often looked after her
and that’s when Trina’s story really unraveled.
He said that on December 2nd,
he and Trina had gone home together after school
and they’d gotten off the bus at 3.05,
35 minutes after Kelly had last been seen.
At this point,
detectives were really struggling
to make Trina’s story work.
So they went to go question her again
and ask her,
what was she not telling them?
For this episode,
our reporting team traveled all the way to California
to talk directly to Detective Patrick Smith
with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.
He’s working on Kelly’s case today
and he told us what Trina told detectives this time.
Now, let’s get down to the truth.
What is really the truth, Trina?
Because now you’re seeing some other guys involved
and she says, you know, none of it’s true.
I wasn’t there.
The investigators were, I think, really kind of stunned.
Like, how would you have known
some of these things that you’ve told us, Trina?
And she basically said, I read the news reports.
I read the news articles.
I watched news reports.
I basically just used that
and the questions you asked me
and the things that you said,
I just, I made the whole thing up.
Police were not just shocked.
They were a bit embarrassed.
Here, they had four people behind bars
based on this teenager’s story,
which now she said was all a tall tale.
Detectives were also able to test the stains
in Julian’s car against Kelly’s blood
and they didn’t match,
which just confirmed what they already knew.
They’d wasted precious days
on a completely fabricated story.
They released Chris and Beth without charging them,
but they kept Julian in jail
because of a parole violation,
though they dropped the charges
for Kelly’s murder against him.
As detectives pressed Trina
on why she made up the story,
she said that her mom had pressured her
to come forward
and because of some unrelated trouble
that Trina had recently been in,
she absolutely refused to believe
that her daughter wasn’t involved somehow.
Trina described a really rough home life,
one that law enforcement
didn’t feel comfortable sending her back to.
So even though the other two teens were released,
Trina was actually held in protective custody
for almost two more months
until a judge ordered that she be placed
into someone else’s care on February 17th of 1984.
I couldn’t find any follow-up
on what happened to her after that,
but I can only hope that she got the help
and support she needed.
But after her story unraveled,
they were now 11 days out
since Kelly had been murdered,
but they were no closer to finding out
who her killer was.
So detectives turned toward the physical evidence.
Specifically, the items found on Kelly’s body.
Her clothes, a dark-colored garbage bag,
that white bag that said
Duty Free and Welcome to Korea on it,
the TV cable, the men’s sweater,
and the red necktie.
And the first thing they honed in on
was something strange
that the crime lab technicians found
in Kelly’s jeans.
It was in that, like, watch pocket,
you know, that little pocket inside
the regular pocket that no one really uses.
Well, in there,
they found a folded-up piece of paper
with seven numbers written on it.
Their first thought was that
it could be a phone number,
just maybe missing the area code.
So right away, they tried calling it.
They reached a woman in Livermore,
but when they got to asking her questions,
their hopes began to fizzle.
She said that she didn’t know a Kelly Poppleton
and that she lived alone,
so it’s not like there was anyone else around
using her phone.
But investigators weren’t just gonna drop it.
They looked into the woman,
they looked into the woman’s boyfriend,
they looked into her boyfriend’s
friends and associates,
but they couldn’t find a link anywhere to Kelly.
So that lead turned into just another dead end.
But they did have more info
on the other items found with Kelly.
Like, they learned that that duty-free bag
originated from one of four airports
in South Korea.
They didn’t have any Korean suspects
on their radar,
so they thought that maybe the person
they were looking for was in the military
and maybe had a connection to South Korea.
Now, they also didn’t have any military suspects
on their radar either,
but they kept this in the back of their minds
for any future suspects.
As for the garbage bag,
it was sent to the FBI for fingerprinting.
There were some prints from one of the firefighters
and a detective,
which they were able to eliminate off the bat
since they handled the evidence,
but there were six other distinct prints
that did not belong to them.
Those were entered into California’s
automated latent print system.
This database was relatively new at the time,
and it relied on police agencies in California
submitting inked print cards from felony cases,
which not all agencies did.
So they also searched the prints
through a local automated system.
They didn’t get any matches
from either of the databases though,
but at least now law enforcement had something
to test against any future suspects.
As for the sweater and the necktie,
the tag on the inside of the sweater
said that it was made in Korea,
but that didn’t necessarily tell them
where their suspect had bought it.
Though it is weird, right,
that this is their second link to Korea or South Korea.
So since they didn’t know
where either of these pieces of clothing
could have been purchased from,
they started asking around,
showing people photos of all of the items
to see if anyone recognized them,
but got no luck.
But then in March of 1984,
this is about three months after Kelly’s murder,
the door-knocking efforts that they had been doing
actually paid off
when they got a tip that looked really promising.
They were canvassing Kelly’s old apartment complex again
when someone brought up a name
that they hadn’t heard before,
a 22-year-old man by the name of Juan Perez.
A witness said that Juan was known to deal weed
and that he was always hanging around with teen girls
even though he was married.
The witness even told police
that they’d seen Kelly at his apartment before.
And on top of that, Juan drove a black Trans Am,
which if you’ll remember from way back
when they first started investigating,
a witness said that they saw that kind of car
parked alongside Kill Care Road
at around the time Kelly was found.
Investigators brought Juan in for questioning
and he told them that yes, he did know Kelly,
they lived in the same apartment complex after all,
but he didn’t know anything about her murder.
He even submitted to a polygraph,
which came back inconclusive.
Weirdly, Juan actually worked for the company
owned by Hands, the man who found Kelly’s body.
Detectives weren’t sure whether that meant anything or not,
but they definitely thought it was an odd coincidence.
With all of the connections and inconclusive polygraph,
detectives really thought that this was their guy.
Without any real evidence,
investigators had to let Juan go.
And at this point,
the case was growing cold.
Weeks were passing without any other leads.
Winter turned to spring
and detectives were still no closer
to getting answers for Kelly’s family.
So detectives went back to the drawing board again,
looking at the evidence
and trying to connect any dots that they could.
They may have had a couple of theories at that time,
but what they really had was more questions than answers.
They suspected that it could be more than one person
who killed Kelly,
because A, it looked like Kelly had been thrown
out of a moving car,
so one person would have needed to drive
while the other person disposed of her body.
And B, there wasn’t any evidence
that Kelly had been tied up
and they suspected that more than one person
would have been needed to restrain her.
They also theorized that whoever they were looking for
could have been local.
I mean, for one thing,
Kill Care Road was extremely remote
and there would have been no reason
for anyone who didn’t live there to know it.
And since this was pre-GPS,
it would have been really hard to find as well.
But again, who these local killers could be
was still a total mystery to them.
So in May, detectives reached out
to the Behavior Analysis Unit at the FBI.
You know, the ones that shows like criminal minds
and Mindhunter are based off of.
And they asked them to come up
with a psychological profile for their killer.
The BAU told them kind of what detectives had suspected.
They were likely looking for more than one offender.
The offenders would be in their late teens or early twenties,
unmarried and regular users of drugs and alcohol.
So, I mean, this was helpful in giving them
a pretty good idea
of who they were hypothetically looking for.
But police didn’t have anyone to test this profile
for a criminal mindhunter.
The BAU also didn’t have any evidence
But police didn’t have anyone to test this profile against.
And from what it sounds like,
the FBI profile was actually pretty general.
But over the next year,
detectives still kept up the work.
They re-interviewed people.
They followed any new tips that came in.
But not a single one was panning out.
And by this point,
Kelly’s case wasn’t the only unsolved murder in the area.
The East Bay area actually had three other cases
of girls who had been murdered
under similar circumstances to Kelly.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office
had actually formed a task force back in May of 1984
to investigate a connection between Kelly’s case
and two others.
And then, when a fourth girl was killed
in November of that year,
they added her case to the list
because they thought that they could be dealing
with a serial killer.
The three other girls who were killed
were 14-year-old Tina Fails,
who was in middle school,
and two high schoolers,
who were both 18.
Tina had been stabbed to death
and the other two girls had been sexually assaulted
and strangled like Kelly.
All four bodies had been left in secluded areas
within a 15-mile radius of where Kelly had been found.
And they had clear similarities in victimology.
But besides the circumstances,
investigators didn’t have any physical evidence
to connect any of these cases together.
But at this point,
no lead was too far-fetched for detectives.
They even looked into the infamous serial killer pair
Charles Ng and Leonard Lake,
comparing Lake’s fingerprints
to the ones found on the garbage bag,
but nothing matched with that either.
As the years passed,
frustration mounted for investigators
and specifically for Kelly’s family.
We actually had the chance
to talk to Kelly’s sister, Amanda,
for this episode.
And she talked about what her family was thinking
as these leads in Kelly’s case dried up.
At the beginning,
my mom was very confident
that there was a suspect they had.
She wouldn’t tell me who.
I don’t know if it was the Ramirez guy
she was referring to or not.
But she said that there was…
and the investigation went off the rails
with the whole Trina thing.
And she said because of that,
it just totally messed everything up,
and she lost all faith in the investigation.
They’ve screwed up too much, basically,
is what the family thinks.
But the one thing that wasn’t messed up
and actually became more valuable
with the passage of time
was the physical evidence
that contained DNA.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office
still had everything
that Kelly had been found with
in their evidence room.
Both bags, the TV cable,
the necktie, and the sweater.
So in 2004,
after sitting in an evidence room
for more than two decades,
all of the evidence was sent
to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Crime Lab
where they were able to develop
a full male DNA profile.
they uploaded the profile to CODIS,
but they didn’t get any hits.
Now, this was a blow to the investigation,
but not a surprise.
By that point,
that their suspect
wasn’t just gonna fall into their laps.
So from 2005 to 2014,
two Alameda County cold case detectives
traveled around the country
trying to find a match to the DNA,
even traveling as far as Canada.
what Detective Smith called
a DNA dragnet,
testing any past persons of interest
to rule them out once and for all
and anyone else
who had come up in theories
or speculation throughout the decades.
Even after years of looking,
they still couldn’t find a match.
But now that they had a DNA profile,
they knew for a fact
that this case was solvable,
and they weren’t gonna give up now,
not when they were so, so close.
all three cases
that could have been connected to Kelly’s,
Lisa’s, Tina’s, and Julie’s,
all had been solved using DNA evidence.
But none of the defendants in those cases
matched the DNA for Kelly’s killer.
none of those cases
even turned out to be connected.
So in 2016,
detectives decided to take a chance
on a new way
of identifying suspects
through a company
called Parabon NanoLabs.
When you conduct DNA work,
say, in our crime lab,
was to do some swab cutting,
whatever it is,
and they end up doing the DNA processing
and they end up getting something,
they have the extracts
that produce this result.
A lot of times,
they’ll have leftover,
the extracts of that exam.
it’s a liquid form
of whatever’s left over from that exam.
So when we had our evidence
that produced our unknown profile,
we had those extracts sent to Parabon.
Parabon then did something
where they came up with a profile
of what the suspect
might have looked like
based on their DNA
and then created
a computer-generated composite sketch.
And that’s when investigators
got back something
that they had never considered.
And it’s something that
they’ve never said publicly
Parabon comes back
with a report saying
that our unknown DNA
is a Korean male.
It’s kind of a huge break in the case
to be able to narrow it down that way
for the first time.
Not knowing the suspect’s age
at the time of Kelly’s murder,
the composite shows versions
of the man at 25,
as well as in his mid-50s.
You can see both of those composites
right now on our website.
As far as we know,
police never once
had any Korean suspects
or even witnesses
on their radar.
So for them,
this result was
I feel like it’s not
all that shocking,
given that they knew
the duty-free bag
was from a Korean airport
and the sweater
was made in Korea.
But hindsight is 20-20.
After almost 33 years,
investigators finally had
that they could work with.
Without having any
it’s been hard for them
to go back in time
to see who was in the area
that matched this profile.
they put together
a list of known offenders
of Korean descent
in the Alameda County area
from around the time
of Kelly’s murder,
doing their best
to identify individuals
who were living
in the closest proximity
And while doing this,
they found a promising suspect
who had even lived
in the same apartment complex
That’s when Detective Smith
got this other idea.
Now that he knew
the genetic profile
of Kelly’s killer,
he remembered a case
that had happened
around the same area
and the same timeframe
that had gotten
a ton of press
back in the day.
It was the unsolved case
of Frances Rash.
Frances had been killed
in Dublin, California,
which is about 25 minutes
from where Kelly lived.
She’d come home
to find her children
And while she tried
to fight the killer off,
her children escaped
and called the police.
Now her children
had seen the suspect,
so they knew for a fact
that they were looking
for an Asian man
in his late 20s,
the same description
of the person
who had killed Kelly.
So there was a chance
that the same person
who killed Frances Rash
also killed Kelly Poppleton.
But even if that wasn’t
Detective Smith knew
that the suspect list
in the Rash case file
would still be full of people
who matched the description
of Kelly’s killer.
And guess what?
He found something
in that case file
that looked really promising.
There was an arrest law
from October 1984
that recorded the arrest
of two Korean men
for kidnapping a woman
in Castro Valley,
just 10 minutes
from where Kelly
was last seen.
One of them
was in his early 20s,
the other in his early 30s.
And one of them lived
just one and a half miles
from where Kelly
was last seen.
From the two kidnappers,
detectives were able
to identify another
who was a close associate
of one of the men.
matched the description
and had a criminal record.
So they now had
from the Rash case file
and that other suspect
that they had found
who lived in the same
apartment complex as Kelly.
That’s four viable suspects.
But Detective Smith
still needed to test
against the sample
that they had found
in Kelly’s case.
Enlisting the help
of the FBI,
they gathered DNA
from all four suspects.
But after all that hard work,
not one of them matched.
And so that
is where you come in.
That’s what we’re hoping to get
is with releasing
was there someone
known to her,
someone in that area,
someone that might,
for all I know,
was there a friendly
at the apartment complex
that was of Korean descent
that we can go talk to,
that we can at least
try to eliminate,
or someone that no one
ever thought of
that had infatuation
who had said something to her,
who never really was
necessarily looked at
as a suspect.
with this information,
hey, you should check out
and allow us to do
the investigative work
to try to
rule them in or out.
haven’t given up hope
when it comes
to genetic genealogy.
Maybe if they could match
the DNA to a family member
or a distant relative,
they could trace it back
to someone who lived
in or around the area
where Kelly was killed
back in 1983.
With their full DNA profile,
it’s only a matter of time
before this case gets solved.
When we talked
to Kelly’s sister, Amanda,
she shared a little bit
about what Kelly was like
She told us that Kelly
was a prankster.
She loved to play
Dungeons and Dragons.
Her favorite movie
was Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
She also loved to go
to Oakland A’s games,
so much so that her family
buried her in her A’s jacket.
And they couldn’t
to go to a baseball game
after her death.
She was kind and caring,
more like a second mom
to her little sister
than an older sibling.
And I want to leave you
with a story about
what Kelly was like
in Amanda’s own words.
She was really funny,
She liked to play
practical jokes on my mom,
The movie was a big thing
And so she set me up
in front of the TV
and taught me to say,
Put the TV on a snowy channel,
called my mom,
had me break my mom out.
And she got grounded for that.
The anniversary of Kelly’s murder
is just a few days away.
And her sister Amanda
is still holding out hope
that someone out there
will finally come forward.
I hope that, you know,
somebody saw something,
somebody knows something.
And I just hope that,
you know, whoever that person is
will finally, you know,
do the right thing
and give us some peace
and give Kelly some peace.
go take a look
at the composites
on our website.
And if you know someone
who could be the person
in that sketch
and could have been
in the Fremont area
around when Kelly was murdered,
or if you know any information
that could be helpful,
please call the
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office
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