The Deck - Kellie Poppleton (9 of Hearts, California)

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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,

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

or something,

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…

Something happened.

And some…

Something happened,

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.

Right away,

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,

investigators knew

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.

They conducted

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.

By 2011,

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.

In fact,

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.

And basically,

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

called phenotyping,

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

until now.

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

totally unexpected.

But honestly,

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

something solid

that they could work with.

Without having any

computerized records,

it’s been hard for them

to go back in time

to see who was in the area

that matched this profile.

So instead,

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

to Kelly.

And while doing this,

they found a promising suspect

who had even lived

in the same apartment complex

as her.

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

as Kelly’s

that had gotten

a ton of press

back in the day.

It was the unsolved case

of Frances Rash.

Frances had been killed

in 1979

in Dublin, California,

which is about 25 minutes

from where Kelly lived.

She’d come home

to find her children

tied up.

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

the case,

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

potential suspect

who was a close associate

of one of the men.

He, too,

matched the description

and had a criminal record.

So they now had

three suspects

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

their DNA

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

this information,

was there someone

known to her,

someone in that area,

someone that might,

for all I know,

was there a friendly

maintenance guy

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

with her,

who had said something to her,

who never really was

necessarily looked at

as a suspect.

But now,

with this information,

someone says,

hey, you should check out


and allow us to do

the investigative work

to try to

rule them in or out.

Detectives also

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,

detectives know

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

growing up.

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

bring themselves

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,

really spunky.

She liked to play

practical jokes on my mom,

like Poltergeist.

The movie was a big thing

back then.

And so she set me up

in front of the TV

and taught me to say,

you’re here.

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.

So please,

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

at 510-667-3636.

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So, what do you think, Chuck?

Do you approve?