Re: Unraveling a murder mystery
- From: <crosem@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 22 Jan 2006 18:24:40 GMT
what an interesting article; thanks for sending it on!
<earthage2002@xxxxxxxxx> wrote in message
> Unraveling a murder mystery
> Author Joel Davis fought to find justice for two slain college students
> while fighting his own battle with Parkinson's
> By Cynthia Hubert --
> Sacramento Bee
> Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, January 22, 2006
> As Joel Davis lay under the bright lights of an operating room, wide
> awake while a neurosurgeon bored a hole into the back of his skull, he
> was a man obsessed with two things:
> Would this harrowing operation stop the tremors and spasms that were
> destroying his life?
> And would the families of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves finally
> get justice?
> It was June 2004, just two days since Davis learned of a major break in
> a case that had haunted him for more than 20 years, the unsolved
> "Sweetheart Murders" of Riggins and Gonsalves.
> The kidnapping and killing of two UC Davis students in 1980 stole a
> town's innocence and broke the hearts of two families. The case
> sputtered and stalled and went completely cold for years.
> Finally, it seemed, a suspect had been identified, thanks in part to
> Davis' persistent digging and dogging of authorities.
> And finally the journalist, who in his early 40s was fighting the
> effects of severe Parkinson's disease, could tell the whole story in a
> book he had been researching and writing for the better part of four
> But the first order of business was the wire that surgeons were
> threading deep into Davis' brain. If all went well, the "pacemaker"
> they were installing would control the stiffness and trembling of his
> arms, hands and legs.
> As a team of Kaiser Permanente doctors and nurses hovered over him,
> Davis tried to distract himself with thoughts about baseball lineups
> and his beloved San Francisco Giants.
> In about eight hours, the operation was over.
> The remarkable "deep brain stimulation" surgery, during which patients
> are fully awake, would not completely halt his symptoms. But it would
> improve his condition enough to allow him to work his computer and
> finish his book about the Sweetheart Murders.
> The result is "Justice Waits: The UC Davis Sweetheart Murders"
> (Callister Press, $24.95, 220 pages), published late last year, just
> weeks before the 25th anniversary of the deaths of Riggins and
> Richard Joseph Hirschfield, who has served prison time for child
> molestation, has been charged with the murders. The case is expected to
> be heard later this year.
> "At one point, I thought I wouldn't be able to get this book done,"
> Davis, 43, said recently in his River Park home. "It's been the most
> rewarding and most frustrating project of my life."
> The seeds were planted five days before Christmas in 1980, when Riggins
> and Gonsalves, a college couple who radiated sweetness and innocence,
> were kidnapped and slain after working as ushers at a local children's
> production of "The Nutcracker." Two days later, police found their
> bodies in a ravine off Folsom Boulevard in Sacramento County.
> Like many people in the quaint university town where he grew up, Davis
> was devastated. He had gone to high school with Riggins, though he knew
> him only casually.
> "John was a very likable guy," instantly recognizable by his flaming
> red hair, Davis said. Gonsalves, by all appearances, was equally
> popular. "This crime shocked the whole town," Davis said. "It was
> Police had no suspects and no obvious motive. It would be nine years
> before they would make an arrest, and charges against those four people
> would later be dropped for lack of evidence. Justice for Riggins and
> Gonsalves remained elusive.
> Davis, meanwhile, who for a time worked as a newspaper reporter
> covering courts and police, had left his hometown and moved to
> Sacramento, where he was a freelance writer and taught journalism.
> But although he left Davis, the Sweetheart Murder case never left him.
> "It was always in the back of my mind," said Davis, pouring coffee with
> a quivering hand on a recent afternoon. "As someone who grew up in
> Davis and knew John Riggins, and as a journalist, I was very curious
> about it."
> In 2000, he decided to turn his curiosity into a book project. He never
> dreamed it would take five years to finish.
> By the time Davis began his research, the case had gone ice cold. The
> journalist dug through court and police records, interviewed family
> members and friends of the victims, tracked down old suspects and
> confronted detectives and district attorneys, over and over, with
> questions about their investigation.
> He discovered, he said, "sloppiness, egos, politics, manpower
> shortages, petty professional jealousy and honest mistakes," all of
> which got in the way of solving the case.
> After poring through court files that had been gathering dust in
> courthouse basements, Davis managed to convince a Sacramento County
> prosecutor and expert in DNA evidence to reconsider the case. The
> prosecutor made a "cold hit" on a semen sample taken from a blanket
> found in the van that the couple had driven on the night they were
> abducted and killed.
> That led to the unequivocal identification of Hirschfield, who at the
> time was in prison in Washington on a child molestation conviction.
> The break was a huge relief for the families and for Davis himself, who
> had come to know them well.
> "Never did we think that Joel would be the one who would make such a
> huge difference in our lives," said Kate Riggins, John's mother. "Had
> he not persevered in his hunt for information, Richard Hirschfield
> probably would not have been identified." Hirsch-field's conviction on
> molestation charges recently was overturned on a technical matter, she
> noted, so he likely would have been out of prison and on the streets.
> George Gonsalves, Sabrina's father, complimented law enforcement and
> prosecutors for their work, but said Davis also was a "major player" in
> the effort to finally bring the case to justice.
> "Joel Davis deserves all of the credit in the world for a book that was
> difficult to write, when one considers his medical problems and his
> personal involvement with both families," he said.
> The author's life became complicated during the five years it took to
> get "Justice Waits" published. Today Davis sports a thin scar along his
> neck all the way to his chest, where a wire leads to a tiny generator
> that delivers mild electrical shocks to his brain, blocking signals
> that cause his symptoms. He controls the pacemaker with a device that
> resembles a television remote control.
> He continues to fight tremors and spasms, though they have lessened
> somewhat, and the left side of his body is weak. He walks with an
> awkward gait, and pops 40 pills a day for depression, anxiety and other
> health problems. Because Parkinson's is chronic and progressive, he
> could face more brain surgery.
> "You have to swallow a lot of pride when you have this," said Davis,
> who has had to quit teaching and accept disability payments. "It's not
> for wimps. It affects every part of your body."
> Still, he has found a positive side to his illness.
> "One of the cool things about all of this is that it has given me
> empathy for other people," he said. "I am a much more benevolent person
> than I have ever been before."
> He has the unwavering support of his wife, Kelly, and he enjoys playing
> on his "terrible" bowling team and participates in a neighborhood
> improvement group.
> "Things could be worse," Davis said. "I am not a plumber or a lineman.
> I can still write. I'm grateful for that."
> Davis, who twice postponed "Justice Waits" because of new developments
> in the case, published the book himself though he had overtures from
> companies that were interested in the story.
> "I wanted something that the families wouldn't be ashamed to put on
> their shelves, even if the book tanked," he said. "I didn't want some
> New York editor who's only concerned with the bottom line to be in
> Both families said the tome, which has received several positive
> reviews, including in The Bee, is an accurate account of their lives
> and the case.
> "I am very proud of Joel and his book," said Kate Riggins.
> Ray Biondi, a retired Sacramento County homicide detective who
> originally worked the double murder case, said Davis deserves credit
> for "keeping the pot stirred," although he stressed it was ultimately
> good forensic work that solved it.
> Davis concurs.
> "It's gratifying," he said. "But all I really did was talk to the right
> people and help push things along."
> Two days before Davis underwent his brain surgery, police publicly
> named Hirschfield as a suspect in the Sweetheart Murders. He would be
> arrested three months later and finally appeared in Sacramento Superior
> Court in October. He has pleaded not guilty.
> Now the families of the murdered sweethearts are preparing to relive
> the horror of 25 years ago.
> "Rehashing in court the events that took place, and the murdering of
> Sabrina and John, will be difficult," said Kate Riggins. "However, a
> day does not pass that we don't think about their lives and what
> happened. I think about the case continually."
> On the day that Riggins and Gonsalves disappeared, the town of Davis
> was enveloped in the gloom of tule fog, recalled Riggins, who now lives
> in Shell Beach.
> "Can you imagine what it was like for our family and the Gonsalves
> family, to not know where your children were for over two days, and
> then to discover they were laying in a ditch with their throats
> slashed?" she asked. "The person who did this to Sabrina and John must
> be very evil."
> Although Hirschfield's arrest lifted a heavy burden, "closure" is an
> impossible concept for the families of the two slain young people.
> "As a mother, I would have given my life to have saved my son," Riggins
> said. "That was not possible."
> So now she must undertake a different kind of mission.
> "We want to make certain that the individual who murdered John is made
> accountable for the act," Riggins said.
> It has been a long time coming, she said, and it may be many more
> "But we are willing to wait for that justice."
- Unraveling a murder mystery
- From: earthage2002@xxxxxxxxx
- Unraveling a murder mystery
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