Serial Killer Profiles – the I-5 Strangler

Northern California killers have popped up in the headlines again with the announcement of new murder charges filed against Joseph Deangelo, Jr., the Golden State Killer and East Area Rapist. Sacramento District Attorney Ann-Marie Schubert also revealed this week that all of the murders attributed to DeAngelo will be prosecuted in Sacramento. The trial will likely be years away, if the seventy-two year old DeAngelo lives that long.

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The coverage of the Golden State Killer overshadows the long and sometimes gruesome history of serial killers in the Sacramento region. I posted a summary of Sacramento Serial Killers in a previous edition, but when I talk with people about the subject, there is a fascination with the topic. The hit show Mindhunters pulled back the curtain a bit and gave viewers a look into the strange world of the mass murderer and serial killer.

So, I thought I’d start an occasional series on prominent serial killers from the Golden State and I’ll start with the I-5 Strangler–aptly named for his hunting ground and the method of killing.

Beginning in September 1977, the first woman, Lou Ellen Burleigh (21) disappeared. Nine years later, in 1986, five women were murdered in the Sacramento area.

  • Lora Heedick, (20). – killed on April 21, 1986
  • Barbara Ann Scott, (29). – killed on July 3, 1986
  • Stephanie Brown, (19). – killed on July 15, 1986
  • Charmaine Sabrah, (26). – killed on August 17, 1986
  • Katherine Kelly Quinones, (25). – killed on November 5, 1986

kibbe victims

All were last seen around the major Interstate freeway that cuts through the city, Interstate 5. All were raped, strangled and dumped along rural roadsides. Abandoned cars, belonging to some of the victims were found on the highway. The killings were attributed to the I-5 Strangler who, detectives believed, trolled the area freeways searching for women with car trouble.

Then the trail went cold. Investigators in surrounding counties searched for similar, related offenses and nothing came close to a killer who subdued his victims, tied them up, and kept them quiet with duct tape.  The women’s clothing was sliced in odd, irregular shapes, before he would sexually assault and strangle the young women, some with their own undergarments. He would remove the tape by cutting off much of the victim’s hair, presumably to hide the duct tape evidence. The women were dumped along isolated roads not far from the interstate.

In 1987, the killer struck again when Darcie Frackenpohl, a 17 year old runaway from West Sacramento was found strangled to death off of highway 50, east of Sacramento. The strange pattern of raggedly cut fabric of the victim’s clothing was similar to the evidence attributed to the I-5 Strangler, but this victim was strangled with a nylon cord.

kibbe Darcie_frakenpohl

Sacramento County Sheriff’s investigators first encountered Roger Kibbe when he was stopped for a traffic violation. The boyfriend of the first victim, Lori Heedick said he had seen Lori leave with a man in his fifties, and provided a description of the man and his vehicle. Kibbe matched the composite sketch and officers found nylon rope, handcuffs and scissors in the vehicle.  He was released when there was not enough physical evidence to conclusively tie Kibbe to Frackenphol’s murder.

kibbe composite

The detectives in El Dorado County dove into Kibbe’s background and found an arrest as a juvenile that raised some eyebrows. At 15, Kibbe came to the attention of juvenile authorities in San Diego when he was caught burying a box that contained stolen women’s clothing. The clothing was cut into irregular shapes, much like that found on the I-5 Strangler’s victims.

New forensic techniques at the time, in 1991, also looked at previously undiscovered trace evidence on the last victim and the particular qualities of the nylon cord used to strangle Frackenphol. Hair and fibers found in Kibbe’s car matched. Cat hair, traced back to Kibbe’s home was found on the victim. Using an electron microscope, analysts found unique paint spatter and contaminates on the nylon cord found in Kibbe’s vehicle and it was a match to the cord used to murder Frackenphol.

When the investigation was closing in, Kibbe told his wife to get rid of jewelry and shoes that he’d taken from the victims. Those scissors–the one’s found in his car with the handcuffs and nylon cord–they belonged to Kibbe’s mother, with whom he apparently had a difficult, and tumultuous relationship as a child.

With this new evidence, the El Dorado County District Attorney filed first degree murder charges against Roger Kibbe. On May 10, 1991, a jury found Kibbe guilty of Frackenphol’s murder and he was subsequently sentenced to a term of 25 years to life.

It took 17 years, but in 2008, with new DNA and other forensic evidence, Kibbe was finally charged with six remaining I-5 murders along with the related kidnapping and sex offenses. The evidence was overwhelming, unlocked by the prosecution in the Frackenphol case. He would face the death penalty if convicted.

Kibbe_Deal_011.NEF

As a plea deal to take the death penalty off the table, Kibbe plead guilty to all of the murders on September 29, 2009. He was sentenced to six consecutive life terms. Part of the plea bargain was that Kibbe would reveal where he dumped the body of Lou Ellen Burleigh, the first I-5 strangler victim, who had never been recovered.

In 2009, Kibbe led investigators to a rural area west of Interstate 5, near Lake Berryessa where he told them he left the girl’s body. Two trips to the area revealed no trace of Burleigh. She appeared to be lost forever.

Napa County Deputy Sheriff, Michael Bartlett was a patrol deputy in the area where Burleigh’s body was said to have been left. It bothered him that the family never had closure and that the girl was “left out there.”

While walking along a creek bed near Lake Berryessa in 2011, Bartlett observed a white object. It was a small piece of bone sticking out of some gravel on the creek bed’s bottom. The fragment was provided to an anthropologist at California State University who confirmed the bone was a portion of a female pelvic bone.

The bone fragment was then sent to a DNA lab where an examination confirmed it belonged to Burleigh. No other remains have ever been located.

kibbe mugshot

Kibbe, now age 79 remains behind bars at the Mule Creek State Prison in Amador County, very near where he once terrorized the freeways. Some believe that there may be dozens of other victims yet to be found.

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3 comments

  1. eileenrendahl · · Reply

    I have so many questions! Is it routine for the police to search your car when you get pulled over? Or did they search it because they noticed his resemblance to the sketch? Did his wife get rid of the evidence? Or turn it over to police? What did the cut up fabric mean? How did it relate back to his mother? And why one earth did Lori’s boyfriend let her get into a car with a strange man?

    1. It really is an interesting case once you start pulling back the layers. As far as the search goes, Kibbe appears to have been taken into custody and the car searched, based on his match to the composite drawing. Probably, searched with a warrant. Even though the “murder kit” was found, the authorities felt they didn’t have enough to file. The wife, did in fact get rid of some of the evidence Kibbe collected from his victims, and she later admitted that she had. The odd cuts in the fabric of the victim’s clothes became Kibbe’s signature. Irregular, hard angles, and not a linear cut–the same as those in the box of women’s clothes he tried to bury as a teenager. The connection with his mother is something out of a psych textbook. She was domineering and may have been abusive. The scissors used to cut, desecrate and destroy the clothing were his mother’s scissors. Lori’s boyfriend saw her leave with Kibbe and the reports vary in that she was running away from the boyfriend, or she was a sex worker, picking up a new John (Kibbe).

  2. eileenrendahl · · Reply

    Fascinating and terrifying.

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