I’ve written about Sacramento’s serial killer connection with notorious murderers who hunted in the city, like Morris Solomon, and The I-5 Strangler. With 15% of the nation’s serial killers roaming our streets, it comes as no surprise that the number of unsolved homicides in the county is an astonishing 431 unanswered deaths.
In the last 11 years, there were 410 murders with arrests in all but 36% of those cases. This clearance rate (64%) is remarkably high when contrasted with cities like Chicago (26%), Baltimore (35%), and Stockton (46%). The national average is 49.6% of murder investigations cleared by arrest.
Yet, in spite of the high clearance rate in Sacramento, the number of unsolved murders continue to stack up. The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department established a unit in 2004 to deal with nothing but cold case homicides and sexual assaults, with some success.
The oldest cold case investigated with a conviction obtained, involved the murder of Shannon Ritter, a 12-year-old Rancho Cordova girl, killed on September 30, 1972, while babysitting four younger neighbor children.
The family returned to their home and noticed water running down the stairs from the upstairs bathroom. Shannon was found unclothed and partially submerged in the bathtub. The medical examiner later determined that the young girl was likely suffocated to the point of unconsciousness and then held under water until she drowned. James Calvin Gaines lived in the apartment complex and matched the description of a man seen in the apartment prior to the murder, but there was no evidence to tie him to the strangulation and sexual assault of the young girl.
The case went cold…
In 2006, this cold case was re-opened by detectives and a cigarette butt found near the victim was re-examined with the latest DNA technology. Based upon these new findings, Gaines was identified and arrested at his residence in Florida. In 2007 a jury convicted him of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He is eligible for parole in November 2021.
Gaines is serving his time at the Mule Creek State Prison, near Ione, California until that parole hearing.
But there are cases that continue to frustrate investigators. One such case is the murder of Sacramento Sheriff’s Deputy, Jeff Mitchell.
On October 27, 2006, at 3:27 am, Deputy Mitchell stopped a suspicious white van in a remote part of southeastern Sacramento County. When dispatchers were unable to get a response from Mitchell, another deputy was sent to the location.
The arriving deputy found his fellow officer on the side of the road with a gunshot wound to his head. The white van was no longer on the scene. Deputy Mitchell was airlifted to the U.C. Davis Medical Center and did not survive his wounds.
It appeared that Deputy Mitchell fought with his attackers and was shot with his own weapon.
A search located a white van abandoned in the Cosumnes River, about 20 miles away from where Mitchell was found. Inside, investigators found the bodies of 43-year-old Allan Shubert and 28-year-old Nicole Welch, who were later determined to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Investigators believe that Deputy Mitchell may have come upon his attacker in the process of dumping the bodies in the remote location.
The Sheriff’s Department has received over 4,000 calls on the tip line, but has not been able to close the case and bring Mitchell’s killer to justice. However, they were able to collect a partial DNA profile left by his killer at the scene. There is hope that advanced DNA technology, beyond that available 11 years ago, will lead to an arrest in one of Sacramento’s unsolved murders. Investigators are closing in…
If you know something, call the SSD tip line at 916 • 874 • 5070