When Valerie McDonald
, an aspiring actress described as a "stunning blonde, possessed of the sort of beauty that turns heads on the street"
disappeared after leaving her North Beach apartment on Nov. 9, 1980 in the company of a suspicious character, San Francisco police were little help.
Officers told McDonald’s friend that she had to wait 72 hours before they could file a missing persons report. With McDonald still missing a week later, her parents, Dee Dee and Bob Kouns, flew down from Oregon. The cops told them that their daughter had probably taken off for Vegas.
McDonald’s friends and family had a whole clique of suspects for detectives to question, but the SFPD remained uninterested in the case until evidence uncovered after a fatal shootout in British Columbia forced them to take notice.
Valerie McDonald graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1978 with a degree in filmmaking. Trying to break into the movies, she decided to stay in the city for a while. She waited tables and worked the occasional acting gig to make ends meet.
She moved into the Tower Apartments above Mooney's Pub on Grant Avenue in June 1980. A few weeks later, a new manager took over McDonald's building. Something about the new building super left her scared. It got even worse when he hired on a couple of his pals to help run the building.
The men running the Tower Apartments were violent criminals who met while rotating through San Quentin. Philip A. Thompson, 35, the new building manager, was released from Quentin early on work furlough after serving his sentence for assault with a deadly weapon, forgery and receiving stolen goods. His long rap sheet also included two rape charges from the early 1970s.
Once Thompson was in, he made the building into a kind of halfway house for his Big House buddies. John Gordon Abbott, 26, became the building's assistant manager on Aug. 26, 1980 after also being released on a work furlough. They were soon joined by Michael John Hennessey, 23, who was on parole after serving a term for burglary.
While Thompson set everything in motion, Abbott was the mastermind of the new criminal enterprise being planned from McDonald's apartment building.
Abbott was a British national who grew up in Canada, spoke fluent Japanese, and possessed a genius level IQ of 160. He was the son of John Abbott, a marketing economist for the United Nations, and Dr. Ursula K. Abbott, a former UC Davis professor with an annual genetics symposium named after her
. Abbott himself dropped out of UC Davis and turned to crime. He was sent to prison after a shootout with police in 1976 that left his younger brother dead.
Abbott met Thompson in San Quentin, where the two were hardly model prisoners. They ran various scams there — and once even escaped from the place — but were released early anyway.
Valerie told a close friend that she had seen her new management engaging in "Satanistic activities" and partying down with "large bowls of cocaine."
She knew she had to get away from these guys, but they knew just how to get to her.
On Nov. 9, 1980, McDonald was moving out, packing up her apartment with a friend, when Michael Hennessey stopped by. He offered her a bit part in a Dustin Hoffman movie produced by Dino De Laurentiis, the Jerry Bruckheimer of his day who gave us Flash Gordon and Conan the Barbarian.
Hennessey claimed he was supplying the set with blow, and said that McDonald was perfect — for the part of a pretty blonde victim of a serial killer being hunted by Hoffman. This all sounded sketchy as all hell, but also somehow plausible.
It helped that Hennessey was the right lure. Compared to his pals, he came off as the good one, and McDonald even said she liked him. Hennessey also offered to pay McDonald $200 up front with more to come. While that might not seem like a lot now, McDonald was only paying $100 a month in rent back in 1980, making this equivalent to being offered $7,000 today.
With moving out of the Tower Apartments, McDonald really needed the money. She also couldn't resist the idea of finally scoring her big break.
McDonald left with Hennessey. She was never seen alive again.
Come back next week for a tale of San Francisco official incompetence and CIA conspiracies as Yesterday's Crimes continues with the story of the disappearance of Valerie McDonald.
This series is dedicated to Michelle McNamara (1970-2016) of True Crime Diary. She gave all of us true crime writers a standard to struggle towards.