Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Yesterday's Crimes: A Box of Bones and the Disappearance of Valerie McDonald

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2016 at 8:15 AM

crimes.jpg

This is the third installment in a three-part series on the disappearance of Valerie McDonald from her North Beach apartment on Nov. 9, 1980. Here are the links to parts one and two.


It took over 20 years to identify the human skull and pieces of torso found on the floodplain of the Kettle River just outside of Danville, Wash. near the U.S.-Canadian border.

J.R. Sharp was just a volunteer deputy with the Ferry County Sheriff's Office when the bones were first examined and stored in the basement evidence room, but he stayed with the case even after they failed to match a nearby missing persons case.

"The driving factor was we had some human remains in our evidence room and a family out there," Sharp told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2003.

"It's our responsibility to that family to do all we can to make an identification," he added.

After becoming the only fulltime detective on the eight-deputy force, Sharp successfully petitioned the Ferry County Commission for $3,000 to hire a forensic anthropologist to re-examine the bones. They already knew the bones belonged to a woman, but now they were able to peg her age at between 25 to 35.

She was also Caucasian, and possibly part Asian.

Sharp sent out an alert with the new information through Washington state’s Homicide Investigation and Tracking System. After sorting through 100 calls from police agencies throughout the Pacific Northwest, he got a request for dental records from California's Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit in 1999.

Eighteen months later, on Nov. 22, 2000, California authorities called the Ferry County Sheriffs with a positive identification of those bones.

The Jane Doe that had been packed away in a box since 1991 was Valerie McDonald.

The identification of their daughter’s remains gave Dee Dee and Bob Kouns a sense of closure but not justice. The men they were sure that had murdered Valerie — John Gordon Abbott and Philip A. Thompson — still weren’t charged with the crime.

Furthermore, it was unlikely that a small “department out here in the sticks working on a shoestring budget,” as Detective Sharp described it, would ever be able to connect that box of bones to a murder in faraway San Francisco to the satisfaction of a 21st Century jury.

Thompson and Abbott had committed so many crimes that they couldn’t escape getting punished entirely. Abbott served eight years in a Canadian prison following the shootout with Mounties in British Columbia in 1980. He was released in 1989, and then deported to the United Kingdom.

In the early 2000s, Thompson was serving an 18-year sentence for kidnapping and grand theft following the spate of mail robberies that he masterminded from the same Hunters Point warehouse where he and his cohorts likely murdered McDonald.

Thompson had received a stiffer sentence than Abbott, but he was eligible for parole by 2003. This was especially galling to the Kounses, who had spent the two decades following Valerie’s disappearance advocating for victim’s rights in Oregon.

The couple founded an advocacy group called Crime Victims United, and campaigned successfully for the passage of Measure 11, a 1994 Oregon ballot initiative that set some of the harshest mandatory minimum criminal sentences in the country. While such “tough on crime” statutes have come under scrutiny with our nation’s exploding prison population, looking at the Valerie McDonald case makes it easy to understand how we got here.

While Thompson had escaped being indicted for the murder of Valerie McDonald, another cold case caught up with him.

The body of Betty Cloer, a 21-year-old mother, was found by two young girls on horseback in a field near Sacramento on June 19, 1971. Cloer had been beaten, raped and shot three times. Police were given a description of the man she went out dancing with the night before, but they never found a suspect.

In late 2003, sperm found on Cloer’s clothes was matched to Thompson by a new round of DNA testing. Thompson was charged with the murder by investigators from the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office on the day he was scheduled to get out of prison. He was found guilty of first-degree murder on April 8, 2008, and will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.

John Abbott, the mad genius, however, is the one who got away with it. In 2012, “Investigate Magazine” found Abbott living in a tiny village in New Zealand where he had amassed millions of dollars in property, paying for all of it in cash.

He was soon barred from re-entering New Zealand and Australia after authorities in those countries learned of his violent criminal past. He fled to the UK, but is now reportedly in Japan, where he taught English for years.

Adding an extra level of despair to a story that hardly needs it, Detective J.R. Sharp, AKA Carroll Sharp Jr. (the nominal hero of this chapter), resigned from the Ferry County Sheriffs Office in 2006 during an FBI probe into allegations that he had inappropriately touched troubled teenage boys living in his home.
  • Pin It

Tags: , ,

About The Author

Bob Calhoun

Comments


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook

Slideshows

  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"