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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Yesterday's Crimes: "Working And Homicide Is Two Different Things"

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2016 at 12:19 PM

  • Randy Heinitz/Flickr
The only thing worse than waking up in an East San Jose carport on New Year's Day is being found dead in one. That's what happened to Ines Sailer, an attractive 23-year-old German kindergarten teacher on Jan. 1, 1981.

Sailer was last seen leaving a New Year's Eve party in the Richmond District. When she was found nearly 60 miles south the next day, she had been sodomized and shot five times in the body and the brain with a small-caliber handgun. Police believed that she was murdered somewhere else and then dumped in San Jose.

Making things stranger, investigators found a slip of paper in Sailer's wallet with Valerie McDonald's name and phone number written on it. McDonald's 1981 disappearance and murder has been covered in the past three installments of "Yesterday's Crimes."

Philip Arthur Thompson, one of the suspects in the McDonald disappearance, was in San Francisco at the time of Sailer's murder, and we know now that he committed the similar rape and murder of Betty Cloer in 1971; a crime that he was finally found guilty of in 2008 following a round of DNA testing.

In another San Francisco carport a little over a year after the Sailer killing, Dawn O'Malley, 28, stood by while her fiancé, David Wallace, parked his car on Feb. 20, 1982.

Melvin Forte, a steely-eyed career criminal, came up behind O'Malley, and shot her in once in the back. Forte then plugged Wallace in the head as he got out of the car. Wallace fell to the floor, dead.

O'Malley was found and rushed to the hospital where medical personnel accidentally broke her finger while removing the diamond engagement ring that Wallace had sold his Austin Healy sportscar to buy for her. After surviving the shooting, O'Malley cloistered herself away at her parents' house for five months.

"I had no one who could understand what I was going through," O'Malley later recalled. "I didn't know anyone who witnessed the murder of someone they loved."

The day after shooting O'Malley and Wallace, Forte robbed a business in Milpitas, and continued his crime spree with armed robberies in Los Altos and Burlingame, where he shot a security guard with the same gun he used to kill Wallace.

Forte was found with the gun when he was later arrested in San Francisco. He was sentenced to life in prison based mostly on the ballistics evidence.

While at San Quentin, Forte tutored inmates and played in a jazz ensemble. He also tried to strangle a prison librarian.

In 2006, San Jose detectives submitted physical evidence found on Sailer's clothes and body 25 years earlier, and they had a hit. Melvin Forte was the man who raped her. Police were also able to determine that Forte had once worked at the Langendorf Bakery in San Jose, and also had relatives there, giving him knowledge of the area where Sailer's body was found.

"Working and homicide is two different things," Forte said in the opening statement of his trial. The killer acted his own attorney, and things didn't go very well for him.

Forte undid his own defense while grilling Barbara Kelch, the apartment manager who found Sailer's corpse.

"I remember seeing you," Kelch said under Forte's cross-examination.

Apartment records for the complex where Sailer was found were long-since gone by the time of the trial, but Kelch was able to establish that Forte had lived in the building.

"I didn't recall you until I saw you today," Kelch said. "I'm an artist. Details are important to me."

The jury brought in a guilty verdict in less than three hours. Dawn O'Malley was able to confront her fiancé's killer during the sentencing phase of the trial. Forte referred to himself in the third person as he questioned his one-time victim.

"OK, what did you do when the person shot you?" Forte asked.

"You shot me," O'Malley replied, as jurors visibly winced.

Forte was given the death penalty on May 6, 2011. He now sits on San Quentin's death row.

While one interpretation of the DNA evidence may indicate that Forte had an accomplice, he botched his case so thoroughly that this avenue was never explored during the murder trial.

That scrap of paper in Sailer's wallet with Valerie McDonald's phone number on it may be only a red herring in a rabbit hole lined with them.

We will likely never know for sure.
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Bob Calhoun


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