AN UNSOLVED MURDER IN MADERA: Part 4
MADERA - As the local leads were drying up on the March 19, 1985 murder of Thomas Jefferson Junior High teacher, Glenn Reitz, the Madera Police got a big break in the case. A partial license plate belonging to Reitz was found near a burned out car in a gravel pit in Louisiana.
On April 7, 1985 Barry Culpepper, owner of a gravel pit near Arcadia, Louisiana reported to the Bienville Parish Sheriff's Department that he had found a burned car on his property approximately 150 yards west of the intersections of Parish Roads 402 & 446.
When deputies arrived they found a completely burned out car with all of the known Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) melted. On the vehicle was a cut in half license plate with the numbers 418X still hanging on the rear of the vehicle. The vehicle was left at the scene for further investigation.
The next day deputies returned to the scene and copied the VIN number off of the firewall in the engine compartment. The vehicle was a 1982 Audi two door registered to David Smith of Shreveport, Louisiana. It was stolen the night before from the parking lot of a bar called "Cowboys" in Bossier City, Louisiana.
While the deputies were video taping the scene again on April 10, 1985 they found what appeared to be a license plate directly across a narrow road from where the burned out car was found. This plate was blue in color with yellow letters. A dealers plate holder was still attached with the words "Benny Car Sales - Sanger".
The registration tags and state name had been cut off the plate with some sort of metal cutters. The license number was 624NHG. It belonged to Glenn Reitz's 1976 Toyota Celica GT Hatchback that he had purchased new from Benny's Toyota dealership in Sanger approximately nine years earlier.
Criminal Investigator Lucky Raley of the Bienville Parish Sheriff's Department told Madera Police that the area the license plate was found in was popular with transients. It was a wooded area of the county near Lake Bistineau. He also said that Bosier City had a large gay community but that the bar the burned out vehicle was stolen from was not a gay establishment.
While Reitz's car was not found, and would not be for another three years, Madera Police did have a good idea of the route used by the suspect or suspects.
Just days after the murder of Reitz, Madera Police learned that a Chevron credit card belonging to Reitz was used to purchase gas in Wilcox, Arizona at 9:22pm on the same day the teachers body was discovered and twice in Texas the next couple of days, El Paso and Sweetwater. While a gas station attendant in Wilcox said she would be no help in identifying the driver of the victims car, an attendant in El Paso remembered the cars bumper stickers and what the driver looked like.
El Paso Police officers contacted Dan Ziemer at Mike Null's Chevron. Ziemer was the attendant on duty when the suspect used Reitz's gas card to purchase gas and cigarettes. He described the suspect as a white male adult between 22 and 23 years of age. Five foot six inches, between 130-140 lbs, with brown hair and wearing black rimmed glasses.
He said he asked the suspect about that card and was told it was his father's. Ziemer said he thought the suspect looked too young to have a card. The attendant was very confident that he would recognize the suspect if he saw him again. El Paso Police asked if Ziemer would help on developing a composite drawing and the man said, "I'll do whatever I can".
A few days after the license plate was found in Louisiana, the composite arrived in the mail at Madera PD and was distributed around Madera, El Paso, Texas and the Shreveport, Louisiana area. In Madera one name kept coming up. The name of a former Madera High student that had moved to Mesquite, Texas after graduation, Dane Tharp.
Tharp was only one of about twenty-five people named by tips received by the police from the public based solely on the composite drawing. Even an old girlfriend of Tharp's contacted the police. Despite the fact that Tharp was cleared with a very solid alibi, his name still comes up today when talking about the case.
Detective Gary Westphal of the Mesquite Police Department contacted Dane Tharp and learned that Mr. Tharp had been at work in Texas on the night of the murder and that he had several witnesses to confirm that fact.
If there was anyone who truly was an innocent victim in this case it would have to have been Dane Tharp considering the attack he has suffered to his reputation by rumors that have continued for 28 years. If this series of stories accomplishes anything, I hope it finally clears the name of this man who had nothing to do with the death of Glenn Reitz.
However there were still about 24 other people on the list that still needed to be cleared. The problem was that the composite drawing looked like a lot of young men growing up in the seventies and early eighties. Heck I have a photo of myself from eighth grade that looks just like the composite except even then I never weighed anything close to 130 pounds.
The most credible leads on suspects who looked similar to the composite came from law enforcement itself. Al Buccieri, a parole agent for the California Department of Youth Authority in Fresno contacted Madera Police Detective David Foster about a subject named "Michael F." who looked like the person in the composite. "Michael F. was a parolee who was transferred to the San Diego Field Office but never showed up for his meeting with his new parole agent. It was believed that the subject was living with his father in Tihipiti, Arizona but according to Buccieri, the subject was seen in the Fresno area around the time of the murder.
"Michael F." had lived with another parolee in the Coarsegold area by the name of "Chuck F". and a man named "Jonathan H.". It was believed that the subject and "Jonathan H." had on occasions had homosexual relations. Buccieri told Foster that it was reported that "Michael F." would go out and hitchhike to be picked up. The parole agent said he was unsure if the reasons were for sex. There is no other mention of "Michael F." in the police report.
In a report approved by Sergeant Mike Jeffries, California Highway Patrol officer Jack Bruer reported that he had booked a subject into the Fresno County Jail in June, who looked just like the subject in the composite, for not producing valid identification. Bruer said the subject used the name of Donald James but he believes that was false.
The Fresno County Deputies at the jail attempted to finger print the individual several times. When they would get a good set of prints, the subject would grab the card and smear the prints. The subject was advised that he would not be released from the jail until he complied.
Bruer said the subject had shorter hair than in the composite but other than that the appearance was the same. He believed the subject had just returned to the valley from Kentucky. The officer told Madera Police that he had more information on the type of vehicle the subject was driving and the people he was spending time with. He said that if the detectives were interested they should contact him. If the detectives made contact there is no record of it in the Madera PD file.
A call even came in from former Madera County Jail Chief Al Hahn, (who later had his own experiences with the wrong side of the law). In a report written by Madera Police Chief Gordon Skeels, Hahn advised that the composite drawing was identified by one of his informants as an individual named "James F.".
Hahn told Skeels that this individual had an outstanding warrant through the Madera County Department of Probation. Three other people called Madera PD with information about this subject who would have been 18 years old at the time of the murder. He was living in Fresno but died in Oklahoma in 2007 according to Madera Police Detective Robert Salas. "James F." was last arrested in Madera County in 1989. There is no record in the file of this person having been contacted or questioned in connection to the Reitz case.
Reitz's aunt had called the Fresno County Sheriff's Department when she saw a photo of a subject arrested in Tulare County, who she felt closely resembled the composite drawing. Darren Wilburn Little was being charged with rape and murder which occurred in June of 1985 in Tulare County. He currently is serving life at Mule Creak State Prison. There is no other mention of Little in the police report other than the victim's aunt's report of the resemblance to the Fresno County Sheriff.
Any leads generated by the distribution of the composite seem to have dried up within a relatively short time period. The PD file has very little activity recorded in it between the years of 1986 and 1988. The next significant entry is for April of 1988, when Reitz's 1976 Toyota Celica GT Hatchback was found in Arcadia, Louisiana.
The car was located less than 35 miles from the burned out stolen vehicle found in the gravel pit in April 1985. It had been discovered by a logging survey team working in the area. It had ended up in a wooded area and had, by the looks of it, been abandoned there several years before. The windows were down and the upholstery had rotted. A small tree had grown between the frame and the bumper of the car.
The second license plate was still attached to the vehicle. However, this discovery only added to Madera PD's knowledge of the path the stolen vehicle took. It did not add any details about who had driven the car or their possible connection to the Reitz case.
Over the next three weeks we will discuss the three existing theories on the murder. First we will explore the thought that the Madera teacher may have been the victim of a serial killer, someone that was traveling through the area looking for victims and leaving a trail of bodies in their wake. Second we will go over the reasons that some believe the murderer is from Madera, that Reitz may have been murdered for a very specific reason and that the perpetrator may still be living among us. And then the third theory, that Reitz simply had the bad luck in his personal life to have met a lover capable of violence and murder.