« Crime Junkie

MURDERED: Barbara Nantais & Claire Hough

2018-07-23

In the dreamy summers of southern California, two murders happen within yards of each other, but a decade apart. Questions echo throughout these cases. Are they connected? Can DNA help solve these cases? Or does it just muddle the facts even more?

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hi can junkies here actually is in Philadelphia at hanging out with Patrick and Gillian from true kind of the saddest and meeting our queen Robbia tawdry, but we still have lined up an awesome episode for you guys before we start I'd like to take a moment to thank you all so much for listening last week's episode and supporting our friends over at swindled podcast, we were thrilled to get to work with them and they appreciated your lessons. So with that, I think it's time to get on with our show. Today.
I'm going to tell you the story of Barbara Nan, Taste and Claire Huff, and the he begins in one thousand nine hundred and seventy eight, when Barbara Nan Taste and her boyfriend, Jim Alt R young couple in love. Barbra is a cheerleader brown, hair brown eyes, she's popular she's sassy and is a strong funny. Happy like surfer dude like this takes place in southern California, and he is the epitome of southern cal. Yeah. He was even once featured in wet suit. Add any surfer magazine, so They were like this KEN and Barbie couple of Southern California. An a lot of girls really liked Jim, but only had eyes for Barbara who was fifteen at the time of this story on weekend of August 12th, one thousand nine hundred and seventy eight Barbara's parents had play a weekend, getaway an affair my friend was to look after Barbara and her three siblings and
for leaving Barbara's dad, Jim aside and said, listen I'm going to be gone. You take care of my girl. You make that she is safe. And he says to this day- that the biggest mistake he ever made and biggest lie that he ever told as soon as her parents left Jim and Barbara hopped into a station wagon with two of their friends and they went down to Torrey Pines Beach. The beach was packed that day just absolutely filled with people. Everyone surfing everyone's hanging out. And around nine hundred and thirty the crowd starts dwindling down the decide that they're going to stay and actually sleep on the beach again they're like young teenagers, their parents are out of town like I get it yeah totally. This is something a younger stupider me would try to do yeah younger stupider version of us that lived somewhere with a beach. So there are,
friends that pick them up. In the station wagon, they decided they're going to sleep in the station wagon and Jim, an Barbara decided they're going to take their sleeping bags down to the beach and sleep on the beach, so they zip up there. Two sleeping bags together get in big bag and the last thing that Jim remembers is that he has his arms around Barbara and their falling sleep the next to vivid memory. Jim has is of waking up, cold, alone wet and covered in blood. What he is blinded and so disoriented that he feels his way along the fence up the the hill, to the parking lot and he's literally crawling to his friends car and he banging on his friends car door and when they get up and look out the window and they see Jenn, they don't even recognize him. He has blood all over his face all over his hair. His
face is literally swollen twice as big. He was unrecognizable. He had been I haven't really beaten with a rock in a log, and he can barely mutter words, but he just keeps saying: go find Barbara friends, run down to look for her and there she was knew and life less her friend start screaming for nearby people to call police and when police arrive they find her body is covered in sand, she has move your head wounds and, I think that maybe she was beaten with a rock or a log alot like Jim was, and she had, also been strangled. Now she had sand in her mouth and killer had left some gruesome marks on her. He had taken a sharp instrument and cut around her areola and Hernia
to mutilate her breast. She had also, along with being sexually assaulted, had been sodomized, and I didn't get a ton of detail, probably for the best, but he had wound ed her vaginal area with some kind of object. Barbara's to get notified and the time they're notified Jim is in a coma for days, he had suffered a traumatic brain injury and he woke he had no memory of the attack, so I don't know I kind of always wonder if they would have asked him a lot of questions like as he had crawled up the beach. If he would know more, I have to assume he was in such shock that he had no idea what was going on, but to this day that whole- Period of time when he was attacked, is just a blank space for him- and I know we say this- a lot that significant- there's some family members are the first to be considered suspects. Did they consider gym ever so did he was actually one of their first suspects, but
They end up ruling him out because of how severe his injuries were. They said you know there is no way that he would have done this to himself or been a part of something because he almost died because of how bad his injuries were. Oh wow These could not find Barbara's killer. They investigated gym, but beyond, in him, they really had nowhere to go, and this murder haunted Torrey Pines and the family for years. And in those years no one was caught. There were hardly any suspects, it seemed to be a random attack with no rhyme or reason. Like so many cases, even though the family is stuck in this every single day, the world keeps moving on and the people of Torrey Pines Beach kept moving on as well until they were confronted with. Violence again, eight years later in nineteen, eighty four ayoung
thirteen year old girl named Claire Huff is in southern California, visiting her grandparents. Now she have actually lived in Rhode Island with her family, but in the summer of nineteen. Eighty four Claire her brother and her friend Kim We went to Claires Grandparents House who lived just blocks from Torrey Pines. Beach Kim was actually only going to spend a short time there with her friend and on their last night. There Claire convinced her to sneak out of her grandparents house and go down to the beach after dark and when they get there most immediately Kim has a panic attack. She said the darkness was so deep and she was so terrified by the idea that it was so vast so work that you literally couldn't see somebody like walking along side of you, that it just scared her to her core
she freaked out. So bad that they ended up having to go almost immediately back to Claire's grandparents House and when they get back Kim, makes clear promise her that she won't sneak out again that summer, on August 24th of nineteen, eighty four clear bro that promise- and no one knows exactly why police say that believed that Claire had visited the beach earlier that day and that she perhaps met somebody that she planned to again that night, but we don't know for sure what detectives do know is that the young teen had snuck out of her grandmother's house late, that night and headed down to the beach, with her cassette stereo and at the next thing we know is that the next day her body was found by a beachgoer near a Br and she was laying half naked with her- Blue Jeans pulled partly down now clear been found, just a few one hundred yards away from where Barbara was killed,
and the similarities don't just end there now pre death, these. Girls actually looked very similar in appearance, and they were only one year apart in age and as far. Is there murders in the way they were found. Not only were they found in a similar location, they had both been beaten. And they had both been strangled both were, early assaulted and both had sand packed in their mouths and both had breast that had been similarly mutilated. Now the one big difference is that after Claires murder, her parents came out from Rhode Island to be in San Diego to help with the investor. Mission and to help hopefully find their daughter's murderer. Now, when they were there, a suspect comes to light almost immediately when they we're on the beach where their daughter was found. They get approached by a man. This man's name was Wallace Wheeler and he comes up to the.
On the beach and he says I am a psychic and I'm also the one that found your daughter, so This guy is just maybe hanging around waiting to tell someone's story waiting for her family, but he go. Who's on, and things continue to get weirder when he talks to them for a half hour about how he has visions and he used to be this fighter pilot and the family thought this was super strange, like everything about Wallace Wheeler made them uncomfortable their interaction, how he found them. Nothing sat right with them yeah, and so they go to police and the police actually encourage the family to keep communicating with him. They say he actually might know something he might be the guy he might we found her because he put her there or he found her 'cause. He knows something more like we need to keep this guy talking. He doesn't want to talk to us, but he willing to talk to you openly, so they say keep in contact with him and they do an this guy continues to write them letters for a long time, and-
I would say that Claire was constantly coming to him in these visions and he would have dreams about her. Police eventually do formally question him, but he never confessed to anything and eventually the letters, do stop and then they completely stopped when he ends up killing himself by jumping off of a 13th floor, or balcony at a hotel or apartment complex sometime at night, and I have so many questions around this suicide. I don't know I mean he seems mentally unstable to me from what we know, but I don't know where that stems from or if he had been diagnosed with anything. I don't know a part of was guilt or part of this. Wasn't stable man who then found a dead girl and that just really messes you up but as far as I can see two, there was no note that I could find to explain his suicide and police said
At the time they were convinced that this was their killer and the suicide just made them even more sure of their conclusions so other than the weird ronins and communication with Claire's family was this guy. Barbers case at all. He wasn't an, and not only was he not connected to Barbara's case Barbara's family had never even heard about Wallace Wheeler AN not only have they not heard about Wallace Wheeler her family. Never even heard about clears case. They had no idea that another murder had happened a few years later, that matched their daughters, their sisters. So specifically, my god, it wasn't until two thousand and eight when Barbara's family finally realized that there might be a connection, they were look on Line- and this is about the time that the police station has started to modernize and Mister unsolved cases online, and it was at the
this point when they posted online that the police for the first time said publicly that they believe the cases were linked, but linking them publicly doesn't bring them any closer to a killer. Four more years go by before advancements in DNA can help bring any kind of resolution to either one of these cases in twenty twelve, when advanced dna technology becomes available, they reopen both cases and- find some usable dna from Claires crime scene, but nothing in barbers case, but that's ok, so there pretty sure that they are linked, and so even if they have dna from one they're, pretty sure that could help them solve both homicides, we analyzed the dna from Claires crime scene. They realized that they actually have two distinct samples. One
was from blood on clears jeans and the other was a microscopic amount recovered from a vaginal swab. The blood on her jeans was linked to a convicted rapist named Ronald Tatro. This seems like a really good suspect. The fact that he was a convicted rapist shows that violent. This is the exact type of crime that he would have committed and it could have. Easily escalated. However, when they win to go fine Ronald. They couldn't actually talk to him because by the time they get to him by the time they found his DNA Ronald was dead, he had drowned in what people had called a boating accident in twenty eleven somewhere in Tennessee, but even though it was ruled an accident there's a lot of suspicion around his death, and a lot of I believe that it could have been a suicide because on the boat left, on the driver seat was his wallet with his glove.
And so it looked very intentional- an like he had gone into the water intentionally now not only did the scene look like a suicide, but it. Very strange that his death took place on exact anniversary of clears murder. What's yes oh, my gosh full body chills one hundred percent. That's super suspicious yeah. So even though I mean it got ruled an accident, he obviously wasn't a suspect when it got ruled an accident. He Adminis aspect before the dna came back. So I wonder if they would have known that at the time If maybe it would have changed things. I feel, like we've, all seen, Dexter Ann. This is an episode such an episode, so they're pretty sure that Ronald had something to do with it, but because there is this second sample, the Inven
gators are wondering if maybe he had an accomplice. They get that second sample tested, and there is a hit to someone. The officers know why the dna found inside of her was Lee to a man named Kevin Brown, who was a former criminalist in their own lab in January, two thousand and fourteen when investigators go to visit him, his wife isn't super concerned at first at first. She thinks they're meeting about an old case that maybe he worked on, but they start to ask tougher and tougher questions Did you know Ronald? He was this rapist. We have his dna on this girl. We think he's connected to somebody. We think you were involved in the murder of this young girl and, of course, is Kevin is like no way. I've never met this guy. Before in my life, investigators say that they showed him a picture of Claire he says, oh sure I remember her now to be fair.
Our investigators are saying like see. This guy, whose dna was found, remembers this girl and asked about it later, he said. Well, of course I remember her. It was a really well known case in the area, and I work. In the crime lab like I wasn't on her case, but I knew the cases- and you remember the case of a fourteen year old girl now as people continue to investigate they their sights set on Kevin and a core. To their account they tell him that his dna was found on her and she is the one who mentions the vaginal swab What do you mean mentions a vaginal swab, so they basically say something to the effect of like you know. We have your dna and he's the one that they don't see exactly where they have his dna and he's
one that's like, oh well. If you have my dna off a vaginal swab or something like that effect, where they're like that, we never mentioned where we got it off of it, brings it up regardless yeah, that's what the police say. Then is also say that at some point during their investigation, that Kevin admits to having met a girl named Claire and that he had had sex with her and police say that this is him trying to explain away his dna that was found on her vaginal swab, but Kevin's law years later say: no. He never said that it was like there Claire. He was police. When he's being interrogated that yeah, I met someone named Claire in the 80s, but she some thirty year old woman. She was never this teenage girl. He was admitting to knowing the clear that was murdered It's one of those things that he brought up while under interrogation because they were like do you know any clears? Have you ever had sex with a woman named Claire, and that was answering the question, but
this feel that all of this is enough circumstantial evidence to get a warrant, and they do they search his place from top to bottom. Looking for any thing that could tie him to either case and there's no found in the home. But as investigators start to talk to his coworkers, they find that Kevin has somewhat of a darker side. At the time of Claires murder, he was a bachelor in his thirties working at the crime lab and his nickname by his co workers in the crime lab was kinky, Kevin and they said that he loved going to strip clubs. He would love going to like dirty movies at theaters, and he had like this weird photography hobby where he would like go with photographers to take pictures of like scantily, clad women, and they said some of them said that he would like. For these women private sessions. Ok, and he,
read some of his female colleagues really uncomfortable. An one example given by a female coworker was She said that he had taken a report of a violent rape and started reading it out loud and asked her. Isn't that funny? and after that she said she never felt comfortable being alone with him again. So again, it's not like he made a weird advancement to her, but nothing about rape funny so that is super weird and I would definitely be uncomfortable around that guy at work as well. Now, at this point in the investigation the police asked him to take a polygraph and he does, and it will be no surprise to any of our crime junkies that he one hundred percent failed the polygraph, the other things that look bad for that police point to as proof of guilt is one statement made when he was talking to an investigator an the investigator said. You know, I don't think for a second, that you thought she was fourteen and Kevin
reply instead of saying I don't know her or what are you talking about? He said no, I had no idea she was fourteen. Now yeah. It looks super sketch yeah, but again when asked about it later. His lawyers are saying now he's saying, listen, they're talking about this case. Again. He knew about this case 'cause. It was one of the biggest cases while he worked in the crime lab in anyone would say this is an awful thing to happen to a fourteen year old. Like that's, you see a woman is an murdered on the beach. Everyone shocked that she's a little girl, basically so again. This is just more proof to investigators that they're on the right track and to Kevin. He feels like he's getting railroaded now another thing that police say happened is the police say a friend had come forward, saying that Kevin had called him shortly after the murder and said that a girl that he had photographed on the beach ended up dead
and police are going to look at him as a suspect and this is super incriminating, but it also be corroborated later on this friend who police point to who the police, where told them this says, he never said such a thing. So I don't know if he lied the first time. I don't know if he's recanting now or if all This is totally made up to begin with. Now his wife firmly defends him. She says he does not have a mean bone in his body and that everything he did It was just thing, a red blooded american male would do the Strip clubs the porn. She said none of its illegal. None of it makes him a murderer. An in the racy photos of girls. She describes, as quote Cutesy, which I don't love you
she's basically saying listen at the time. He was single he's into sex and she's, like I don't fault him for that. He wasn't. Even cheating on me. He was just taking picture. Naked girls and she's, like you know, if you asked any thirty year old man who was single if they wanted to take a picture of a naked gurl like you're, probably going to get a yes so was he a little more like out there? Not everyone is called Kinky Kevin at work, so he was a little more flamboyant about his preferences, but she's like it doesn't make someone a killer now, even police feel that they have all of this circumstantial evidence, there's no way for them to link Kevin to Ronald. You could never say for certain when or even if they would have met and then having any kind of partnership or friendship or even interaction didn't seem to fit again. There may be some kinky things like looking in,
outside about Kevin, but he was not the same person that Ronald was Ronald, was a known rapist. He had gone to prison and kept It was a squeaky, clean lab tech who had never gotten into legal trouble before, but everyone keeps going back to that dna. What about dna you can't explain it away Kevin's lawyers say they can explain it away so, like five years ago, I could not Ask Ashley until I convinced her, otherwise with the power of making a good cheesecake. She was truly scarred by my feeble attempt to make macaroni and cheese from scratch. Like seventeen. It was not good, but now I like a truly gourmet chef because of hello, Hellofresh something super yummy and nutritious meals at home, a breeze by providing step by step, instructions and
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hello, fresh by going to hellofresh dot com, crime, junkie, eighty and entering code idiot check out. That's like eight meals, totally free, Hellofresh, dot, com, slash crime, junkie, eighty and entering in Katy at checkout for eight dollars off your first month of hello, fresh, several swabs were taken from Claires body when she right and actually one of them was tested way back in nineteen, eighty four and they we found nothing on it. There wasn't. They did have a ton of advanced dna back then, but they didn't trace of semen. They didn't find anything and then is that second swab that was San Diego that they tested years later again had a microscopic sample that tested positively for Kevin. Now. The problem with this microscopic sample is that it was not kept in a way that
ensure the integrity of this evidence. Procedures that are used now to prevent cross contamination were not in place back then. So when They had this sample in the same lab or Kevin worked. Kevin is working. Right near the sample, and even though he didn't actually work that case and he sat on the process to the evidence he was in the same area as the person who did well the swabs. It was standard procedure back then that the swabs were put face up out in the air to dry and not covered by anything just open air on the tape all right near where Kevin worked. So anything airborne could have touched that swap now the problem with that is it wasn't anything that Swab. They know that it was semen on that swab I mean it's Kevin were talking about Kevin well and so they even said that we can explain that away because apparently lab tech
would bring in their own semen, to test the equipment, so I guess it is a field where. But you are you, you can't see my face, but I am in complete shock yeah. It was very weird protocol, I agree, but even the other lab techs, who, like obviously weren't a huge fan of Kevin, said that this is kind of standard practice. They were use their semen samples to basically calibrate equipment and make sure that the equipment was testing properly like to register semen. So it's very possible that he could have had a semen sample in the lab. Now. Obviously, these samples that they brought in weren't tracked by any means, so they can't say for sure he did It's one of those things that definitely kind of brings up reasonable. Doubt, another problem was that they didn't switch gloves back then they were basically just protecting their hands from the samples, but they weren't protecting the samples from each other. So what the
These are suggesting could have happened. Is that if these texts, or using Kevin's DNA his sperm, which, by the way, will be like so weird to use someone elses like jizz to like someone you knew yeah like not even like worked with. I don't love it like. Can you let him do that people you work with. I don't like this at all. That's very personal for coworkers right, so they're saying what could have happened is there? Coworker could have used Kevin sample to test something handling it with the gloves on then moved on to test clear sample and not have changed their gloves and is how such a tiny microscopic sample had gotten on the swab, which it again it it's like all the the dice fall right. If everything is in place like it can kind of be a logical explanation, it definitely is enough in my.
Opinion to cause reasonable doubt for sure, and I think, like part of what I get caught up on to you, is that for it to be such a microscopic amount in her and knowing that the first time the did the swab. Nothing came back I don't know, and if somebody were raped there is no protection use. You would think that you would find more than that right, and this isn't the first time that we've heard of this. This is actually happened before it's been documented in other states and at least four other countries so can, Brown was sure that this case was weak as hell, and there is no way it was going to go to trial, even though there seems to be an explanation for everything Kevin sure that everything is circumstantial like the police are just on a witch hunt. The police don't They say we still fully believe that Kevin is our killer. We still have them in our sights and the pressure began mounting on Kevin in twenty fourteen. On a day,
October of that same year, his wife came home to find the bible, into a song about being wrongfully accused and next to that Bible was his phone and his watch and they with her mother at the time, and she asked her mom. You know where's Kevin and her mom said. I don't know he said he had to go somewhere. He was showered shaved. He looked nice and just said that he had things to do, that night Kevin never comes home and the fall. Day his wife got the news she feared the most. She got a knock on her door from a detective to say that we found your husband and he's. On a ranger at a state park had found Kevin hanging from a tree and his, He said his suicide is not an admission of guilt. She said that he fell at this point. He had no future and if it went to court it would tarnish his
application forever, and she said it's these investigators who drove him to do this now. I think it's uh little bit hard to believe. But looking from the outside in, I can understand them pressure. I can understand police not giving up on you and I can understand not wanting to go to prison, but for the reason of not wanting it to tarnish your reputation, I almost feel like committing suicide is kind of giving into that because that's going to stay with you and you aren't even there to fight back say: you think that you'd want to fight harder than ever to clear your name and to be fair note that there weren't other issues that he was dealing with other mental instabilities, but it doesn't really feel a good way to clear your name, not at all, and three days after his death, the San Diego These kind of capitalize on this day publicly named Kevin as one of the two suspects, which kind of raged his wife and I don't blame her. She said you know he was here for years. You could have
Send him a suspect and now that he's gone you're going to take advantage of it exactly You could have named him a suspect, while he was here while he could have defended himself, or at least it up for himself and you're, going to wait until he's gone and can't fight back to do that and it's it. It is pretty crappy, so Kevin's wife acts they filed suit against the city of San Diego for misconduct and wrongful death. Their case has, the court in two thousand and seventeen. It's been a lot of back and forth and I still don't think to this day that anything's been fully resolved and Claire's. Parents say that they really have faith in the San, Diego police and they trust them. So the San Diego police say that it's Kevin and Ronald then the fee I believe that that is Kevin and Ronald and they're both dead. Now, the fam The barber, though, have more questions than ever about her murder. Police now say that the cases are not connected because there
no DNA in Barbara's case and at the time of barbers. Under Ronald was actually in prison for rape during that whole time. So there was no possible way for him to commit the crime, and Kevin was actually attending college five hundred miles away. So there was no way for him to commit it either like they're still trying to link Kevin Ronald like some kind of team but they're, saying both of our suspects, both of the guys that we Think committed, Claire's murder could not have did Barbara's so now we're saying they're no longer connected, so what do you say Brett like is this just an easy copout, or do you think they were never connected to begin with I'm listening? If they were ever connected to again with to be honest, there's so many similarities, though I mean literally wavy were murdered the sand in their mouth, the mutilated breast. It did One person see what did Ronald see what happened to Barbara and just like copy it. I don't think that's like I don't know, to me. It doesn't fit these. It's so,
for me, though, I had the same problem with the April Tinsley CASE and the girl. Sarah that died police have conclusively said, there's they're not connected. I find it so bizarre when two people are killed in such similar fashion, so close together, yeah I mean even just sitting here talking it through my mind, going back and forth on The mutilation, an the sand in their mouth and the in general, are so similar. But if, if they're connected, it could- have been either these two guys right. So if they are connected then Ronald and Kevin aren't the killer either. And then you have to explain how Ronald blood got on her pants. So I mean I guess it really makes sense that they probably aren't it's just so so bizarre, but they have officially closed clears case, saying that both Ronald and Kevin were responsible and bar
this case is officially open. There's no suspects and it probably will remain open for a long time, and I guess the only question left in this case, is whether or not the sample from then do you believe that it was cross. Contamination or Do you believe that he was this crazy secret killer? Who got away with it? I feel has to be cross contamination. The logic in me which, as you know, I'm kind of a logical one. That it's so likely for cross contamination to have happened and seemingly, unlike for him to have been involved. That's the only explanation for the microscopic sample found inside clear I just have to wonder why police it had been so reluctant to except that like if they- something we don't know, but I also think they kind of behaved like in
shady manner the way that they accused him after death and even all the evidence that they are pointing to like again porn. Does not a murderer. Make well, and I was going to say at this point I feel like they're, probably feeling like there too far in on this theory to start backtracking now yeah, but I mean even they have it like just Ronald did it, like you still have a suspect is not your case is back open. I'm not sure why you're trying to link these people too bad unless it is to save face, and you know how I feel about that. I can't stand it. I think we learned a valuable lesson from this. No matter what your job is: don't semen, samples to work ever yeah good, good call
I would love to hear what everyone else and if you want to go on our Facebook discussion group, add let us know if you think there is a cross contamination and are far right really connected right. You can also get us at and see you guys next week, crying junkie is written. All of our sound production and editing comes from a line and all of our music, including our theme, comes from Justin Daniel Crime Junkie is an audio chuck production. So what do you think Jack? Do you approve.
Transcript generated on 2019-10-28.