The Real Story of the Prospect Park Murder in Redlands
Most of this story is from memory because I was pretty young when it all happened. My mother, in an attempt to scare me into not talking to strangers or going anywhere near the orange groves and other dangerous places must have told me the story in all of it's gory details hundreds of times from the time I was about 6 years old up until I was a young adult. By the time I was 16 she didn't mention it much, but every once in a while we would see some reference to the story on the internet or the subject would come up around Halloween and this would prompt her into reciting her version to me all over again. I know at least the basics of her story are true because I can remember seeing all the police and the commotion right from my front door. This story, and the horror and anguish that this poor little girl went through is now literally seared into my memory.
I have heard from local teenagers (and seen on the internet) pretty much this same version of the story of what happened in Prospect Park myself, so I know not much of what I'm writing here is new other than a few details and clarifications. Also, the other stories I've seen on the internet seem to be a mishmash of this (my) story as well as a few others that happened in Redlands over the years. The story below is as best as I know, the real story of the "Murder in Prospect Park" without any incorrect information from the other stories thrown in.
This is NOT about the murder that happened in 1976 or 1977 in or near Sylvan Park near the University of Redlands. Nor is it about "Katie Knodel" who was abducted from her home on Alvarado Street (just a few doors down from my house! But long before I was born) back in the 1950's. It seems that all three of these stories seem to get mixed together over time. This is the actual story of what happened and what I think is commonly referred to as the "Prospect Park Murder".
I grew up on Alvarado Street and could see the orange grove at the bottom of Prospect Park from our front door. My mother being on permanent disability was home all the time and watched the police investigation which went on for what seemed like weeks, from day-1. She even made friends (some might even say a bit of a 'relationship') with one of the detectives, Mr Chadwick I think his name was, who ended up reveling a lot of the details to my mother that were never publicly released, at least not that I ever read about.
The "Prospect Park murder" happened in 1967 or 1968. It was the biggest news in the papers back then and about a year after it happened was even in a 'special investigation' story by Jess Marlow on the local news (Channel 4, NBC if I remember correctly, probably during sweeps week because of the sexual and gory nature of the crime). I remember my mother forcing me to watch it, driving her point home about the dangers of talking to strangers.
I don't know if my mother ever told me or even knew the girl's last name, but the the little girl's first name was "Lee Anne". As far as I know this was her real name, and my mother was always very clear that she was 11 years old but "looked a bit older". I always took that to mean she was better 'developed' than an average 11 year old. Her parents were Italian and she had thick, wavy, almost curly dark hair and according to the police reports and Officer Chadwick she was "very pretty", but I have never seen any photos of her.
It all started when she was walking home from school. I don't know for sure, but I think it was Kingsbury elementary and she was cutting through the Orange Groves. She was abducted by (presumably) a man that as far as I know has never been identified or caught. Nobody knows the details of exactly where the abduction took place. The only real facts that the police knew for sure was that a few neighbors reported hearing screams coming from either the park or the orange grove at around 4:30 in the afternoon. Even though both of the people that reported hearing the screams described them as sounding desperate, frantic, and begging "to stop", neither of these people called the police. Apparently back in those days crimes like this were so unusual and because the screaming stopped abruptly, they both assumed it must have just been kids playing around in the park. It wasn't until the next day when police were knocking on doors that they learned about the poor girl's frantic screams and cries for help. Had either of those people just picked up the phone and dialed "0" (this was long before 911 existed) Lee Anne might have been saved. This is one of the points that my mother always seemed to emphasize and get all worked-up about. The police also found her shoes placed perfectly next to each other - socks neatly folded and inside, in the orange grove just a few yards in, off of Highland Avenue. It's safe to assume this is where she was initially taken, but why and how her socks were folded neatly and placed inside her shoes this way was always a mystery especially considering it was done while this little girl was presumably fighting for her life.
The police don't know exactly what happened from the time she was taken in the orange grove. Her parents did not report her missing until about 6pm and the police didn't start searching for her until around noon the following day. Of course they would learn by the end of that day that she had already been long-dead by the time they even started searching. They found her body, naked lying under the stage in the park later that afternoon. Her body had been placed in an small area of dirt that had been smoothed and leveled-out, and she was placed on her side with both of her hands together under her head and her knees pushed up toward her chest. Her hair was perfectly combed and if were not for the fact that both of her eyeballs had been removed from her head, it would appear that she was simply taking a nap. All of her clothes, except for panties and the shoes and socks that were left in the orange grove were completely clean and dust-free, folded neatly, almost perfectly, according to Officer Chadwick, a few feet away. Her parents were positive that Lee Anne would have been wearing underwear so it is assumed that he kept the panties as some kind of souvenir.
The medical investigation later revealed that she had indeed been raped and sodomized multiple times and from the bruising on her wrists, neck and inside of her mouth and back of her throat, it was clear she had put up a tremendous struggle. In addition to both her eyeballs being removed, all 10 of her fingernails had also been removed, but other than that and the bruising on the wrists and neck there was not a single mark on the rest of her body. The official cause of death was something to the effect of strangulation combined with choking. I wont say what she was choked with, but you can probably guess.
They were able to determine the time of death so they knew based on when she first went missing until she died, and based on the bruising, etc, that the ordeal had to have gone on for hours. Officer Chadwick said he had never seen anything like this and told my mother: "it was horrifying to see such a pretty little girl like that. I can't imagine the horror she had to live through the last few hours of her life". Coming from a seasoned police officer that quote always sent chills down my spine even after hearing it from my mother dozens of times. The police never knew why whoever did this to her would have done all those terrible things and then taken the time to brush her hair, dust-off and fold her clothes or lay her so carefully where he left her - as if she was asleep.
Her parents had her body cremated and her remains were laid to rest in Loma Linda near where she was born. The police never even had a suspect. Unfortunately they did not have DNA testing or anything like it back then so whoever did this got away scott-free presumably with panties, eyeballs and fingernails to remember the event by.
I am not positive but I have heard, and my mother has also mentioned (but not as known fact like the rest of the story) that only weeks before she died Lee Anne had performed in a play on the stage in the park directly above where her body was found and presumably where the rape and other things went on. Again, I can't say for sure if this part is true, but if it is, it makes the stories of her ghost in Prospect Park around the stage even more believable. I have heard the stories of people claiming to see a ghost or image of a young girl around the stage in the park and that she was barefoot, wearing a short skirt, and sweater type top, and carrying school books which is exactly what Lee Anne was wearing when she was abducted. This makes the stories of people seeing her ghost in Prospect Park even more interesting considering the confusion and multiple stories of the supposed murders and hauntings in the park. Most people don't seem to know the real story (instead confusing some of the other murders in Redlands) and yet the ghost they see is almost always wearing the exact same clothes that Lee Anne was wearing or at least clothes consistent with what girls wore in the late 1960's. I don't believe in ghosts, but that part really is weird to me.
Unfortunately my mother passed away last year so I can no longer go to her to check facts or memories. Like I said already, most of this story is already out there with only minor errors so hopefully now the record can be kept straight.