By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
From 1980 to 1991 several children were kidnapped and killed. Some cases were solved after many years, and some remain open and unsolved.
The first child to disappear was Suzie Bombardier, a 14-year-old honor student who was kidnapped, raped and stabbed to death on June 22, 1980.
Five days after her disappearance, she was found floating in the San Joaquin River east of Antioch, California by a fisherman. This was about 100 miles from where she lived. The girl was taken from her sister’s home while babysitting, leading her family to believe she knew her abductor.
The case languished, and at one point was considered Antioch’s oldest cold case.
It wasn’t until 2015, that DNA samples from the victim were sent to a lab in order to make a profile. In 2017, the police were notified of a hit, and it was identified as a match to Mitchell Lynn Bacom, a California native with an extensive criminal history.
In 1973, he was arrested in Mountain View, California and convicted of second-degree burglary, sodomy and assault with intent to murder. He got five years to life. By the time 1980 rolled around he was out on the streets again, which is when he preyed on Suzie.
In 1981, he was arrested in Sacramento County and convicted of first-degree burglary, robbery, rape and sodomy and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. In 2002, he was out again, and failed to register as a sex offender with Contra Costa County and sentenced to four years in prison.
Even though he had been a suspect in the Bombardier case, it wasn’t until March, 2022, that he was convicted of first-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole through a DNA match. At the sentencing, prosecutors said that Bacom had admitted to cellmates he had “raped and sliced” prostitutes across the country when he was a truck driver.
Bacom and Bombardier’s sister had dated in the past.
Three years later, Antioch was rocked again by the kidnapping and murder of another girl. She was Angela Bugay who vanished on November, 19, 1983, from Antioch. She was found a week later. She'd been strangled and sexually assaulted. Police suspected Larry Christopher Graham, a commercial pilot who lived in the same apartment complex as her family, and had a history of sexual offenses against children. Graham had once been a lover to Susan Bugay, Angela's mother.
A few weeks after Angela was killed Graham asked Susan Bugay to marry him, and she turned him down.
It wasn't until 1996, that Graham was arrested for the crime. The case against him was built using DNA testing using semen taken from Angela's body. In 2003, after being found guilty he was sentenced to death.
In 2009, while on death row at San Quentin State Prison he was found unresponsive and pronounced dead less than an hour later. It was suspected it was a suicide; he was 58 years old.
Ironically during the time Graham was on trial, his son Larry Christopher Graham Jr. was being tried for the murder of Anthony Frank Buccellato, 57, who he pushed off a speeding truck into Highway 4 traffic in 2001.
Charged as an accomplice, he testified in his trial that he had beaten Buccellato, and decided to take him to the hospital when he realized the man was dead, so he pushed him out of the truck instead. Graham claimed the incident that led up to the skirmish with Buccellato was not a botched robbery, but that he was "punishing" him for making sexual advances at a teenage girl. The girl in question testified that it was indeed a robbery attempt. Graham Jr. was convicted of 1st degree murder and robbery and sentenced in June 2003, to 26 years, 8 months to life in prison.
But returning to the 1980s, when the Bugay case was 5 years old, and unsolved, another child went missing. On June 3, 1988, Amber Swartz, 7, was taken a few miles from Antioch, California.
Within days of the little girl's disappearance a stranger named Timothy Binder introduced himself to the Swartz family and said he was searching for the girl as well, but also told them they should be looking for a dead body.
For years he played a mouse and cat game with the family and police, claiming he was trying to find the girl, but at the same time foretelling the disappearance of other children.
On June 15, 1988, bloodhounds tracked Amber's scent to the grave of Angela Bugay. Police already knew that Tim Binder visited the cemetery to drink a beer while he leaned on Angela's tombstone.
In 1989, Binder was detained by police in San Pablo, California when he was seen sitting in a van talking to a group of kids. He was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of "annoying and disturbing children" after 2 twelve-year old girls complained that he kept offering them a ride. At his booking they found a note in his wallet that read: "I love you Amber. You are my first, and I tried for you. Tried and cried and still ache in my heart. They will always try to pull me back, but I never will. They don't know about us. They never heard of us."
In 2013, Amber Swartz's case was reopened after it was closed in 2009, due to the confession of a murderer already serving prison time. His name was Curtis Dean Anderson. He confessed to her murder in 2007, a month before he died in prison from kidney and liver failure, however police could not find any evidence to sustain this. Amber's mother did not believe his confession was truthful, and that he just wanted to make a name for himself.
He confessed on a brief handwritten statement that read, "If there is no pursuit of the death penalty, I will freely admit my role in being responsible for the death of Amber Swartz-Garcia." He said he was driving to Arizona and took the girl as company. He told investigators he kept the girl sedated by giving her root beer schnapps and killed her at a motel room in the Tucson area before disposing of her body in the desert.
In 2019, Anderson’s son, Curtis Dean Anderson, Jr. committed suicide. He was serving a 16-year voluntary manslaughter sentence for killing 31-year-old Vance Fisher in 2005.
It seems that Amber’s mother was no stranger to tragedy. Amber's father Floyd “Bernie” Swartz, a Pinole police officer, was killed while pursuing a parolee in 1980. His wife was pregnant with Amber then. The killer was James Odle, who died in December, 2020 while serving his sentence. He died from natural causes at the age of 71.
In 1995, Timothy Binder was discounted as a suspect in the Bugay murder with the arrest of Graham, however there were still four unsolved kidnappings.
One of them was Michaela Joy Garecht, 9, who disappeared on November 20, 1988, on a trip to the grocery store. Her body has never been found.
In 2020, David Misch who was convicted in 1990, of the 1989 stabbing murder of 36-year-old Margaret Ball, was charged with murdering Michaela, due to his prints being found on her scooter. He is also suspected of killing two women in Fremont in 1986. Eventually he would be charged with their murders. The women were best friends Michelle Xavier, 18, and Jennifer Duey, 20.
In March 2023, Misch was ordered to stand trial for all three crimes; however the judge said he believed that when it came to the death of Xavier and Duey, Misch didn't act alone. His proceedings are ongoing.
In August, 2023, a recall effort was made against Oakland DA Pamela Price after she opposed life-without-parole sentences for Misch.
On December 27, 1991, Amanda "Nikki" Campbell, 4, vanished close to her Fairfield, California home. She was riding her bike to her friend's house only 8 doors away from her home. Her bike was found, but the child has never been seen again. In 1992, Tim Binder was named a prime suspect. As a former crematorium worker he would visit the graves of young children, taunted the suffering parents and would give neighborhood girls cash gifts, cards and poems. He would ultimately be tied to 5 cases yet police were never able to link him to any of them. He said he was just a good Samaritan, and won a suit against the city for defamation of character and was awarded $90,000.
Amanda's case is still cold.
What happened with Jaycee Dugard justifies the hopes that parents have when the bodies of their children are not found.
Jaycee Lee Dugard, 11, was taken on June 10, 1991, when she walked home from a school bus stop in Meyers, California.
In 2009, convicted sex offender Philip Garrido visited the campus of University of California, Berkeley with two adolescent girls. Due to their suspicious behavior, police interviewed them. It turned out the girls were daughters he had with Dugard.
Garrido and his wife Nancy were arrested in April, 2011. They pled guilty to kidnapping and raping Dugard. They had kept Jaycee prisoner for almost 20 years. Garrido was sentenced to 431 years, and his wife Nancy to 36 years to life.
In 2010, the state of California awarded the Dugard family $20 million, since Garrido had been on parole for a 1976 rape when she was kidnapped; he had not been monitored as should be while the state was supervising him.
In 2002, police were searching the home of Stephen Kiesle a defrocked priest in connection to the Swartz case, however there was nothing to connect him to the murder. They were also looking for evidence connected to several cases of kidnapped children. One of them was Jaycee Dugard, who had yet to be freed from a horrible existence.
The search warrant was also related to Tony Franko, 10, who was last seen walking along Fremont Way in Lemmon Valley and reported as "leaning over and talking with an unknown subject in a rusted out, possibly a Ford Pinto or even a Camaro car." He was on a way to school on May 9, 1983 when he vanished.
Four years after Tony Franko was taken, another girl disappeared. At 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 28, 1987, 11-year-old Jennifer Lee Martin purchased candy and a six-pack of Coca Cola at a 7-Eleven Convenience Store on Lemmon Drive in Reno, Nevada. She walked out of the store, headed toward her nearby home. She was last seen a short distance from where Tony was kidnapped.
Authorities had good reason to suspect Stephen Kiesle. He had already been charged with cases of molesting children in his Alameda County parish between 1969 and 1971. In 2004 he was sentenced to six years in prison for sexually assaulting a young girl a decade earlier at his vacation home. Kiesle was released in 2009 and moved to Rossmoor, California the following year. He had previously served three years probation after pleading no contest in 1978 to misdemeanor charges that he tied up, and molested two boys. He was later charged with 13 counts of child molestation linked to allegations from the 1970s, but they weren't brought to trial because of the statute of limitation.
They dug up his yard but nothing was found. In April, 2022, Kiesle was charged in a fatal crash that killed a man. Kiesle, then 75, was driving under the influence when he struck a couple on a sidewalk in the retirement community of Rossmoor.
Unfortunately these cases are only a small sample of kidnappings and murders that took place within a 10 year span. Some of them were resolved in some cases with good police work or DNA technology, but not all. It is obvious that in those years very dangerous pedophiles were on the streets, stalking prey, and who easier than a child?
As of 2023, the cases of Amber Swartz, Ilene Mischeloff, Amanda Campbell, Tony Franko and Jennifer Lee Martin are all cold cases.
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