Who killed Tina Faelz?
After 24 years, teen's family and Pleasanton police still seeking answers to heinous crime
Nearly a quarter of a century after Tina Faelz's lifeless body was found in a drainage culvert on a pathway behind Foothill High School, her family and Pleasanton police are still trying to figure out who could have killed the high school freshman.
"It was a real big deal at the time," said Lt. Darrin Davis of the Pleasanton Police Department.
Faelz, 14, was last seen alive at 2:35 p.m. April 5, 1984. The Foothill freshman often took the bus home from school but had recently started walking home to avoid being teased by other students riding the bus, according to her mother, Shirley Orosco. Faelz took a back route from the high school, walking on a path that connected through Aster Court to Lemonwood Way and through the Interstate 680 underpass to her Valley Trails home. But that day, she only made it part way when police believe she was approached and subsequently stabbed to death.
Fellow high school students who had also walked the same path found Faelz's body at about 3:25 p.m., only 10 to 15 minutes after investigators believe she was killed, Davis said. Police also received a call from a trucker who reported seeing her body from the freeway just minutes prior to the students who discovered her
The route was a popular one shared by students who lived in the Valley Trails neighborhood. The shortcut was often discouraged by high school administration. The tunnel and the culvert are gone now, built over by homes.
A reward was offered shortly after the news hit, initially starting at $1,000 and eventually climbing to $25,000 after donations from the City Council ($5,000), Faelz's stepfather ($5,000), Dublin-San Ramon Services District ($5,000), Police Chief Bill Eastman ($1,000), Pleasanton Rotary Club ($1,000), Alameda County Supervisor Don Excell ($1,000) and other various donors from the community, according to news articles published at the time.
"Police got a large volume of tips, but most of them didn't pan out," Davis said. "Students had claimed they were the ones who did it, but it was Friday night party talk."
Hair samples and blood were collected at the bloody crime scene, which Davis described as huge, but there were no fingerprints to collect. While investigators gathered cigarette butts and old knives, none of them could be linked to the crime.
"The thing that stands out the most to me is that it's as cold a crime scene as I've ever seen before, as far as evidence was concerned," said Bill Eastman, who was Pleasanton's chief of police from 1981-2000. "There was no place to leave fingerprints, just no physical evidence really--just the wounds to Tina. It happened down in a ravine where it was out of sight of surrounding areas. I'd always thought somebody laid in wait, but who is the mystery."
Eastman said he remembers the shock in the community.
"It was sobering to the community that it happened to such a young girl and that it was so close to Foothill High and in broad daylight," he said. "We had just about everybody on it the first 24 hours or so and followed what leads we had."
Foothill held a memorial service for Faelz a few days later and planted a lilac tree in her honor that is at the south edge of the school next to the student parking lot. A stone placard in front of the tree has her name inscribed and a tribute was made to her in the school's yearbook that year.
Orosco said she is hoping any publicity on her daughter's murder will lead to solving the case, the closure she and her son Drew Faelz, now 32, have longed for for over two decades.
"She was a real mature girl, very nice and pretty inside," she said. "We had a good relationship. She had some money in a trust fund and she wanted to go to college and get a car and be a secretary."
After marrying her husband in 2006, Orosco, who still lives in her Valley Trails home, said "this is about the only thing I have left in my life that's incomplete."
There was something about the day before Faelz was killed that Orosco said she believes played a role in her murder, but she's not quite sure exactly what or how.
The quiet, shy freshman came home from school at 4:30 p.m. a day earlier, well after school got out. When Orosco asked her where she'd been, Faelz said she was at the mall.
"But usually she wouldn't have done that, she would have come right home," Orosco said.
Faelz had attended her first karate class, which Orosco said she believed she went just for fun, not for self defense.
While Faelz began regularly walking through the shortcut, Orosco said she did sometimes drive her to and from school when she could. The day she was killed, her daughter had detention right after classes ended at 2:30 p.m., but Faelz didn't show up.
"On the way to school that day, I said 'do you want to change schools?' and she said, 'no, I'll wait until the end of this year,'" Orosco said.
Over the years, there have been some false hopes. Faelz was one of four women in her age range who had been murdered within a fairly close timeframe. Police investigated 35-year-old Michael Ihde, who was later charged with one of the women's murders--that of Lisa Monzo, 18, of San Lorenzo in 1994. Ihde, who was already serving a life sentence in Washington state for the death of another woman, was convicted and sentenced to death three years later. He has not been eliminated as a "person of interest" but police have little to link him to the crime.
The case was opened again in 1998 after James Anthony Daveggio was charged with the kidnapping, assault and murder of a 22-year-old Pleasanton woman whose body was found in the Sierras, but DNA evidence ruled him out as Faelz's killer.
Because the case is unsolved, police are cautionary on how much information they give. Releasing too many details can hamper interrogations or encourage copycats to come forward claiming responsibility.
Davis said currently there are four or five "persons of interest," which he said he wouldn't definitively call suspects. All are men who were school age to young adults at the time Faelz was murdered. Some are in prison, have been released and some live out of the state.
Over the years, police have filed hundreds of pages of reports that fill five binders on the case, No.84-1496. There are 14 pages that list the names of people police have interviewed. Davis estimated that 350 people were questioned after the incident and another 250 people have been interviewed since then, with some of the people being re-interviewed.
"These people would be teachers, students, acquaintances, visitors to Faelz's home and their acquaintances," Davis said, anyone who ever had anything to do with her.
What made investigating the incident so difficult was that the crime scene was remote, there were no witnesses and the stabbing occurred later in the day when fewer students were heading home from school, Eastman said.
While not discounting it, Eastman said there wasn't enough evidence to lead toward a preliminary conclusion that the motive was robbery or revenge. Faelz was fully clothed when she was found and police don't believe there was a sexual assault. No money was stolen from her purse.
"It was extraordinarily frustrating and while I was (police chief), I think we reopened the case four times to get fresh looks at it and never got past what we had in the first month of the investigation," Eastman said. "Tina was a pretty quiet kid, too. She didn't have a cadre of friends, where she might have said something that would indicate some problem with somebody."
Eastman, who had two daughters attending Foothill at time of the murder, said while in a professional sense, he didn't like to think he took it personally, he did.
"But, had I not had any children there, I (still) would have felt personally committed about it because of the revolting nature of the case and the despicable being who did it," he said.
Murders are rare in Pleasanton, and that's why the police department doesn't have a separate homicide unit that bigger cities with more crime have.
Davis, a veteran with the police force, began working on the case about a year after the investigation began. Since then, he, like Eastman, has seen the case reopened a handful of times. In 2003, he traveled to the East Coast to follow one particular lead, but came back empty-handed.
"The trips were definitely worthwhile and it's not that you're ruling (anyone) out, but it's not enough to go on," he said.
Just last year, DNA tests were conducted but no news has come out of that.
Although it's an unsolved homicide, Davis said these cases are never really closed; they just become inactive at times when the investigation hits a standstill.
Anyone who has tips is asked to call the Pleasanton Police Department at 931-5100.
Unsolved mysteries in Pleasanton
Including the Tina Faelz case, there are three unsolved murders in Pleasanton dating back to 1977.
Alfred "Fat Freddy" Gutierrez
Found dead with "major head injuries" after an apparent struggle in his Santa Rita Road apartment in 1977. Known as "Fat Freddy," 40, and was associated with a biker gang.
Found stabbed to death April 5, 1984 in a ditch off of Foothill Road.
A baby was dumped in a garbage bin and discovered at Pleasanton Garbage Service's headquarters on Busch Road in 1995. Police tested DNA on the baby but couldn't locate any suspects.