The Murderer Who Got Cold Feet In Merced County

The location near Snelling where a body was found in a 1970s case with an unusual twist.

In the early 1970s in Merced County, there were two murder cases in which the defendants were arrested for murder “without a body.”

At the time, a trial of an alleged murderer without the remains of the victim(s) was extremely rare because of evidentiary problems. Since then a few prosecutions of this nature have occurred, but not many.

The Mary Jo Bennett case made national news, but that is for another column. However, another murder and arrest without a body had an unusual twist!

One afternoon, two teenage girls were ushered into my office by the receptionist. Nervously, they told me that the boyfriend of one of the young ladies had killed his best friend right in front of their eyes.

As chief deputy here in Merced, I took a statement from them as they detailed the facts of the killing.

A man named Jack shot his friend in Mariposa County as his friend was climbing through the window of an abandoned motor home in the Mariposa hills.  All four of them had gone up in the hills to party; Jack got mad at his friend and without provocation shot him dead.

I believed their story, but of course when we searched the area, the body was gone. The girls said that Jack had stuffed his friend into the trunk of his car.

Jack was arrested for murder, but we had no body. With virtually no other evidence than the two girls’ statements, (who had a sketchy past), the D.A., Pat Hallford, agreed to reduce the charge of murder to voluntary manslaughter if Jack produced the body!

Jack’s attorney agreed to the “deal,” and we pulled Jack out of jail to go find the body.

Sheriff Amis, a detective, Jack, his attorney, and I piled into a sheriff’s van and headed to Snelling.

We were within a quarter of a mile from Snelling, and Jack said, “Pull over here.” We stopped the van and when I got out, I could immediately smell the dead body. I called Jack and his attorney over and said, “The deal is off, I can find the body myself. I will follow my nose.”

Jack screamed and said that was unfair, outrageous and added some swear words. His attorney accused me of lawyer misconduct.

After about 10 seconds, I said, “Just kidding. Now let’s go get the body.”

Sure enough, lying in shallow water was the deceased. I saw that the friend of Jack’s had no boots on.

I looked at Jack and said, “Jack you didn’t!”

He sheepishly said, “My feet were cold.”

Jack pleaded to voluntary manslaughter and went to prison. He was eventually released.

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