The murder of Cheri Jo Bates
37 years of questions, suspects and DNA -- but no answers. Yet.

Oct. 30, 2003

By Tom Voigt
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PORTLAND, Ore. -- Cheri Jo Bates was someone her Riverside, Calif. community cared about. A young, pretty college student, Cheri was everybody's girl next door. When she was murdered on Oct. 30, 1966, those touched by her tragedy hoped her killer would quickly be caught. The Riverside Police Dept. (RPD) had never failed to solve a homicide. Surely the hunt would end swiftly and people would be allowed to try and forget what had happened to Cheri Jo Bates.

Unfortunately, things didn't turn out as hoped.

Today marks the 37th anniversary of Cheri's death. Exactly who killed her remains a mystery. However, DNA was recovered from the aftermath of her deadly struggle and police believe it most likely belongs to the man they seek. In attempting to defend herself, Cheri apparently pulled out some of her killer's hair. Her actions were the product of desperation as she struggled to survive. Thanks to science, that desperate act might one day lead police to her killer.

Some believe Cheri was the victim of California's elusive Zodiac killer, who eventually claimed 37 victims and even implied he had killed Cheri. Others, including the RPD, believe Cheri was killed by someone she knew well and even dated, a fellow student from Riverside City College (RCC) referred to on this website as "Bob Barnett." All would agree the best way to identify Cheri's killer is to find a suspect who is a genetic match to the DNA that was found in her hand.

In December 1998, the RPD learned that Barnett was returning to the Riverside area for Christmas after living abroad for two decades. Since the new-found DNA might be the break necessary to finally close the case forever, a search warrant was obtained and Barnett was confronted upon his arrival at Ontario Airport. Skin, saliva, hair and other samples were taken and immediately sent to the FBI's laboratory in Quantico, Va. for analysis. Last year it was learned Barnett's DNA did not match what was recovered from Cheri's hand.

Barnett Speaks

This month I was able to contact Barnett, who is again living overseas. I asked for his comments on the entire matter. While leery about saying anything that could potentially cause more of what he perceives to be negative attention from law enforcement, Barnett made these corrections to the information published at this website (see link above):

"To set the record straight. Below are the truths that you need to know:
I never hugged Cheri. I did not date Cheri weeks before her death. In fact Cheri and I never dated once. I had my own steady girl in 1966 and I was very much attached. I never slapped anyone in public. I never had a argument in public. I don't know anything about Cheri having wedding plans. I never sobbed to anyone."

I received this independant corroboration via e-mail almost two years before Barnett's claim. It indicates Barnett was, in fact, involved in a steady relationship with someone else at the time Cheri was murdered:

Date: 11/25/2001
Subject: "Barnett"
Tom, I did not want my name to appear on the web site so I'm sending you an e-mail. It was my understanding that the person you refer to as Barnett was not dating Cheri at the time -- he was dating Donna, a friend of Cheri's. The last time Barnett saw Cheri was that morning at a restaurant and she was there with her father.

There is no doubt the RPD has done an exhaustive job attempting to bring Cheri's killer to justice. The question is, is it focused on the wrong guy? A Barnett-Cheri dating scenario adds to an interesting circumstantial case against him. Without that scenario, however, the circumstantial case weakens. Add the fact that Barnett's DNA was a conclusive non-match and it just may be time to look in a different direction to find answers.

What About Zodiac?

Recently I spoke with RPD detective Steve Shumway, currently in charge of the investigation into Cheri's death. Now a seasoned homicide detective, at the time of Cheri's murder Shumway was in elementary school.

"You cannot believe the letters I get here at the department about Cheri Jo Bates," he told me. "It has literally broken some retired detectives' hearts that Cheri and her family did not get justice."

Maybe that can all change.

The San Francisco Police Dept. recently obtained what is believed to be the Zodiac's DNA profile. I asked Shumway if it has been compared to the sample recovered from Cheri's hand, but I never received an answer. Additionally, two palm prints suspected of belonging to the Zodiac are on file with police departments in San Francisco and Napa. Unidentified palm prints were recovered from Cheri's Volkswagon Bug; it had been tampered with by her killer. Has a comparison of those prints been made? Again, no answer.

Regarding the Zodiac, all Shumway would say is:

"There are two things for sure you can share with your many readers: There was a murderer who called himself the Zodiac and there was the murderer who killed Cheri. They are two different people."

Perhaps. But there's a way to tell with 100 percent certainty: DNA and palm-print comparison. At the very least, after 37 years it's worth a try. After all, Cheri's still someone people care about.

Cheri, 1964
Cheri at the park with her dog, Jiggs. Circa 1964

Riverside newspaper headline
The headline of the Riverside newspaper

Cheri, 1963
Cheri and Jiggs at home, circa 1963

The crime scene
The crime scene, Oct. 31, 1966

The Zodiac killer
The Zodiac killer

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