The Cold Case Desk

by Bruce Anderson, November 4, 2009

Here at Boonville’s cold case desk, the phone will ring and an anonymous someone will ask, “Do you remember the murder of…?”

The caller seldom recalls the specifics of the terrible killing, but the deep shock, the pure horror inspired by it, lingers.

A woman recently called from Fort Bragg who wanted us to look into the unsolved killing of a young woman named Georgina “George” Pacheco. Miss Pacheco, 20, had been born in the conservative Azores to a traditional Catholic family, but grew up in unmoored America where even small towns like Fort Bragg are socially fragmented and drug-ridden, where even the most conscientious parents lose their children to influences as destructively incessant as the winds that blow in off the Pacific.

Georgina seems to have gotten lost in the transition from old world to new.

Well-liked and always employed, the energetic and always chipper young woman worked mostly as a waitress as she broke away from what she seemed to see as the unreasonable strictures of her old world Portuguese home. She began associating with estranged, unmoored young people deep into the drug life, one of whom murdered her.

Georgina Pacheco was found strangled to death on tranquil Pearl Drive south of Fort Bragg the morning of September 10th, 1988. She hadn't been seen for about a week. A man named Rodney Elam found her. Elam had been walking his dog in the early daylight hours when the animal drew his attention to Miss Pacheco’s nude corpse maybe ten feet off the pavement. She'd been strangled and dragged into the brush. Police say it appeared that Georgina had been killed some other place, that the lonely stretch of Pearl Drive was merely a place away from view where she wouldn't be found for awhile.

The caller suspected that Georgina had been killed by well-connected delinquents, the berserk sons of the area’s professional class, maybe a half-dozen of them. There was indeed a small group of Coast high school boys who’d gotten off light, real light, for a series of property crimes, but there’s no evidence they were ever violent against people.

Miss Pacheco, from all the evidence, and there's enough to securely identify the killer if he should be just as securely identified, was probably murdered by a man acting alone. A couple of battered vehicles, a white van and a pick-up truck, one of which may have contained the killer, were seen leaving the area where Georgina's body was found around the time her body would have been abandoned there, but these reports were so vague as to be unhelpful.

Numerous suspects were interviewed, all of them drawn from the Mendocino Coast’s floating population of home town drug users and petty criminals, among them at the time, a few transient carnival workers.

The police quickly eliminated Elam as a suspect, but have since come to believe that Miss Pacheco may have been murdered by John Annibel, a suspected serial killer, who lived in Fort Bragg from 1984 until he was arrested for the 1998 murder of Debbie Sloan of Laytonville.

Annibel is presently in the state pen for the murder of Mrs. Sloan, a divorced mother of two who met Annibel at a Laytonville bar and made the fatally bad decision to spend what turned out to be an eternal night with him.

The killer was born to a Scotia logging family. He spent part of his youth in Fortuna before the Annibel family moved to Fruitland Ridge above Myers Flat. John Annibel has a twin brother who has never been in trouble, a normal brother, a brother who recalls that John was “off” even as a little kid.

Before Annibel moved to Fort Bragg from his home area of Southern Humboldt County, he was the only suspect in the murders of two women there, one of them his fiancée, the other a teenager he’d known since she was a child. He may also have killed two more women — not known to him — in the Arcata area, but Annibel could never be linked to the Arcata killings even tenuously.

But he was definitely linked to the murder of his fiancée and the teenager, linked solidly enough to be prosecuted by Humboldt County if Humboldt County had ever gotten around to prosecuting him.

For reasons ranging from official inertia to official incompetence, Annibel was not charged with the murders of the two Humboldt County women, both of whom he is assumed to have strangled to death, both of whom were last seen in his presence.

After Annibel moved to Fort Bragg in 1984 he was not linked to another murder until 1998 when he confessed to the Thanksgiving weekend strangulation of Debbie Sloan in a Laytonville motel room. Odd that an assumed psycho killer would go without satisfying his blood lust all that time, go more than a decade without satisfying his terrible yearning to just go out and choke a female someone to death.

So, maybe Annibel wasn’t a serial killer in the usual sense. The one woman he admitted to killing, and the two others he almost certainly killed, seemed to be impulse kills. He was there, they were there, they were alone, he flipped out on them and choked them until they were dead. It’s not like he was driving around at night looking for hitchhikers or other isolated women to kill.

So far as is known, that is.

Annibel worked at the old L-P stud mill in Fort Bragg and for Harwood Lumber on the Branscomb Road. After he’d strangled Mrs. Sloan in that desolate Laytonville motel room, he threw her body off the Branscomb Road not far from Westport. Annibel had driven west with her corpse past his place of employment, the Harwood Mill, then on home to his wife and two daughters in Fort Bragg.

That’s Annibel’s m.o. He strangles women he knows with his bare hands and throws them away.

But Georgina Pacheco was garroted. The man who killed her tied something around her neck, a ligature as it's called, and pulled it tight. There's other evidence the police are holding in reserve that would definitively tie the killer to his victim if a suspect more likely than Annibel should be revealed.

Annibel lived near Georgina in Fort Bragg, and like her he used methamphetamine. They undoubtedly knew each other, had associated with the same set of people. And Annibel became a known killer in 1998 when he confessed to the murder of Debbie Sloan.

If he doesn't belong at the top of the suspect list he should be second.

A dozen men were interviewed and cleared, but among many locals the consensus killer was a man named Robert Parks, the estranged husband of one of Georgina’s sisters. Parks is believed to be the last man to see Georgina alive. There are cops who worked in the Fort Bragg area at the time who are convinced Parks was the guy, and there are cops who say Parks wasn't the guy.

To say that Parks was widely disliked hardly begins to explain just how thoroughly disliked he was. Lots of people wanted Parks dead, or at least wanted to thump him so bad he’d stop his thieving, lowlife ways. One Fort Bragg man caught Parks in the act of ripping off fishing gear, followed Parks, confronted him, fought him, and almost died when Parks hit him over the head with a metal pipe. And would have died if a friend hadn’t come along and pulled Parks off him. Parks would eventually be found shot to death in Morro Bay on a boat he’d stolen belonging to a Fort Bragg man. Someone had tied Parks up and put a bullet in him. An old timer who knew Parks said “Parks was capable of anything, and I mean anything.” The people who think Parks killed Georgina think he did it to get back at Georgina’s sister who no longer wanted anything to do with him.

But Parks is gone, as are most of the other likelies.

Fort Bragg in 1988 was awash in drugs and bad people, some of them pillars of the community, at least on their treacherous surfaces they looked like pillars of the community. Among the unprosecuted crimes these pillars committed was a series of arson fires that cost Fort Bragg its library, its justice court, the historic Piedmont Hotel. The fires were also heavily drug dependent, you could say, with the arsonists being paid partly in cocaine. It was quite a time in Fort Bragg as several members of the Fort Bragg City Council took “loans” from a big boy developer, the credulous chased alleged Satanists out on Airport Road, and the Mendocino County District Attorney said in Ukiah, “No one from Fort Bragg ever called me about prosecuting the Fort Bragg fires.”

It was a good time for bad people in Mendocino County.

Although Georgina was always employed, and always had a solid family backing her up, and probably would have outgrown her desire to walk on the wild side, she’d gotten into speed and bad men, hanging out in the parking lot of the old Sprouse-Reitz on Main Street when she wasn’t working. That’s where the bad boys and the drugs were, and that's undoubtedly where the killer was, too.

Other suspects included Victor Gray who, as it happens, I’ve known since he was kid. Vic and his brother Chris grew up in Boonville. When their mom, Jeannie, moved to Fort Bragg the boys went with her. Chris was shot one night in the Boonville Lodge by a rotund old hippie named Thaddeus “Thad” Thomas who lived up on Nash Mill Road. At least Thad looked like an old hippie. Or Santa Claus, take your choice, but he didn’t act like either one. Thad lived at the foot of a dark gulch that matched his personality, and one night Thad turned on his barstool and shot Chris Gray pointblank. Chris had a bad headache, and he needed some basic reconstructive surgery, but he survived, and Thad Thomas died in jail while Thad's family's lawyers made sure Chris Gray never got the money Chris should have got for the harm done to him by the Troll of Nash Mill.

Victor Gray was Georgina’s last boy friend. He, too, was quickly absolved of any responsibility for her death, which seemed to unhinge him, and Vic has since had his troubles ever since.

All of the young men said to be close to Georgina at one time or another weren’t exactly marriage prospects, not the kind of young men a girl would bring home to meet her old world Portuguese parents, and when they were systematically located by the police and asked about her murder, and cleared of it, the last suspect standing was John Annibel.

In a brilliant series of interrogations by Mendocino County investigators Tim Kiely and Kurt Smallcomb, Annibel confessed to his Laytonville murder of Mrs. Sloan. He came close to telling the truth about his Humboldt County murders, but close was as close as he got.

Humboldt County is said to be seriously moving on him on those two killings. At last. They should. Annibel’s conviction for the Sloan murder was a second degree conviction; he could be out again in a few years, still young enough to enjoy the gurgling sound dying women make when he strangles them, the sound he described for Kiely and Smallcomb, the sound he described in such full psycho detail you could tell he yearned to hear it again.

Local authorities were surprised and dismayed to learn that Annibel had already gotten a little ways out of prison when they heard he’d been assigned to outside firefighting duties. Fire camp is a prized berth in prison world, and only the best behaved convicts get it. But there’s nothing to stop a guy from walking away in the smoke, and this is one guy who shouldn't be outside prison walls, ever.

Annibel told Kiely and Smallcomb he’d moved to Fort Bragg to get away from all the bad people in Southern Humboldt, including a group he placed in Alderpoint that he identified as “the Weather Bureau,” a reference, it seems, to the Weathermen, a small group of uniquely estranged rich kids who became temporary revolutionaries in the 1960s. The Weathermen did spend time on the Northcoast, as did a group called Tribal Thumb, but the Weathermen, from much more privileged backgrounds than the left Thumbs, hid out in a posh home on the Mendocino Coast, an ocean view place, while the Thumbs worked out with small arms in the hot summer hills west of Garberville around Honeydew.

Class always tells, doesn't it?

There were all manner of organized lunatics roaming the redwoods in those days, and who knows how many freelancers. Annibel certainly wasn’t the only one of those. But the organized loons, the political ones, are models of respectability these days, big shot Democrats and lawyers and professors and consultants whose names pop up in the news whenever the liberals need a professorial comment to round out a tepid paragraph.

“In all honesty,” Annibel told Kiely and Smallcomb, “I go home every night. And up until a couple of weeks ago, my wife worked nights. So I had my daughters every night. And working. I’m gone from my house thirteen hours a day. My day’s pretty well taken care of by the time I get home. And I’d help my youngest one with her school work and cook dinner. Believe me, when I went over there to Boomer’s (the Laytonville bar where he lethally encountered the late Mrs. Sloan) was the first time I’ve been in a bar in a couple of years.”

The killer as homebody isn’t particularly convincing, but in his way, Annibel did seem devoted to his young wife — she’d moved in with him when she was 14, him 24. Last heard from, Mrs. Annibel and her daughters were living in Ukiah. She’s shed her dread married name but is still in the area. The Annibel girls would be young women now, older than the women dad murdered.

Captain Smallcomb commented recently that “unless we get a confession, I don’t think we’ll ever know who killed Georgina.”

14 Responses to The Cold Case Desk

  1. Heather Annibel Reply

    January 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    It is still so shocking to see my father’s name connected to all these crimes. For the mysterious decade that he was not linked to any murders he was in fact going to work and coming home to us, his family. For the most part we had an ok childhood, always had the food we needed. Obviously he wasn’t the greatest guy, but he was a good dad. Just remember when you write things, that the children of the parties involved will read this. Not only us, but the children of the victims as well. I’d hate for them to think of the person who killed their mother as a savage killer; when they could know that he used to be a good man who had his life taken over by drugs. Drugs played a huge role what happened, and i wish, for my daughters sake, that our county had the funds for more drug prevention methods.I am doing my best to raise her right, but the amount of drugs out there is increasing. I pray everyday for the victims, and their families and I’m so sorry. My life wasn’t taken from him, but like the families of the victims I too will live forever wondering why?.

    • Pete Fields Reply

      March 23, 2011 at 9:31 am

      I am from FB and knew more than one person listed on this website. I know it has to be hard to be the child of a murderer, but it really bothers me when you said ” I’d hate for them to think of the person who killed their mother as a savage killer” Well that is exactly what he is. These were not accidental deaths of these women, and though he only confessed to one, I believe whole heartedly that there were more.
      You also should keep in mind, that the victims/families of your father’s victims may read this. I don’t think that anything you say defending this man will change their minds about who and what he is. They have to live the rest of their lives without their loved ones because they were SAVAGELY AND SENSELESSLY KILLED.
      You have every right to live your life free of guilt for what your father did, and to raise your family to be good people, and possibly a good solid basis to teach them how drugs can affect someone’s life. But most people who kill in this manner, go home and live a normal life, lying to and decieving their families, not caring what the price of that will be to them. So while you see your life as being somewhat normal with your father, others see it just as that..lies and deception, and not a good father at all. A good parent does not put people they are supposed to love in this situation. I see you as nothing more than another of his victims. The only difference is, You are still here, and can make a difference in your childrens lives, and maybe that of others, but the first step is putting it in perspective. I don’t feel like you can really heal, or educate anyone else, until you educate yourself. Would you think it right to go live a seperate life from your family, that would be harmful to them in the long run? And expect them to grow up defending you for it? If it wouldn’t be right for you to do that to your own family, then why was it right for your father? How do you expect the public or his victims to see him in any other light? It is natural for you to love your father because of your experience with him, But at the core of all of this, is TRUTH!
      My best wishes for you!

  2. Brittany Culver Reply

    February 18, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    your father was a murderer. get over it.

  3. Susan Reply

    February 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Damn good job on the part of the Mendicino County officers who got him to confess. Hope they get him on those other two, too. He’s evil and shouldn’t ever get out of prison! Hear us, guys? More women will die savagely if you don’t get his ass on those homicides soon. And first degree, none of this second degree murder bullshit. Then he walks. It’s obvious when he killed Mrs. Sloan it was premeditated.

  4. Susan Reply

    March 4, 2011 at 12:58 am

    I happen to agree that he would have killed even if it hadn’t been for drugs — so get off your damn high horse. He’s been a savage killer since the beginning of time. Get past it, and stop taking up for a damn savage killer.

  5. Heather Annibel Reply

    October 3, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    I would like to apologize for giving anyone the idea that i defend my fathers actions….not the case. Thank you to those who recognize us victims as well, not many do. I did not intend to bother or offend anyone with what I said.Theres been enough damage done, its not my place to add to it. As always my thoughts and prayers go out to the other involved families, not a day goes by that I dont think of you.

  6. Lisa Lawler Reply

    April 21, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Heather, I just now found this web site, and from the sound of things it seems that you’ve had a baby, since the last time I spoke to you. I know it must be a struggle for you to read about the things that your father has done, I believe it must be hard for you to accept probably because your father was living two separate lives. You only saw the life he wanted you to. I do see you and your family as victims also, I mean how shocking to wake up one morning and realize you don’t know your father, or your husband at all. On top of that, he’s suspected of taking the lives of young women more than two decades ago, in addition to the last female victim that he’s actually confessed to. I heard someone say “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I don’t know if that’s appropriate here or not, but even if your Dad appeared to be a nice man, a good father, husband etc…. how true is any of that if he’s brutally killing young women, and carrying on his life with no remorse what so ever, just a regular working class father. Just look at how bad you feel at the thought of people reading about the things your father has done, and even more of what he’s suspected of doing.

    If your father had any remorse at all, or if he was the kind of Dad, we all like to believe are Dad is, then he would have thought of the parents that lost their children because of him, and tried to help them find closure, but as we all know he is still in the denial stage, only time will tell, because as everyone knows. there are no unsolved mysteries in Heaven.

    Take care, I hope you’re able to find a good family counselor or group therapist that can help you work out your issues. God Bless! Lisa

  7. Erica Macahilas Reply

    April 25, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    “your father was a murderer. get over it.” -Brittany Culver

    “so get off your damn high horse. He’s been a savage killer since the beginning of time. Get past it, and stop taking up for a damn savage killer.” – Susan “Sling mud anonymously”

    Heather was one of my best friends when I was of middle school age. I grew up with her and even spent the night at her house on several occasions, when her dad was present. At the time, my step mother was good friends with Heather’s mom and would try and tell my father not to let me go over there. My dad, not one to pass judgment, would allow me to anyhow as there were no blatantly obvious red flags to him. My stepmother maintained, however, that John was “off.” I do recall feeling uncomfortable around him and that something wasn’t right, but now, as a mother of a young child and pre-k teacher, I can attest that a child raised in an environment, no matter how wrong, is comfortable and feels secure in the dysfunction. The environment they are raised in feels normal to them until they are shown different. They thrive and depend on routine. It’s not only understandable for Heather and her sister to feel confusion and conflict over their father’s heinous crimes, it’s completely normal to defend the man they believed him to be. They are not defending him or in denial about his crimes. They are speaking about the man they BELIEVED him to be. They, too, are victims of his deceit. Anyone who has the audacity to make such statements as “get over it” or “get off your high horse” has a disgraceful and alarming egocentricity and arrogance about themselves. Having been born and raised in Fort Bragg, I know it doesn’t produce the most intelligent, compassionate or upright people. Realizing that allows these comments to be easily dismissed for the garbage they are, but the fact remains that any child of a criminal is an innocent bystander, deserving of the respect and compassion to try and grieve the loss of the man they believed their family member to be. It likely goes without saying that the “ladies” who made those comments have little understanding or scope of any real world issues outside of their tiny little Fort Bragg existence. It would serve you both a lot of good to have a grasp on the issues you’re so “passionate” about before you condemn and critique others. Not once did Heather justify, defend or excuse her father’s actions. Not once has Heather said anything to detract from the pain and devastation the victim’s families have been dealt. Not once did Heather say anything warranting the hostile and frankly, worthless commentary contributed by these two “ladies.” I am someone who is extremely radical when it comes to violent crimes, and I have no mercy for people who harm others, so don’t misconstrue my words like you did Heather’s. That being said, shame on anyone who has the gull to sling insults and salt at the wounds of a criminal’s children. How dare you. I pray for the sake of your own children or potential future children, that when and if they are forced to be your offspring, you’ve managed to avoid sticking your grotesquely embarrassing feet back into your mouths, so as to cast humiliation unto them.

  8. Heather Annibel Reply

    April 25, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    I will not be posting on any of these websites again, it seems I cannot express my opinions without upsetting someone; and that is the very last thing I want to do. I just still dont know how to take all of this, Its so hard to think about. Lisa, Im not sure that I have ever spoke with you before, if I have I apologize for not remembering. I do know who you are, and I just cant think of the right words to say to you. I dont know if it means anything, but, Im so sorry.I cant imagine the pain you have felt all of these years. You are right, my whole world was shattered when I woke up that morning.My father was not who I thought he was. And Im not sure how, as a mother, I will explain any of this to my children when they ask. My 3 year old is already wondering where my daddy is, and all I can say is he lives far away. I probably could use some counseling, as Ive never had any. I just try to deal in my own way. On the other hand, if none of this had ever happened, then I probably wouldnt have moved and met my wonderful fiance, or have our two beautiful children. (I just had another baby in january) I guess everything really does happen for a reason. Once again Lisa, Im truly sorry for what my father has done, and thank you for your kindness towards me. I hope we can all find a little peace amidst all the chaos. Best wishes to you, Heather.

  9. Scared Still Reply

    November 10, 2012 at 6:41 am

    wow, what can i say……apples dont fall far from the tree. I grew up on fruitland ridge, my mother dated johns brother Ted for many years…the worst years of my life as a child could have. I was molested by Ted, who blamed it on his brother john…..im glad johns in prison & I pray that ted never comes back to cali. that family ruined my life. i grew up watching my mother get beat day after day. he would lock us in the trailer ,god, the list goes on. and im sorry to heather, im glad that her father never hurt her. its been 30 years since those days…..

  10. Belinda Reply

    April 23, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Heather,

    I am sorry that you have had to live with the legacy of what your father did. Two of the women John Annibel killed where childhood friends of mine. I know you feel a sense of loss, but you have no idea how difficult it is for the families that lost their loved ones at the hands of a sadistic killer; words cannot describe the horror and terror these families have been through.

    You are not a fault for the crimes John Annible has committed. Live your life and thank God that you and your loved ones will never (I hope) face such an evil horrific way to die.

    Belinda

  11. Heather M Reply

    July 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Georgina was my best friend! Closure would be a great thing. I have read Annibel’s book and to this day cannot remember him. This does not mean she did not know him but in my heart, I do not think it was him. I miss her dearly!

  12. sarah faulkner Reply

    July 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Mendo Sherriff Dep has linked this murder to Robert James Parks by DNA in 2013. May this bring closure to her family. John did many horrible things but this case is not one of them.

  13. Pingback: 25 Year old murder investigation closed | CRIMEVOICE

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