San Diego, CA -- Jonathan Sellers and Charles Keever rode their bikes into a thicket of terror where one boy was sexually molested and both were strangled after "a terrible ordeal," police sources said.
Homicide Lt. Greg Clark would not discuss the molestation except to confirm that detectives believe the motive for the crime was sexual.
"The whole terrible ordeal those poor little guys went through -- I can only imagine what they went through," Clark said, "I'm talking about fear."
Clark said the boys did not appear to have been physically tortured. "There was no disfigurement, no mutilation, not even close," he said.
Jonathan and his best friend Charles were found dead March 29, 1993, after they had been missing for two days, ever since they bought hamburgers at a neighborhood stand.
The mysterious deaths opened up a well of grief, rage and fear among family members and local residents, who have given investigators more than 180 tips. None has led to a suspect.
Police have cast a blanket of secrecy over the case, sharing few details about the highly publicized slayings.
Sources said the boys were bound, but Clark declined to comment. He denied persistent rumors that the two boys had been hanged.
Clark said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is fashioning a psychological profile of "what kind of person may do this, an MO as to what they may do, and to give us direction as far as what to look for."
An MO, which stands for mode of operation, is a law enforcement term used to describe the methods criminals use that are unique to them.
Investigators have contacted the state Department of Justice, which maintains a directory of registered sex offenders categorized by region and crimes. "They're helping us with backgrounds on people who may or may not be capable of this crime -- anybody who would do this out of the blue," Clark said.
The department has also contacted other departments across the country to see if any similar murders of children could indicate the boys were slain by a serial killer. So far, there are "no solid leads," Clark said.
The process has been slow. "I'm not frustrated yet, no -- it's just tedious," Clark said.
Investigators have interviewed all the 20 to 25 transients who live in plastic or cardboard tents in the wooded areas along the river banks.
"They're always in the forefront because they're in there," Clark said. "We've talked to all we know; some gave information on people in the area, nothing to help us focus on a suspect," Clark said.
"Even though they come from all walks of life -- they have every kind of problem you might imagine -- they still have kind of a code. They're not all into killing little kids."
Clark said the site where the boys were found, described as a small clearing where someone had fashioned a hideout, might have been cleaned up after the killings. No trash or other debris was found in the immediate area.
The reward for information leading to the killers of two boys was increased to $10,000 in an effort to solve the 5-month-old case that has devastated the community.
The reward fund was collected through donations from Crimestoppers Inc., Rally's Hamburgers, where the boys were last seen, and from friends and relatives.
It has now been increased by $1,500 with a donation from the San Diego Police Officers Association, which decided to break its tradition of offering financial help only when the victims are police officers.
Harry O. Eastus, the association's executive director, said the killings hit home for the group's members.
"This is probably the most violent murder we have had in this city," Eastus said. "These kids are no different than anybody else's kids. We're very concerned that if this killer isn't caught, it will happen again."
The grieving mothers of the two boys, Milena Sellers and Maria Keever, are still hoping someone will help police find whoever killed their sons.
"Please, if anyone has any information, please call," Keever said. "This is all I live for."
Sellers said she is comforted by the gesture made by the officers. "It's wonderful to know the POA added to the reward. I know our babies are important to them. That makes me happy. They didn't have to become emotionally involved, and I feel like my family is out there looking for my baby's killer."
Keever, who made one of her frequent visits to the site where her son was killed, said she was pained to see that someone had recently draped bicycle chains and a syringe around the crosses erected in memory of the boys. The silk flowers left there had been burned.
Melina Sellers lost her son in Marchand now Sellers is fearing losing her home after telling authorities her child's death meant there was one less person in the household.
Sellers and her five surviving children live in a modest home about a mile from where Jonathan and his best friend, Charles were found dead. The home is partially paid for through federal funds administered by the San Diego Housing Commission.
Soon after the killings, Sellers went to the Housing Commission office to say that her son had been killed and she wanted to move. She said she no longer felt safe in the area.
Transfers generally are approved when there are fewer people in a household, or when special factors, such as the need to be closer to medical care or a job, come into play, according to housing officials.
Her request then triggered a bureaucratic process that resulted in a lease termination letter being sent to Sellers -- after she changed her mind about wanting to move.
Panicked that she could lose her home, Sellers sought help from her area's City Council representative, Juan Vargas, who has become a friend of the family since the slayings.
Vargas then called City Manager Jack McGrory, who assured him the family would be able to keep their home.
"I was livid. I was so mad I couldn't see straight," said Vargas, recalling his reaction when Sellers told him of her situation.
Housing officials acknowledge that a computerized letter was sent to Sellers, notifying her that the lease on her home was being terminated. But, a new letter has been sent, informing her that the 30-day notice has been canceled.
The family can stay put for the next year but then can expect to receive a transfer notice, housing officials said.
"It's a very bureaucratic process, and there's no question we could have handled this with more sensitivity," said Carol Vaughan, program director for the Housing Commission. "But we were doing it based on her statement that she wanted to move."
After Sellers made her request to move, Vaughan explained, her name was put on a transfer list. In most cases, people who make such a request would have to wait up to eight months to find a new home.
But Vaughan said an apartment soon became available, and a letter was sent to Sellers, telling her that a place had been found. When Sellers did not respond to the letter, she was automatically notified that she was going to lose her present home.
"Once she didn't contact our office, the 30-day notice (that her lease was being canceled) rolled out of the system," said Vaughan. "A few days after that, the police said (one of Sellers' children) talked to her and they didn't want to leave the area.
"After the police called, we stopped the process . . . everything just rolls off the computer system. Certainly, if we had a hands-on person, it would have been handled in a different manner with more sensitivity."
Vargas said that he doesn't believe it was simply a computer problem. He has requested an investigation by McGrory's office.
Because of the nature of Jonathan's death, the matter should have been handled on an individual basis, Vargas said.
"They're being penalized because their child was murdered, that's the sick thing," he said. "Had their child not been murdered, they would not be in this predicament. That's intolerable."
The transfer policy works well "98 percent of the time," according to Vaughan.
The Housing Commission administers 10,000 units of housing for about 30,000 people. There are 17,000 people on a waiting list for low income housing.
In his wallet, Sgt. Bill Holmes carries photographs of two boys he has never met.
On the back of one of the photos, a mother scribbled her child's name and a desperate plea: "Please Help Me, Please."
It's a request that has haunted Holmes and his San Diego police homicide team since Charlie and his best friend Jonathan were molested and strangled a year ago.
Detectives have traveled around this country and Mexico in search of the killer, but they are as baffled today as they were when the boys' bodies were found in what appeared to be a hideout in brush along the Otay River in South San Diego.
The boys were riding their bikes to a hamburger stand and never came home.
The killings shocked the county and forever changed the lives of those left behind -- the parents, siblings and classmates who loved the boys, as well as detectives, journalists and others who never even knew them.
"You go through life not feeling anymore," said Milena Sellers, Jonathan's mother. "It's like being a living dead person. I'm hurting something terrible inside.
"It's a constant aching, a constant moaning only I can hear. You wake up with it; you go to sleep with it. It's hard to imagine a lifetime with it."
Jonathan's sister, 12-year-old Natasha, wrote a poem titled "Remember" and read it in church to mark the first anniversary of her brother's death.
"It's so hard to remember . . . When you want to forget . . . It's not that we don't love you . . . It's just so hard to remember what's happened to you . . . It's tearing us apart," she wrote.
For Charlie Keever's mother, Maria, the last year has been filled with loneliness, tears, frustration and fear.
"I used to be a happy person, and I'm sad all the time, and lonely," said Keever, a petite woman with a wistful smile and a motherly voice that sometimes chokes with pain or anger.
"I just see life differently now. I'm just learning to live with the pain, because the pain will never go away. Life goes on even if you don't want to."
Soon after Charlie's death, Maria Keever purchased a .38-caliber handgun and learned how to use it during a class at a police shooting range.
"It's not out of revenge," Keever said, explaining that owning the gun helps relieve her fear and frustration. "I might feel that later on if they find him, but I don't feel that right now."
To cope, she joined the ranks of a support group of parents of slain children, she speaks for victims' rights, and she has begun training to become a crisis counselor with the Chula Vista Police Department to help others like her.
She refers to herself as "the pest" because she calls or pages detectives daily, but they affectionately call her "Agent 007," after the fictional James Bond character, because of her independent search for the killer.
Sgt. Holmes said, "We worry about her because she goes to the river bottom," to interview transients and look for clues.
Holmes credits Keever with offering him at least one plausible suspect whom he would not have found without her. The person has since been ruled out as a suspect.
The sergeant said detectives have conducted more than 1,000 interviews and considered more than 400 people as potential suspects. Most were eliminated because they had solid alibis.
"I can tell you a lot of people that didn't do it, but I can't tell you who did," said Holmes, who has a daughter close to Charlie's age. "I carry their pictures in my pocket every day."
Police took biological samples from many of the 400 potential suspects, Holmes said, but he declined to be more specific about what samples were taken or why.
Seeking such samples usually indicates that police have physical evidence, such as hair, semen or fingerprints, which could link a suspect to a crime.
Holmes said he is still hoping to find someone who has information about the boys' deaths.
"We still know of no one that actually saw the boys with anyone we would consider a suspect," Holmes said. "Somebody had to see these boys with somebody."
For the first five months after the killings, two homicide teams -- nine detectives, two sergeants and two evidence technicians -- worked full time on the case. Now, half that number juggle the Keever-Sellers case along with new killings.
"Every minute we're not working on a new case, we're on this thing," Holmes said.
Holmes and his team have pored through lists that law enforcement agencies use to monitor the usual suspects -- parolees, probationers and registered sex offenders. But he said he discovered that the lists are incomplete and inaccurate at least 50 percent of the time.
To his frustration, he also learned that various law enforcement agencies -- from local police and probation departments to the state Justice Department and Board of Prison Terms -- have their own lists and that they seldom match.
People sentenced to lengthy prison terms or even life in prison for murder or sex offenses often serve only a fraction of the sentence and then become somebody's neighbor.
"There are a lot of people living among us that have committed heinous crimes, and the neighbors don't have a clue," Holmes said. "And in some cases, we (police) don't even have a clue."
March 22, 2001 -- Police have identified a violent sexual predator, who committed his first assault at age 13, as the killer of two South Bay boys whose deaths have haunted both the community and investigators for eight years.
Scott Thomas Erskine
Scott Thomas Erskine, a 38-year-old convicted rapist serving a 70-year state prison sentence, if convicted could face the death penalty for molesting, strangling and dumping the youngsters' bodies by the Otay River.
District Attorney Paul Pfingst said Erskine will be charged with two counts of murder and special circumstances in the killing of 9-year-old Jonathan Sellers and 13-year-old Charlie Keever, buddies who did everything together.
"We don't give up easily," said San Diego homicide Sgt. Bill Holmes, who oversaw the investigation that ended when DNA evidence from the boys' bodies matched a sample from a database of state prison inmates. "We never close a case."
Erskine has been in prison since he was convicted of repeatedly raping a San Diego woman seven months after the boys were killed.
Pfingst said credit for cracking the case belonged to criminalists who preserved evidence containing DNA samples from the boys' bodies in the event of future scientific breakthroughs. Those came in the form of better DNA analysis and a growing database.
On March 6, technicians matched Erskine's DNA with DNA found on the boys, said San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano.
The DNA was identified in a random search of the state's database, which includes samples from approximately 80,000 felons, Bejarano said.
On March 6, technicians identified the source of DNA taken from the boys as Erskine's, said San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano.
"The probability of another person matching the DNA profile recovered from this crime scene is approximately 1 in 600 billion," said Bejarano, who was a captain in the South Bay when the boys were killed.
Police had reviewed some 500 suspects and questioned about 1,500 people. They used DNA from the crime scene to eliminate several suspects.
"This was a remarkable piece of police work," Pfingst said.
Charlie's mother, Maria Keever, said she wanted to thank God and Holmes. But she said her confidence never waned.
"I always knew Sergeant Holmes was going to find him," she said.
Milena Sellers, Jonathan's mother, said, "I was shocked when Sergeant Holmes called me and said we got him. It has been a rough eight years."
Sellers' sister, Elayne Poston, said, "Thank God this animal, this monster, is not on the street to hurt any more of our children."
Charlie Keever and Jonathan Sellers disappeared after riding their 20-inch royal-blue bicycles to a Rally's restaurant in the Palm City neighborhood of San Diego on March 27, 1993.
Their bodies were found 10 yards from their bikes in overgrown brush on the west bank of the Otay River two days later.
Despite the vigilance of teams of homicide detectives, repeated television re-enactments of the grisly crime and escalating rewards, the killings remained a mystery -- and grew into one of San Diego's most troubling unsolved cases.
One police official called the murders the most violent in the city's history. Harry O. Eastus, then-president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, said that if the killer wasn't caught, it could happen again.
Investigators examined a list of thousands of registered sex offenders, visiting their homes to find out where they were on March 27.
The South Bay community was in shock. Parents gave beepers to their kids, and kept a close eye on them. Merchants offered rewards. A memorial fund was established to cover funeral costs. The boys' photographs were placed on a billboard near the riverbed.
Frank Jordan of the NAACP told mourners at South Bay Pentecostal Church that the deaths had done more to galvanize the community than anything he knew.
"This is not a black thing; this is not a white thing," Jordan said at the time. "This tells us we must come together and put our differences aside."
Maria Keever became so obsessed with finding her son's killer that she once dressed as a transient and walked from riverbed shanty to shanty looking for clues.
Holmes, who has a young daughter, said the case hit home.
"It became personal," he said, his voice breaking. "No children deserve to die they way these boys did."
Erskine has a history of sexual violence.
At 13, he molested a 13-year-old girl at knifepoint. Two years later, he sodomized and committed other sex crimes against another 13-year-old girl. The next day, he attacked a 27-year-old woman jogger with a knife. After spending time in a juvenile detention facility, Erskine attacked a 14-year-old boy early one morning in the summer of 1980 behind Ramona High School and attempted to sexually assault him.
Erskine was sent to prison, paroled in 1984, got married twice and had a son.
Months after Jonathan and Charlie were killed, Erskine was arrested for raping a San Diego woman, a crime that led to his sentence at Wasco state prison.
The rape victim, reached at her home, said she hopes Erskine will get the death penalty.
"He doesn't deserve to live," she said. "To this day I have never gotten his face out of my mind."
Donald Erskine, the suspect's father, said he accepted a call from his son last Wednesday, and Erskine told his father police were talking to him about the two boys. The father asked Erskine if he was involved in the deaths, and Erskine responded that he needed a lawyer. Most of the conversation revolved around a new television Erskine had asked his father to send him.
Donald Erskine said yesterday's news was difficult for him. But he also worries about the parents of the boys and how difficult it must be for them to have to deal with their grief again.
"My heart goes out to both of the families," he said. "If Scott is guilty of this, God have mercy on his soul."
Erskine's mother, Rita Erskine, said she talks with her son whenever he calls, but said she hasn't talked with him about the new developments.
"I won't talk to him about this because I don't want to," she said. "If it's true, it's heartbreaking."
She remembers hearing about the death of the boys on the news. And a San Diego police officer visited her in New Hampshire on Friday to warn her that the charges would be filed. She said she has been sick to her stomach ever since.
"I'm broken up about this," she said. "I'm not doing well."
July 30, 2001 -- A man has been charged with two counts of murder for the 1993 slayings of two San Diego boys who disappeared during an afternoon bicycle ride.
Scott Erskine, who is serving a 70-year term in the state prison in Lancaster, also was charged with three counts of special circumstances: torture, sexual assault and multiple murders.
Prosecutors said he could face the death penalty for the deaths of Charles Keever, 13, and Jonathan Sellers, 9, whose bodies were discovered in a marshy area near their homes close to the U.S.-Mexico border. One boy had been sexually assaulted.
After more than seven years of searching for the killer, new developments in DNA analysis led investigators to Erskine in March.
DNA traces that had been preserved from one boy's body were compared to samples in the state database taken from about 80,000 violent and sexual felons.
The evidence was matched to Erskine, a former San Diego County man who has been in prison since late 1993 for raping a San Diego woman.
Though the match was made in March, prosecutors said there was no rush to charge the 38-year-old Erskine since he already was imprisoned.
"He's not going anywhere," said Denise Vedder, a spokeswoman with the District Attorney's Office. "He's already serving a long prison term so there was enough time to do the necessary forensic evidence testing."
Erskine will be arraigned on the new charges Friday.
"If we can bring an end to this nightmare for the families and the community, that will be a good thing," District Attorney Paul Pfingst said.
Feb., 27, 2002 -- Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against the suspected killer of two boys whose bodies were found near a riverbank in 1993.
District Attorney Paul Pfingst decided that death was the appropriate punishment for Scott Erskine, a convicted rapist already serving a 70-year prison term for the 1993 rape of a San Diego woman.
Erskine, 39, has been charged with two counts of murder with the special allegations of sodomy, oral copulation, child molestation and torture. He has denied the charges.
Authorities believe Erskine killed Charles Keever, 13, and Jonathan Sellers, 9, whose bodies were discovered in a marshy area near their homes close to the U.S.-Mexico border. One boy had been sexually assaulted.
DNA evidence found on one of the boy's bodies linked Erskine to the slayings, prosecutors said. Police had reviewed some 500 suspects and questioned about 1,500 people over a seven-year period before new technology enabled investigators to arrest Erskine last year.
Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh set a trial date in April.
Copyright 2002 North County Times
Copyright 2002 by TheSanDiegoChannel.com.
Copyright 2002 Union Tribune