Stalked from the grave

Even after 18 years, the killer wasn't going to leave Jess alone...

Published by: Fiona Ford & Amy Thompson
Published on: 14th January 2010

Her blonde hair, blue eyes and beaming smile sent a shiver through me. I couldn't shake the image of Jaycee Lee Dugard.
She was only 11, and had been kidnapped in broad daylight just this morning. Police had been appealing for witnesses on the news all day. 'Her poor parents,' I muttered, dishing up dinner for my own family.
'It's terrible,' agreed my hubby Bob, popping a bib on our youngest Brandon, one.
Looking at my oldest daughter Jessica, 14, helping her little
sister Shawna cut up her fish fingers, I couldn't even imagine what Jaycee's parents were going through.
Jess was only three years older than Jaycee, like a second mum to her younger brothers and sister, and my best friend as well as my daughter.
The pair of us would cuddle on the sofa with a hot chocolate and have a good old natter when she got home from school.Then she'd help me put the kids to bed, reading stories to Shawna, three, and Brandon while her brother Nick, 13, told me about his day.
'Who's been sitting in my chair?' I'd hear Jess growl, putting on the voice of the daddy bear in Goldilocks while Shawna giggled.
That night, with my brood tucked up in their beds, I couldn't help thinking how lucky I was. Next morning, I insisted on driving Jess and Nick to school, the news about Jaycee still playing on my mind.
'I'll pick you up later,' I told her, dropping her at the school gates.
'Mum, we'll be fine,' she smiled.
I knew I was being a little over-anxious. Jaycee had been snatched 190 miles away from our quiet hometown. Still, what mother wouldn't worry? 'I'll get the bus home with my mates,' Jess added. 'If I'm going anywhere after school, I'll call you first.'
'Okay,' I nodded, reluctantly. 'I'll see you later. Have fun.'
Watching her wave, a big grin across her face, I relaxed a little.
Jess was a sensible girl. She was into gymnastics and playing clarinet in the school band, not driving me mad with worry by staying out late. I knew I had to stop wrapping her in cotton wool.
Back home, the day flew by.
When the clock hit 4pm, I barely noticed. 'Where's Jess?' Shawna asked, tugging my sleeve.
'She'll be home soon, sweetie,' I smiled. But when Nick arrived at 4.30pm and Jess still wasn't back, an uneasy feeling crept over me.
'Have you seen your sister?' I asked him, as he flopped on the sofa to play video games.
'Nope,' he shrugged.
Hmm? Maybe she'd gone round a friend's and lost track of time? Or forgotten to tell me she had gym practise?
Picking up the phone, I called around her friends.
None of them had seen her since leaving school, though.
Where was she?
When Bob walked through the door minutes later, we called the police. 'It's not like her,' I told them, my voice cracking. 'I'm worried.'
They sent a police car round, and even got search parties and a helicopter out to find Jess.
After Jaycee's disappearance, they weren't taking any chances.But when someone goes missing, where do you start looking? None of her friends or teachers had any idea where she was.
Just hours earlier, I'd been feeling sorry for Jaycee's parents, unable to imagine their pain.
Now I knew exactly what they were going through.
'She could be anywhere,' I sobbed, racked with guilt. 'I should have picked her up from school?'
'This isn't your fault, love,' Bob soothed. 'They'll find her.'
As the police searched high and low, we waited anxiously at home in case Jess came back.
An hour dragged by? then another?
By 10pm, Jess still hadn't been found.
Tucking Shawna into bed, she started crying.
'I want Jess to read me a story,' she whined.
'She's staying at her friend's tonight,' I forced a smile. 'But she'll read to you tomorrow night.'
Closing her bedroom door behind me, I leaned against it, fighting back tears.
I had to stay positive.
Walking across the hall to Jess's bedroom, I pushed the door open.
Unmade bed, pink stationery scattered across her desk, 'N Sync posters and photos of her friends covered the walls? Just as she'd left it. In her wardrobe, I could see the pink floor-length gown I'd bought for her prom last year.
I smiled, remembering the day we'd gone out shopping for it.
'How about this one?' I'd said, holding it up in the shop.
'Wow!' she'd breathed. 'Mum, it's perfect.'
A teenage daughter not too embarrassed to take fashion advice from her mum ? how lucky was I?
It'd been so long since we'd had a chance to go shopping just the two of us? 'When she gets home,' I thought, 'I'll take her out.
Spend some quality time together.'
By the morning, though, my heart sunk when police still had no news. Just 24 hours ago, I'd been gazing at a picture of a pretty blonde-haired girl on the news, feeling sorry for her family.
Now, I was staring at a similar photo on the news ? only this time, that girl was my daughter.
At 4pm, there was a knock at the door. Two officers stood on the step. 'Have you found her?' Bob gasped.
One of the officers nodded.
'Oh, thank God?' I breathed.
'Mrs Dunn, may we come in?' the officer said, quietly.
'Of course,' I beamed. 'But?wait? where's Jess?'
In a split-second, I caught the glance they gave each other ? full of sympathy.
'No,' I shook my head.
'I'm so sorry,' the officer said. 'We found Jessica's body last night. We were waiting for a positive identification before we told you.'
Blood pounded in my ears as my legs buckled.
'W-what happened?' I gasped. Had she been hit by a car? Knocked down on her way home??
'Jessica was abducted,' the officer explained, gently. 'She was taken to a road a few miles away. Then she was raped and strangled, before the killer set fire to her body and left her there.'
Collapsing to the floor, I gagged. This had to be some terrible mistake?
Visions of Jess' last moments raced through my mind, brutal and terrifying.
Not my Jess, not my kind, beautiful daughter.
'She must have been so scared,' I sobbed, as Bob wrapped me in his arms. What sort of evil monster could do that to a 14-year-old girl?
The next few days passed in a blur of grief. I thought about how Jess had dreamed of becoming a model, having kids of her own one day.
Her life had been snatched away, her dreams snuffed out. I blamed myself ? I should have picked her up from school.
And worse was knowing the man who'd murdered her was still out there.
My thoughts were
taken over by the faceless monster who'd murdered my baby girl. How many others had he hurt? Was Jaycee his victim, too, or had my girl been the first? Was he out there right now doing it again?
Planning Jess' funeral, I realised I couldn't save my little girl from that sick monster.
But I'd make damn sure he didn't hurt anyone else.
After Jess's cremation at St Michael's Church in Livermore, we had her ashes placed in the cemetery underneath a statue of an angel.
Surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers, at least now Jess was safe, free from the evil psychopath who'd killed her.
'Jess is in heaven now,' I told her brothers and sister. 'But any time you want to talk to her, we can come here.'
Thankfully, Shawna and Brandon were too little to understand what had happened to Jess. But Nick was 13, had seen the newspaper reports. He struggled to cope.
In the months that followed, I worked tirelessly with the police to help find Jess's killer, putting up posters appealing for information and ads in the local paper.
Surely, someone would have seen something.
On the first anniversary of Jess's death, we tried a fresh appeal for information, and even offered a $70,000 (?44,000) reward. Nothing.
Soon the months turned into years. As time passed, every man I met was a possible suspect.
Standing in line at the super-market, I searched the face of every guy in the queue for a hint of guilt.
Would I know who he was if I saw him? Had I already sat beside him on the bus or politely smiled at him in the street?
I shuddered at the thought.
Thirteen years rolled by, and Jess' killer still hadn't been found.
Watching Nick, Shawna and Brandon grow up, I felt a pang of hurt every time they achieved a new milestone.
When Nick passed his driving test, Jess' smiling face flashed in my mind. Would she have passed first time? Would she have gone off to college?
I'd been robbed of my chance to find out, and I'd never rest until the man responsible had been brought to justice. Then, 16 years after her death, I got a call from police.
'We've found Jessica's killer,' an officer said.
I thought I'd prepared myself for this moment. As the words hit home, though, I fell to the ground shaking.
Finally, Jess could rest in peace.
The officer explained how a man named Derek Moncada, 35, was serving a prison sentence for a string of crimes, including carjacking his ex-girlfriend, when an anonymous person had tipped them off about his connection with Jess' murder.
Because of the improvements in DNA testing, police had been able to match Derek's to the traces found on Jess's body. 'We're going to charge him tonight,' the officer said. 'It's over Tammy, we've got him.'
I felt like a weight had been lifted from me.
The next day, I waited for the phone to ring with more news. I'd finally get the chance to face the man who took my daughter's life, force him to see the pain he'd caused, and watch him led away to rot in prison.
When the call came though, I was stunned.
'We went to visit
Derek in prison last night,' an officer told me.
'He didn't say anything when we told him about the charges. But when we went back to arrest him today, he'd hanged himself in his cell. I'm so sorry.'
It was a fresh blow ? that disgusting, vile man had escaped justice for killing Jess.
'At least he can't
hurt anyone else,'
Bob sighed, wiping away tears.
Two weeks later, though, reports of Moncada's death appeared in the paper.
'I don't believe it,' I gasped. 'H-he's been buried in the same cemetery as Jess.'
It was a mistake, it had to be. Calling the church, we soon discovered it wasn't.
'We had no idea about his past before his funeral,' they told us. 'We're sorry, but there's nothing we can do.'
'Maybe he's buried on the
other side of the cemetery,' Bob suggested, hopefully.
When we arrived to visit Jess's grave, though, anger pulsed through me.
There, just 50 yards away from my daughter's resting place was the grave of the man who'd kidnapped, raped and murdered her. I felt sick.
'Get him away from her,' I shrieked at the church staff. 'Don't you know what he did?'
But without the permission of Moncada's family, they insisted they couldn't move him.
Even in death, Moncada was tearing my family apart.
We couldn't visit Jess's grave without walking past her killer's.
Nick couldn't face visiting her any more.
The peace we'd hoped Jess had found in her final resting place had been destroyed ? it's like her killer was haunting her.
It's been two years now, and the church still hasn't been able to locate Moncada's relatives to get permission to move his remains.
A few months ago, they contacted us asking if we wanted Jess moved to a different cemetery.
She's been there 18 years ? longer than she was alive!
So while Jaycee's family made headlines recently when they were miraculously reunited with her, my family's nightmare still isn't over.
It's disgusting that people can give a murderer priority over his innocent victim.
I won't give up though. Until Moncada is moved, my girl can't rest in peace, and neither can I.

? Mike Brown, for the Diocese of Oakland, said: 'Two years ago, we tried to contact the family, and there was no response. Over time, that hasn't changed.
'We don't have a legal or moral right to move someone's remains without the responsible parties agreeing.'
Tammy Dunn, 51, Walker, California, USA