Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cold Justice - Rachelle Escalante Hit & Run Death Remains A Mystery

Episode 4 of TNT's Cold Justice aired last night, and the outcome was much different than the previous 3 cases they have worked on.  The Cold Justice team of Kelly Siegler, Yolanda McCleary, and Johnny Bonds were joined by former detective Orlando Martinez as they traveled to Globe Arizona in search of answers in the 1988 hit and run death of 17 year old Rachelle Escalante.

Rachelle Escalante was last seen leaving a house party on July 7, 1988 on foot.  Two police officers came across Rachelle's body in the middle of a highway on their patrol - the officers stopped and tried to help her, but they were unable to save her as they watched her take her last breath.  Rachelle's hit and run death has never been forgotten by the people in the small town who knew her and her family.  One of the Globe detectives who appeared on last night's episode was a classmate of Rachelle's and he certainly never forgot. He had hoped that the Cold Justice team could get the bottom of the suspicions and rumors that circulated for more than two decades around this case.

Watching last night's episode, one thing was clear:  there were definitely people who had their theories about who may have been involved in this crime.  A cloud of suspicion around two sisters in particular, and one of the sister's boyfriends seemed to be a reoccurring theme among those who Siegler and her team interviewed.  They went back and reinterviewed the kids who attended that house party - hoping that now, as adults they may come clean about any knowledge they had about what happened to Rachelle Escalante.  A girl who could have been a key witness in the investigation is deceased.  "Cathy" was a friend of Rachelle's, and reportedly may have been romantically involved with Rachelle but she died in an automobile accident after Rachelle's death.  It could have been helpful in this case for Johnny Bonds to have been able to interview Cathy, since she and Rachelle reportedly argued at the party the night Rachelle was killed.

Also at the center of the investigation, a 1979 black Trans Am, seen circling the highway where Rachelle's body was found at least three times by police. Police followed the suspicious Trans Am and it led them back to the house party Rachelle had been at.  Could this have simply been a coincidence? Rachelle was hit on one of the town's main highways, but there was reportedly little traffic there at that time of night.  The occupants of the Trans Am were believed to be a teenager named Laurie, her boyfriend and Cathy.  With Cathy unavailable for interview, the team set out to find people who attended that house party.  

Several people they interviewed reported a fight involving Rachelle, Cathy and possibly Laurie. Laurie was believed to have been jealous over Rachelle's involvement with her boyfriend - and Cathy may have also had jealousy issues with Rachelle if they were romantically involved. I don't recall Laurie's boyfriend's name - but he is currently serving time in an Arizona prison and was easy for Johnny Bonds and Orlando Martinez to find an interview.  The former boyfriend's story was that he was the only person who had possession of the Trans Am's keys that night, and he insisted that the Trans Am never left the party until after Rachelle had been hit.  He maintains it is not possible that Laurie or anybody else took the keys and left the party, and therefore Laurie could not have been involved in this accident.

There were conflicting stories on this point.  Several friends of Laurie told investigators that Laurie called them and asked them to lie to police, and tell them that Laurie never left the party that night.  At least three people told the same story.  She may not have been involved, but why would she ask people to lie to the police?  When the police followed the Trans Am back to the house, Laurie told the police she had not been in the car since she arrived at the party, despite the fact that several officers said they saw her in the car as it circled the crime scene at least three times.  Why would she lie about this?  Laurie may not have had anything to do with this, and it may have really been a tragic accident - but Laurie, her sister Shawna and their mother Bev seemed to be hiding something back in 1988, and they seemed to be hiding something when interviewed by Bonds and Martinez.

Several people told the team that Laurie and Shawna had a very close and unusual relationship with their mother Bev.  Bev was known to go out and party with her daughters, she acted more like their friend than their mother. People reportedly believed the three would stick together, and if one or more of them were involved it would be difficult to get one to turn against the other and tell the truth.  Of the three women, the only one who came across as credible to any degree was Shawna - when asked if she thinks her sister Laurie could have been involved in Rachelle's death she said "I really don't know". Siegler was struck by the fact that Shawna couldn't seem to say NO, Laurie was not involved.  Bev was the next person they brought in. She was completely defensive and insisted that nobody in her family was involved in what happened to Rachelle.  She further claimed that people were lying about her partying with her daughters.  Perhaps she was embarrassed of partying with her daughters, but why lie about it? In the end, she came across as more concerned about the reputation of her family than finding out the truth of what happened that night. Bev was a bust.

Laurie was interviewed last.  She was completely defensive, uncooperative and she didn't answer many questions before asking if she was free to go - and she left without giving any new information. What struck me about Laurie is that she continues to lie about things she shouldn't need to lie about. She insisted that she was not in the Trans Am, circling the crime scene as reported by the original officers back in 1988. She insisted that she never called to ask her friends to lie about whether she left the party at any time. They are all lying, according to her. When pressed by the detectives on what motive the police would have to put her in the Trans Am circling the crime scene, she asked if she was free to go and the interview was over.

There wasn't much physical evidence on this case - and what they did have could not be linked back to the Trans Am or any of the suspects in this case.  A new witness was also discovered who reported seeing a large yellow semi driving in the area during the time Rachelle was believed to have been hit.  This was a turning point in the investigation, it seems this really could have been a tragic accident and the chances of locating the yellow truck or the driver of the truck were little to none. It's possible the driver didn't even know he/she hit Rachelle.  In the end, there just wasn't enough evidence pointing to the Trans Am, other than the strange behavior of Laurie and her mother.

Sadly, it seems they may never really know what happened that night.  Short of somebody coming forward and confessing to hitting her, or a new witness coming forward with information, it seems this may remain a mystery.  I'm still curious as to why Laurie and Bev seem to have a problem telling the truth.  But that's something they both will have to live with.  The teenagers who attended that party in 1988 may have been afraid of the police because there was alcohol at the party and they were under age, but there is no reason to not tell the truth 25 years later.

Kelly Siegler got a little emotional and teared up when she talked about having to go back to Rachelle's mother and brothers to tell them they were unable to uncover anything that would help them solve this case. The family handled the news with dignity and grace, and they thanked her for taking the time to look into the case. Maybe now they can have some peace, knowing an outside independent investigation was done on this hit and run. I think there may always be suspicions in this small town around this case.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the summary... My On Demand only had the first half for some strange reason.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous (9/26 @ 5:29PM),
      No problem! I plan on summarizing all episodes that I watch as well as following the progress of the cases they have worked. I miss having Comcast On Demand! No Comcast where I live now, had to switch to DirectTV. Not nearly as good.

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