Sheriff’s Office Requests Help in Identifying Murder Victims

Editor’s Note: Some readers may find the images at the end of this article disturbing 

By Tim Pompey

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office called a press conference on Wednesday, September 30 at the Thousand Oaks Sheriff’s Station to ask the public’s assistance in identifying two female murder victims who were killed in Westlake Village (Ventura County) and Delano (Kern County) between July 15 and July 18, 1980. Both women were sexually assaulted, stabbed, and strangled to death. The murders, according to Sheriff’s Investigator Joe Evans, “were done in a similar fashion with a similar weapon.”

VC Sheriff 01

Ventura County Undersheriff Gary Pentis (center), along with Sheriff’s Investigator Joe Evans (left), and Ventura County District Attorney Investigator Steve Rhods (right), held a press conference on Wednesday, September 30 at the Thousand Oaks Sheriff Station to seek the public’s assistance in identifying two cold case female murder victims whose bodies were dumped in July 1980 in Westlake Village (Ventura County) and Delano (Kern County). DNA evidence discovered in 2012 revealed that the murders were linked to the same suspect, Wilson Chouest.

What pulls these cases together is DNA evidence discovered by Ventura County Sheriff’s investigators in 2012. The DNA has been linked to suspect Wilson Chouest, a man who had previously served time in California prisons for fraud, kidnap, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, and rape. He is currently serving a life sentence for the September 1980 kidnap and robbery of two women from College of the Sequoias in Visalia. One of the women was raped.

“This link gave a big kick start to this investigation,” said Ventura County Undersheriff Gary Pentis. “It was later linked to a Jane Doe murder in the Kern County area.”

The two murdered women have remained unidentified for 35 years. With the discovery of new evidence, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office is making a nationwide push to see if they can identify the bodies and return them to their families.

“Really why we’re here,” said Pentis, “is the ethical and moral side of this—to bring closure to the families of these two women.”

He also noted that both women may have had families. Evidence from the investigation shows that each woman had given birth. One of the victims was also five months pregnant when she died.

The hope of the investigators is that through extensive news, website coverage, and other social media, some links may be made between the victims and their loved ones, whether children, husbands, sisters, or other family members

In response to the new DNA evidence, Chouest has been under investigation for three years and has now been officially arrested by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office for three additional murders (including the unborn child). Pentis’s concern is that the case is carried forward as soon as possible because Chouest is eligible for parole in 2017 for his previous charges.

As he explained: “If it wasn’t for the investigators, scientists, and district attorneys who dedicated themselves to these cold cases, it would mean that this guy could have been paroled in 2017, be on our streets, and affect someone else’s wife, daughter, or sister. And there is no doubt in my mind that murders would occur again.”

Asked about the long gap between the DNA discovery and Chouest’s arrest, Investigator Evans replied that “just having the DNA is not enough. You have to prove that he’s the killer as well, and that takes time.”

After he was released from prison in June 1980, it’s believed that Chouest may have traveled through Tulare, Kern, Ventura, or Los Angeles Counties, and that the murder victims could have been from any of these counties before they were killed and dumped at their crime scenes.

Pentis believes there may be other victims from these areas as well and that the investigation into Chouest’s crimes is ongoing. “We’re looking to speak to anyone who had contact with Wilson Chouest between June 15, 1980, and September 15, 1980,” he said.

According to Ventura County Sheriff’s Public Information Officer, Denise Sliva, The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office have taken the lead on these cases.

Anyone with information regarding Chouest’s whereabouts during June to September of 1980, or who may know something about the victims’ identities, is asked to email their information to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Cold Case Unit at [email protected].

VSO photo board

Kern Jane Doe

Kern Jane Doe

More photos and victims’ information can be found at https://goo.gl/O656ab.

For additional questions, contact PIO Sliva at (805) 947-9258 or email her at [email protected].

Photo Credits: Tim Pompey

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Tim Pompey, a freelance writer who has done lots of local affairs and entertainment/cultural writing, lives in Oxnard. Tim is also a fiction writer (Facebook Page). You can presue is books his page on Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/booksbytimpompey.

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