Tehama County Sheriff Office Unravels The 1983 Murder of A 14-Year-Old Girl

The Tehama County Sheriff’s Office claims that the 1983 slaying of a 14-year-old girl in that county has been solved. Detectives from the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office obtained a variety of evidence at the scene.

The detectives had the foresight to collect evidence that was not immediately useful but subsequently proved to be essential to the case’s resolution.

While conducting the initial investigation in 1983, Tehama County Sheriff’s Office detectives and staff worked nonstop around the clock to gather information and sort through a large number of potential suspects, suspect vehicles, and tips that poured in, overwhelming staff.

Many people were questioned and checked for any participation in this unfortunate tragedy.

Henry Lee Lucas, widely known as the “Confession Killer,” admitted throughout the investigation that Rashell Ward had been s*xually assaulted and ki!!ed. He was disqualified as a suspect by the police because of contradictions in the confession. Sadly, because of his fake confession, time and money were wasted looking into this lead.

Other stories likewise plagued the small towns of Red Bluff and Tehama County. One of these theories claimed that the m*rder had anything to do with the current sheriff, Ron Koenig. The rumor was circulated in a number of different ways. Throughout the years of research, there was no proof to back up any of these rumors.

Through the 1990s and the 2000s, as new Detectives rotated through the investigative team, the Rashell Ward case remained open with further suspects being questioned, DNA samples being collected, and witnesses being reinterviewed.

1983 Murder Case Of 14-Year-Old Girl

During this time, numerous leads were also pursued. Numerous pieces of evidence were repeatedly sent for DNA analysis over the years as technology advanced but to no avail. Despite obstacles and a lack of clues, the committed Detectives at the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office never gave up on their dream of one day cracking this case and providing the family with closure.

Detectives explored developing leads from family trees created utilizing investigative genealogy in 2022 as a new investigation strategy. Detectives discovered that using this new ancestral DNA research, a rootless strand of hair that was collected from the victim but did not belong to her could be analyzed to generate a potential lead.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has a division dedicated to helping local authorities find leads utilizing investigative genealogy, the Sheriff’s Office has also learned.

The investigating team chose to employ the novel method after consulting with the FBI and the California Department of Justice (DOJ), who had been involved in the case from the start. The evidence hair strand was then given to Astrea Forensics, with whom the Sheriff’s Office has a contract, for testing and analysis.

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A DNA Journey to Justice in Tehama County

The information from a genotyping file was provided to the FBI to start the investigative genealogical process. The procedure is intricate and can take a long time to finish. The turnaround in this instance was quick.

Tehama County Sheriff’s Detectives, the California DOJ, and the FBI convened on September 7, 2023, to discuss the findings of the forensic genealogy. The lead identified a probable new suspect as Johnny Lee Coy, a former resident of Red Bluff with a violent criminal past.

A woman and daughter from the Antelope Blvd. neighborhood were flagged down by Johnny Coy in 1989, taken hostage, and made to drive up Highway 36 East under duress. The 21-year-old daughter was s*xually rped by Johnny Coy, who also took their car and other belongings.

He was later discovered with a firearm in Red Bluff. He was detained, tried, and ultimately found guilty in Tehama County, where he was given two life sentences. Detectives also found out that Coy passed away in jail in June of 2019.

Detectives looked for Coy’s family in the Tehama County region using the new lead. Numerous family members were found, and the detectives explained the scenario.

The family members volunteered to help and gave a DNA sample to be compared to DNA extracted from items of evidence found in 1983 by the Cal DOJ lab.

The DNA that was retrieved from the evidence most likely belonged to a family member of the living relatives whom the Sheriff’s Office contacted. The results of several different kinds of DNA tests all pointed to the fact that the 1983 DNA sample was a close relative of the family.

The California Department of Justice also discovered that when Johnny Coy was brought to jail, a sample of his DNA was collected and uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).

At the time, the upload did not, however, include the same amount of DNA markers as those used today. Cal DOJ asked for a new upload utilizing modern technologies.

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