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  • Writer's pictureBriar Mitchell

A Cold Mystery

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

Our goal that chilly morning, in Livingston, California, was to search for any human remains that might still be at the location where the old Blueberry Hill Cafe’ used to be. Tiffany Damm carefully worked her cadaver dog Ryu in a grid pattern, searching every inch of the 2.5 acres of barren landscape that had once been a vibrant place of business.

Very popular with locals and travelers alike, it also catered to truckers traveling across the state. The cafe, which had stood there since the 1950s, was demolished in 1995 to make room for expansions to the I-99 Golden State Freeway. All that remained was a vacant lot.

The old Blueberry Hill Café, back in the day.

What the site looks like today.

The notorious Happy Face Killer, Keith Hunter Jesperson, had told sheriff's investigators from Merced County (where Livingston is located), that he had murdered someone and left her body behind the cafe' in 1992. He never knew her name. She was a prostitute and, as soon as she entered Jesperson's truck (while he was still further north in Turlock), he started to strangle her. Startled by activity around him, he could not finish what he started.

Jesperson duct taped her mouth and hands then took off in his 18 wheel truck and headed south towards Livingston. He stopped at the Blueberry Hill Cafe’ and put her body in the parking lot at the very back, face down in the dirt then stomped on the back of her head. Believing he had killed her, he covered her with a tumbleweed and left.

The body of a young woman named Cynthia Lynn Rose Wilcox had been found behind the cafe, under a tree and near an old shack right near there (not in the parking lot, but right at the edge). Investigator's assumed she had been killed by Jesperson because she was found near where he said he left his victim, however, he did not kill her.

I reviewed the autopsy report for Cynthia Lynn, and she died from a drug overdose. The injuries to her head, including a broken jaw, were not responsible for her death. Investigators, though, with the Merced County Sheriff, contend she was Jesperson’s victim.

His victim was a Jane Doe to him. He never knew her name, however, investigator's told him his victim was named Cynthia. He had no reason to question that, since her body had been found at the cafe. You will find interviews with Jesperson from that time, where he is talking about "Cynthia", but 14 years later, he was finally shown a photo of her and told the investigator that no, he never met that person. He had no idea who she was.

He never met her. He did not kill her. Cynthia sadly killed herself with a drug overdose. Jesperson was a long haul trucker and his logbooks indicated he was already out of the area when she had been seen at a methadone clinic (William Phelps reported that information in his book about Jesperson called Dangerous Ground).

So, where is his victim #3?

To try to find her, I engaged the services of a private investigator from Turlock named Shiloh Roten. Since I live in Florida, trying to coordinate a search of the area was impossible and attempting to speak with anyone at the Merced County Sheriff's department about trying to find this missing victim proved to be useless.

Shiloh was able to verify where the old cafe had been and obtained permission from the Gallo family (owners of the property), allowing us to conduct a search. He went one massive step further and was able to locate K9 handler Tiffany Damm whose amazing Malinois Ryu worked through the morning, however, nothing was turned up.

Tiffany Damm and Ryu. NOTE: Tiffany and Ryu are certified and Ryu is verified, having found two murder victims.

If the dog had found remains, it could be another long wait, trying to determine an identity. Any remains found there could be indigenous, possibly a transient or maybe, the victim of a serial killer. Just finding remains would not immediately end the search for this missing person.

One theory, which Jesperson had also agreed with as a possible explanation of why no one could find #3, is that she survived her attack. Jesperson did not finish what he started in Turlock. He was not sure she was dead when he left, which is why he duct taped her as he did and then stomped on her head when he got her into the parking lot behind the café.

Another theory, could be that, Jesperson is lying. Maybe Cynthia had been with him, killed herself and furious over her demise, he tossed her body at the back of the parking lot and stomped her head out of frustration? The ME stated her broken jaw had been post-mortem. Cynthia though, had been seen at a methadone appointment after Jesperson's logbook stated he left the area. I have not seen the logbook in person, and can only report what Phelps wrote about in Dangerous Ground.

So, a mystery remains? Jesperson did not kill Cynthia, but admitted to murdering a person in Merced County, so where might this victim be?

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