Family and friends

Debi Fones, center, mother of murder victim Deverrie Schiller - is comforted by her sister D'Anna Smith, left, and Sheri Smith, right, mother of missing woman Desiree Thompson during a vigil for victims of unsolved crimes in California City, held April 11.

CALIFORNIA CITY — Their loved ones might never have known each other or become friends, but the families of eight crime victims were united in grief and celebration April 11. A memorial for Matthew Lininger, Desiree Thompson, Demetri Thomas, Robert Austin Tharp, Deverrie Schiller, Philip Pete Hammond, Dr. Burdette Thorbus and Charles Pieper brought family members together along with representatives from area law enforcement and victim's rights advocates.

Three of the cases; Hammond, Tharp and Thompson are still classified as missing persons, while Lininger, Thomas, Schiller, Thorbus and Pieper are unsolved homicides. The California City Council unanimously voted on April 9 to increase the reward to $25,000 for each of the cases.

"Our theme tonight is hope," said California City Police Chief Eric Hurtado. "We want to show that we are working as a community and are very dedicated to embrace the families that have been going through this ordeal for some time."

Mayor Chuck McGuire said he was thankful for the action taken by city council and that the increase could lead to prosecution of criminals responsible.

"Hopefully we can bring a conclusion to a lot of pain, a lot of hurt," he said.

Hurtado also introduced Sgt. Timothy O'Quinn who recently arrived as a dedicated homicide detective. A veteran Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy with 30 years of experience, including nine as a homicide investigator.

"I don't want to suggest that these cases haven't been worked," said O'Quinn. "They've been worked well. There have been many leads that were followed. There are many stones that have been turned over."

O'Quinn said he was optimistic about resolving at least some of the cases, but also cautioned of a sobering statistic.

"One-third of murders in the US are typically not solved," he said. "You've heard this: it's not what you know, it's what you can prove, first to a DA that's reviewing the case and later to a jury. With these eight cases, we want to be a part of the two-thirds, not the one-third - that's the goal. It is a good goal and a worthy goal."

O'Quinn said he has an open phone policy and is willing to talk to anyone, anywhere who might have information on these eight cases.

"We need the information to come from people who either heard somebody talk about these murders - and they're out there - and heard somebody brag about it, or they saw it and just have never said what they saw," he said.  "I know those tips are going to come."

A banner behind the speakers displayed the secret witness tip line — 661-322-4040 to encourage people to call with information.

Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer also spoke about the secret witness program, noting that a conviction was recently made in an 18-year-old murder of 37-year-old Maria Cruz Pina, who worked at a McDonald's restaurant in Rosamond. The conviction came as the result of a tip received through the secret witness program.

"I'm not going to say that most of the cold cases will be solved," she said. "They won't be, but some of them will and we as a community cannot give up hope. We have to encourage people and get the word out. If you know something, please call the secret witness hotline."

The event was organized by The Kern County District Attorney’s Victim Services Unit and the California City Police Department.

Each of the families were given an opportunity to speak about their loved ones. Mojave Desert News will be featuring those comments in future editions.

A balloon release, with friends and family encouraged to write messages of hope and love to their loved ones, closed out the program.

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