48-Year-Old Cold Case Solved: The Homicide of Wendy Jo Halison

In 1968, 22-year-old art student Wendy Jo Halison was seen filling up her car at a gas station down the street from her house. The next day, her mangled body was found stuffed in the trunk of her car not far away. Her brutal homicide left her family completely devastated and without closure. That is, until the case was solved nearly 50 years later.

Beautiful and Bright: Wendy Jo Halison

Beautiful and Bright: Wendy Jo Halison

Wendy Jo Halison grew up in a Mid-City home in Los Angeles, California with her parents, her older sister Linda, and her poodle Pierre. Her father was a real estate agent and her mother a stay-at-home mom. She attended what is now Cal State Unversity Northridge for art. It is noted by Linda’s husband that “She had everything going for her,” and was a beautiful and bright young woman.

On the last Sunday that she was seen, Wendy saw an ad for a hair dryer that was on sale at Thrifty and asked her sister if she wanted to join her. Her sister’s answer may have changed the course of both of the young women’s lives forever.

Wendy Never Came Home

Wendy Never Came Home

Her sister Linda had two young sons at home and wanted to spend the day with her family so she told Mary she couldn’t come along. Today, her decision to stay home haunts her and she says that she regrets it deeply. After going to Thrifty alone, Wendy did not return around the time she was expected to, which began to worry her family since Wendy was known to check in regularly. When her family called the police, they said it was too early to file a police report so they went out searching on their own.

They Found Her Body

They Found Her Body

At the time, Wendy’s brother-in-law was a private investigator. He arranged a group of friends and even managed to get a helicopter to help search the neighborhood from above. The next morning, a little under an hour after the search began, Wendy’s boyfriend spotted her unmissable green Ford Thunderbird parked on Fairfax Avenue. Her sister found Wendy’s keys in the backseat and opened the trunk only to discover her dead body.

Wendy Was Brutally Murdered

Wendy Was Brutally Murdered

Investigators soon determined that Wendy had been sexually assaulted and then strangled to death, said Richard Bengston, the current LAPD detective now handling the case. She is believed to have attempted to fight off the attackers since her fingernails were broken. The rope used to strangle her was also found at the scene—however, the jewelry she was wearing was still intact, which ruled out a robbery. Suspiciously, the only thing missing was the hair dryer she got at the store earlier that day.

The Investigation Begins

The Investigation Begins

Linda was waiting at her parent’s house when her husband came in. She said it was the first time she had ever seen him cry. He told the family that they had found Wendy’s body and that she was gone. Without hesitation, the police zeroed in on four particular men that knew Wendy well: her boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend, a friend, and even her brother-in-law who helped orchestrate the search. Judging by the scene of the crime, it appeared that the attacker would have known she went shopping alone and was probably someone close to her.

Her Boyfriend and Ex-Boyfriend Are Put Under the Microscope

Her Boyfriend and Ex-Boyfriend Are Put Under the Microscope

Both Wendy’s boyfriend and ex-boyfriend stood out to the investigators, especially her boyfriend, who had easily spotted her car from the helicopter. It seemed suspicious that he was able to do it so quickly and easily since the task was described as “finding a needle in a haystack.” It is also noted that even the experienced pilot was bewildered that he was able to spot the car from where they were flying. Making matters worse, her current boyfriend failed to pass the lie detector test, which only drew more suspicion to him.

Her Brother-In-Law Was More Than Cooperative

Her Brother-In-Law Was More Than Cooperative

Linda’s husband and Wendy Jo’s brother-in-law Gil Kort underwent a polygraph test as soon as possible. He said that he did this simply so he could have his name cleared and the police could spend more time trying to figure out who the murderer really was. He was also very understanding when he learned that he was a suspect. During his time in the field as a private investigator, he assumed that it would be someone close to her as well. He went on to say that, “I thought it was someone that knew her too, strangling somebody is very personal.”

Weeks Turn to Months, Months Turn to Years

Weeks Turn to Months, Months Turn to Years

Years passed with no real progress made in the investigation. For decades following the murder, the only real clue that investigators were able to uncover was that a white man was seen near Wendy at the drug store, and again at the gas station prior to her murder. Although this lead was better than nothing, it still wasn’t much help. It wasn’t until three decades after Wendy’s murder that detective Frank Bolan ask LAPD criminalist Harry Klann Jr. to revisit at all of the collected evidence which would give them a new lead.

New DNA Analysis Technology May Help the Case

New DNA Analysis Technology May Help the Case

When DNA analysis was in its beginning stages in 1998, LAPD had only been working with the forensic technique for only four years. But when a colleague found semen on Wendy’s pants and underwear, they decided to analyze it in hopes of producing a lead. After the DNA analysis, they managed to get a sample from a suspect. The four men originally questioned when she was murdered were all brought in and had blood drawn to find a match between the two, but none of the men was a match. Although this was disappointing, it meant that they could close one door of the investigation. Unfortunately, the investigation stalled yet again as the sample was too small to test against the nationwide database.

The Halison Family Was In Shambles

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The lack of closure from the failure of the investigation destroyed the Halison family. Not only was their daughter raped and murdered, but they had to live with the knowledge that her murderer never paid for their crime and was potentially alive and walking free. Her parents left her room intact, and for years, Gil avoided driving down Fairfax Avenue and got sick when he saw Thunderbirds on the road. Her father was constantly at the police station asking about any new leads and offering rewards to people with any tips. The family suffered even more on what would have been monumental dates in Wendy’s like such as birthdays and graduations.

A Possible Breakthrough

A Possible Breakthrough

By 2016, three LAPD investigators had been trying to solve the case for decades. Criminalist Harry Klann Jr., cold-case detective Frank Bolan, and former head deputy district attorney Peter Burman were determined to use new technology to solve this case. Bengston was one of the original detectives assigned to the cold-case unit in 2001 when it was created and is the only one still working there today. Last summer, Klann ran the DNA again hoping the improved technology would help find a match. When Klann got the results, he sent a text to Bengtson which asked, “Are you sitting down?”

Finding a Match

Finding a Match

The man whose DNA matched was named Edwin Dean Richardson. He had a criminal record that went all the way back to his childhood. It started with thefts and burglaries until his crimes turned violent and were committed across the country. He worked odd jobs as he moved state to state, and in 1960, he was convicted of an attempt of robbery and kidnapping in San Diego. He was released eight years later and paroled in April 1968, five months before Wendy’s murder.

Richardson Was A Cold-Blooded Killer

Richardson Was A Cold-Blooded Killer

In 1981, Richardson was sent to prison in Ohio after being convicted of killing 21-year-old Jo Anna Boughner in Belmont County, on the state’s eastern border. He was also convicted of kidnapping two girls across the river in Virginia. Tom McCort was the investigator for the prosecutor’s office and spent more than three years looking for Richardson who skipped down after Boughner’s body was found. Eventually, McCort tracked Richardson down using a phone bill to a trailer park in Mesa, Arizona. Here, he was arrested for Boughner’s murder and flown back to Ohio.

“He Was Almost Boasting About What He’d Done And Gotten Away With”

“He Was Almost Boasting About What He’d Done And Gotten Away With”

On the flight back to Ohio, Richardson was bragging to McCort about yet another woman he had killed and then wrapped her body in a blanket and threw it off a cliff. Twenty years later from Richardson’s arrest, authorities used DNA to link the still-imprisoned Richardson to a cold-case killing in Orange County. He was then flown to California where he pleaded guilty to the rape and strangling of 23-year old Marla Jean Hires in 1972. Her body was discovered wrapped in a blanket and thrown down an embankment in Yorba Linda, just like he had told McCort 20 years earlier.

“He Was a Little Sniveling Coward…Preying on the Weak and Defenseless”

“He Was a Little Sniveling Coward…Preying on the Weak and Defenseless”

In 2006, at 70 years old and suffering from emphysema, Richardson was sentenced to life in prison, ensuring that he would die behind bars. Mccort remarks that, “The only people I could think of that I had to deal with that were of a more sickening nature were pedophiles.” Now, by 2016, when investigators used the DNA to identify Richardson as the man who murdered Wendy Jo Hailson, he had already been dead for four years.

Searching for Solid Proof

Searching for Solid Proof

Since Richardson was dead the investigators of the LAPD could not go and interview him, or take a DNA sample to confirm that it was indeed him. Instead, they matched a blood sample identified as Richardson’s in the Orange County case to the DNA from the Halison case. They also searched his background to look at his violent behaviors matched Wendy’s murder, which they did. All three girls were young, attractive brunettes, alone when they were abducted, and strangled to death. They were each strangled, and their cars were abandoned.

Richardson Didn’t Stop There

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It was clear that Richardson was a serial killer as well as an opportunist that assaulted young women getting into their cars. However, there were gaps in his criminal record in which all the detectives agreed didn’t make sense because serial killers don’t simply take breaks. They later discovered that a year after Wendy’s murder, another pretty 22-year old girl, Margie Schuit, was found beaten and strangled in Burbank, and her car was in the parking lot of the Thrifty drug store where Halison went to get the blow dryer. However, the evidence for that case was lost so there was no real proof that it was Richardson even though it most likely was.

Breaking the News

Breaking the News

Once Bengston was sure that it was Richardson that killed Halison, he picked up the phone to call her sister Linda. Bengston was hesitant because he knows the wave of emotions that somebody gets hit by when receiving such news. Her phone went to voicemail in which he left the message, “We know who killed your sister”. When listened to the message she said he felt sick. In July 2017, Linda and her now-husband Tony drove to the LAPD glass headquarters to meet the investigators for the first time. She was wearing her sisters old necklace.

Collecting the Evidence and Closing the Case

Collecting the Evidence and Closing the Case

Linda sat calmly as the investigators answered her questions. The case was 48 years old, the oldest case for anybody that had worked on it. Linda was in disbelief when Bengston went over Richardson’s crime history. He then turned to the two cardboard boxes that had Halion’s belongings that were found at the murder scene. It included school papers, letters, and her driver’s license. One box even still has the original evidence tag from 1968. The envelope to wrap her belongings was practically decaying.

Picking Up the Pieces

Picking Up the Pieces

After Linda and her husbands meeting with the LAPD investigators, they helped to carry the boxes to the couple’s SUV. When they arrived they chatted for a few more minutes. Linda had no words for the gratitude she felt for the investigator’s dedication and commitment to the case. Her husband notes, “The LAPD did its job and the case is closed, but the case will never really be closed because we’ll never forget Wendy”.