In the last week, Mendocino County residents have had to grapple with the tragic news that two young women have been found dead and in both circumstances, law enforcement has characterized their deaths as “suspicious.”
The shared traits between these two deaths including their gender, their youth, their residence in Mendocino County, their characterization as “suspicious,” and the fact the cases emerged just days after each other have led many locals to speculate a serial killer is behind the deaths.
Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall told us that after “exhaustive efforts of investigators” there is currently, “no connection between these two cases.”
Last Sunday, January 8, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) announced they had recovered a body from a field near the intersection of Highway 101 and Geysers Road near the Mendocino/Sonoma County line. On Tuesday, January 11, SCSO Sergeant Juan Valencia revealed the body was that of 33-year-old Amber Dillon, a Willits woman whose death he deemed “suspicious.”
News of the second death broke on the same day that SCSO identified Dillon. Initially, a dead body was reported in the vicinity of Ukiah’s Christy Lane. Three days later, the decedent found near Christy Lane was officially identified as 22-year-old Alyssa Mae Sawdey from Ukiah. The press release indicated MCSO conducted a forensic autopsy on her body and results are pending and expected to take several weeks. As of now, the press release stated Sawdey’s death is considered “suspicious.”
Regarding Dillon, Sheriff Kendall told us he could not comment due to the case being under the SCSO’s jurisdiction.
“[I]f I thought we had a serial killer out there, the public would be the first to know,” Sheriff Kendall reassured the community.
Family and friends of Amber Dillon and Alyssa Mae Sawday have spoken openly about their loved ones’ struggles with substance abuse. A cursory Google search of both women will reveal they each had run-ins with law enforcement and faced charges often associated with addiction including forgery, identity theft, burglary, and drug possession.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse examined this relationship between drug abuse and crime in their paper “Publications Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations – A Research-Based Guide.” The research describes three categories of crime that often result in drug addiction:
(1) offenses defined by drug possession or sales, (2) offenses directly related to drug abuse (e.g., stealing to get money for drugs), and (3) offenses related to a lifestyle that predisposes the drug abuser to engage in illegal activity, for example, through association with other offenders or with illicit markets.
Though this connection between addiction and criminality is broadly recognized, the paper explores the paradoxical lack of treatment for offenders within jails and correctional facilities which leads to continued drug abuse. Without support, “Untreated substance abusing offenders are more likely than treated offenders to relapse to drug abuse and return to criminal behavior.”
Knowing this, it is safe to say that after Dillon and Sawday had their brushes with the law, they would emerge not rehabilitated nor healed, but deprived and suffering still from their addiction.
Law enforcement has deemed both separate deaths as “suspicious” which often implies a crime was committed in association with that death. From what we know about the lifestyles of Amber Dillon and Alyssa Sawday, the pair were dangerously vulnerable to overdoses, transient lifestyles, and intimate partner violence.
As described in the 2014 paper “Intimate partner violence and drug-addicted women: from explicative models to gender-oriented treatments, “women’s consumption of substances may enhance the risk of being abused by their partners, whereas substance use may act as a sort of coping strategy for facing those experiences.” Basically, the salve that soothed a woman suffering from intimate partner violence also made her vulnerable to that same violence.
Knowing their struggles, the attribution of these womens’ death to a Jack the Ripper-esque serial killer is a failure to recognize the deficiencies of our mental health and criminal justice systems that had many opportunities to intervene and rehabilitate. Maybe, we are more comfortable conjuring a killer than recognizing these systemic failures. If these systems failed these women, who will they fail next?
Both MCSO and SCSO are asking the public for information regarding the respective cases. If you know anything about the circumstances surrounding Dillon’s death, contact Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office at (707) 565-2650. If you have information about Sawdey’s death, contact Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office at 707-234-2100 or the WeTip anonymous crime reporting hotline at 800-782-7463.
- Amber Dillon
- Alyssa Mae Sawdey