North Coast Community Facebook pages have continued to circulate an unsubstantiated rumor that a serial killer is preying upon women in Mendocino, Sonoma, and Napa Counties. This assumed serial killer’s victims were originally two Mendocino County women but has grown to include one from Sonoma County, and another from Napa County.
We reached out to all three law enforcement agencies investigating the deaths of these four women. All, in their own way, made it clear there was no known connection between these tragedies and these cases are not a result of any serial killer preying on women.
These rumors first emerged after two women were found deceased under suspicious circumstances mere days after one another. The first was 33-year-old Willits woman Amber Dillon who was discovered in a field off Highway 101 near the Mendocino/Sonoma County line on January 7, 2022. A press release from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office stated Violent Crimes Investigators combed the area for evidence on the following day deeming the death as “suspicious.”
It was Tuesday, January 11, 2022, when SCSO Sergeant Juan Valencia revealed to us the name Amber Dillon when reports emerged of a body being found in Ukiah near the intersection of Christy Lane and Parducci Lane. After three days, MCSO identified the decedent as a 22-year-old Ukiah woman Alyssa Mae Sawdey and labeled the death as “suspicious” requiring a forensic autopsy that could take several weeks to complete.
Community members started to concoct this theory of a serial killer immediately based on commonalities between these women: their gender, their youth, their residence in Mendocino County, their characterization as “suspicious,” and the fact the cases emerged just days after each other.
As web sleuths descended on the case, we reached out to Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall about these claims and he said unequivocally after “exhaustive efforts of investigators” there is currently, “no connection between these two cases.”
Soon these sleuths upped this unverified North Coast serial killer’s victim list to four including 33-year-old Cynthia Crane, a woman who was found dead in a creek near Sonoma County’s Guerneville, and 37-year-old Napa County woman Crystal Lea McCarthy who was found floating in the Napa River.
33-year-old Crystal Lea McCarthy was reported by the Napa Police Department as missing on December 20, 2021. Her last known location was the Napa River Trail. Napa Police released the last known image of McCarthy alive taken by a 7-11 surveillance camera on December 13, 2021, at 10:30 p.m. Ten days later, a Napa Sheriff’s deputy was patrolling the Napa River by boat search for McCarthy when he discovered a woman’s body under the Third Street Bridge near downtown Napa. Investigators recovered the body, confirmed it was McCarthy, and informed her next-of-kin. Her body was discovered downstream from where she was last seen, and details regarding her cause of death are still pending.
We spoke with Detective Brandt Keown, one of the Napa Police Department’s investigators looking into the death of McCarthy. Upon informing him that McCarthy’s death was being tied by social media web sleuths to a serial killer, he simply said, “I did not know there were rumors. I did know about these others. I don’t think there is a serial killer.”
As to McCarthy’s cause of death, Keown said that information will be released pending autopsy results as well as toxicology reports.
As to 33-year-old Cynthia Crane, we spoke with Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Juan Valencia who told us she was found floating in a Mays Canyon creek on December 18, 2021. He told us her death is labeled “suspicious” because she was found in the water and bystanders saw someone floating downstream and called it in. Similar to the three other women, an autopsy is being conducted and more information will be available at a later date.
Sergeant Valencia spoke to law enforcement’s designation of a death as “suspicious.” He understood that the public sees the word as implying malevolence or wrong-doing. When law enforcement uses the word, Sergeant Valencia explained, initial investigations determine the actual manner of death is unclear and more investigations are necessary to determine the cause.
He went on to say that “every time someone dies and it’s not witnessed by somebody, the manner, and cause of deaths are considered suspicious” with follow-up investigation required.
Sergeant Valencia described how if an elderly person was to die at home alone in their bed, investigators would reach out to the individual’s doctor to corroborate ongoing health issues that might have led to natural death. He added that if a person was to die in a car accident, the manner of death is clear with further investigations unnecessary.
Meanwhile, a drug overdose is more than likely going to be considered a “suspicious death” until a toxicology report is completed and investigators can point towards the exact cause.
But, in deaths like these four women in which the means and manner of death are unclear based on the evidence gathered at the scene, the death is considered “suspicious” and investigatory steps are taken to determine the cause. Investigators photograph the scene, collect evidence, and work hard to determine the cause because as Sergeant Valencia put it, “we only have one chance to get it right.”
Regarding these rumors of a serial killer, Sergeant Valencia said, “People are going to assume the worst” and “speculate without having all the information.” He made it clear that “there is no information or evidence there is a serial killer, and if there was we would tell them we would want the community to be on high alert and be aware of the danger.”
MCSO, SCSO, and Napa Police Department are asking the public for information regarding the respective cases. If you know anything about the circumstances surrounding Dillon’s or Crane’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. If you have information about the death of Crystal Lea McCarthy, contact Napa Police Department Detective Brendt Keown at (707) 257-9592.
- Sheriff Kendall on Rumors a Serial Killer Is Behind Recent ‘Suspicious’ Deaths of Mendocino County Women: ‘Currently, There Is No Evidence They’re Connected’
- Amber Dillon
- Alyssa Mae Sawdey