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46 Years Ago, Victoria Schneider, Last Seen in Her Sundress, Was Found Strangled to Death in the Samoa Dunes 

Victoria Lynn Schneider [Photograph provided by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case website]

Victoria Lynn Schneider was 19-years-old and finally on her own. Growing up in the Trinity County town of Hayfork, summer approached and she decided to be bold and leave the family nest. In early June of 1976, she said goodbye to her mother and father and struck west one hundred miles to Eureka to work and live with friends in a house on Myrtle Avenue. 

On June 15th, 1976, Schneider told her friends she was going to hitchhike to the local Samoa beach to sunbathe. Wearing a multi-colored cotton sundress, carrying a small backpack, the 19-year-old left to explore her new summer environs. 

This would be the last time Victoria Lynn Schneider was seen alive. 

On June 30th, 1976, Schneiders’ 5’ 9”, 120-pound body would be found by four boys riding motor scooters in the Samoa Sand dunes. Her body lay in the sand decomposing for two weeks before her discovery. Schneider had been strangled by an unidentified object, and the condition of her body left questions as to whether she was raped. 

Evidence experts combed the scene looking for any clue as to a suspect, and law enforcement could not find anyone who had seen Schneider.

Nine Months Passed, Four Women Murdered

The Humboldt Four, all found raped and murdered in rural areas of the region [This is a screenshot of the July 20, 1976 editions of the Times-Standard]

Law enforcement was not restraining themselves any longer. Schneider was the fourth young woman found strangled and abandoned in Humboldt County in the previous ten months and a clear pattern was emerging.

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Roy Simmons told the Vallejo Times on July 2nd, “We’ve speculated along the lines that they were all killed by the same person.”

 Lieutenant Simmons did note “there are some similarities in the cases, but not enough that we can say it is one person. But, we can’t rule that theory out.”

Around nine months before Schneider was found dead in the Samoa Dunes, the body of 19-year-old Humboldt State student Janet Bowman was found strangled, raped, and discarded  on October 6, 1965, along State Route 299 in roadside brush east of Blue Lakes. 

Three months after Bowman was found murdered, 19-year-old Colorado woman Karen Fischer left her friend’s home to visit Trinidad. Four days later, her body was found strangled, raped, and placed at the base of a commemorative cross on Trinidad Head.

The murder closest in time to Schneider’s was that of 15-year-old Miranda teenager Sherry Lynn Smith. She attended a dance at the Garberville Fireman’s Hall on Saturday, April 30th, 1976. Witnesses report her leaving with an unidentified male that evening. In the early morning hours of May 2, her body would be found strangled, raped, and abandoned along the side of rural Eel Rock Road.

The region was left in collective shock. Four young women were dead in similar circumstances. No suspects had been identified. The most solid public safety message Humboldt County law enforcement could offer was to stop hitchhiking. 

Grasping for straws, the Humboldt County Secret Witness Program offered a $500 reward for information that could lead to “the arrest and conviction of the murderer or murderers of four young women here.” An article in the Times-Standard on July 20, 1976 described an inventive method allowing members of the public to provide information to investigators anonymously while still receiving the reward if their information helped solve the case.

Detectives at the time were “particularly anxious for information from anyone who saw any of the victims get into a car on the days they disappeared.” 

As the bodies accrued, a numbing began. The first three women killed (Karen Bowman, Karen Fischer, and Sherry Smith) received a significant amount of media attention with local media telling stories of their lives. In our research of Victoria Lynn Schneider, there was one single article solely dedicated to her death. All other mentions of Schneider appeared low in the inverted pyramid, merely a victim of an unknown killer. The hunt for the killer soon superseded any one of these young women who each became just another victim in the eyes of the local media.

More Murdered Women Along Sonoma County Roadsides

As we have explored Humboldt County’s cold cases, specifically the grisly deaths of these four women, we have come to realize that a simple increase of our geographic scope pointed us towards two other deaths that fit a similar profile.

Garberville woman Carolyn N. Davis was last seen on July 7, 1972 along Highway 101. Two weeks later, she would be found on Franz Valley Road

In December of that year, Yvonne Weber and Maureen Sterling, two girls from a Santa Rosa middle school, would go missing after leaving an ice rink and were located in the same area as Davis murdered by an unknown suspect.

Theresa Walsh was on her way home to Miranda, a hamlet in Humboldt County, from Malibu last seen on December 22, 1973. She would be killed, tied to a log in the Mark West Creek area between Sonoma County’s Windsor and Santa Rosa only eight miles by road, closer as the crow flies, from Carolyn Davis’ body. Her murderer was never found.

At this point, our story begins to mingle with the long-unsolved Santa Rosa Hitchhiker murders, one of Sonoma County’s most enduring cold cases. We will explore the potential connection between the deaths of Humboldt County’s women and these Santa Rosa Hitchhiker murders in a later article.

A Problematic Suspect in Victoria Schnieder’s Killing Emerges

Henry Lee Lucas, blind in one eye, claimed responsiblity for hundred of murders across the continental United State, but later recanted claiming he only killed a total of three people [Screenshot from a April 15, 1985 edition of the Times-Standard]

Times-Standard reporter Bill Regan wrote an article on December 15, 1983, entitled “Unsolved Samoa slaying may be linked to killers.” Regan states that Humboldt County detectives had traveled to Sacramento to investigate a “possible link” between Schneider’s death and “two men who are believed responsible for as many as 20 murders in California and more than 140 murders nationwide.”

47-year-old Henry Lee Lucas and 36-year-old Otis Toole were a pair of drifters suspected of a total of 143 murders across the United States.

That week, members of California law enforcement gathered in Sacramento “conducting an unprecedented seminar” attempting to link Lucas and Toole to “unsolved killings in Humboldt, Riverside, Yolo, San Luis Obispo, San Diego, and Imperial Counties.”

Assistant Director of California Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Division told Regan that “he had spoken to 150 law enforcement officials from nearly 100 agencies in seven Western States, trying to put together the pieces from crime reports and scores of some-times-questionable confessions from Lucas and Toole.” Clemmons suggested that at least twenty murders in California could be linked to the pair.

Otis Toole [Mugshot from the Jacksonville Police Department]

Six days later, Regan told readers local authorities walked away from the conference believing that Henry Lee Lucas “may have strangled 19-year-old Victoria Schneider on the Samoa beach in the summer of 1976.” 

Detective Leo Bessette of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office told the Times-Standard Otis Toole, companion at times to Henry Lee Lucas, had been ruled out as a suspect. 

Regan reported that Lucas and Toole had conducted “scores of interviews across the country” confessing to more than one hundred murders. Detectives said the city of Eureka was brought up twice during these confessions by Lucas. Toole was ruled out as possibly participating in the killings of the four Humboldt County women because he started traveling with Lucas after their murders.

Lucas, at the time of the article, was a suspect in 77 murders throughout the United States. Detective Bessette said he may have been involved with “two of the other” women’s deaths in Humboldt County, but considered him a “strong suspect” in Schneider’s murder.

Charging Lucas with the killing of Schneider would require further evidence to be gathered and more interviews. Even if those steps were taken, Detective Bessette said the case would likely never go to court due to a lack of physical evidence “including a murder weapon.” 

Lucas’s history of “sometimes-questionable confessions” would also work against a successful prosecution. 

As described in a Times-Standard article from April 15, 1985,  these “sometimes-questionable confessions” would fall down like a house of cards after investigations by the Dallas Times Herald suggested Lucas fabricated killing 600 people in the United States and foreign countries.

After the revelations of these fabrications emerged, Lucas reportedly said he had only killed three people.

Humboldt County law enforcement was still convinced of Lucas’s involvement in the death of Schneider after he “took local law enforcement to the murder scene” in the summer of 1984. Humboldt County Sheriff  Dave Renner reported that Lucas also “revealed details of the murder that only the killer would know.”

Netflix explores Henry Lee Lucas’s concerted efforts to falsely confess to hundreds of murders across the United States in their five-part docu-series The Confession Killer. Between 1983 and 1984, Lucas would confess to 213 murders while working with a task force of Texas Rangers. Lucas enjoyed the limelight, the sense of prestige, privileges like travel, and copious cigarettes he would not have gotten if he had not been so eager to close cold cases in dozens of jurisdictions across the United States.

Regardless of the veracity of these confessions, Henry Lee Lucas lived — his death sentence was commuted to life in jail by George W. Bush. 

No politician saved Victoria Lynn Schneider in the last moments. Her life was taken by an unknown killer.

The joys, fears, and sorrows of this 19-year-old woman who spent her last day in a sundress at a beach, are forever lost to the world, overshadowed by a need on the part of the media and the public to seek the perpetrator and almost disregard the victim.

Humboldt County Cold Case Series (From the Oldest to the Newest)

KOREAN WAR VETERAN, STANLEY EUGENE SVENDSEN, FATALLY BEATEN IN PHILLIPSVILLE – THE 54-YEAR-OLD COLD CASE REMAINS UNSOLVED

COLD CASE – HSU STUDENT FOUND STRANGLED AND RAPED IN A CASE THAT MAY HAVE BEEN THE WORK OF A SERIAL KILLER


A NIGHT OF REVELRY ENDED IN TRAGEDY FOR 15-YEAR-OLD SHERRY SMITH – A COLD CASE REVISITED

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Did Victoria Schneider’s friends report her missing? I am curious of the length of time it took to file a missing person report than and now.

  2. Hello… I found this article about my cousin Vicki Schneider because my granddaughter is studying Forensic Psychology and asked about my cousin was possibly a victim of Ted Bundy. He came to light after the fact due to Vicki’s appearance matching Bundy’s preferences for girls with long hair. Anyway, Vicki’s Dad James Schneider is my mom’s brother, Barbara. I always admired Vicki, 1 year older. She was always happy and sweet. Thank you for the reminder and the interest in reviving her cold case.

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a journalist for the everyman. Journalism has become a craft practiced by the urban elite. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs told.

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