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New sketch shows person of interest in 41-year-old cold case in Orange County

A composite sketch, left, shows a person of interest in the cold case disappearance of Kerry Patterson, 15.
A composite sketch, left, shows a person of interest in the cold case disappearance of Kerry Patterson, 15, who was last seen June 26, 1980, in Fullerton.
(Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

Four decades ago, 15-year-old Kerry Patterson went to get ice cream with friends on a sunny summer day.

After moving to Fullerton two weeks earlier, she slipped away on the afternoon of June 26, 1980, to grab a treat at the Ice Cream Castle with a boy she knew from her old Cerritos neighborhood and two other male friends. When it was time to head back, she rode on the handlebars of one of the boys’ bicycles as far as Parks Junior High School and then set out to walk the few short blocks the rest of the way home.

She never made it.

Six months later, Kerry’s partial remains — a chunk of her skull, two leg bones and part of an arm bone — were found by an oil field worker near the 57 Freeway and Tonner Canyon in Brea. The site was 12 miles from where she was last seen.

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“The only remains that were found were a portion of her skull and three long bones,” Bob Taft, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s cold case detective, said Thursday when reached by phone, noting there was very little to go on.

But authorities are now hoping new information may lead to a break in the case.

52 years after the body of a woman was found near a Huntington Beach field, Jane Doe and the man who authorities say killed her have been named.


Earlier this week, the Sheriff’s Department released a composite sketch of a person of interest in Kerry’s disappearance and death.

An Orange County woman contacted authorities about two years ago after a December 2019 article in the Orange County Register. She said she recalled seeing a suspicious person on her street around the same time Kerry went missing.

The woman lived in the general area where Kerry lived, but Taft wouldn’t call her a close neighbor. She recalled seeing a man who stood out so much that she could vividly recall his appearance, which she described to a sketch artist, Taft said.

“The big thing is I hope that this gets out in the public venue and that someone offers the piece of the puzzle that solves this whole thing,” Taft said of the sketch.

When Kerry’s parents first reported her missing, authorities labeled her as a possible runaway, but her family was adamant that wasn’t the case.

She was last seen walking in the 1700 block of Rosecrans Avenue in Fullerton, near the junior high school. Her family told investigators she was wearing loose-fitting blue pants, a yellow pendant necklace with a No. 1 charm, white Vans shoes and a Hawaiian print blouse or a white T-shirt.

False reports during the initial investigation indicated several people had seen Kerry or talked to her after she was went missing but those all proved to be untrue, Taft said.

New images have been released of a young male whose remains were found in Trabuco Canyon nearly 23 years ago.

Taft — a nearly 30-year veteran with the Sheriff’s Department — became involved in Kerry’s case by chance. While meeting with a lawyer in 2019 for some legal advice, he explained what he did for a living. The lawyer, Michelle Patterson Ludwig, was Kerry’s sister.

“I looked it up, and it turns out it was in our jurisdiction,” said Taft, who has been a police investigator since 2008.

He has been working the case since then and hopes the public can further help with the investigation.

“We’re hoping that this development does something for people to come forward with any information they have,” Taft said. “Either they didn’t know they had that information or perhaps their alliances and allegiances changed over the years.”

Anyone with information may contact Taft at (714) 647-7045 or coldcase@ocsheriff.gov. Anonymous tips can be submitted to Orange County Crime Stoppers at (855) 847-6227 or occrimestoppers.org.


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