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Graphic Video Re-Creates '93 Killings of 2 Boys

Crime: Police, others hope that airing the four-minute piece will help solve San Diego case.

May 15, 2000|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Hidden by a thicket of tall grass and gnarled trees, two small crosses mark one of this region's most agonizing mysteries: What kind of monster killed Charlie Keever and Jonathan Sellers?

Molested them, strangled them until the blood vessels in their eyes burst and tossed their crumpled bodies into nearby bushes.

For seven years a traumatized community and the boys' devastated families have waited in vain for answers.

Now, in a longshot attempt to shock the conscience or the memory of anyone who knows something about that sunny spring afternoon in 1993, police have joined the local Fox News affiliate and an anti-crime group in filming an unusually graphic reenactment of the crime, using two child actors.

Some of Fox's TV competitors in San Diego have found the video too unsettling and are showing only an edited version.

Still, police hope the high-quality production values of the four-minute video will attract the network news magazine shows or cable "infotainment" shows that thrive on stories of unsolved murders.

National exposure, police reason, could bring a tip about the identity and location of the killer. And they hope a $10,000 reward that has long been offered by the anti-crime group CrimeStoppers Inc. could loosen a lot of tongues.

Police have long thought that the killer was probably a transient, living a furtive existence in the brush beside Otay Creek when Keever, 13, and Sellers, 9, came riding by on their bicycles. The two were best friends and often played in the area.

Coming within months of three highly publicized child abductions elsewhere in San Diego County, the murders stunned the blue-collar, racially diverse South Bay neighborhood where south San Diego blends into Imperial Beach and Chula Vista.

"Violence, particularly against children, just had not been an issue in our lives before," remembered Deb Baker, an official with the Girl Scouts. "And the worst thing was, there were no answers to our questions, nothing that would help people make sense out of this tragedy."

Panicked parents formed Neighborhood Watch groups. Children were forbidden to walk home from school or ride their bikes near the murder scene.

Gates were erected at the two main entrances to the expansive open-space area just north of a busy commercial strip and west of Interstate 5.

The FBI developed a psychological profile of the killer; the Border Patrol provided an expert tracker. The Urban League demanded that the killer be caught.

For the first time, the community knew the collective grip of fear.

"It was like someone had declared open season on kids," said Max Branscomb, who teaches journalism and theater at Southwestern College in Chula Vista. "People were afraid a serial child killer was loose in our community. Everybody was afraid and paranoid."

It was two days before the bodies were found by a passing bicyclist. The killer was gone and the trail was cold. A driving rain had washed away any footprints.

A reward was posted. Billboards with the boys' pictures pleaded for information from the public. Nothing worked.

Hundreds of tips have led police to locales from Key West, Fla., to Oregon, to New York City and throughout Mexico. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police checked tips in Canada.

"Something would look very, very good, and turn out to be nothing," said Sgt. Bill Holmes, the lead investigator since the beginning. "That's the kind of case it's been."

Many People Were in Area

Just 200 yards from where the boys were killed, more than 400 people were attending an outdoor wedding reception at Swiss Park. Untold numbers of joggers and bikers were using the nearby paved pathway that day, passing about 25 feet from where the bodies were found.

"I have to believe that somebody saw something and just didn't realize it," said Chief David Bejarano, who was the commander of the South Bay division in 1993.

When Bejarano held a news conference last week to unveil the video, the boys' mothers were in attendance.

As the video rolled, Melina Sellers, an aspiring actress, averted her eyes and was comforted by her husband. Maria Keever, a clerk at a grocery store, watched and wept.

"Charlie was my whole life," said Keever, an immigrant from El Salvador. "Sometimes it hurts so much to wake up, I just want to stay asleep."

In the years since the murders, Keever's marriage deteriorated and she and her husband divorced.

Sellers, divorced at the time of the killings, attended college, remarried, and moved to the Los Angeles area to pursue her career, though she returns to San Diego whenever her presence might help keep the case in the news.

"How can you close something that's not completed?" Sellers asked. "Once we have a face, then we can close this chapter."

If, as some residents feared, there was a serial child-killer loose, he must have moved on. The South Bay has had no similar cases.

Still, the civic pain has persisted.

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