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VENTURA COUNTY ROUNDUP | West County / Ventura

Defendant Is Suspect in an Earlier Killing

October 14, 2000|TRACY WILSON

A Ventura man indicted this week in the 1993 killing of a Port Hueneme woman remains the prime suspect in an unrelated homicide in Santa Barbara County, authorities said Friday.

Lt. Mike Burridge, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, said investigators have long suspected that Michael Schultz, 31, killed Jenniffer Vernals, 15, of Ventura and dumped her body in a remote area near Montecito.

Vernals, who once lived next door to Schultz, disappeared from a downtown Ventura thrift store in March 1996. Her remains were found five months later off Toro Canyon Road.

Burridge, who was a detective on the case, said Schultz was questioned after the girl's remains were found.

The interview occurred in November 1997 at a state prison near Coalinga where Schultz was serving a five-year sentence for battering two Ventura police officers during an August 1996 burglary.

"He was suspected for a number of reasons," Burridge said, citing a close relationship between Vernals and Schultz as a key reason. "I think it could be described as overly amorous."

Burridge said Schultz's former roommate told investigators that Schultz's physical contact with the girl made him uncomfortable.

About a week after Vernals' body was found, sheriff's officials also received a phone call from a woman who knew Schultz and told detectives he had given drugs and alcohol to the teen, Burridge said.

"She was rather adamant that she felt he was responsible for her death," he said.

Investigators are still working on the case and hope additional information will be revealed as a result of the pending case in Ventura County.

"We are not in a hurry," Burridge said.

Schultz was indicted this week by the Ventura County Grand Jury on charges that he raped and strangled 44-year-old Cynthia Burger of Port Hueneme, then burglarized her condominium and set it on fire.

Using DNA evidence, investigators cracked the case after seven years.

Schultz, who could face the death penalty if convicted, is being held without bail at Ventura County Jail and is scheduled to be arraigned next month.

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