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Man Charged in Revived '78 Murder Case

Wisconsin inmate is accused of killing a Canoga Park brother and sister near Barstow.

June 17, 2003|Lance Pugmire and Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writers

San Bernardino County prosecutors have revived one of their oldest unsolved cases, using a fresh look at old evidence to charge a 51-year-old Wisconsin prison inmate with the slayings of a teenage brother and sister who disappeared from a Mojave Desert roadside 25 years ago.

On March 26, 1978, a sheepherder found the decomposed, partially clothed bodies of Jacqueline Bradshaw, 18, and her 17-year-old brother, Malcolm, both from Canoga Park, clubbed to death in a shallow culvert beside a dirt road one mile west of Interstate 15 and 13 miles south of Barstow.

Homicide investigators turned up little evidence at the site, which had been scoured by heavy rains and wind. Autopsies determined that both had died from multiple blows to the head with a blunt object. Otherwise, however, there were few clues beyond a telephone call that Jacqueline had made to her mother from Barstow to tell her they were hitchhiking home and had obtained a ride from a "nice guy."

The case languished. But lying in the case records since 1982 was a statement from William Floyd Zamastil, a Wisconsin inmate described by authorities as a vagrant who had lived in Barstow and Needles.

The statement, made in a telephone interview with a San Bernardino County sheriff's detective, admitted to the killings, officials say.

Local prosecutors had even filed a murder charge against Zamastil in 1984 but for undisclosed reasons never followed through.

If extradited to California now, Zamastil will face two counts of murder, two counts of second-degree robbery and three special-circumstance allegations: multiple murder, murder with a prior conviction of murder, and murder committed during the commission of a robbery, prosecutors said. If convicted he could face the death penalty.

Zamastil also is being investigated in connection with other California murders committed in the late 1970s, authorities said.

According to investigators, the Bradshaws left their home in the San Fernando Valley for Las Vegas on Feb. 25, 1978. A friend moving some family belongings drove them to Las Vegas. Once there, the car broke down. At noon on Feb. 27, the Bradshaws began hitchhiking home instead of waiting for their friend's car to be repaired.

They were seen at a gas station in Barstow between 3 and 4 p.m. in the company of a white adult male with straight, sandy hair who was driving a small pickup. At the gas station, Jacqueline called her mother, Caroline Bradshaw, to say she and her brother were getting a ride home.

The three were last seen driving off together in the truck, heading toward Interstate 15.

The Bradshaw children never returned home.

A day after they disappeared, their mother reported them missing to the Los Angeles Police Department and later traveled to Barstow and canvassed the area, showing photographs of her children.

Using information she had gathered, Los Angeles investigators interviewed the gas station employees who saw them last and prepared a composite drawing of the driver.

A month later, a sheepherder tending his flock discovered the bodies. Caroline Bradshaw identified several pieces of her daughter's jewelry found with the bodies.

Five months later, on Aug. 1, 1978, Zamastil was arrested in Sauk County, Wis., in connection with the kidnap, rape and murder of 23-year-old Mary Johnson, who had been abducted at gunpoint while getting into her car after leaving work.

Zamastil later admitted that he shot Johnson in the head with a .45-caliber pistol. A search of Johnson's car turned up an old brown suitcase and a silver and turquoise ring.

Alan B. Shanks, who was the Sauk County sheriff at the time, alerted law enforcement agencies across the nation by teletype that Zamastil had been arrested for killing Johnson.

The bulletin said that Zamastil had a wife and child in Barstow, had previously lived in Needles and Barstow, and returned to Wisconsin on July 17, 1978. It also described Zamastil as a vagrant who traveled by hitchhiking and had criminal records in Arizona, California and Washington.

"Zamastil was quite a talker and kind of a braggart," Shanks recalled in a telephone interview Monday. "When we interrogated him, he told us that he had killed some people in California."

During his court hearing on the Johnson murder charge, Zamastil tried to escape by running for the door.

"I heard all the commotion and saw him making a break for it," Shanks said. "I tackled him in the courthouse hallway."

Zamastil was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the crime.

After receiving the teletype, San Bernardino investigators began looking into a possible link between Zamastil and the Bradshaw slayings. In April 1979, Sgt. Patrick Adler traveled to Wisconsin and interviewed Zamastil, who said he had been in Barstow most of 1977. He denied any involvement in the Bradshaw case.

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