The mystery of the disappearing actress deepens
San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle - Jan. 11, 1981, p. B2
CIA linked to bizarre case that already includes two killings and hints of devil worship and drugs
By Larry Maatz
Examiner Staff Writer
On Nov. 9, 1980, Valerie McDonald, a strikingly beautiful, aspiring young actress, disappeared from the office of the Tower Apartments.
Nov. 26, 1980, a man connected with her disappearance was killed in a shootout with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Trail, British Columbia.
And Jan. 1, 1981, another beautiful young woman was found shot to death in San Jose. Among her effects was found Valerie McDonald's name and telephone number.
What went on before, between, and since form parts of a byzantine puzzle that McDonald's parents, private investigators and the police of two countries have yet to put together a puzzle that grows in size and changes in shape the longer it lies in pieces.
Among the pieces: A criminal genius, a gun traced to a former prison guard, allegations of links to the CIA and Drug Enforcement Agency, a mysterious trip to Canada that ended in death and a seedy Grant Avenue rooming house the scene, it was said, of "Satanistic" practices.
The story begins last spring.
She was 26, and early last June she rented a $100-a-month room at the Tower Apartments, a rooming house above Mooney's Pub on Upper Grant Avenue.
Valerie McDonald's friends recall her as a stunning blonde possessed of the sort of beauty that turns heads on the street. She was starstruck, convinced that a film star's career was hers with just the right luck.
McDonald came to San Francisco from the University of Oregon and Portland State College, graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute two years ago. She had supported herself with bit movie parts, work as a cocktail waitress and occasional modeling jobs and boutique work.
McDonald affected all-black clothing provocative dresses, leather, stilletto-heeled boots. She drew attention to herself, her friend said, then retreated from it.
"She had a hard time keeping jobs because of the attention she got from men," says her friend. "She couldn't understand why people treated her as a prostitute, even though she often dressed like one."
SAN QUENTIN ALUMNI
A few months after McDonald took up residence at the Tower Apartments, a new manager appeared there. He was Philip A. Thompson, 35, who on Aug. 11 had been released on work furlough from San Quentin after serving a sentence for escape, receiving stolen property and weapons charges.
Aug. 26, John Gordon Abbott, 26, also was released to work furlough from San Quentin following another sentence for escape, receiving stolen property and weapons charges. A month later, he appeared at the Tower Apartments with Thompson as an assistant manager.
Abbott and Thompson had been close associates while in custody, according to prison authorities, and had been involved in criminal activities together following a 1978 prison escape.
Then on Oct. 1, Michael John Hennessey, 23, appeared at the Tower Apartments, also as an assistant manager. Hennessey had been paroled from prison July 13, 1980, after serving a term for burglary.
A MOVIE OFFER
On Nov. 9 Valerie McDonald was offered a bit part by Hennessey, supposedly a scene in a Dino DeLaurentiis film being shot that night. She, a beautiful blonde dressed in black, would be stalked by a killer as she walked toward her car, a Corvette. As she closed the car door, the killer's hand would grab the handle from the outside.
CIA linked to the curious case of an actress who vanished
She was wary of Hennessey and his friends at the hotel. A close friend of McDonald's has reported that she spoke of "Satanistic" activities at the rooming house, and that she had seen "large bowls of cocaine" at parties there.
Four days before the supposed movie offer, she had fled to a friend's home, claiming she had been attacked by one of the men in charge of the hotel and saying she was terrified of the "goings on" there. She had, she said, been threatened.
But she was eager for an acting career. She asked Hennessey if some friends could accompany her but was told it was a closed set. McDonald, after receiving a $200 advance payment for the part, left the Tower Apartments with Hennessey shortly after 9 p.m. for the promised 11:30 p.m. filming.
She has not been seen since.
THE TRIP NORTH
About a month before McDonald disappeared, Tibor's restaurant at 456 Montgomery was robbed. Hennessey was subsequently identified in the robbery; the getaway car was traced to Thompson.
Abbott walked away from his work furlough status on Nov. 17 and disappeared. Credit card receipts placed him in Ukiah on Nov. 19, according to police sources, and in Raymond, Wash., on Nov. 21. The credit cards, according to sources close to the investigation, were stolen in a Menlo Park robbery.
Nov. 24, Abbott called a transmission repair shop in Trail, B.C., saying he was stranded in Rossland, a few miles away. Arrangements were made to tow his car, and he arrived with it a few hours later, leaving it.
The next day, Abbott returned to the transmission shop with Hennessey, and Abbott removed two large duffel bags and a box of papers to a waiting taxi. Hennessey joined him in the taxi and the pair left.
But for some reason, local police knew their whereabouts. When Abbott and Hennessey came back two days later, they were approached by plainclothes RCMP men. A struggle ensued, and Abbott shot RCMP Constable Jim Larke in the leg. Another officer shot and killed Hennessey.
Abbott's gun was traced to a former San Quentin Prison guard who left the prison system at about the same time as Abbott and Thompson and was subsequently seen in their company at the Tower Apartments.
When the car was searched, a shotgun and a rifle were found in the trunk, a large pair of cable cutters in the back seat. A search of the pair's effects in their Rossland hotel room turned up, among other things, Valerie McDonald's voter registration card and unemployment benefit cards.
Valerie's parents, Robert and Doris Kouns of Oregon, fearful that their daughter is dead, are concerned about a receipt allegedly found in the Canadian hotel room.
Dated Nov. 5, four days before her disappearance, the receipt from a San Francisco firm was for 11 bags of cement, two bags of plaster, a No. 3 tub and a hoe.
Thompson disappeared in mid-December, according to his successor at the Tower Apartments. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Abbott is currently in custody in Trail.
On New Year's Day, the body of a young woman was found in the carport of a San Jose apartment complex. She had been shot five times in the body and brain.
The victim, Inez Sailer, was an attractive, 23-year-old German woman who had arrived in San Francisco two months before from New Mexico, according to friends. She had been last seen leaving a New Year's Eve party in the Richmond District.
Sailer was an open, personable young woman, but was nervous about living in a big city, according to a woman who worked with her at a Japanese bedding store.
"She had such a good aura about her," recalled the friend. Sailer, who did not know many people in San Francisco, was interested in new wave music, an interest that led her to clubs featuring the music.
It was there, the friend speculated, that Sailer may have met Valerie McDonald, whose name was found on a piece of paper in her wallet. The friend had no idea what else the two young women may have had in common.
A PUZZLING CIRCUMSTANCE
Abbott, who has been described by police as "brilliant," with an IQ in excess of 160, was first arrested in connection with a 1976 Davis burglary in which his brother was shot to death by police. His father is chief marketing economist for the United Nations in Rome; his mother a professor at University of California at Davis. Sentenced to state prison and sent to the Sierra Conservation Center, he escaped May 1, 1978.
Thompson, who has a criminal record dating back to 1965, including murder, forgery, kidnapping, assault, burglary and possession of stolen property, was also serving time at the conservation center when he escaped June 19, 1978.
Then, according to San Francisco Burglary Inspector Neil Jordan, the two became suspects in a series of Bay Area robberies and burglaries.
Abbott was arrested Sept. 1, 1978, with his Canadian-born wife and two others when police raided their Sacramento Street flat. More than $25,000 in stolen property was recovered, largely Oriental rugs, art objects and jewelry, along with an extensive cache of automatic weapons, Jordan said.
Thompson escaped the raid, but was subsequently arrested in Santa Cruz.
Abbott and Thompson were returned to prison, convicted only on the San Francisco charges of receiving stolen property and weapons possession.
"That's something that always puzzled me," Jordan said. "We had a statement from Abbott acknowledging his and Thompson's complicity in at least three of the robberies, and evidence to tie them into at least three others." (The robberies all occurred in other Bay Area jurisdictions.)
Peculiarly, Jordan said, none of the jurisdictions ever moved to prosecute. "And 18 months later, I saw Thompson here in the property room, looking for his records. Why did he get out so early? I just don't know."
Sandra Sutherland, a private investigator hired by McDonald's parents, thinks she knows. She believes the pair may have been working for a federal agency. "Really, it's the only thing that makes sense," she says.
Sutherland claims that her sources have pointed to links with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Central Intelligence Agency. Daniel Addario, head of the DEA here, did not respond to Examiner questions about links between his agency and the men.
Sutherland and her associates have spent more than 300 hours tracing Abbott's and Thompson's movements in their search for Valerie McDonald. McDonald's parents have spent even more time traveling between here and Canada, interviewing police, associates of Thompson and Abbott, friends of their daughter. San Francisco Police Inspector Armond Pelissetti has logged more than 100 hours on the case, an unprecedented figure in a missing persons case, he says.
And the results to date? Nothing, says Pelissetti. "Every lead we get turns up blank, a dead end." The CIA link? Following Abbott's and Thompson's 1978 arrest, according to a San Francisco police inspector close to the case, Abbott's wife described the pair's plans. Abbott and Thompson, she said, were attempting to get together a million-dollar bankroll for a shipment of automatic weapons that they were then to deliver to a right-wing counterinsurgency group in El Salvador.