Investigators revisit death of
California waitress in Canada
May 27, 2003
TRAIL, British Columbia (AP) -- A probe into the murder of a waitress and would-be actress from San Francisco in 1980 has led investigators to this southern British Columbia town.
The remains of Valerie McDonald, 26, were found in the Kettle River in northeastern Washington state just south of Grand Forks by hunters in October 1991 but were not identified until November 2000.
Last week, J.R. Sharp, a Ferry County sheriff's detective in Republic, and James E. Hansen, a crime investigator and analyst in the Washington state attorney general's office, were in this town about 390 miles east of Vancouver and 135 miles north of Spokane.
"We're trying to find out how she died," Sharp recently told the Trail Daily Times.
McDonald, a striking, strawberry blonde waitress and part-time model and actress, vanished Nov. 9, 1980. She was last seen in San Francisco with Michael Hennessey, 23, who said he was taking her to play a bit part in a Dino DeLaurentiis movie.
Hennessey arrived in Trail on Nov. 26, 1980, with John Gordon Abbott, a 26-year-old escapee from San Quentin State Prison in San Rafael, Calif.
McDonald's identification and address book, as well as a leather jacket like the one she was wearing when she vanished, were found in Abbott's and Hennessey's vehicle and Canadian hotel room.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported in February that she had been living in a San Francisco building managed by Hennessey, Abbott and Phillip Thompson, another former prison inmate.
Hennessey and Abbott had rented a room in nearby Rossland while getting their car repaired, unaware that they were under police surveillance.
When approached at the auto shop by a plainclothes Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, a fight ensued, an officer was shot in the leg and Hennessey was shot in the chest.
Hennessey died at Trail Regional Hospital and Abbott was sent to prison for attempted murder, after which he was deported in 1988 to the United Kingdom, his birthplace, Hansen said.
Thompson, believed to have been with Hennessey and Abbott shortly before the shootout, reportedly was in prison in California earlier this year for unrelated robbery and kidnapping convictions.
While in Trail, Sharp and Hansen indicated they would like to interview Abbott, if they can find him, to learn what he knows about McDonald's disappearance.
The investigators also would like to find any photographs of the car the two were driving, a late 1970s green Monte Carlo, particularly if the photo shows a Nevada license plate. They believe the car was sold in Canada.
According to evidence and testimony in Abbott's trial, he graduated from high school in Trail in the early 1970s and attended the University of Victoria in British Columbia and the University California, Davis, majoring in Asian studies.
Arrested in 1976 for burglary and battery against a police officer, he was sent to a penal work farm but walked away.
Abbott, described as having a genius-level IQ of 160, was later found with a large amount of stolen goods and was involved in a shootout in which his younger brother was killed. He was then sent to prison in Vacaville, Calif., and was transferred to San Quentin in 1978.
"This is as cold a case as you can work," Hansen said.
"First, we have to locate (Abbott) and see if the connection can be made," Sharp said. "Charges would be a way down the road. It's a lot of work.