Welcome to Tell-Tale Crimes, the crime column of the QC. Tell-Tale Crimes will aim to provide a look at both local and national crimes and cases that are sometimes interesting, sometimes relevant, and sometimes both, from the perspective of a true crime enthusiast. So here I am writing scary stories, both local and national, and true ones at that. Be forewarned, the pieces published in this column will contain descriptions of violent crimes or crime scenes. Thank you for reading.
Vanessa Marquez was an actress. She appeared in episodes of Seinfeld and ER, as well as films like Stand and Deliver and Blood In Blood Out. In 2000, she showcased her talents as a vocalist in the film Under Suspicion. A quick search on YouTube reveals a woman with impressive acting chops. However, not everyone becomes uber-famous like her ER co-star George Clooney. Sometime in the late 2000s, Marquez fell off of Hollywood’s radar.
Marquez claimed that her accusations of sexual and racial harassment on the set of ER are what derailed her career, and actor George Clooney assisted in her being blacklisted. Clooney denies these claims, though he states that he believes Marquez was harassed on set. Whatever the cause, she left the mainstream scene. Marquez had a somewhat-active social media presence over the past years.
According to the Los Angeles Times, she used Facebook to post about her struggles with seizures, as well as celiac disease. In March of last year, she posted to Facebook that she was “terminally ill.” Marquez also had a YouTube channel, TheVanessamarquez, where she posted videos from 2010 to 2014.
Her videos ranged from acting reels, to news clips where she was featured, to requests for her followers to donate to the medical expenses of Jaime Escalante — the teacher portrayed in Stand and Deliver. She also seems to have posted personal videos of her and friends, with one video titled “Saturday February 4, 2012 HAPPY BIRTHDAY BILL! :-).” Besides these videos and social media posts, I can’t find much else on Marquez past 2014.
On Aug. 30 of last year, police were called to Marquez’s South Pasadena apartment at the request of her landlord, who hoped authorities would conduct a welfare check on her. Once inside the apartment, police found her in the midst of “brief” seizures, according to the Los Angeles Times Homicide Report, and they proceeded to offer her medical attention. Once the seizures ended, the authorities asked that Marquez accompany them to the hospital, but she was apparently uncooperative.
Officers believed that Marquez was suffering from mental health issues and was unable to care for herself. A mental health clinician spoke with Marquez for more than an hour in an attempt to get her to accompany them to the hospital so that she could be examined; if she did not give her consent, forcing her to go to the hospital would be kidnapping. Out of the blue, Marquez pulled out a handgun.
She began walking towards the officers, according to the Los Angeles Times, and in response, officers fired at her. One round struck her in the abdomen, and she was taken to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead on arrival. Upon inspection of her gun, it was revealed to be a BB gun with the orange tip removed.
Delia McElfresh, Marquez’s mother, recently filed a wrongful death claim against the city of South Pasadena, according to Fox News, and is seeking a $20 million restitution. The claim alleges “battery, negligence, unlawful entry, false arrest and imprisonment, wrongful death, negligent training, conspiracy, seizure of property, failure to summon prompt medical care, and violation of the Bane Act — which forbids acts of violence because of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, etc,” as stated by Fox.
Any of these alleged aspects of the case could be true, but the case remains barred from the public as two separate entities, the Sheriff’s Office and the L.A. District Attorney’s Office, investigate the officer involved in the shooting.
Usually, at this point in my pieces, I’m able to find a positive point to end on; however, this isn’t the case for the story of Vanessa Marquez. Maybe once her case closes, there will be a better ending, but as of now, her story is just completely and overwhelmingly sad.
Her mother is left behind trying to find justice. Marquez, along with several other entertainment professionals, were omitted from the “In Memoriam” segment of the Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 23.
Whittier College alumna class of 2016 and celebrity-death-expert Mimi RuthStiver told me that there is a lengthy meeting every year on who will be included in the “In Memoriam” segment. “Since hundreds of people in the entertainment industry die every year and because the segment is supposed to represent everyone . . . the meeting will last for hours. The Academy aims to end up with around 200 names,” said RuthStiver.
Bruce Davis, the executive director of the Academy, told the Los Angeles Times, “It gets close to agonizing by the end. You are dropping people who the public knows. It’s just not comfortable.”
It’s also important to touch on the fact that Marquez was a Latina woman who was shot by police. In the current political and social climate, police violence against people of color, as well as mentally ill people, is a prevalent issue that must be acknowledged and changed. But I am by no means qualified to tell police officers how they should respond in a situation, and cannot concretely say how I would respond in any situation involving a gun pointed at me.
I like to believe that the people meant to protect us would know better how to preserve the life of a woman who was not only believed to be mentally ill but in medical distress.
Toni McGhee, a friend of Marquez, released a written statement on her death, with one line in particular that I believe shows a sad but whimsical side of Marquez near the end of her life. “She told me she wouldn’t mind passing away at home,” said McGhee, “and haunting the beautiful building she lived in, as she was in love with where she lived.”