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.
Many Whittier College students have either heard of or been to Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights. As it is the destination of several classes, including a Jan Term class on Buddhism and meditation, it provides a refreshing break from the monotony of our student schedules. The swooping arches of the roofs, the gold statues of Buddha, and the beautiful artwork are all something to marvel at. Something students may not know is that below the temple you can find a popular hiking and equestrian trail called the Skyline Trail. It sports spectacular views of the mountains to the east, the L.A. skyline to the west, and the ocean gleaming along the coast.
On Tuesday, March 5, a tragic discovery marred the peace of the area. According to CBSLocal, at 10:35 a.m. a young girl’s body was found near the Skyline Trail and appeared to have been dumped from the roadway above. The girl was described as being between the ages of 8 and 13, African-American, and only 55 pounds. She was wearing patterned pants, a pink shirt with the words “future princess hero” — with the word princess crossed out — and she was found partially inside of a duffel bag. Police spent most of Tuesday canvassing the hillside where the girl was found, as it is considered part of the crime scene.
This information quickly made its way through the news. On March 6, police released a sketch of the young girl in hopes of having the public identify her, since they had no leads after their preliminary investigation. This indicates that the girl was not reported missing, or she was not known to be missing in the first place. Some of the public believed her to be Skylar Mannie, a 13-year-old girl from Lancaster who had been missing for approximately three weeks at the time. However, she was found alive on March 9 according to ABC7. On Thursday, the community of Hacienda Heights held a candlelight vigil for the unidentified girl.
Then, on Sunday, almost a week after the girl’s body had been discovered, word broke out that she had possibly been identified. Though police had not made a positive identification at the time, a man named Antonio Jones told CBS2 that the girl found was his daughter, 9-year-old Trinity Love Jones. Police later confirmed this identification. Trinity’s family held another vigil for her on Sunday night. Trinity was his youngest daughter, and she was “full of life, full of love, full of joy,” according to KTLA. “Words can’t explain what I’m feeling right now,” Jones said to CNN. “I just want answers. I just want justice.” The L.A. County Coroner’s office has ruled her death a homicide; however, no cause of death has been released to the public. Two persons of interest are currently being detained by police, and the case is still active.
According to a Department of Justice report titled “Investigative Case Management For Missing Children Homicides: Report II,” — which is a 2006 update on the original 1997 report conducted by the Washington State Attorney General — the victims in child kidnapping cases that result in murder are usually “females slightly over 11 years of age, leading normal lives and living with normal families — typical low-risk victims.”
Furthermore, it states, “The initial contact between the victim and killer is still within a quarter mile of the victim’s residence.” The perpetrators are usually “27-years-old and are predominately unmarried, with half of them living either alone or with their parents. Half of them are unemployed, and those who are employed work in unskilled or semi-skilled occupations.” The study also revealed that the relationships between the victims and the perpetrators “change from strangers to an almost equal likelihood of being friends/acquaintances.”
In the 1997 study, it was revealed that, out of all child kidnappings that result in homicide, in “74 percent of the cases the victims were dead within three hours after abduction.”
Just based off of the evidence alone, I am left with questions that I am sure the police have as well. For one, Trinity’s body was discovered on March 5, but identification was not made until March 10, according to several news outlets. Second, Trinity’s sketch was released by police fairly quickly after her body was discovered, which indicates that she hadn’t been reported missing. Of course, this could mean that police were unable to make a positive identification for a number of reasons, but this seems unlikely. This was later confirmed by the Department of Justice who, according to CNN, stated: “There is no record of Trinity Love Jones as a missing person in the California Missing Persons System.” Based off of the sources I have read, it seems unclear how the identification was even made. CNN stated that “after learning her identity,” her family arrived at the memorial site to prepare a vigil, which indicates that someone else informed them of Trinity’s identity.
I myself visited the memorial to pay my respects. There I met Mr. Jones, Trinity’s father, standing next to news trucks while talking with others who had come. Though I did not ask him for comments on the case, I did speak with him, and he was kind, generous, and overall warm to those who came to learn more about his daughter. Some of Trinity’s other family was present at the memorial site, and they were equally as accommodating. It is clear to me that he and the rest of Trinity’s family are victims as well. The world has lost a girl who seems to have bettered the lives of many people.
UPDATE: As of March 12, the LA Times reports that Taquesta Graham, the girls mother, and Emiel Hunt, Graham’s boyfriend, are both in custody related to the case. Hunt has been charged with the murder. Further coverage will be provided with updates in the case.