A woman and her young son who were murdered in southern California in 1978 may have been victims of the Golden State Killer — but another man was jailed for the crimes.
As the Washington Post reports, Rhonda Wicht, 24, and her four-year-old son David Wichy were found brutally murdered in their Simi Valley home on November 11, 1978. Rhonda, a waitress and cosmetology student, had been raped, beaten, and strangled. David had reportedly been smothered to death in his bed.
Police quickly apprehended and arrested Craig Coley, Rhonda’s former boyfriend. The couple had reportedly ended the relationship not long before the double slaying. Coley was arrested for the murders just hours after the bodies were found and convicted of murder in 1980. It was his second trial; the first trial had ended with a hung jury.
Coley was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and was imprisoned for over 38 years. During that time, he steadfastly maintained his innocence and unsuccessfully petitioned for clemency, according to the Washington Post. And a Simi Valley police officer who noticed some flaws in the investigation tried and failed to have the case re-opened.
But late last year, police discovered new DNA evidence that exonerated Coley, showing that he was not at the crime scene. Governor Jerry Brown pardoned Coley, and a judge erased his conviction. Coley, now 70 years old, was released.
Following last week’s arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer who authorities believe may be the East End Rapist and the Golden State Killer, Simi Valley police are reportedly intending to re-open an investigation into the Wicht killings, to determine if DeAngelo may be linked.
The suspect is believed to be responsible for at least 13 murders and nearly 50 rapes. Simi Valley Police Deputy Chief Joseph May told CBS Los Angeles that circumstantial evidence suggests DeAngelo could be involved, and said it it “within the realm of possibility that he could be a suspect in our case.”
“He is suspected of committing a homicide in Ventura County,” May told the news station. “We’re part of Ventura County.”
Coley, the exonerated former suspect, said in an an interview with CBS Los Angeles that he is optimistic authorities will find Rhonda and her son’s true killer.
“I don’t care how they find out as long as they find out and it’s a true conviction,” Coley said.
“I feel elated for the family, for Rhonda’s family. I believe that at some point in time that they will find who did this and justice will finally be served.”
[Feature image: Rhonda Wicht and David Wicht/Simi Valley Police]