As far as police are concerned, a tragic mystery that began 36 years ago in an open field in California ended Tuesday at a press conference. Carl Eugene Sears, 71, was the person who stabbed to death Jacqueline Denise Henry, 22, and abandoned her body, said officers in Fresno.
But investigators did not know that when discovering the victim, the mother of an infant boy, dead at the corner of Church and Fig Avenues on the afternoon of Feb. 24, 1987. That area of Fig is now known as Martin Luther King Boulevard.
They had neither leads nor witnesses, Chief Paco Balderrama of the Fresno Police Department told reporters on Tuesday.
Henry’s family reported her missing three days prior. The autopsy determined she was murdered three to five days before investigators found her body, Balderrama said.
Balderrama said Sears, a convicted sex offender, more than likely sexually assaulted and murdered her just outside Pearly Grove Baptist Church.
“Based upon evidence at the scene, detectives determined that Jacqueline had been murdered several days earlier in the parking lot of a church across the street, then dragged and left in the open field,” cops wrote on Facebook.
The case stalled.
That changed more than 20 years later when a cold case detective reopened the investigation in 2009. The California Department of Justice Fresno Regional Laboratory received evidence, which may have contained DNA from the crime scene and autopsy, police said.
Finally, the California DNA Databank notified Fresno police in February 2022 about Carl Eugene Sears, 71, being a possible suspect.
Sears, then 35, was already a convicted sex offender by the time he allegedly murdered Henry.
Online records show he was convicted in 1980 of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age and released in 1983. Fresno County District Attorney Lisa A. Smittcamp said this happened in Los Angeles County.
Records show Sears still lives in Fresno.
Balderrama told reporters that though the defendant had lived in the same community as Henry, there was no “relationship” between them.
“This was truly a predator who identified a victim and did what he did,” the chief said.
Henry would have been 59 when police arrested Sears and booked him into the Fresno County Jail, Balderrama said. The defendant is held on a $1,180,000 bond.
Speaking at the press conference, Jean Whittle, one of Henry’s sisters, thanked investigators from the bottom of her heart and gave all glory to God.
“Jacqueline was my baby,” she said.
Connie Meux, another sister, demanded the death penalty for the “monster” Sears. Smittcamp told reporters that her office will evaluate and formally make that decision later.
“She was nothing but a baby,” Meux said in a tearful, fiery speech. “Did not deserve none of that.”
Louis Goodman was a baby when his mother died. Now a man, he stepped up to the podium.
“We don’t really talk that much about my mom,” he said before pausing in his brief, emotional speech. Then he added, “When we do, it’s all good stuff.”
Sears is charged with first-degree murder with enhancements for felony murder and the allegation that he committed this murder in the course of a sexual assault, Smittcamp said. He also faces an enhancement for using a knife.