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A California detective has determined that a dead man buried in Utah is responsible for the oldest unsolved murder in the San Fernando Valley of California.
Los Angeles Police Department detective Rachel Evans has determined that Monte R. Merz, whose remains were buried in Sanpete County, Utah, killed his 18-year-old former stepdaughter, Barbara Jean Jepson, in Van Nuys, California in 1956, KSL.com reports.
Jepson, who was married and pregnant, had been raped and stabbed to death in her home.
Evens was assigned the cold case case — her first — in 2019, KSL reports.
Based on the fact that there was no struggle, she knew that the victim must have known her killer. And she quickly began focusing on Merz, 54, "an avid gambler, prolific child molester, violent to animals, a womanizer, a raging alcoholic," Evans told KSL.
Barbara was just 10 years-old when Merz and her mother, Fern Spiva, moved in together in 1948 in the San Fernando Valley; they became common-law spouses. (Spiva was ultimately just one of Merz's many wives.)
"I believe he groomed and molested Barbara along the way because that was kind of his M.O.," Evans told KSL. "He'd marry these young women that had these young girls, and then he would abuse those girls."
By 1956 — when Jepson was murdered — Merz had married a new woman, and Jepson was a pregnant newlywed. No one was arrested for her murder but her husband, Joe Jepson, remained a subject of suspicion even after the case went cold.
In 1960, 15-year-old Mary Ann Perdrotta — who often rode horses with Merz — was stabbed nine times and killed nearby where he was living at the time. (One of Merz's other stepdaughters and victims came forward in 2017 and said that she'd seen him come home on the day of the Perdrotta murder, when she was just 10, with a bloody knife as well as bloody hands and clothing.)
Merz was finally arrested for allegedly molesting a 14-year-old girl in 1964. He was also shot in 1964; he claimed it was an accidental shooting but Evans believes that someone likely targeted him.
By 1965, investigators were also on to Merz: He was being questioned about both the Jepson and the Perdrotta murders, though police didn't have the evidence to charge him.
He was awaiting trial for abusing the 14-year-old girl when his fifth wife, Ina Merz, found a young girl's unidentified underwear in a drawer their Sylmar, California home. After she confronted Merz about it — and whether it meant he had abused that child — he chased her out into the street and shot her to death. He then went back in their home died by suicide.
While there was little evidence left from the Jepson murder scene to currently develop a DNA profile to which to link Merz — via DNA they obtained from his sole surviving son in 2019 — the Los Angeles Police Department determined that Evans gathered enough evidence to say with 99 person certainty that Merz killed Jepson.
Evans currently suspects Merz might also be the man behind three rapes committed in the same area of southern California shortly before Jepson was murdered.
The LAPD has not immediately responded to Oxygen.com’s request for comment.
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