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Was An Innocent Man Convicted Of A Crime Committed By The Golden State Killer?

Oscar Archie Clifton died in prison after being convicted of killing 14-year-old Donna Jo Richmond. Now some are questioning if he really did it.

By Jill Sederstrom
6 Wrongful Convictions That Were Overturned

Did an innocent man pay for one of the Golden State Killer's crimes?

Oscar Archie Clifton was convicted of killing Donna Jo Richmond, a 14-year-old girl who vanished while riding her bike in Exeter, California in 1975.

Clifton died in prison in 2013 while still serving his life sentence, but now new questions are emerging about the case and some have questioned whether Joseph DeAngelo Jr., who authorities believe is the Golden State Killer, may really be responsible for the crime.

"After you learned all about him, don't you think it could be (DeAngelo)?," John Vaughan, a retired Visalia Police Department sergeant told The Sacramento Bee. "That's the way I feel...It's a lead. You should reopen the case and investigate."

DeAngelo, who police believe could be responsible for more than 50 rapes and a dozen murders throughout California, was working as a police officer at the Exeter Police Department at the time of the murder. DeAngelo was arrested in April, and has been charged with all 12 murders. 

Richmond went missing December 26, 1975 after leaving her home on her bike to tend to some farm animals and visit her friends, The Sacramento Bee reported. When she didn't return home, her family searched for her but only found her bicycle abandoned in a nearby orange grove. Her partially clothed body was later found a few miles away. She had been strangled and stabbed.

Suspicion was initially drawn to Clifton because Richmond's bike had been found on top of an invoice book that belonged to the carpenter and painter. He also had a previous record and had been arrested for assault with intent to rape in 1966 after he allegedly attacked an 18-year-old woman and pinned her to the ground before a car pulled up, scaring Clifton away, according to The Sacramento Bee. 

Clifton, who maintained his innocence about the murder until his death, was convicted for killing Richmond, but the conviction was based primarily on circumstantial evidence, according to the paper.

In the years that followed, there were also some troubling details that emerged about the handling of the case. For instance, The Sacramento Bee reported that prosecutors failed to turn over all of the evidence before the case, a photo of Clifton was published in the paper before witnesses identified him to police and all of the physical evidence in the case was destroyed less than a year after he was convicted.

The case even garnered the attention of the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law, who worked on investigating the crime, and is the subject of a podcast called 12-26-75 that explores the murder of Richmond and suggests the possibility that the Golden State Killer could be responsible for the crime.

Just a year prior to Richmond's death, the body of another teenage girl was found in a canal near the area where Richmond's body was found.

Fifteen-year-old Visalia resident Jennifer Armour had been killed and was found November 24, 1974 with her bra tied around one of her wrists, The Sacramento Bee reported.

According to police, she had been on her way to a football game, but never arrived.

The murder has never been solved, but just this November the Tulare County Sheriff's cold case detectives released a statement on Facebook asking for any new information about the case.


According to the post, the Tulare County Sheriff's Office believed Clifton may have murdered Armour as well.

"There are similarities in the cases," Detective Dwayne Johnson said in the post. "Both girls were blonde and blue-eyed and their bodies were discovered south of Woodlake and north of Exeter about a year apart."

DeAngelo had also been working as a police officer in Exeter at the time of Armour's murder as well and is believed to have committed other crimes in the area. He is suspected of being the Visalia Ransacker, a term given at the time to describe a suspect in a series of home burglaries and Peeping Tom incidents.

Chris Dempsie, a cold case investigator for the Tulare County Sheriff's Office, told 13 News Now that DeAngelo is also one of the possible suspects in the murder.

"As soon as he was arrested and we learned he was a police officer in Exeter that was a red flag," Dempsie told the television station.

But while some have raised questions about Clifton's involvement in Richmond's death, Dempsie told The Sacramento Bee while there were similarities between Richmond and Armour's death, he didn't believe there was reason to reopen Richmond's case. 

"I haven't seen any evidence (Clifton is) the wrong guy," he told the paper.

Richmond's family also believes the right man was convicted.

Debra Richmond, Donna's sister, told The Sacramento Bee there was additional evidence that pointed to Clifton that wasn't part of the trial.

"They knew he had done it," she told the paper.

[Photos: Tulare County Sheriff's Department/Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office/Tulare County Sheriff's Department]