For more than 30 years, police sought the killer of 14-year-old Claire Hough, whose mutilated body was found by a homeless man in 1984 on a stretch of Torrey Pines State Beach near San Diego. She had been sexually assaulted.
The homeless man, Wallace Wheeler, had been sleeping at his sister’s house, which was just 100 feet away from the home of Claire’s grandparents. When he first encountered Claire’s parents, he told them he was a psychic — but for about 30 minutes, while detailing for them his purported powers, he never once mentioned that he discovered a body.
His behavior quickly became a lead pursued by police in the mystery of what happened at the beach, which is the focus of tonight’s episode of People Magazine Investigates, airing at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.
Wheeler’s role only became more curious after police encouraged Claire’s parents to keep in touch with him, and he sent them a letter, Claire’s father Sam Hough recalls in an exclusive clip from the show.
In that letter, “he talked about how Claire’s vision came to him,” Sam Hough says. “Glowing eyes and radiant face. This is a man who found a face that was so mutilated that the police didn’t think we should see it.”
But police followed other clues as well. The eerily similar unsolved murder of 15-year-old Barbara Nantais, found near the same spot six years earlier, offered a possible link to Claire’s case.
Then, cold-case investigators made a startling find when DNA evidence in Hough’s case appeared to implicate one of their own: retired police crime-lab technician Kevin Brown, 62.
Brown’s defenders argued that sloppy crime lab conditions may have caused a mix-up, and pointed to other suspects – including Ronald Tatro, a Vietnam veteran who’d served time for the abduction and sexual assault of a woman.
But with Tatro dead from a 2011 drowning, police in 2014 delivered a search warrant for Brown, who suffered from depression after years working in his stressful field, his family said. Brown’s suicide 10 months later cut the investigation short, leaving authorities and Claire’s family to wonder: Was he the culprit, or just another victim in a murder case whose outcome remains anything but clear?