The Bishop Police Department has re-opened a cold case from 1996 in hopes of solving the 18-year-old missing persons case and bringing closure to a local family.
Ninety-year-old Jennie M. Wyckoff was reported missing from the High Sierra Manor assisted living facility on Feb. 3, 1996. Workers at the facility, located at 371 S. Warren St., were said to have immediately notified the Bishop PD when they noticed her absence. An expansive search was launched, with multiple resources, including K-9 dogs, Inyo County Search and Rescue, members of the Bishop Volunteer Fire Department and responders from adjoining agencies, taking part.
No trace of Wyckoff was detected, the case went cold and ultimately she was declared deceased in 1999.
Earlier this year, Wyckoff’s family contacted the PD, asking that investigators reexamine the case, which had never been closed.
Bishop Police Chief Chris Carter is handling the investigation himself, and said he hopes that new technology and the national DNA database can provide more clues. Carter said that he has begun reviewing the case and interviewing officers who handled the investigation in 1996 and 1997.
“I can’t see anything they could have done differently, to make it better,” Carter said. “Based on what I’ve been able to find out, based on her history, she just walked away. Everyone seems to at least have it in their mind that because no remains were found that it seems suspicious. Right now all the evidence we have says she did walk away, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a look and try to provide some closure for the family.”
On that cold day in February, staff at the Sierra Villa reported that Wyckoff had last been seen in her room at about 8 p.m. on the evening prior and was discovered missing when they went to check on her the next morning. During the initial investigation, Carter said police learned that Wyckoff was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and had a history of walking away from the care facility.
The search for Wyckoff continued for several days and Carter said that every reported sighting was investigated. Hospitals and law enforcement agencies throughout California and Nevada were notified and both local and national media broadcast Wyckoff’s picture and description to the public.
“Despite these efforts, Jennie was never located,” Carter said.
The case was reexamined in early 1997, but by that time, Carter explained, a civil action had been filed by the family against High Sierra Manor “and involved witnesses were reluctant to speak with investigators.”
While no clear indication of foul play was ever present, the possibility was never eliminated. The 1997 inquiry revealed no new leads or clues and the case remained dormant.
Carter said that the decision to reexamine the case has nothing to do with the human remains located in the Casa Diablo area last month. He did say that he has been in touch with the Mono County Sheriff’s Department, which is handling that case, and if any evidence linking the two investigations is identified the two agencies will work together to solve the case.
The care center was closed in 2002 and the civil action was settled. By that time, ownership of the facility and the care center’s name had changed. When it closed, it was known as Sierra Villa.
Former Sierra Villa Administrator Martha Gunnoe, who began work at the care facility several years after Wyckoff’s disappearance, said that the facility was closed because the owner wanted to retire. During her time at the care center, she said that the residents were happy. “It was a very nice place, and we were all sorry when it closed. It was like a family.”
Carter said there is no better time to take a fresh look at the case, thanks to scientific advances that can give investigators a better chance to link Wyckoff’s case with any unidentified bodies that have been recovered nationwide.
“Based on recent developments in DNA testing, the establishment of national databases and other investigative research techniques, the department agreed that the case should be reexamined,” Carter said.
Carter explained that the PD is working to get DNA from surviving family for analysis and comparison with samples in the national DNA database, maintained by the FBI. “While this database wasn’t established until 1998, participating agencies throughout the country have been able to submit DNA samples of unidentified human remains.
“This type of investigative technology has come a long way in recent years and has been used successfully to develop leads and answers in many ‘cold’ cases throughout the country,” Carter said. “We are also working with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System in searching their files for possible leads.”
The PD is asking that anyone who may have any information about the case to come forward. “We understand that people may have been reluctant to talk at the time of her disappearance because of liability but we hope that anyone who can help will contact us,” Carter said. “We would like to be able to establish what really happened to Jennie and give the family some closure. We also consider that if Jennie were the victim of a crime, those responsible need to be brought to justice and held accountable.”
Anyone with any information about this case is asked to contact the Bishop Police Department at (760) 873-5866 or WeTip at 1-800-78CRIME. Carter also said that the family has indicated that they will offer a reward for information leading to a resolution of the case.