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It was about 10 p.m. when Eddie Kaster emerged and headed toward Golf N’ Stuff in Norwalk. He couldn’t talk, so he waved his hands and motioned toward the river bed. Then he collapsed on the sidewalk.
Down in the San Gabriel’s concrete bottom on the border of Norwalk and Downey lay the bodies of Eddie’s 18-year-old sister Rachel Kaster and the Kasters’ 16-year-old friend Veronica Flores.
Rachel was badly slashed. Veronica had one stab wound to the back. Before midnight, all three teenagers had died. The friends from South Gate had been dropped off for a night of fun at the miniature golf course.
Despite an initial intense media spotlight and the emergence of DNA-matching technology, the case remains unsolved to this day.
“The media were around for about three or four months,” said Sandy Elicker, Veronica’s older sister. “Then nobody cared about it.”
In 2009 on the 25th anniversary of the murders , Elicker wrote letters to newspapers all over the county in hopes that editors would run the letters and jog decades-old memories.
“I don’t think any of them were published,” Elicker said.
Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau Lt. Dave Coleman grew up in Norwalk. He was a young deputy working out of the Lakewood Station when he heard about the Kaster/Flores murders.
People were saying it involved the occult. Pentagrams were painted in the riverbed nearby. There were rumors of frogs being impaled on a nearby chain link fence, according to accounts from the time. It was Friday the 13th.
“There was a lot of curiosity about it,” he said. “A lot of theories floating around.”
Coleman is now in charge of the sheriff’s unsolved murder detail. He still wants to know what happened to the three South Gate teenagers, he said. He plans to assign a new detective to the case.
“We’re taking a fresh look at everything,” he said.
To Elicker, Veronica’s older sister, the memories of the weeks before and after the killings are vivid.
Her sister was 4-and-half months pregnant, and she had some sort of beef with other kids from South Gate. During one fight between Veronica and another girl, a boy jumped in and kicked Veronica in the face. She still had the marks the day she died.
Veronica had a learning disability that made it difficult for her to read, and teachers were cruel to her, Elicker said.
Tired of dealing with a group of students who seemed intent on making her miserable, Veronica had transferred from South Gate High School to Odyssey, the local continuation school. She was about to get married to her boyfriend and move to a nearby apartment.
Elicker, who was seven years older than her little sister, didn’t understand exactly what the animosity was about, but she knew people had it in for her sister.
Veronica was an emotional wreck in the days leading up to the killing.
“She had a nightmare two nights before she died,”Elicker said. “She was screaming about how someone was in the alleyway where we lived. She said somebody was bleeding.”
Debbie Woodruff, who lives in Downey and runs a cleaning service, wasn’t around when her little brother and sister were killed. She had moved to Texas.
Eddie was handsome. Rachel was a good girl.
They were the fourth and fifth of the six children in her family. They weren’t in gangs. They had no enemies.
“I was the worst one in the family,” Woodruff said. “I don’t know why anybody would want to take three lives like that.”
The Kasters’ father, who has since died, dropped the three children off that night at Golf N’ Stuff with strict orders to be picked up at a pre-arranged time, Woodruff said.
For a reason that nobody knows, the trio went down into the concrete river bed, she said.
After the killings, rumors swirled.
Detectives at the time hinted that the three teenagers were drunk or had done drugs, Elicker said.
Now detectives do not believe the three teens were drunk or high.
At a church service following the deaths, a carload of teenagers went by with the windows open. The kids inside were laughing and said Veronica deserved to die.
Elicker wanted to get in her car and chase them.
“I was thinking, ‘Can you just back off for a little bit, please? Just back off,’” Elicker said. “My sister is dead.”
She was the one who did the talking to outsiders. Her parents clammed up. They were overwhelmed. Sometimes Elicker wished her family would have been more outgoing with the media those first few days.
She remembered telling the detectives about all the mean things kids had been doing to her sister. The detectives told her to go away.
“I think, at that time, it was unthinkable that kids could do this to another kid,” she said. “These days, I don’t think detectives would be surprised if something like that happened.”
The deaths touched off community meetings with Downey and Norwalk officials. Capt. Lee Baca of the sheriff’s Norwalk Station met with members of the community, who called for fencing off the river and for increased patrols.
But when it came down to it, the river wasn’t a high-crime area. Neither was Golf N’ Stuff. The public’s cathartic demands for the authorities to do something subsided. And the murders were mostly forgotten.
A year passed, and the public learned about the Night Stalker, who had been breaking into homes and killing people. The first confirmed killing by Richard Ramirez was June 28, 1984. But it wasn’t until 1985 that the Night Stalker came to the public’s attention. He attacked or killed 25 people from March to August. He was caught by an angry mob in East Los Angeles on Aug. 31, 1985.
In 2009 detectives linked Ramirez to the killing of Mei Leung in San Francisco on April 10, 1984, three days before the Kaster/Flores killings. Ramirez was known to travel all over the state looking for people to kill.
Elicker has wondered if it was Richard Ramirez who killed her sister. Woodruff said she had never thought of Ramirez, but she said it was worth looking into.
Detectives have considered the idea, but, as far as Coleman knew, they have never carefully checked to see if Ramirez was involved.
“The M.O. is a little different because he liked to break into houses,” Coleman said of Ramirez.
But detectives were willing to look at the case with open minds, he said.
The detective who has been handling the case, Paul Mondry, has been actively following up on leads.
On April 19, he posted a message on a facebook page dedicated to solving the murders.
“I see so many caring people posting here, it is an incredible tragedy,” he wrote. “Even more tragic is the fact that with all the people present that night, not one, even with the passage of time, has been touched by their Maker to come forward and tell the story of what they saw. Their silence, tragically, is evil as well.”
Elicker always wondered if it was the neighborhood kids who killed her sister.
Woodruff said she had no idea what happened.
“Did it have to do anything with a Satan thing or Friday the 13th, or was it just a psycho?” she wondered.
Detectives took a hard look at the case in 2009. They collected DNA from evidence, which they believe belonged to someone other than the three teenagers. They ran the DNA through a database of criminals, but they got no “hits,” meaning the samples didn’t correspond to any criminals from whom DNA had been collected.
The detectives around that time met with Elicker and her sister, who pointed out several people from the South Gate High School yearbook they suspected would have hurt their sister.
Coleman said detectives are still talking to people and following up on leads.
But, more than anything, investigators need someone to talk, he said.
“The biggest thing we need is to jostle somebody’s memory,” he said.
Elicker wishes she and her family were pushier with detectives those first few weeks and months after the killing.
“To tell you the truth, we still don’t know that much about the case,” she said. “The detectives don’t tell us much.”
She wondered what would have happened if the Kasters and her family were rich or famous.
“We just figured we were middle class families and that the kids that died didn’t really matter to anybody,” she said.
Elicker’s parents call the detectives from time to time to make sure they are still working on the case.
They still live in the same apartment they lived in back in 1984.
“They can’t leave because it’s the last time they had Veronica,” she said. “It’s the last time we had our whole family.”