Barbara Nantais and Claire Hough: How Did They Die? Who Killed Them?

Image Credit: CBS News//Claire Hough and Barbara Nantais

CBS’ ’48 Hours: Blood in the Sand’ delves deep into two tragic murder cases of two teenagers — Barbara Nantais and Claire Hough — on a California beach in 1978 and 1984. When the investigators found several similarities in the cases, they believed that the same individual killed both teens. Both cases caught dust for several decades before a major break was made. With the help of exclusive interviews with the loved ones of the victims and the officials linked to the cases, the episode provides an in-depth account of the murders.

A Camping Plan With Boyfriend Led to Barbara Nantais’ Demise on the Beach

Brought into the world by Ralph and Judy Nantais on September 28, 1962, in Los Angeles County, California, Barbara Jane Nantais became part of a loving household that also consisted of her sisters Lorraine and Sue and a younger brother named Tom. Given her vibrant personality and friendly nature, she was a popular sophomore at her high school in Lakewood and an integral part of the varsity cheerleading squad. When she met with a 17-year-old surfer named Jim Alt, thanks to her sister Sue, they took a liking to one another and began dating. On August 13, 1978, the parents of the 15-year-old teen had to head out of town.

Thus, to make the most of the opportunity, she made plans with her boyfriend of nine months to go on a double date at the beach with his friend, Rick Selga, and his girlfriend. Soon after her parents left the house, the teenagers headed down to Torrey Pines State Beach, California, for camping on the evening of August 13, 1978. At about 9:30 pm, Barbara and Jim decided to go down to the beach while Rick and his girlfriend stayed back in the parking lot. After the couple had fallen asleep in each other’s arms, they were attacked severely, leading to serious bodily injuries. He was knocked out after getting beaten with rocks and logs.

When he woke up in the morning, his face was so badly injured that he could not see properly. Somehow, he crawled to Rick’s vehicle in the parking lot and asked him to look for Barbara on the beach. Rick ran down to the beach and found Barbara, who had been beaten, sexually assaulted, and strangled to death. When the police arrived at the scene, they also found one of her breasts mutilated. Meanwhile, Jim suffered a brain injury and went into a coma for several days. He woke up with no clear memory of what transpired on the fateful night. The police set up a perimeter and collected all the clues they could find in and around the area where the couple spent the night, including sleeping bags, a cigarette butt, three rocks, and a necklace around Barbara’s neck. However, none of them led them to the perpetrator/s, and the case went cold.

Police Found Claire Hough’s Crime Scene Similar to Barbara’s

On August 24, 1984, when the body of a 14-year-old teenager named Claire Hough surfaced on the same beach — Torrey Pines State Beach — the detectives became extra-curious in the case. They contemplated if it had anything to do with the murder of Barbara Nantais about six years ago. Claire Penelope Hough was born on September 20, 1969, and brought up in Cranston, Rhode Island, with the love and support of her parents, Samuel and Penelope Hough. She grew up to be fond of rock music of the decade, having a closet full of posters of several rockstars of the time.

Image Credit: Donkey Hoty/Find a Grave

Although Claire was a Rhode Island native, she spent a lot of time on San Diego’s beaches during her visits to her grandparents’ home. In the summer of 1984, the 14-year-old girl was again in San Diego, California, so she went to Torrey Pines State Beach with her best friend, Kim Jamer. The latter returned to Rhode Island but warned her not to visit the beach after dark as she had a bad feeling about it. Not paying much attention to her advice, Claire went to the beach and got attacked. Just like Barbara Nantais, she was also beaten, sexually assaulted, strangled to death, and had her breast mutilated. This sparked an interest in both cases as the police believed that they were linked and possibly committed by the same killer.

Two Primary Suspects Were Under the Microscope of the Investigators

Despite the similarities between the murders of Barbara Nantais and Claire Hough, the two families were not aware of them and had no clue about one another until 2008, when the authorities officially announced that the two murders were likely committed by the same perpetrator. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the two cases were reopened for investigation as the detectives found two DNA hits on Claire, one linking to a convicted rapist named Ronald Tatro and the other to a former criminalist in the San Diego Police Department lab named Kevin Brown. While the former had drowned and died in a boating accident in Tennessee in 2011, Kevin had retired from his duties in 2002.

Ronald Tatro and Kevin Brown//Image Credit: WCBI-TV

Soon, the investigators zeroed in on Kevin and brought him in for questioning, during which he made several incriminating statements. When he failed his polygraph test, the suspicion surrounding him became all the more serious. His wife, Rebecca Brown, believed that her husband was innocent as she knew him to be a kind and gentle human being. As the pressure on Kevin mounted, on October 20, 2014, he allegedly couldn’t take it and hanged himself from a tree in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, where the couple owned a cabin. A few days after the suspect’s death, police declared him to be the primary suspect in the murder case of Claire Hough and suggested that he was guilty.

Rebecca Brown was furious with the police and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against them, and ended up claiming over $6 million for her loss. On the other hand, Ronald was reportedly on parole in San Diego County at the time of the killing. He was also convicted of the attempted rape of a 16-year-old girl in 1985. All in all, the San Diego Police Department considers Claire’s case solved while Barbara’s case remains unsolved.

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