Lisa Norrell: How Did She Die? Who Killed Her?

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In 1998, when a 15-year-old girl didn’t return home from a friend’s quinceañera rehearsal, her mother and the rest of the community were taken aback. As they came together to search for the missing girl, the searchers made a grim discovery when they found her lifeless body near a Pittsburg highway. The entire case, which was the first of several murder cases of other young girls over the following months, is covered in detail in the episode titled ‘Murdered: Lisa Norrell’ of the Podcast ‘Crime Junkie.’ It also talked about the aftermath of the tragedy and how the investigators tried their best to get to the bottom of the case.

Lisa Norrell Went Missing Before Being Found Dead on a Pittsburg Highway

Lisa Diane Norrell was born on June 13, 1983, in Mexico. According to reports, Jesse and Minnie Russo Norrell adopted the young girl when she was just over a year old and brought the little bundle of joy to the town of Pittsburg in California. Minnie revealed that she divulged the information about Lisa’s origins to her when she was 5 or 6 years old. She also had a biological sibling, a brother named Tony Quesada, who was adopted by a family who resided near Jesse and Minnie, allowing the siblings to stay in touch. Though they legally belonged to different families, Tony and Lisa shared a close-knit relationship.

Image Credit: Mamacat/Find a Grave

Owing to her loving and free-spirited nature, Lisa was adored by her friends and family. Her kindhearted and tenacious personality left a lasting impression on all those she met. Sadly, Jesse passed away in 1996, leaving behind Minnie and their beloved daughter, Lisa. The 15-year-old was a bright individual with high hopes for the future. In 1998, Lisa took up the job of babysitting at various houses in the summer and brought herself a computer, a feat she was very proud of.

However, her happiness didn’t last long as tragedy struck on November 6, 1998, when the Pittsburg High School sophomore student was on her way home from Antioch, where she had gone to attend the quinceañera rehearsal of one of her friends held at IDES Hall. It was reportedly quite late at night, and her home was about four miles away. Lisa thought she’d make it back on foot and began walking along the Pittsburg-Antioch Highway. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. It was the last time Lisa was seen alive and well as she went missing that very night.

Around 3 am on November 7 in Pittsburg, Minnie awoke to discover her daughter hadn’t returned from the practice in Antioch. She grew concerned and contacted the authorities to report her missing. The police began questioning the witnesses for any detail that could help them learn about the whereabouts of the teenager; soon, a search was launched. A few days later, the authorities recovered a shoe on the highway, followed by the discovery of a bag containing a dress that belonged to Lisa at a distance of about 100 feet. Minnie’s worst nightmare turned true on November 14, when bloodhounds directed the authorities to a landscaping firm on the highway.

On the grounds of the business, the authorities were exposed to a horrific sight. Lisa’s body was found facing down in an asphyxiated state, with her hands tightly clenched to form fists. An autopsy, performed on the following day, revealed Lisa’s cause of death as asphyxiation due to strangulation, suggesting that she was either killed on the night of her disappearance or 3-4 days prior to the discovery of her remains. Accordingly, the police began treating the case as a homicide.

Lisa Norrell’s Killer Remains at Large as the Case is Still Unsolved

While the police were investigating the mysterious and gruesome murder of Lisa Norrell, they were approached by a couple of witnesses, including a biker who admitted seeing Lisa on the fateful night between 11 pm and 12 am with a car near her. The other witness claimed that she saw a man in the teenager’s path as she walked down the highway road all alone. The witness also helped the authorities come up with a rough sketch of the person of interest. Little did the investigators know that they would have several other murders of young women in Pittsburg over the course of the next two months.

On December 5, 1998, the body of Jessica L. Frederick, allegedly a sex worker, was discovered on Harbor Street and Industry Road, a few miles or blocks away from where Lisa was found, and was stabbed to death. A few days later, on December 15, a 38-year-old woman was found clinging for her dear life in a porta-potty in Baypoint. Having been brutally beaten, she was rushed to the hospital immediately and, fortunately, managed to survive. She provided the police with a rough description of the assailant responsible for her beating — a Hispanic male with a dark Chevrolet Monte Carlo. On the same day, the body of another woman named Rachel Cruise was found in a ditch off California Avenue.

As per reports, Rachel, who was known to spend her time in the company of sex workers, had died of manual strangulation and smothering. Similar to Lisa’s case, Rachel’s purse and shoes were found just a mile away from where her body was found. In light of all these cases, which seemed similar and connected, the police suspected Garry Lee Walton and David Michael Heneby and kept them under close observation, following their every move. Just a few weeks later, on January 6, 1999, Garry was arrested for Lisa’s murder while he was driving. As for David, he was already in jail, being held for an unrelated charge.

The following day, Gary was released from prison due to lack of evidence. On January 8, 1999, the body of a 27-year-old sex worker named Valerie Dawn “China” Schultz was discovered in another ditch in another industrial area of Pittsburg, within just a few miles of the highway. Reports suggested that she was both stabbed and strangled. A couple of months later, in March 1999, Jessica’s boyfriend, 51-year-old Mohammed Ismil Niaz, was charged with the murder of his partner and was also suspected of being involved in the murder of Lisa Norrell. However, when further testing of his DNA was done, his name was cleared as a suspect.

The investigators took the help of a convict named Duanne Dee Shoemake, who was arrested for sexually assaulting two minors in September 1998 and was released in January 1999 after his charges were dismissed, as his sister-in-law was also the mother-in-law of one of the earlier suspects, David Heneby. He allegedly confessed to abducting Lisa and holding her hostage for several days while doing “awful things” to her. But without any evidence, the police’s hands were tied.

More than a decade into Lisa’s tragic demise, in 2009, a 59-year-old man named Phillip Garrido was listed as a suspect in the killing of Lisa Norrell. He had been arrested alongside his wife Nancy in August 2009 for a 1991 kidnapping case of Jaycee Dugard, whom they sexually abused for 18 years. Since Phillip had a history of kidnapping and sexually assaulting young girls, the police delved deeper into his life from 1998 to 1999. They found out that he used to work near the places where Lisa’s and other female victims’ bodies were found. However, after conducting a thorough search of his house for four days, they could not find any incriminating evidence linking him to the murders.

Two decades after Lisa Norrell’s death, in 2018, the police decided to reopen the case and take a look at the evidence again, only to get disappointed yet again. With no clear links to anyone, the murders of Lisa and several other women in Pittsburg between 1998 and 1999 still remain a mystery to this day, while the police are still unsure if they were all related or not.

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