When 18-year-old University of California-Davis students Sabrina Gonsalves and John Riggins suddenly went missing on December 20, 1989, it honestly left the entire nation baffled to its core. After all, as chronicled in CBS’ ’48 Hours: The Sweetheart Murders,’ this couple was then found in a ravine with their throats slashed and their eyes as well as mouths covered with duct tape. What’s more is that she’d been sexually assaulted while he’d been struck on the back of his head, making it clear their perpetrator was a heinous monster — later identified as Richard Hirschfield.
Who is Richard Hirschfield?
Although not much regarding Richard’s early years or upbringing is known as of writing, records suggest he has always had a rather dark and ominous side to him that makes him more than a little dangerous. In fact, as per prosecutor Dawn Bladet in this CBS episode, he “is a serial sexual predator. He has victimized children and adults through his lifetime … I just think he is a vile human being. And he is the worst of the worst.” It thus comes as no surprise he was convicted for the first time at the age of 27 back in 1975 for a home invasion/robbery turned rape in Northern California.
According to reports, Richard had broken into an apartment shared by two sisters with a silencer-equipped gun in hand, demanding they give him all their money as well as prized possessions. However, once they revealed they didn’t have anything of great value, he grew so mad he simply said, ‘All right then, who wants to be raped,’ driving the 20-year-old elder sister Marge (last name unknown) to volunteer to protect 16-year-old Michelle. This duo was subsequently able to not just formally report him but also attain justice for themselves, yet the fact of the matter remains he served a mere five years.
In fact, Richard was released on parole in July 1980, a mere five months before Sabrina Gonsalves and John Riggins were heinously slain for seemingly no purpose at all. A few witnesses were able to help the police get a composite sketch of this assailant, yet it wasn’t nearly enough to back then – the truth is officials somehow ended up charging four different locals altogether in 1989, just for them to be exonerated based on DNA evidence in 1993. This DNA was actually recovered from semen stains on a quilt the couple had bought as a birthday gift for Sabrina’s sister, and it actually hadn’t been found until the day before the accused’s trial for murder.
Even then, owing to a lack of proper technology, officials couldn’t ascertain any information from the stain, that is, until California cold case units decided to go through this entire ordeal again in the early 2000s. That’s when they got a hit on Richard — the DNA recovered from the quilt was a one-in-240 trillion match to him, yet they didn’t rush to attain justice or worry about him getting away upon learning this news. That’s because he was already behind bars; this time, he was incarcerated in Washington for child molestation — he’d inappropriately touched a minor and was serving for it.
Coming to Richard’s 2002 DNA match, it ultimately resulted in his being arrested on the grounds of sexual assault as well as first-degree murder; later, his brother was also asked to comply. However, instead of going through the legal process, Richard’s brother Joseph quickly decided to end his life; he got into his car to die from carbon monoxide poisoning after leaving a note too. This letter read, in part, ” ‘I have been living with this horror for 20 years. Richard did commit those murders, but I was there. I didn’t kill anyone, but my DNA is still there.” Joseph’s DNA was actually not there, but he did clearly incriminate his brother, and it strengthed the prosecutor’s case.
Richard Hirschfield is in Jail Today
Despite the fact Richard was identified as Sabrina and John’s killer back in 2002, he didn’t stand trial for their homicide until 2012, wherein his defense tried to question the credibility of the semen stains as the quilt had been in storage for years. In the end, this tactic didn’t pan out, and the jury found him guilty following a mere 3 hours of deliberations on November 5, 2012, following which he was sentenced to death. Therefore, today, at the age of 75, Richard remains incarcerated at the maximum-security San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco, California, where he’s on death row – his condemnation has not been scheduled as of writing.