But one sad story persists: On a quiet morning five years ago last Thursday, Deputy Jeff Mitchell was shot to death while checking out a suspicious vehicle on a lonely country road near Sloughhouse.
There are more than 200 binders, but no arrest.
Despite the time that has passed, homicide Detective Tony Turnbull said he and his team continue to make progress on the case, which he described as still “the highest priority.”
“(The case) has not gone cold. There’s plenty to do with it still,” Turnbull said. “I believe we’re very close. It might just take that one person to step forward.”
He said he has a “pretty good idea” of who was involved. But he said he lacks the evidence so far to support any arrests.
“To know and to have a prosecutable case are two different things sometimes,” Turnbull said.
Mitchell – who had opted for the graveyard patrol shift so he could spend more daylight hours with his young son – stopped to check out a white Chevrolet van on Meiss Road that he thought lacked a license plate. He notified dispatchers, typing on his in-car computer, and indicated he saw one person inside.
That was at 3:27 a.m. When he didn’t respond to welfare checks by dispatchers, his fellow deputies sped to his aid. The first deputy arrived at the remote scene at 3:47 a.m. to find the 38-year-old Mitchell shot in the head with his own service weapon.
There was evidence of a great struggle. And there were no witnesses for miles around.
“You’re basically starting your case with nothing,” Turnbull said. “White van, no plates, possibly one person – that’s it.”
A massive manhunt ensued. Hours later, authorities discovered a white Chevy van stalled in a shallow stretch of the Cosumnes River in El Dorado County, not far from the shooting scene.
Inside were the bodies of Allan Shubert and Nicole Welch, who, it was later determined, died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
To this day, detectives do not believe Shubert or Welch were involved in Mitchell’s killing, and they suspect their deaths were an accident. But they do believe the deaths are linked in some way, Turnbull said.
One possibility detectives are exploring: That Shubert and Welch’s bodies were in the van when Mitchell stopped, and that he was shot as part of a cover-up.
Turnbull said he thinks there were at least two people, other than Shubert and Welch, in that van at the time of Mitchell’s arrival. And he said he believes there is a “good chance” one of them had nothing to do with Mitchell’s shooting. That person, he thinks, may be afraid to come forward.
“The white van lead is the right direction,” he said. “I don’t have a crystal ball. I wasn’t there that night. Is there a chance something different happened that night? Sure. But everything we have … points to the van.”
Every few months, Turnbull updates Mitchell’s widow, Crystal, on his progress. He said he feels it’s important she knows they haven’t given up.
Turnbull said he had known Mitchell since college, and that he is driven both professionally and personally to find his killer.
“It’s just as raw as it was five years ago,” he said. “We’re all in the same boat. We’ve all been out there doing what Jeff was doing. We have families.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Jason Ramos said Mitchell’s killing remains a “dark cloud” in the minds of all in the department. “We lost a brother, a co-worker, and justice hasn’t been done,” he said.
CAN YOU HELP?
Anyone with information about this case is asked to call Detective Tony Turnbull at (916) 874-3778 or Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP. The reward for information in this case stands at $225,000.