California: The Fresno Bee, Wednesday, July 9, 1997
Front page, lead story
Madera County seeks killer of Clovis woman
Burned body dumped in orchard identified through dental records.
By Steve Elliott
The Fresno Bee
California Highway Patrol officers Gary Herrell and Ben Grasmuck had just reached the Madera County line when they spotted the fire. They thought it was a stolen car, stripped, dumped and torched in an orchard just off Highway 99. That’s what the graveyard-shift officers, who work out of Fresno, usually find burning between the trees late at night.
This time it was a body. A woman.
Andrea Mercedes Born, 20, of Clovis, had been shot in the head, dumped and set on fire.
Herrell and Grasmuck made the grisly discovery late Friday night, but Born wasn’t positively identified through dental records until Monday.
Madera County sheriff’s detectives spent Tuesday looking for a killer and trying to trace the last few hours of the former Fresno State student’s short life.
Her mother and father, divorced when Born was a child, spent the day together at their daughter’s apartment, packing her things.
"You see all the angels she had?" asked Ed Born-Long, her dad, gesturing to the angel print, angel clock and poster titled "The Way of Angels."
"It’s like she had a premonition," he said.
Born was last seen alive about 5 p.m. Friday at her apartment on Ashlan Avenue near Peach Avenue. Ruth Pimentel, Born’s best friend, said her boyfriend saw Born leave with the man she’d been dating for 1½ years. The two couples were supposed to have a Fourth of July barbecue later that night, but Born and her boyfriend never came back.
The next morning, Saturday, Born didn’t call in to the Food 4 Less where she worked at First Street and Gettysburg Avenue—unusual because she was very conscientious about her job. When another friend told Pimentel Saturday afternoon that she hadn’t seen Born either, Pimentel started calling Born’s friends. No one had seen her.
"Before I called the police, I called her mom in Santa Cruz," Pimentel said Tuesday, holding Born’s Tickle Me Elmo doll. "She wasn’t with her and asked me to call the police."
Pimentel did, filing a missing person’s report and pressing the officer to call his sergeant over so she could convince him that Born hadn’t just gone off somewhere, but that something was wrong.
She didn’t know her best friend’s body had already been found, burned too badly to be identified. But because she pressed her report, detectives in Madera picked up on it almost immediately.
"She was identified through that missing person’s report from Fresno," said Madera Undersheriff Tom Turk. "Some of the clothing matched." Positive identification took dental records.
The autopsy Saturday found she’d been shot to death and then set afire, and Turk said both clothing and tissue samples were sent to a state Department of Justice lab to determine what kind of flammable liquid was used in the immolation.
Born wasn’t killed in the dark orchard near Road 33 and Avenue 7 where her body was found, but detectives hadn’t yet found the murder scene Tuesday, Turk said.
He couldn’t say much else about the case Tuesday because of the investigation, but her family and best friend could talk about Born, even if through tears.
She graduated from high school in 1994 in Ben Lomond, in Santa Cruz County. She was in community theater in school, and played the lead in "Peter Pan" in 1988. She was friendly, outgoing and loved kids. She came to Fresno to go to college, and worked at The Limited and the grocery store.
"She was very beautiful, but she did not know that," said Born-Long. "she was that unassuming. And she didn’t know a stranger. She was everyone’s friend."
She wrote poetry—her parents found a journal of her poems by her bedside, written in her neat hand.
"She wrote cards and letters to everyone," Pimentel said. "She could see a card and know just who to give it to and would buy it right there."
Recently, she sent Pimentel a card, for friendship.
"Thank you for everything," Born wrote to Pimentel. "You are the best friend I’ve ever had…."
Her father said he still has all the cards she’d ever sent him. He was due to send her one.
"Tuesday would have been her 21st birthday," Born-Long said. "Instead, we’ll be having a memorial service for her."
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