California: Santa Cruz County Sentinel, Sunday, August 2, 1998
Front page


Mother hopes for clues in year-old slaying

By Dan White
Sentinel staff writer

On July 4, 1997, someone killed 20-year-old college student Annie Born, dumped her in a Madera County orchard, doused her body with flammable liquid and set her aflame.

The former San Lorenzo Valley woman's frustrated family claims the murder investigation has gone nowhere and that procedures have been sloppy—charges that Madera County investigators deny.

Now the family is turning to television for help. They've aided Fresno detectives in preparing a "Crimestoppers" TV show on Fresno-area NBC affiliate Channel 24, featuring a $1,000 reward. The family is raising additional reward money.

The slain woman's mother, Gloria Barnes of Brookdale, said she has no choice but to push on, because no one is pushing for her.

"I read the autopsy report on my daughter, and basically she was executed, shot in the head," said Barnes, an appeals clerk for the county. "And this person was a university student, a leader, and so many people loved her. It just seems appalling to me that nothing seems to be going on with this case and no one seems to care."

Barnes' office in the county center on Ocean Street is a shrine to her daughter. Pictures of Andrea Mercedes Born look down from every corner of a cramped work space.

In one, she is a toddler, hamming it up on Halloween with a black cloak and a tar paper witch hat. In another, she's in profile, peacefully combing her mother's hair.

But the best picture of Annie is just a color copy. Barnes sent the original to Fresno police, who needed it for the TV show. They were looking for an actress who resembles Annie.

"Crimestoppers" won't include a recreated death scene because the information is nebulous. It will, however, show the circumstances leading to her disappearance, said Fresno police detective Brad Stevens, who is putting the episode together.

A witness saw Annie leave her apartment at 9:30 p.m. on July 4 with a man who had a history of physically abusing her, Barnes said.

After that night, Annie failed to report to work at Food 4 Less in Fresno. She loved this work, shmoozing with the customers, including an old man she often scolded for consuming a pint of ice cream a day. She was also punctual. A friend became suspicious and filed a missing persons report.

The friend, at that time, was unaware of a grisly discovery.

At 11:30 p.m. July 4, two graveyard-shift California Highway Patrol officers were on Highway 99 when they saw smoke and flames rising from an olive orchard. At first they thought it was a car that thieves had stolen, stripped and set on fire. Instead they found a smoldering human body near a road.

They didn't know it was Annie. Prompted by the missing persons report, they called Barnes. Annie was finally identified with dental records.

The loss of a child is said to be the worst imaginable form of grief. But Barnes and Annie's father, Ed Born-Long of Texas, have been living with outrage as well. While it was impossible to determine whether Annie had been sexually assaulted, her body had been desecrated with the burning.

Even while grieving, they tried to push the process forward as much as possible.

Born-Long set up an elaborate Web site decorated with pictures of angels, one of Annie's favorite things. It also has a crime tip hot line, photos, and a sign-in page where dozens of people have written testimonials, including a vow to capture the "satanic" killer.

"We apologize for lack of progress on this page," said Born-Long in a recent entry. "Please do all you can do to raise your voices."

Gloria Barnes and Ed Born-Long appreciate the support. But they say they can't help but feel confused and angry.

Barnes said she has been unable to contact the Madera County district attorney for months. Several Sentinel calls to the DA's office were not returned over the course of a week.

She also said the sheriffs fumbled DNA evidence, which was initially sent to the wrong lab for testing. Detectives have no comment on the evidence, but said that they were awaiting results from the analysis.

Born-Long says he is suspicious of his daughter's ex-boyfriend because Annie once came home with stitches under her chin and, on another occasion, a black eye.

"We had a good tight relationship, but she couldn't tell me 'This guy was hitting me,'" Born-Long said.

Gloria Barnes remembers when Annie became distraught upon finding out the man was seeing another woman and had fathered a child with her.

"She told me and her dad that if this other woman could have her killed, she would," Barnes said. "She broke up with the guy, wanted to stay away from him but kept coming back."

Around the time of her death, she had a new boyfriend, but investigators told Barnes that her daughter seemed to have gone willingly to a party with the ex-boyfriend, at a house with a pool.

This boyfriend was questioned in connection to the case was not arrested.

Detectives found footprints at the murder scene but could never match them up to suspects.

The case in now in the hands of Detective Terry Ginder. Barnes said she has been frustrated with the investigation since the original lead detective in the case, Kathy Starr, left on medical leave. Starr could not be reached for comment.

Ginder insists the detectives and the district attorney's office have done all they can.

"It's an open case," he said. "We're still working on it."

Shortly after the murder, the authorities searched Annie's Clovis apartment, just outside of Fresno. After that search, Barnes said, one of the detectives had accidentally left his police radio at Annie Born's apartment during the murder investigation.

"What kind of detective loses his own radio?" said Barnes angrily.

She also questioned why detectives couldn't figure out how to find Annie Born's bank account number, although several bills, waiting to be mailed, were lying around her apartment.

Ginder would not comment on the radio or the bank account.

Barnes' tone of voice became more hopeful when talking about the television program.

The "Crimestoppers" TV show will run for six consecutive days, starting Tuesday [August 4, 1998].

The producers of the show say it has a great success rate, but also say that people very rarely turn to them unless there is little life left in a murder investigation.

Madera County detectives caution that "dumping" cases can take years to solve. Madera just wrapped up a case that is 10 years old, involving a body that was dumped, like Born's, in an orchard one night.

"Every time I call, they seem to say, well, there's been a couple more murders," said Barnes.

Indeed, Madera County, which borders Fresno, has a checkered reputation. Like the Santa Cruz Mountains that Annie once called home, corpses turn up from time to time here.

Madera County is dotted with recreational lakes, orchards, and bedroom communities. The terrain is considered ideal for growing olives and pistachios. Occasionally it has also been viewed as a convenient place for people to vanish.

One infamous example was in Chowchilla, where two young men entombed an entire bus full of school children in a quarry. The drivers finally managed to claw their way out.

Madera can also go through alarming spates of homicides and body recoveries for such a quiet, rural area.

In the same month Annie died, a gang member shot down a rival at a secluded lake, and someone murdered a 6-year-old child in Chowchilla.

Some cases take years to wrap up. Gloria Barnes doesn't want to wait forever. And part of her is becoming nervous about the TV program that's coming out.

"What if that brings new evidence," she said, "and then someone bungles the case?"

"I really feel empathy for the Williams family," said Barnes, describing the disappearance of Christina Williams, the girl last seen walking her dog at Fort Ord last month.

"I only had to deal with that for a day. It wasn't until they actually sat me down in a chair at the sheriff's office and said 'We've made a positive identification' that it really sank in. I finished the sentence for them.

"I convinced myself they'd say, no, it's not your daughter. But of course, that's not what they said.

"Who knows if this person will do it again?" she said. "I mean, nothing's going to bring Annie back. But just the idea that someone could shoot her and burn her body up on the Fourth of July."

The Annie Born web site is: [Note: This is no longer the correct address for Annie's Place. You are already there.]

Sidebar: "She was a jewel"

To the people of San Lorenzo Valley, Annie Born is more than just a grim statistic.

Annie was born in Atlanta, just a few days after the nation's 1976 bicentennial celebration. Her mother brought her to the San Lorenzo Valley after she and Annie's father parted in the late '70s.

They lived in Ben Lomond and then in Brookdale.

Schoolmates admired Annie's beauty but she'd always tell her mother "You only say I'm beautiful because you have to," her mother Gloria Barnes said. "She didn't believe she was beautiful. I remember her standing in front of the full-length mirror and she'd say 'I hate having these long legs.'"

Barnes remembers Born as "such a rah-rah." In 1988 she played the lead in a school production of "Peter Pan." She once said she wanted to stay young forever, like the title character of that play.

She loved her teen-age years. "She's the only person I ever met in my life who said 'I wish I could be back in high school,'" Barnes said. She liked living in Fresno, having her own apartment and listening to rap music, constantly inviting her mother up for visits.

She threw herself into her special education studies at Fresno State. In 1997 her scholarship money tripled. She was excited about being a teacher.

Annie, a brunette who had recently dyed her hair blonde, loved music, friends, and decorating the first apartment she could call her own.

Gloria Barnes said she was on the road to independence and success.

"I just can't understand why," she said. "Why would something like this happen to her? She was a jewel."

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