I-Team: Did a serial killer take missing child Kevin Collins?

October 26, 2012 12:11:11 AM PDT
Kevin Collins was one of the first missing children whose case got national attention. Thousands of tips came in over the years, but they all lead nowhere. But now the I-Team has uncovered the one serious lead San Francisco police either missed or chose to ignore.

From San Quentin state prison -- east block, first tier, cell 115 on death row -- could the bizarre rants of a serial killer hold the key to a boy's disappearance almost 30 years ago?

"He was very sweet and he was very shy around other people," says Ann Collins, mother of Kevin Collins.

After Ann's 10-year-old son Kevin vanished, the Bay Area responded in a big way. Posters went up, volunteers went door-to-door, police scoured local parks, and shot a public service announcement re-enacting what happened using his older brother as a stand-in. Kevin left his CYO basketball practice at St. Agnes School in the Haight and waited for a bus at Oak and Masonic. That was the last place he was ever seen.

"You take each day at a time. Some days are a little easier than others, some days are real hard," said Ann on March 12, 1984.

The days turned into weeks and months, but Kevin's family continued to push, manning a 24-hour hotline out of their home and pleading with the kidnapper directly on ABC7.

"Kevin loves his family and we love him, please let him come home," said Kevin's father David Collins in 1984.

When Newsweek magazine put Kevin on the cover, the tips poured in. They all lead nowhere, but San Francisco police either missed or chose to ignore one significant lead -- a possible connection to serial killer Jon Dunkle.

"Jon was an evil, evil man," says Steve Wagstaffe, San Mateo County district attorney.

Wagstaffe gave the I-Team access to Dunkle's case file. Dan Noyes spent a week combing 12 boxes of evidence, police reports, court transcripts, audio, and videotapes. In the town of Belmont, the disappearance of 15-year-old John Davies and the stabbing death of 12-year-old Lance Turner went unsolved for years, as did the murder of 12-year-old Sean Dannehl in Sacramento. Then, Dunkle went to the Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo on a burglary charge, got into what Wagstaffe says was a sexual relationship with a cellmate, and finally confessed to him about killing those three boys.

The I-Team found a recording of the cellmate, Charles Rice, reporting Dunkle to authorities.

Recording:

Rice: "I'm willing to do whatever it takes necessary to put this guy away. I mean?"

Investigator: "What is your reason for giving this information?"

Rice: "I can't stand a child killer."

Rice wanted a deal on his own manslaughter charges so he convinced Dunkle to write details of the murders, draw maps to the crime scenes, and tell authorities everything.

Recording:

Investigator: "And then, you said you stabbed him where?"

Dunkle: "In the throat area."

Here's the intriguing part. Documents show Dunkle also told his cellmate and a second inmate that around the time of Kevin Collins' disappearance he killed a fourth victim by throwing them off the Golden Gate Bridge, but made it look like a suicide attempt.

The description also appears in a psychiatric report on Dunkle. That document also shows that months before Kevin disappeared, Dunkle got a manual labor job with the IRS in San Francisco, just two miles from Kevin's bus stop.

After that information came out, the FBI went to the Men's Colony to interview Dunkle. But, in their final report, agents focused on the three other murders. There is no mention of the fourth victim.

"Because it wasn't in their reports, I remember that vividly. I remember how much I wish the FBI didn't have their policy at that point of not tape recording because I would like to have heard every single word that was spoken. But that was their policy," says Wagstaffe.

But the I-Team has learned the FBI did not question Dunkle about that fourth victim. Retired special agent Frank Hickey emailed the I-Team that he, "went to the interview blind and on a very, very short notice. I was never told by Rice or anyone else about a fourth murder or throwing a fourth victim off the Golden Gate. That was never mentioned during my time on the case. If it had been, I would have interviewed Dunkle in detail about it."

Recording:

Investigators: "How about the site on the trail where the stabbing occurred? Whereabouts did that happen?"

Dunkle: "Okay, I'll show you."

When Dunkle took Belmont police to the crime scenes, he was in a talkative mood, but Detective Rich Fogarty also failed to ask him about the fourth victim.

"I wasn't really concerned with that. I was concerned with the Belmont case. That's just the way because we needed to solve that for our community," says Fogarty.

Ever since their son went missing in 1981, Jim and Joan Davies suspected Dunkle, who was a family friend.

"Jon Dunkle was in and out of our house every day. He knew where the key was. He called us mom and dad," says Joan Davies.

After their son disappeared, Dunkle never returned to their house and that raised suspicion. So, Jim began tracking Dunkle. After Kevin disappeared in San Francisco, Jim was able to confirm Dunkle traveled from his home in Belmont to the city the night Kevin went missing.

"I determined he was in San Francisco. Not directly from Jon, but from all of his friends," says Jim.

And Belmont police confirmed Dunkle's movements that day.

"Dunkle may be involved from my understanding that they may have placed him in San Francisco on or around the time that Collins boy was missing, went missing," says Fogarty.

Jim tells the I-Team he tried to report that information to San Francisco police, who were heading the Kevin Collins investigation.

"They didn't want to hear what I had to say. It was that simple," says Jim.

The I-Team asked San Francisco police to comment on Jim's account and to give them access to the Kevin Collins file. They refused, saying it's an open investigation, but they couldn't say how long it's been since someone actually looked at the file.

"It's in my iPhone," says Barry Weaver, a retired San Francisco police department inspector.

Weaver keeps the Collins information with him in case new leads develop. He last worked the case in 2003, to see if Kevin was a victim of the clergy abuse scandal. Weaver says he knows the Collins file well and there is not a single mention of serial killer Jon Dunkle.

"So many leads were called in from all kinds of people all the time, that it might have got a one line entry somewhere that I didn't see that got lost over the years. So many possibilities. I don't know what to tell you," says Weaver.

"Do you think that Jon Dunkle killed Kevin Collins?" asks Dan Noyes.

"Yes, I do," says attorney Bill Russell.

In 1984, Russell was on the search party for one of Dunkle's victims. He found Lance Turner's body and he's been involved in the Dunkle investigation ever since. After Dunkle got a death sentence for the three murders, Russell says he called the FBI urging them to investigate Dunkle for the Kevin Collins disappearance and that agents went to San Quentin to interview him again.

"He gave the agents an impression that he knew about the case, that he knew something, but he immediately clammed up and decided not to say anything more," says Russell.

But that story is hard to verify. The key agents in the San Francisco office who would have worked the case have passed away. The FBI tells the I-Team they destroyed the Dunkle file without scanning it and they can't access the Kevin Collins file because it's been damaged in a flood at the Washington, DC archives and is drying out right now.

All this frustrates Ann Collins.

"I feel that Kevin, whoever took him, he was murdered that day, so we never would have got Kevin back, but I think they should have done all they could to find the person. It's not right. It's not fair for Kevin. Why was he just put on the back burner?" says Ann.

To get to the bottom of this, the I-Team wrote to Dunkle on death row, asking him about the boys he admitted killing and about Kevin Collins. He sent a bizarre four-page letter. The most coherent thing he wrote was: "they all had to die dead." The rest of the letter is full of crazy ramblings about computers and conspiracy theories: "For all I know, you, Dan, could be part of a high school plan through the White House."

"If he can't actually in a credible way tell you what happened, and the trail ends here, is that enough?" asks Dan.

"No, probably not. It's going to make us wonder," says Ann.

"But do you want me to keep on searching?" asks Dan.

"Yeah, because maybe you're meant to," says Ann.

The SFPD now says they're checking out a report that Dunkle was in jail the night Kevin disappeared. They talked to Dunkle in San Quentin last week. He denied killing Kevin but couldn't tell them if he was in jail or not that night.


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