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Deputy sheriff never gave up search for remains of 1986 I-5 Strangler victim

June 28, 2011 |  3:25 pm

Roger Kibbe The deputy sheriff who found the remains of a woman killed by the I-5 Strangler said he spent about three weeks scouring different areas of Lake Berryessa before finding a hip bone at the bottom of a creek bed.

Experts later confirmed the bone belonged to Lou Ellen Burleigh, 21, of Walnut Creek, who serial killer Roger Reece Kibbe confessed to killing in 1986 along with five other Bay Area women.

Napa County Deputy Sheriff Michael Barlett said Tuesday that after he discovered the hip bone in February, the department sent out teams to search the area, but no other trace of Burleigh was found.

Bartlett, 72, said he would hike the area between calls, looking over the rugged terrain in places that fit the description Kibbe had given investigators.

“I think it was just the fact that she was never found and that she was somewhere out there and her family had never had any kind of closure," Bartlett said of his incentive for never giving up.

"Kibbe confessed to the crime and was convicted of it, but she was still never found,” Bartlett said. "So in my mind that was the toughest part -- maybe her family thought she could possibly still be out there. I just wanted to help bring some sort of closure."

One of the keys to finding Burleigh was a description from Kibbe, Bartlett said. Kibbe told investigators he saw a radio tower near the location, but no radio tower had been in the area.

On one of his hikes, Bartlett found an old well, and after looking through property records, discovered the well was being dug as Kibbe was committing his crime.

The drill used in the construction would have looked like a radio tower, Bartlett said.

A 14-year department veteran and Napa native, Bartlett said he was “very hopeful” that he could find Burleigh.

“I wasn’t planning on giving up at any time -- as long as I was able to go out there and look, I was going to continue to,” he said. “As it turned out, it worked."

When Kibbe made his confession in 2002, he was already serving 25 years to life in prison for kidnapping and murdering a 17-year-old woman, and after DNA linked him to the slayings attributed to the I-5 Strangler -- the man who killed five women in 1986 and dumped their bodies near highways and freeways -- he confessed to all six homicides.

In exchange for avoiding the death penalty and instead serving life in prison, Kibbe said he would cooperate with investigators and help locate Burleigh’s body.

Kibbe told authorities he had taken Burleigh, his first victim, to Lake Berryessa, where he raped and killed her, leaving her body in a dry riverbed near the lake.

Investigators took Kibbe to several locations around the lake in 2003 but didn’t find Burleigh’s body. Searches in 2007 and 2009 also were unsuccessful.

Burleigh’s family was notified Friday that her remains had been found, police said.

Kibbe was up for parole in 2009, when San Joaquin prosecutors charged him with the six other slayings. Kibbe, now 72, is currently serving his sentence in Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga.


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-- Kate Mather

Photo: Roger Kibbe. Credit: KTLA-TV