by Virginia McCullough


Thirty-four years ago a 21-year-old  mother moved from Eugene, Oregon to Sacramento, California.  Betty Marie Cloer was a beautician with a young son Robert.  She quickly settled into her new surroundings and found new friends.  She had close family in Oregon but she had also worked with the local District Attorney's office as an informant on a drug operation.  Someone found out about her cooperation with the authorities and she was inundated with death threats.  Family members advised her to move out of the area and keep her new location secret.  But Betty Marie had just lost 60 pounds; she was feeling good and gaining self confidence.  She was proud of her new life and went home for a brief visit where she told those she considered friends where they could contact her.  When she returned to Sacramento she found that the death threats had followed her to her new home.  The threats against her and her son continued and escalated.  She conveyed her fear to her mother, her sister Anita and some of her 12 siblings in her blended family.  Everyone worried about her safety.  After all Betty Marie was the baby of the family.

The family's worse fears came true when Betty Marie Cloer was found shot and beaten to death on June 18, 1971 in Cameron Park on the south side of Highway 50.  Her battered body lay naked except for a pale blue bra.  Other clothing was scattered in a triangular arrangement around the body.  Approximately 15 yards from the body the victim's scarf, blouse, and wig were found.  Near the roadway was a pair of orange/red pants and a brown plastic, simulated leather coat.  Further down the road, approximately 15 yards from the two paths off the road, authorities found a pair of ladies panties, yellow in color.  There was what appeared to be blood in the crotch area.  The clothing contained no rips or tears and did not appear to be torn off.  

An El Dorado County Sheriff's report indicates that this cold case was entered into Adult Correctional Information System (ACIS) on December 4, 2001 by deputy D. Rue.  The case was assigned a Sheriff's Case No. EG7104104.

Another entry entered into the case file by deputy H. Lamb dated November 7, 2002 reads as follows:

On 9-3-02, I received a  report from the Department of Justice DNA laboratory in Richmond, CA.  The report in summary stated that they were able to obtain a male STR profile from the sperm fraction of the sample from the yellow panties.  A mixture of DNA was detected in the epithelial cell fraction of the sample from the yellow panties consistent with the male profile and secondary reference profile.  No DNA peaks were detected in the substrate control.  A female STR profile was obtained from one of the samples taken from the white bra (secondary reference profile).

The male DNA profile was obtained and will be searched against convicted offender DNA profiles and case evidence profiles in the Combined DNA Index System  (CODIS).  The unknown male profile will be maintained in the CODIS system for routine searches against the database.  If a match occurs, a supplemental report will be issued.

I received a telephone call from Anita McClure.  She identified herself as being the sister of the victim, Elizabeth Cloer.  She was calling to inquire if we were checking cold homicide cases for DNA.  I was able to advise her that we did in fact obtain DNA in her sister's case, however at this time no hit had been made in the database.

Deputy Lamb in his sheriff's report dated August 26, 2003 states, "In reviewing this case I noted that an examination of the victim's panties revealed the presence of spermatozoa.  In reviewing the items currently being held in the El Dorado County Sheriff's Property Division, I located the victim's panties, but was unable to locate a sample of the victim's blood.  Therefore I retrieved the victim's bra, which had been located on the victim at the scene and contained bloodstains, to be used as a reference for the victim's blood.  I removed the panties and the bra from property and on 5-15-02, I submitted them to the Department of Justice Crime Lab in Sacramento for analysis in the Cold Hit Program."

Deputy  Lamb continued stating that,  "In August of 2002 I received a physical evidence examination report from the California Department of Justice, Richmond DNA Laboratory under their case number BK-02-000356.  The author of the report, Criminalist Angelynn R. Moore reported that she had examined evidence item #11 (panties) and evidence item #12 (white bra used as secondary reference for the victim).  Moore reported that the DNA extracted from the panties (item 11) was analyzed at thirteen short tandem repeat (STR) loci and gender locus amelogenin.  A male DNA profile was obtained and will be searched against convicted offender DNA profiles and case evidence profiles in the Combined DNA Index Systems (CODIS).  The unknown male profile will be maintained in the CODIS system for routine searches against the database."

According to the sheriff's report filed by Deputy Lamb on August 26, 2003, he was notified on January 7, 2003 by Gary Sims of the Richmond DNA Laboratory that a match had been identified.  Report #DNH-0248-02 was authored by Criminalist James Weigand and it indicated that  "a Data Bank match to the evidence profile was made with a felon identified as Philip Thompson" from a sample drawn on April 3, 2001 at the California State Prison at Solano.  The second report, BFS #BK-02-000356-0002 authored by Criminalist Angelynn Moore and dated January 8, 2003, verified that this was the confirmation report linking Philip Thompson's DNA profile to the sperm fraction obtained from the panties."  This confirmation report relied upon a DNA sample taken from Thompson by Deputy Lamb on April 9, 2003 at Solano State Prison and hand delivered to Criminalist Moore 15 days later on April 24, 2003.  On April 9, 2003 when Deputy Lamb took the sample from Thompson  the inmate offered to take a lie detector test to prove his innocence.

On October 27,  2003, one day before his parole hearing, an arrest warrant for Philip Arthur Thompson in the murder of Betty Marie Cloer was issued.  On December 8, 2003 Thompson was ordered transferred to El Dorado County jail. Anita McClure, Betty's sister was notified of these events.

The docket of this case shows that since January 8, 2004 Thompson has been in jail held without bail awaiting trial on the charges.  Six times in two years court action has been delayed.  A close review of the docket shows that  many of the delays have been at the request of the defense but with the acquiescence of the prosecutor as both seek to build their cases in a 34 year old murder case.  (The People vs. Philip Arthur Thompson, El Dorado County Court Case # POCRF0593)

The pain and grief continue for Betty Marie Cloer's family.  But so too do the questions.  Is the accused the right man?  Is DNA alone enough to convict?  Why do the police reports contain so many contradictions?  Why did the El Dorado District Attorney Gary Lacy charge Philip Arthur Thompson when the investigation was not yet complete?  Did the murder threats constantly being made against the victim have anything to do with her death?  Why wasn't a lie detector test given to Thompson?  Will the use of hypnosis on one of the key witnesses have an impact on the outcome of this trial?  Why was the victim's bra alternately described as pale blue and white in the sheriff's reports?  Why do most witnesses describe the man with Betty Marie Cloer that fateful evening as 5'11" tall?  Why does the sheriff's report attempt to make the man seen that evening 6'4", the height of Philip Arthur Thompson?  Why does Deputy Lamb contradict himself in his 19 page report dated August 26, 2003?

These questions and others brought 63-year-old Anita McClure from her home in Harrisburg, Oregon to the sidewalk in front of the small District Attorney's office in Placerville, California last Tuesday, June 28, 2005.  Anita was just 29-years- old when a knife cut through her heart at the announcement of her sister's death.  Now suffering from degenerative arthritis,  Mrs. McClure sat in a chair surrounded by signs urging DA Gary Lacy's office to bring her sister's murder case to trial. 

One of the signs read "El Dorado County DA's Office reluctant to prosecute my sister's alleged killer."  McClure said that almost as soon as she sat down and began picketing, a small army of deputy DA's arrived to defend their position and that of their often controversial District Attorney Gary Lacy.  They tried pacifying her and humoring her but none could answer her questions about the long delay in their prosecution of Thompson.   Sean O'Brien, chief assistant district attorney shifted the blame to Thompson's need for adequate legal representation but he also admitted to the prosecutions need for time to investigate further. 

While the district attorney's office sought to justify the long delay, the public was extremely supportive of her public stance on behalf of her beloved sister.  Anita McClure was very grateful for the citizens of Placerville who honked in support and constantly gave her the thumbs up sign.  She said that it was wonderful to know that the people of El Dorado County still care and want to see justice done.

Cold cases are not as easy to solve as those we see on the CBS fictional series or A&E's Cold Case Files.  In a Sacramento Bee article by Peter Hecht dated May 15, 2000, El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy was interviewed regarding his three-strike prosecution of a federally protected witness, Robert Rozier, on bad check charges.  The article states:

El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy said he fears New Jersey authorities may have a hard time winning a 16-year-old murder case and declares that the best chance to put Rozier away is the bad check case in his county.  He vows to finish it before turning Rozier over to New Jersey for prosecution (for murder).

Mr. Lacy should listen to his own advice.  If New Jersey finds it hard to win a 16-year-old murder case then El Dorado County's District Attorney might find it impossible to win a 34-year-old murder conviction.

Virginia McCullough  © 6/20/05