by Virginia McCullough

Philip Arthur Thompson is a defendant in the 1971 homicide case of victim Betty Marie Cloer.  The El Dorado County District Attorney served Thompson with an arrest warrant during the last week in October 2003.  However, the publicity regarding the case had been initiated in the first weeks of January 2003 when El Dorado County lead investigator Hal Lamb announced to the Cloer family that investigators had a “cold hit” in the state’s DNA database and new hope for solving the murder of their sister.  On January 9, 2003 reporter Rebecca Nolan writing for The Register-Guard in Cloer’s hometown of Eugene, Oregon informed readers that California “state law requires that felons convicted of certain violent crimes such as murder or rape provide DNA samples”. She also wrote that in 1971 “detectives noticed similarities between Cloer’s death and the slaying of another young woman whose body was discovered near Sacramento eight months earlier”. The murder of Carol Beth Hilburn, 22, who was beaten to death after a night of bar-hopping, also remains unsolved”, she said. The article concluded that “investigators wondered at the time whether the women might be victims of the Zodiac killer, who terrorized northern California from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s when his killing spree came to an abrupt end.  Despite an intensive investigation that lasted years, the Zodiac killer has never been identified”.

Hal Lamb, the cold case investigator on the Cloer murder, was soon issuing more statements to the press.  Lamb commented that when the time came for the arrest Thompson, he wasn’t hard to find – “he’s currently an inmate at the California state prison in Solano, where he’s serving an 18-year-to-life sentence for a series of kidnappings and rapes in the early 1980s”. Lamb elaborated saying that Thompson was up for parole the day his arrest warrant was issued. Lamb’s statement about Thompson serving time for rapes was not true but that did not stop the press from printing verbatim his colorful remarks.

On November 5, 2003, The Register-Guard published another article by Rebecca Nolan announcing that “California authorities had arrested convicted rapist Philip Arthur Thompson, 58, in the murder of 21-year-old Betty Cloer”.  While perpetuating the disinformation about Thompson’s alleged status as a rapist, Nolan’s article also stated that Cloer’s “murder went unsolved and almost forgotten for 32 years, until an El Dorado County sheriff’s detective [Hal Lamb] pulled some clothing from an evidence bag and sent it for DNA analysis in January.”

While these remarkable revelations were being leaked to and printed by the media, the reputation of the District Attorney’s office in El Dorado County was suffering from negative press of its own. The 2002/2003 El Dorado County Grand Jury had undertaken an investigation into the conduct of El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy regarding his response to a citizen’s complaint number C34-02/03. The scope of the Grand Jury investigation dealt with the appearance of inappropriate actions by their newly re-elected district attorney. The announcement of the investigation followed rapidly on the heels of allegations made by Lacy’s opponent in the last election. Dale Schafer, a civil attorney, who charged that DA Lacy had arranged with the DEA to have Schafer’s home raided for marijuana shortly after he had filed papers to run against Lacy for district attorney.

After a lengthy investigation the grand jury’s report found that District Attorney Lacy was “enmeshed in potential conflicts of interest, appearances of impropriety, less-than-strict adherence to the ethical requirements of prosecutors, and violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys and the California Business of Professions Code”. There were thirteen separate findings of misconduct brought down by the El Dorado County Grand Jury. Among the more egregious findings were the following:

F8. The District Attorney had an ex parte communication with a Court Commissioner in violation of Rule 5-300 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys.

F9. The District Attorney misled a Court Commissioner with a false statement of fact in violation of Business & Professions Code, Section 6068 (d).

F10. The District Attorney misrepresented facts regarding his communication with the Commissioner to the State Bar of California and to this Grand Jury.

F11. The District Attorney sent a letter to the Grand Jury misquoting Rule 5-300 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys.

F12. Sworn testimony by the District Attorney and other witnesses conflicts in important and significant details.

F13. Portions of the District Attorney’s testimony and documentation were found to be lacking in truth and veracity.

The El Dorado County District Attorney Mission Statement states:

We dedicate ourselves, while recognizing the dignity of all individuals, to objectively and effectively investigate and prosecute matters under the Law to achieve justice and minimize trauma to victims.

The fact that the Grand Jury indicated in its report that Gary Lacy lacked “truth and veracity” has a bearing on every case filed against any and all defendants by the District Attorney’s office.  Mr. Lacy had originally been elected to serve in this capacity by the people of El Dorado County in 1995.  Between 1995 and December of 1997 many employees of the District Attorney’s office believed that DA Lacy was having a relationship with a woman who worked in the Child Support Division.  Gary Lacy was the department head of that Division which was under the auspices of the District Attorney’s Office.  Described just as Mr. Lacy’s “friend” in the Grand Jury Report, many of the issues cited as misconduct involved this female who was rapidly promoted to Family Support Branch Manager in South Lake Tahoe in December 1997. Despite the rumors of a romance between the employee and her boss, both individuals testified before the Grand Jury that their relationship did not begin until June of 1998.  County payroll records document that “friend” left the District Attorney’s office in December of 1997 only to be rehired by Gary Lacy on a part time basis working there from late 1999 through the summer of 2001.

Criticism of the manner in which Gary Lacy’s 2002 re-election campaign was handled coupled with the details of his extra marital affair escalated with the release of the June 2003 Grand Jury Report.

Six months previously on January 10, 2003 the Sacramento Bee published an article written by Staff Writer Niesha Gates. That article centered on a telephone call El Dorado County sheriff’s official had made to the son of Betty Marie Cloer.  Robert Cloer, whose mother was murdered when he was just five-years-old, was told that “there had been a break in his mother’s case”.  Although the sheriff’s representative did not release the identity of the suspect, Cloer was told that a random DNA check by California’s Department of Justice had discovered a match to a prisoner in the state prison system.  The Bee article also contained the following details:

Police also theorized that Cloer's death may have been linked to the murder of another woman in November 1970.

In 1971, former El Dorado County Sheriff Ernest Carlson said medical tests showed that Cloer had not been "sexually molested," but the new DNA evidence collected may prove to the contrary.

Lt. Kevin House, spokesman for the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department, said Thursday the DNA was obtained from a pair of women's underwear.

"It's entirely possible that she may have been sexually assaulted, and we couldn't determine that back then," House said.

El Dorado County sheriffs and prosecutors were beginning to lay the ground work for the prosecution of Philip Arthur Thompson, the un-named convict whose DNA allegedly matched evidence in the 36-year-old murder case.  Creating a sexual assault and/or rape where none had originally been found, was necessary to the picture they wanted to create.  Intense pre-trial publicity pointing in that direction would be necessary to set the scene to convict the defendant at trial.

So ten days later another article by Niesha Gates ran in the Sacramento Bee designed to build interest in the Cloer case. T his time Sgt. Hal Lamb, a detective in the sheriff’s detective division, was named as the reporter’s source.  The article below emphasized a case that had been thought to be related ever since Betty Cloer’s body was discovered.

DNA find may tie 2 cases. A database 'hit' could link a prison inmate to the 1970s unsolved killings.
by Niesha Gates, Sacramento Bee, January 20, 2003

EL DORADO – A break in an unsolved El Dorado County murder case from 1971 has prompted investigators to examine another unsolved area murder.

Last week, a "cold hit" within the state Department of Justice's DNA databank linked DNA evidence from the 1971 homicide of Betty Marie Cloer to the DNA profile of an inmate in the California prison system. The Cloer case is believed to be the oldest case cracked through a random hit in the databank.

Authorities have not released the inmate's identity, location or sentence.

Now, with the Cloer case reactivated, El Dorado County sheriff's investigators also are examining the possibility that the 1970 murder of Carol Beth Hilburn may be linked to Cloer's.

Sheriff's investigators in 1971 thought there was a "definite link" between the two cases, theorizing that the same assailant may have committed both homicides. The victims were young women, they had stopped at a bar on the night they were killed, and their bodies were found nearly naked in brushy fields.

"We're just in the beginning stages, but we're looking into that possibility," said Sgt. Hal Lamb, of the sheriff's detective division.

Investigators would not say whether DNA from evidence in the Hilburn murder case had been or will be collected for processing through the Department of Justice's DNA databank…………

In addition to working with the state Department of Justice, the sheriff's office also is working with the Sacramento Police Department to gather more information about Cloer's murder and other area murders of young women in the same time period.

An investigation into Hilburn’s murder has not yet been initiated by the Sacramento Police Department, but the case may be evaluated in the future, said Lt. Mike Bray, who oversees the major-crimes unit.

"We're constantly working on cold cases," Bray said.

No further information linking the Cloer murder to the Hilburn was forthcoming from the El Dorado County sheriff’s office or the Sacramento Police Department.  However, on November 26, 2003, The Associated Press linked suspect Philip Arthur Thompson to the 1980 disappearance of Valerie McDonald in San Francisco.  Her skeletal remains were found in Ferry County, Washington in 1991.  Ferry County Sheriff’s detective J. R. Sharp stated that he felt “charges could be filed soon against Thompson”.  As this article is written Detective J. R. Sharp is no longer with the Washington State sheriff’s department and no charges have been filed against anyone in the Valerie McDonald case.

The year 2004 followed the same pattern as 2003 with leaks in newspapers in Placerville, Sacramento, San Francisco, California and Washington State linking Philip Arthur Thompson to the Cloer and McDonald cases.  The press also mentioned Thompson as a possible suspect in the February 20, 1980 “Davis Sweetheart” killings and the San Jose murder of Ines Sailer on New Year’s Day 1981. In 2006 both of these allegations proved to be untrue when two other men were brought to trial for the three homicides.

This author published her first article on the connection between the Thompson case and the El Dorado County case of former prosecutor Richard Hamlin on February 9, 2005. (Click.  The Richard Hamlin trial.  The best conspiracy litigation in California, 2/9/05) The Hamlin case was a domestic violence charged as torture by District Attorney Gary Lacy.  On January 6, 2006 Hamlin was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.  This author's article was the first to mention the connection between two intelligence operatives – Michael Riconosciuto and Philip Arthur Thompson.  It stated that Richard Hamlin “is attempting to subpoena prisoner Michael Riconosciuto from the Devens Federal Medical Center in Ayer, Massachusetts, to testify as a witness in his defense.

Shortly thereafter it was announced that District Lacy would face opposition in his bid for re-election in 2006. An ambitious young Assistant District Attorney Vern Pierson from Amador County presented a serious challenge to the politically wounded DA.

On June 20, 2006 this writer posted an article about the courageous struggle conducted by Betty Cloer’s sister Anita McClure. McClure had traveled from her home in Oregon to the El Dorado County seat in Placerville, California to picket in front of the historic District Attorney’s office pleading that the man accused of her sister’s murder be brought to trial. (Click. El Dorado County District Attorney Gary Lacy's Office picketed by murder victim's sister, 6/30/06)  This article indicated that many delays “have been at the request of the defense, but with the acquiescence of the prosecutor as both seek to build their cases” in the decades old murder. (The People vs. Philip Arthur Thompson, El Dorado County Court Case # POCRF0593X)

Also on June 20, 2006 this journalist wrote the following to Vern Pierson, the man who would be District Attorney. The series of email exchanges between Person and me follow.

----- Original Message -----

Sent: Monday, June 20, 2005 7:03 PM
Subject: Can we talk?

Good Evening:

I am a journalist who posts my articles first at - a daily internet newspaper. Over the past four months I have written several articles about women housed at the El Dorado County Jail in Placerville, CA. One faces domestic violence/"terrorist" charges, a former Sacramento County prosecutor named Richard Hamlin who has been held in jail without bail since his arrest in February of 2004. The second case is a 30+ year old murder case with the accused being a man named Philip Arthur Thompson.

These two cases are now forever linked together by a CIA asset named Michael Riconosciuto who has written two letters to the presiding judge asking to be allowed to testify in both cases. These two cases emit a strange odor that reeks of a deal struck that harkens back to the execution murder of three people in June of 1981 near the Cabazon Indian Reservation. Subsequently two entire families were wiped out over this same conspiracy. Two young daughters, a teenage son and parents Ian Stuart Spiro and Gail Spiro were executed in Rancho Mirage in 1993.The official government line was murder/suicide. Then on Tuesday May 10, 2005the entire family of lead investigator for the Riverside District Attorney's office David McGowan and his entire family were summarily eliminated. Within twelve hours a press conference was held declaring it murder/suicide. This tragedy left two little girls, their teenage brother, both parents and their paternal grandmother dead - slain as they slept just as the Spiro family had been.

Philip Arthur Thompson and Michael Riconosciuto were both valuable CIA/NSA assets working for "Dr."." John Philip Nichols in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Nichols and his sons controlled the Cabazon reservation until just before the David McGowan murders. Now Riconosciuto and Thompson find themselves continuing their 30+ year old feud in El Dorado County. A deal was struck somewhere within DA Gary Lacy's office to make Lacy look good by solving the oldest alleged DNA match in California history and putting away Richard Hamlin.

This is dangerous business and puts a great many people at risk. I would like to talk to you about this now that you have announced your intention to run against Gary Lacy (Mt. Democrat 6-13-05). I have a great many documents and background that I would like to share with you. My contact numbers follow:

Virginia McCullough

POB 589
Sunol, CA 94586
Phone: (925) 862-2362
FAX #: (925) 862-0145


----- Original Message -----

Sent: Monday, January 30, 2006 5:39 PM


Do you have any updated information on the murder of Betty Cloer. I am very interested in this case.

So you are aware, I am running for District Attorney in El Dorado County. My website vernpierson.comcan provide some background.

Thank You.

Vern Pierson

Ginger McCullough wrote:

Good Evening Vern:

The most updated information that I have on Philip Arthur Thompson's case (the murder of Betty Cloer) is that it has boiled down to the credibility of the DNA and from my understanding that is in serious doubt. Both the prosecution and the defense have agreed to have the small sample allegedly taken from panties found near, but not on, the victim retested. As you are probably are already aware, Robert Blasier is the DNA attorney for the defense and he brought up many problems with the laboratory testing that took place on the DNA. This is apart from the terrible problems resulting from, in my opinion, misconduct of detective Hal Lamb in his collection and storage of both the saliva sample from Thompson and the panties and stain that he stored in the same unlocked file cabinet in his office prior to his retirement. I'm certain that you are also aware of his questionable background including, but not limited to, taking the fifth while on the stand on an unrelated case. These are just the most recent developments in this strange case.

I sent you an email several months ago about the history of this case and its common dominator with the Richard Hamlin case, but I never received a reply from you. Understanding the history of Philip Arthur Thompson and the man who wanted to testify in both the Hamlin case and the Thompson case is the key to the charges that now face Thompson in the Betty Cloer murder. This man Michael Riconosciuto and Thompson were both involved in intelligence operations sanctioned by the highest sources in our government and centered among other places at the Cabazon Indian Reservation in Indio, California. The man who was in charge of that reservation since 1978 was "Dr." John Phillip Nichols. You can read about him and Michael Riconosciuto by clicking on and going to Virginia McCullough Articles.

The second most important aspect of this case is the fact that Betty Cloer was a DEA informant in Oregon State prior to her moving to Sacramento County to escape death threats and harm. Initially she stayed with a family friend of her older sister and then moved to an apartment with other roommates approximately two weeks before her murder. She went home to retrieve her young son and told her old friends (some involved in questionable activity) where she would be living. Law enforcement downplayed these death threats and Betty's involvement as a major drug informant since the day her body was discovered.

Gary Lacy's unusually close ties to the DEA and his self indulgent arrogance both lead me to believe some behind the scenes deal was struck to arrange for Thompson to be brought to El Dorado County to be tried for Cloer's murder. If it were a simple case of a cold case being solved by a saliva sample, Michael Riconosciuto would not have brought himself front and center. As Dr. Henry Lee would say, "Something not right."

Philip Arthur Thompson is not an ordinary man and he is not your usual casual sexual predator. This is a man who had a get out of jail pass free for many years and knows secrets that those in power do not want told. If he goes to trial I would not be surprised to see him bringing witnesses to the stand that would force the trial to be sealed "in the interest of national security". That might seem silly to you as a prosecutor but when Michael Riconosciuto set up "Dr." John Phillip Nichols and got him brought to trial for hiring a Chicago man to murder five people the CIA stepped in immediately and sealed the case in "the interests of national security". These boys all belonged to the same club.

I hope this helps and please confirm that you received this email.

Sincerely..........virginia mccullough

On February 1, 2006 Vern Pierson sent this author the following email acknowledging he had received the updated information he had requested.

Thank you for the information.


June 7, 2006 found Vern Pierson victorious.  Gary Lacy was defeated after 12 years in office receiving only 38 percent of the vote. On January 7, 2007 Pierson began his $142,224 a year job.

Although it was a new regime in the El Dorado County’s DA’s office, the only thing that changed in the prosecution of Philip Arthur Thompson was a massive increase in the secrecy of court proceedings.  El Dorado County still refuses to release the autopsy and coroner’s report in this 36-year-old murder in spite of a December 3, 2007 order by the Third District Court of Appeals directing them to do so.  A new Judge James Wagoner has repeatedly sealed court hearings and occasionally closed the courtroom to spectators at the request of Deputy District Attorney Trish Kelliher, under the direction of Vern Pierson.  There has been no indication that the new DA reconsidered the evidence against Thompson or gave any thought to the intervention in the case of intelligence operative Michael Riconosciuto.

The prosecution continues to make every effort to re-structure the killing of Betty Marie Cloer into a single event unrelated to any other homicide. The new picture of the Cloer murder is one of a simple rape case. The cold case recreated by now retired Detective Hal Lamb and promoted by the DA Trish Kelliher will be presented to a jury in the last week of February 2008, five years after the arrest of Philip Arthur Thompson.

Virginia McCullough © 12/18/07