UPDATE (3/7/2020) – Two women who were convicted in the death of Lester Lloyd Janise were sentenced to prison last week.
You can read the full story of their sentencing here.
MIDVALE (ABC 4 News) – After nine years, Unified Police Department have finally been able to make two arrests in a cold case regarding the death of 62-year-old Lester Lloyd Janise.
“Today’s a really good day for us. Anytime we can solve a cold case, it’s a good thing for the police department, the citizens of Salt Lake County, and the family of the victim,” said Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Sheriff Rivera described Janise as a leader in the Native American community and a Vietnam War who was awarded a purple heart.
According to the probable cause statement, Janise was found dead, slumped over the couch, with two belts around his neck by officers in his home at the Candlestick Lane Apartments on January 13, 2009. The call for a wellness check was made after apartment staff noticed that newspapers had not been collected from his porch for several days. The medical examiner ruled he died by ligature strangulation.
In Janise’s apartment, investigators found female clothing, baby items, and a notebook with the name, ‘Victoria’ inside. They said Janise’s vehicle, a 2002 Ford Windstar minivan was missing.
Documents state Janise had traveled to South Dakota for his brother’s funeral in December 2008 and returned to Utah with Victoria Bigcrow Clown, 29, and Jerah Jean Santos-Ramirez, 29, and their children. Det. Ben Pender with Unified Police Department said Janise had previously dated Clown and Santos-Ramirez’s mother and have been in and out of their lives through childhood.
Family members reported that on January 21, 2009, Clown and Santos-Ramirez had returned to South Dakota and Janise’s vehicle was in their driveway.
Upon questioning, both Clown and Santos-Ramirez told detectives Janise gave them permission on December 24, 2008 to take his car back to South Dakota with their children. They claimed Janise was still alive when they left Utah on December 25, 2008.
The case went cold. In 2011, the Midvale Police Department merged with the Unified Police Department, who took over Janise’s murder case. They reopened the case in 2014 when new information came in.
“When we have these kinds of crimes that are unsolved, they leave an open wound for the victim’s family and they provide no opportunity for closure for that community where the crime occurred,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
“I want to make it clear that the case never died. It just stayed active and it’s been a cold case. In 2014, we received new information and started working the case again,” said Sheriff Rivera.
Gill said it was thanks to a fresh pair of eyes, reevaluating the case, that investigators decided to re-interview Clown.
“I kind of knew already what happened in the case. As we were going along in this extensive interview that lasted around 4 hours, I could see that it had been weighing on her,” said Det. Pender. “I actually showed her a picture of Lester and that was kind of the turning point and things kind of changed. I think Victoria had a good relationship with him. I think she looked up to him and I think she was the right person who was going to help us in this case.”
This time, Clown explained that Santos-Ramirez had left her children with her and Janise for four days. When she returned to the apartment on December 28, 2009, an argument ensued between her and Janise about the abandonment of her children.
“Santos-Ramirez was running around with another individual, one of Lester’s friends and hadn’t come home for a few days. I think Santos-Ramirez was getting on the nerves of Janise and Clown and they couldn’t get her to come back home. I think when she finally came home, Janise was very frustrated and unloaded on her,” said Det. Pender.
According to the probable cause statement, “Clown told the interviewing officers that the argument lasted over an hour, and that, during the argument, Santos-Ramirez told Clown that she needed a ride out of there. Santos-Ramirez had an idea to knock Janise out, but she was concerned that he would call the police after he woke up.”
Clown testified that she heard scuffling and fighting noises coming from the living room before Santos-Ramirez came to her room and said they needed to leave. On their way out, she said she glanced over to the living room and saw Janise lying on the side on the sofa, giving investigators the information they needed to press charges.
Det. Pender said Clown has been arrested and transported to from Georgia and Santos-Ramirez from Nevada, where they currently lived. They face first-degree felony charges of murder, aggravated robbery, and obstructing justice.
“We have notified Janise’s family. Lester’s sister, who is very elderly said she’s very happy that we solved this, but also hurt that he fought in a war yet this is how his life was taken,” said Sheriff Rivera.
Midvale City Manager Kane Loader said having a large agency like Unified Police Department was a big factor in solving the case.
“Midvale is one of the smaller cities in the Salt Lake valley – 34,000 people. But we have big city problems,” said Loader. “The advantage of having a large police department’s capability while being a small city has shown itself many, many times in my city. Resources are limited in a smaller city to keep on with a case like this and that’s the advantage of being in the Unified Police Department.”