In The Footsteps of a Killer: The Writer’s Cut


Irvine resident Janelle Cruz, who was slain at age 18.


Irvine, May 5 1986

Things were looking up for Janelle Cruz. The cutting that had drifted from her arm to her wrist and landed her in two psychiatric hospitals was behind her. A recent ten-month stint in the Job Corps in Utah had been successful. She was back home in Irvine, working part-time as a cashier at Bullwinkle’s pizza. It was a Sunday night in May, her family was out of town, and the striking 18-year-old—a cross between Brooke Shields and Mariel Hemingway—was visiting with a male friend when they heard a noise in the backyard. Janelle looked out her bedroom window but saw nothing.

Probably a cat, she said.

Fifteen minutes later they heard another noise, this time from the attached garage. Janelle dismissed it as the washing machine. It was 10:45 p.m. The friend, a little spooked, said he had to be on his way. He left.

The next afternoon a realtor showing the Cruz home to a prospective buyer discovered Janelle’s body in her bedroom. She had been raped and bludgeoned, most seriously to the forehead, probably with a pipe wrench that was missing from the backyard.

Janelle’s 17-year-old sister, Michelle, was vacationing in Mammoth when a friend called to tell her about the murder. For a moment she misheard.

“Janelle was married?!” she said.

Michelle may have had on her mind a long white dress with a shawl their mother had recently bought Janelle during a family trip to Palm Springs.  The dress had sparked discussions about Janelle’s dreams of one day getting married. In the weeks before her daughter’s murder Diane Stein was optimistic about Janelle’s outlook.  “Life,” she told filmmaker Cameron Cloutier in a taped interview, “was going to happen again.”

The trip to Palm Springs is an especially warm memory. They laughed. They shopped. Janelle modeled the long white dress in the store and talked about details of the wedding she’d have one day.

Stein looks down. Her smile tightens. “We buried her in that white dress,” she says.

Source material for this excerpt was provided by Cameron Cloutier, who’s in the process of developing a feature film about Janelle Cruz’s murder.


NEXT: Excerpt VI: A Delayed—and DeadlyDiscovery