Kathy Tessanne never let it go.
Every so often for more than 30 years, Tessanne contacted Fullerton police and asked if there was any new information on a 1982 missing person case.
“She just wanted to know what happened to her foster brother,” said Police Chief Dan Hughes. “She never gave up.”
Last week, Fullerton police detectives gave Tessanne and her siblings grim but not unexpected news.
DNA tests conducted by the Orange County crime lab revealed that a partial skull found by hikers in 1985 near Big Bear has been identified as belonging to Frank Bartlett Marshall, Tessanne’s long-missing foster brother.
The detectives weren’t finished: the skull, they explained, had a bullet hole in it, confirming her worst fears. Marshall, who was last seen when he drove his motorcycle away from her family’s Fullerton home on Jan. 2, 1982, had been murdered.
The detectives had more.
New evidence led them to question a convicted killer serving two life terms for two murders of young men who had disappeared in very similar circumstances from Fullerton in late 1981.
And the detectives told Tessanne that inmate – David Richard Campbell, 67 – confessed to killing Marshall and spreading his remains in rugged terrain near Big Bear in what he called a Tibetan sky burial, according to Hughes.
Campbell also acknowledged during questioning that he killed the other two victims – whose skeletal remains were found scattered in Riverside County – and led them to the locations where skeletal remnants of all three victims were found, Hughes said.
“It’s all so overwhelming.” Tessanne said a few days after Fullerton police officially informed her, her sister Deborah Marsh and her brother Rob Hebert that Marshall’s remains had been found. Tessanne’s family took Marshall in as a teenager so he could finish high school in Fullerton after his family moved to Northern California in the 1970s.
“It’s very sad and unfortunate what happened to Bart (as Marshall was known), but oh my gosh, after 31 years, the truth finally comes out,” she said. “I am so grateful to the Fullerton Police Department for taking this case and giving us the truth. They did an unbelievable job.”
She said she, her two brothers and sister had been very close to Marshall, and that his disappearance “bothered me for so long. I just couldn’t let it go.”
Tessanne said that when Fullerton detectives told her about the DNA results, “it felt like the missing piece to our family puzzle had been put in.”
Special-circumstances murder charges will be filed against Campbell on Wednesday, prosecutors said.
“We admire and appreciate whenever the police go to any lengths to see that justice is done,” said Deputy District Larry Yellin, who reviewed the Fullerton investigation of the Marshall case and decided to file charges. “They took a missing persons case that was 30 years old that no one ever investigated as a homicide and made it happen.”
The Marshall case was the first one investigated by Fullerton’s new cold case investigative team – Detectives Ed Contreras and Tom Bashaw – formed in mid-2011 to look at unsolved homicide cases.
It became their first case because of the persistence of Tessanne, Hughes said.
“We would not have re-opened this case had it not been for the passion of a sister wanting to know what happened to her foster brother,” Hughes said.
Campbell, who has been locked up for more than 30 years for killing two Orange County men in 1981, was questioned about Marshall’s disappearance in 1982 but was never arrested.
But he was tried, convicted of murder and sentenced to two life terms in Riverside County for the ritualistic killings of two other young Fullerton men who disappeared in late 1981. In both of those cases, the victims’ heads were severed after they were shot to death.
Campbell was sentenced by a Riverside Superior Court judge in 1984 to 27 years to life in prison for the murder of William Kemble Raber, 30, of Buena Park, who disappeared on Oct. 30, 1981, and was never seen alive again. Raber’s headless torso was found in November 1981 near Vail Lake in Riverside with a bullet wound in the heart.
Campbell was arrested in connection with Raber’s killing on Jan. 12, 1982, but by then, the other two other men had disappeared.
John Fischer, 17, of Fullerton went missing on Dec. 30, 1981. And Bart Marshall, 26, rode away from his foster family’s home on his motorcycle on Jan. 2, 1982.
Three years later – in February 1985 – Boy Scouts found Fischer’s skull in the Hurkey Creek area near Idyllwild – about 25 miles from Vail Lake. His body was never found. But a bullet taken from Fischer’s skull matched the gun that was used to kill Raber, authorities said in 1986.
Campbell was tried again in Riverside County, convicted of murdering Fischer and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
He was serving his double life sentence in 2011 when the Fullerton cold-case squad took another look at the Marshall missing persons case after the latest request from Tessanne.
Marshall’s disappearance in January 1982 was listed for years as a lower-priority missing persons case rather than a homicide, in part because there was no body, police said.
But apparently some of Marshall’s skeletal remains – including his skull – actually had been found near Big Bear in 1985. Those remains went unidentified for 30 years – until Fullerton police asked the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Crime Lab to compare the DNA with Marshall.
The detectives also questioned Campbell in Salinas Valley prison, where he is serving his two life terms for the Raber and Fischer murders.
Campbell confessed to killing all three men – claiming he feared they were going to kill him or harm others, Hughes said, and also agreed to show the detectives – while in handcuffs and under tight security – where he disposed of their bodies in a ritual he called a Tibetan sky burial.
According to Wikipedia, a Tibetan sky burial is a ritual practice where the deceased is dissected and placed on a mountaintop to expose it to the elements.
“This whole thing has been tough to take,” said Sky Marshall, Bart’s younger brother, who heard last week from Fullerton police that his brother’s remains had been identified and that the lifer inmate suspected of killing him was about to be charged. “It kind of hits me in bursts, and I get emotional sometimes.”
But he said his family is glad they learned the truth about what happened to his older brother, and happy to learn that Campbell has been in custody – for more than 30 years – since the week of his brother’s disappearance, albeit on other charges.
He said his brother was a strong, tough and athletic man who made friends easily, played the guitar and was deeply spiritual.
“He was a seeker,” Sky Marshall said.
By LARRY WELBORN/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
If you are charged with a crime, contact an experienced Orange County Bail Bondsman to assist you in any bail situation.