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Cold Case: Renewed interest arises in unsolved murder of Citrus Heights boy

Newspaper clippings from The Sacramento Bee reference the murder of 7-year-old Jimmy Gaul in Citrus Heights.

Sentinel staff report–
In May, 1964, the murder of seven-year-old James (Jimmy) Gaul, Jr., shook the small rural area of Citrus Heights. Almost 60 years later, the murder remains unsolved.

In 2001, Tracy Ferris and her husband moved into a property near to where Gaul’s body was once discovered. According to archived newspaper articles from The Sacramento Bee, the naked body of Gaul was found in waist-high weeds in a field a block from his home.

Ferris said in an interview with The Sentinel that in the 1960s, the field abutted to Ferris’ property. She didn’t know any of this at the time, however, until a woman came to visit her in May of 2003, asking if she could look around at her childhood home.

Ferris and her husband accommodated the woman, and afterward the woman offered to send her photos of what the home used to look like when she was a child. What the woman sent her in the mail would change Ferris’ life forever.

In 2005, Ferris received a bound book filled with old photos and letters written by the woman, along with Sacramento Bee newspaper articles detailing the disappearance and discovery of Gaul’s deceased body.

Ferris said that all of the letters the woman wrote to her were “from her 8-year-old perspective.” She claimed to be the sister of a young boy mentioned in 1964 articles as being one of the last people to see Gaul alive.

“Based on my feeling that I got from the woman, and everything that I’ve read and experienced I do not believe that this woman was making anything up,” Ferris said.

The articles in the bound book detail a frantic hunt for a murderer who to this day still remains unknown. Headlines read “Great Hunt is Pushed for Strangler of Boy,” “778 Persons are Quizzed in Boy’s Slaying,” and “Hunt Goes on for Boy’s Killer.”

A decade later, Gaul’s mother, Dolores Michaels, wrote a “Letter to an Unknown Slayer” and requested it be published in the Sacramento Bee. In the letter, she expresses her devastation throughout.

“Ten years go, you killed my son. My healthy, happy, robust 7-year-old boy was no more,” Michaels wrote.

The bound book of photographs, newspaper articles and letters shed new light on the murder investigation. Some of the letters tell a side of the story no one had heard before—like how her father knew details about the murder that no one outside of law enforcement would be privy to, how her parents allowed her and her siblings to walk to school alone on the following Monday when all the other families were terrified to let their kids walk to school alone after the boy’s death, and how, two days after the body was discovered, her parents packed up the entire house and left in the middle of the night to move out of state.

Ferris said she made copies and submitted all of the evidence to the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department in 2005, and called them diligently to check on the progress of the investigation, but never heard anything.

In 2004, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s office established the Cold Case Investigations Unit, which seeks to reevaluate previously unsolved homicides and sexual assault cases. The Cold Case Investigations Unit webpage emphasizes that the use of new technologies allows the possibility of bringing closure to previously unsolved crimes.

The Sentinel submitted a request to the cold case unit on Thursday and is awaiting further information about the status of Gaul’s case. Contact information for the woman who provided Ferris with documents about the murder was unable to be obtained.

Ferris said she rediscovered the original bound book of photos and articles while packing to move to a new residence, prompting her to reach out to the Citrus Heights community through one of the Crime Watch groups on Facebook.

“I feel like it’s solvable. At this time in 2022, this is solvable,” Ferris said. “I don’t know why nobody in the county is looking into it anymore.”

Although she has since moved, Ferris’ hope for justice has been renewed. After reaching out to the Citrus Heights Crime Watch Community group on Facebook, her story was picked up and aired on a local news station, which reported the case is still open although no suspects have been identified. She now plans to resubmit the evidence to the Sacramento Sheriff’s office.

Gaul’s memory won’t soon be forgotten. Larry Fritz, president of the Citrus Heights Historical Society, confirmed that a memorial was erected at Rusch Park in 1977 that honored Gaul, as well as another child who died accidentally. The monument can still be seen today, near the toddler’s playground and baseball field.

Editor’s Note: The Sentinel will be covering a story on the monument next week. Sign up for The Sentinel’s weekly email editions to follow this story.

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