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Childhood friends seek justice in Citrus Heights murder mystery

Organizer Tracy Ferris stands at Rusch Park on July 7, during a “Justice for Jimmy” event. // M. Hazlip

By Sara Beth Williams and Mike Hazlip–
On Friday morning, several current and former Citrus Heights residents from decades past gathered together at Rusch Community Park to call for “Justice for Jimmy,” the 7-year-old victim of a 1964 unsolved murder case that occurred a half-mile west of Sylvan Corners.

Those who attended the memorial were childhood playmates of James “Jimmy” Gaul, Jr., and all lived on the same block where his body was discovered lying naked in a field. According to a July 5 press release, the goal of the gathering was to shed light on the 59-year-old case and bring awareness to cold cases in general that have gone unsolved.

Renewed coverage of the case in November 2022 drew the attention of Karen Lalonde, a retired teacher and avid researcher from Ohio who found the cold case story on Facebook and contacted Ferris. Together, they began a renewed effort to seek more answers.

“We’re not giving up,” Lalonde said, adding that she has sent letters to the District Attorney’s office, and to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s office.

After months of researching and reaching out to people who were impacted by Gaul’s murder, Lalonde and Ferris organized the “Justice for Jimmy” event at Rusch Park on Friday and invited childhood residents and local media outlets.

One of those in attendance was Don Shepard, who recalled frequently playing in the same field where Gaul was last seen. He said multiple homes in the neighborhood were connected to the field, making it a popular place for all the children to play.

In a CBS Sacramento interview, another woman at the event recalled going home after playing with her sister and Gaul in the field. She said her sister came home 45 minutes later, but Gaul never returned.

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

Shepard said he lived at the end of the block and his wife lived across the street when she was a child. He recalled multiple neighborhood children who lived on the block and talked about when each person moved away, but he said he doesn’t recall his family being interviewed at all following Gaul’s murder, though newspaper clippings claim to have interviewed “778 persons.”

As previously reported, a woman came to visit Ferris’ Citrus Heights home in May of 2003, asking if she could look around at her childhood home.

Ferris and her husband accommodated the woman, and afterward she offered to send her photos of what the home used to look like. Two years later, the woman also sent Ferris a bound book filled with old photos, personal letters, and article clippings centered around Gaul’s slaying. The personal written accounts claim her father knew details about the murder that no one outside of law enforcement would be privy to.

In a video interview with The Sentinel, Ferris said she turned all the evidence given to her into the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department. Ferris said that after decades of no closure, those who gathered on Friday morning were “holding the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department responsible for their irresponsibility with the evidence box that has been misplaced.’”

Almost two decades later, after receiving no further information on the case, Ferris reached out to the local community for help.

“Our concern is: has law enforcement even contacted the writer of the manuscript, who implies that her family member knows something about the murder?” Lalonde said during a video interview with The Sentinel. She also emphasized that she has attempted to contact the woman and her family multiple times via telephone and letters and has received no replies.

“The ‘Justice for Jimmy’ movement is an effort to educate the public about the mismanagement of evidence and to advocate for families searching for closure,” Ferris said.

Attempts on Friday morning to reach the lead sergeant involved with Gaul’s cold case by Sentinel staff went unanswered by press time.

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