Four years ago then Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson expressed confidence that his detectives would make an arrest in the 2015 murder of 25-year-old Hughson native Lauren Grace London. His detectives just needed more time.
As the fifth anniversary of her charred body being found in an orchard east of Blaker Road near the back side of Central Valley High School passed on March 16, there’s been no arrest. The victim’s mother, Denise Dodge London Donnell of Hughson, is losing hope that her daughter’s murderer – possibly murderers – will be caught.
Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. John Howard said his department still considers the case active and wants closure for the family as well.
“Rest assured, we are all working toward the same goal,” said Sgt. Howard, who expressed hope for an arrest. “We feel for the family and know the family wants closure,” said Sgt. Howard. “We want to solve this case too.”
Detective David Hickman is assigned to the London homicide and will follow up on any leads from the public. He may be reached at 525-7042. Anonymous information may also be submitted to Crime Stoppers by call 1 (866) 602-7463 or (209) 521-4636. Tips may also be submitted online at www.stancrimetips.org
“Each case is different. A lot of times in these cases – we can never put up a timeline on them but we try to rerun them, hoping some new leads come in. But we’re hopeful to make an arrest,” said Sgt. Howard. “We just need somebody that has information regarding her death, or information that they would deem helpful to us, to give us a call and see if we can follow up on leads.”
Investigators are using the Lauren’s 25th birthday of March 16 in 2015 as her date of death. It was the day her burned body was found in Ceres.
Initial reports that a moving dolly was among the physical evidence collected at the scene – indicating she may have been killed elsewhere – was not confirmed by Sgt. Howard. The department has not released information on how she died and won’t disclose if Lauren was killed in the location where her body was found.
Anthony Bejeran, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman at the time, commented that the burning of the body showed “a bit more aggression” than in typical homicides.
He said so far this year the Sheriff’s Department has solved all of its 2020 murder cases.
The prevailing theory is that her murder was somehow drug related.
Lauren grew up in Hughson recall and friends remember her as a loving person with infectious laughter, a girl who didn’t take herself seriously. Those who attended Hughson High School with her up until her 2008 graduation remember she was a good volleyball player who was voted senior class clown in the Huskies yearbook.
Denise has her hunches that the homicide was related to Lauren’s drug addiction and possible lifestyle.
“I’ve always assumed that she was at the point where she would do anything. So not having any money...I just assume because she was really pretty and that worried me because I knew that she would draw a lot of attention.”
Prior to her death, Lauren had been hanging out with drug addicts at the Tiki Lodge on McHenry Avenue in Modesto, a known hotbed of criminal activity rife with prostitution, drug abuse and fighting. Denise said her daughter was staying with others who managed to get vouchers for emergency housing. While picking up or dropping off Lauren for occasional lunch dates, Denise was introduced to her friends whose faces whose faces were pocked by meth sores.
After high school, Lauren attended Merced Junior College before studying at a local beauty college and worked for a hair stylist at a salon. Like most young women, she took care at being fashionable, and enjoyed spending time with her friends. Her Facebook page depicted a happy young woman doing fun things with friends – until 2012 when her drinking became a problem. She turned to Alcoholics Anonymous for a while, eventually leading meetings where she met a man named James who allegedly introduced her to drugs. The two moved in together at his mother’s house and Lauren became pregnant and gave birth to daughter Kennidee in April 2013. Donnell says James physically abused Lauren and was the one Lauren referred to in a May 2014 Facebook post. Donnell said he is not a suspect in the murder.
Despite being “hardcore in love” with her baby, drugs took their toll on Lauren who began neglecting caring for the infant. Denise said when she noticed the baby dirty with severe diaper rash she stepped in. Kennidee was about 11 months old when James’ mother came to Denise and explained Lauren was hooked on heroin. Denise convinced Lauren that Lauren couldn’t adequately care for Kennidee and that she needed to file for permanent guardianship.
Lauren eventually moved in with her father in Turlock.
Lauren slipped further away from her family and old friends. Her Facebook page tells the story of friends reaching out, saying they missed her, and suggesting getting together but they went unanswered. By early 2014 Lauren had visibly lost a lot of weight, looking gaunt. In June 2014 she announced on Facebook she was 93 pounds.
Denise said she attempted to stay in contact with Lauren by giving her cell phones that would “disappear.” Lauren claimed that she lost them but Denise believes they were being sold for drugs. Contact became rarer and typically occurred through Facebook messages made while she was on friends’ phones. When Lauren did message her mom, Denise was quick to suggest that the two get together, often for lunch. Their last good visit was Christmas 2014 when they spent the day together and Lauren got to visit her baby. Denise then drove Lauren back to the motel on McHenry Avenue.
Ten days before her death, Lauren contacted her mom to see if she would activate a cell phone that she obtained. Denise refused but asked Lauren if she was ready to get help. Lauren hesitated before replying that she was. Denise found a place on Orangeburg Avenue that would accept Lauren under her medical insurance plan. The staff began processing Lauren’s information but then wanted a $2,500 check from Denise, explaining that they were unable to get ahold of the company and needed immediate payment. Denise was unable to write the check, even if she were going to be reimbursed later. The mother and daughter left the facility with Lauren promising she would check herself in the following day.
“She swore she was going to go back but said, ‘There’s someone I need to tell I’m going to be doing this.’”
Denise’s told her daughter that if there was someone controlling her, she needed to get out.
Lauren replied, “No, I can’t. I need to say something.”
When she dropped Lauren off at the Tiki it would be the last time she would see her daughter. While in the parking lot, a friend of Lauren’s appeared. Lauren told her mom that she had to meet him, jokingly announcing that he was going to be Kennidee’s godfather. The friend asked Lauren for “something” because he wasn’t feeling good. Lauren cleared her throat and told her friend that Denise was her mom. Before leaving, Denise told him: “It’s your job to make sure she goes there tomorrow.”
Her daughter had to want recovery for it to work, Denise thought, and had the tools she needed but Lauren never checked into the program. The next day the staff called Denise looking for Lauren. Over a week passed with no additional contact.
Denise was notified of Lauren’s death when a Sheriff’s detective contacted her ex-husband, Miles London, looking for her.
Authorities identified Lauren through a partial fingerprint from the body even though it was badly burned, she said.
Denise is haunted by questions which have yet to be answered.
“It took like forever to even get her death certificate because they couldn’t determine anything. They don’t know did that (fire) kill her? Was she already dead? Was she killed there?”
She did learn that the dirt road where Lauren’s body was discovered is used by drug addicts and derelicts wanting to avoid police contact.
Denise began looking to social media for any clues as to who killed her daughter. She was intrigued by one set of seemingly cryptic comments on Facebook that featured an address in Ceres. She reported that information to investigators but never heard back. She was also told that some people were afraid to talk to detectives for what they knew.
In February 2016 then Sheriff Christianson told the Courier that: “We always know more about our cases than we are willing to release for a variety of reasons. While I would love to give you all of the details, I guess I’m simply going to ask that you trust us that we will solve this case but there’s a whole lot more to this story that we simply can’t talk about. It’s like a lot of cases where the public is left with the perception that nothing’s happening or it’s a cold case homicide or it’s a dead end, or gee how come you haven’t made an arrest yet? I’d love to tell you why. But I will tell you that I am confident we will make an arrest in this case.”
Donnell was skeptical when she heard the comment and remains so today.