‘This faceless killer haunts us’ | 30 years later, the case of the brutal stabbing of a pregnant woman remains unsolved
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - There have been so many senseless homicides over the years that over time, the memory fades. Years go by, and as their cases turn cold, they are often forgotten. But not this one. Not the one that was so brutal, so beyond the pale of anything human. No, this one would never be forgotten.
The memories of Valencia Reynolds are as strong now as they were nearly 30 years ago.
“She was very excited that night,” remembers her aunt Joyce Morris. “We visited for a few hours. She was in a good mood, completely normal. Nothing seemed different.”
Excited and busy. Valencia was a 21-year-old mother of an 18-month-old little boy, and was nine months pregnant with a baby girl, due any day. She was a college student during the day studying nursing, then worked nights as a cashier at Schnucks. On May 15, 1992, after she visited her aunt, Valencia headed home to her small house in the 10100 block of Lord Drive in the Castle Point neighborhood. It was already late, and she had big plans for the weekend: Valencia was going car shopping.
Joyce Morris still thinks about that final night with her niece. And then she thinks about what happened after Valencia left.
“I woke up in the middle of the night feeling really weird. I had a terrible headache. I had this feeling like I needed to call Valencia, to talk to her, but it was too late. I didn’t want to bother her,” Morris said. “And then the phone rang in the morning and we were told to come to her house. And I just knew something was terribly wrong.”
Valencia’s mother Cozette Ford was also worried. Things may have looked good on the outside, but the mother worried about what was happening to her daughter on the inside.
“I woke up at two in the morning Saturday morning and something said ‘call your baby, call right now.’ I called her and the phone rang and rang and rang and rang and I thought ‘I’m gonna call back’ and I hung up,” Ford said. “I called back and the phone had been taken off the hook and I remember telling my husband ‘wake up, wake up, something is wrong with Val, wake up.’”
Sometime during that fateful night, someone entered Valencia’s home. Witnesses reported seeing a man leave the house in the early morning. Left behind was unbearable pain for her family that still boils today.
“I don’t wish this pain upon anyone,” her cousin Armand Morris said. “This is the worst nightmare that anyone can possibly endure.”
By the time dawn broke, police had surrounded the outside of Valencia’s home. Inside was a crime scene beyond belief.
Valencia was lying on the floor in her bedroom, murdered, having been stabbed more than 25 times. The fetus of her baby due any day was also killed. There was no sign of forced entry. No robbery. Whoever entered that house in the middle of the night either had a key, or was let in by Valencia. The killer left few clues behind.
“There was just a lack of physical evidence at the scene,” said Joe Burgoon, now the cold case investigator for St. Louis County. Burgoon has inherited the case after retiring as the longtime lead homicide detective for St. Louis City. He’s handled thousands of cases, spanning more than 60 years in law enforcement. “But clearly, the killer was looking for something. They had ruffled through Valencia’s purse, there were papers strewn across the floor.”
There was one thing the killer did leave behind: the 18-month-old little boy, alone, in the dark, with his bloodied mother and her unborn child.
Police immediately focused on two obvious suspects, the men in Valencia’s life. Antoine Jackson was the father of the unborn child, and Ricky Herron was the father of the 18-month-old left alive.
It was Jackson who discovered Valencia’s body, having come by her house to check on her around 9 a.m. Friends told police the couple were engaged, but Valencia had decided to break the relationship off. The relationship with Herron had long been frayed, although he did make attempts to see his son.
Police quickly ruled both men out as suspects.
Jackson was living with another woman at the time. Police say he also had a solid alibi for the evening, and passed a polygraph. Weeks after Valencia’s death, Jackson married the other woman.
Herron failed his polygraph but he also had a solid alibi, having spent the night at a hotel with multiple witnesses. Police checked his room and found nothing. Herron has always proclaimed his innocence in the case. Two years later, Herron would run afoul of the law, and get sentenced to 10 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter after stabbing a man to death during an argument.
When their early leads dried up, police began questioning neighbors from across the street, who were known to have frequented Valencia’s home. All were cleared.
“The family just assumed, we had a lot of assumptions, that it had to be somebody she was having a bad relationship with,” Morris said. “And then it kind of got dragged out and there was no answers and people were starting to slowly get left off the hook.”
The family went to friends asking for donations for a reward and came up with $2,000. Two years later, with no new leads in the case, they raised $5,000. They hired a private investigator. Still nothing.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. The case had gone ice cold.
“It was scary,” Morris said. “A lot of questions that went unanswered because it was so unique and weird. It was like this boogie monster has taken over and no one put a face to it and to this day this boogie monster still kind of haunts us. It’s been extremely frustrating. It’s just a pain that has lingered on and on and on because there aren’t any answers. It’s hard. It’s hard. It’s just an open wound. You have this faceless killer. It just haunts us.”
The years passed by and one thing never changed. A little boy was growing up. His father was no longer part of his life, and he still longed for his mother.
“I’ve known this for literally my entire life. My entire life,” Aki said. “I have not known what happened. And I was right there.”
Today, Aki is 30 years old. He has never spoken publicly about that night until now.
“I was literally the only person right there. Couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t say anything,” Aki said. “Couldn’t go for help. Couldn’t be there for her. Just right there.”
He may only have been 18 months old, but Aki has a vision deep in his memory.
“The only thing in my head that I remember is a police officer literally walking into my room, picking me up out of my crib and walking me out of the house. I can remember the house,” Aki said. “I can remember the door. I can see everyone involved. There’s at least five or six officers. I just sat in the car and then they closed the door.”
Ford would step up and raise Aki. There was no other choice, not after what Valencia told her mother before she was murdered.
“‘Mom, if something should happen to me, promise me you will raise my baby,’” Ford recalled.
And she did. And Aki will never forget it.
“Oh, amazing lady. I can’t give her enough thank yous, hugs, enough love,” Aki said. “She literally stopped everything she had and basically raised another kid from scratch all over again.”
Aki is a successful young man now. But he is still haunted about that night 30 years ago. In his heart, he says … he knows.
“Yeah, definitely. This is kind of a no brainer for me. I want that closure. I want to be able to say I can forgive you, but I just want to know why,” Aki said.
Someday, DNA advancements may help solve Valencia’s case. Suspects from years ago have their DNA on record. Police just need a piece of evidence, and a match.
And therein lies the hope for Valencia’s family.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” Morris said. “We are really banking on technology. Once we piece that puzzle together, we can get this resolved.”
For Ford, the pain of that night will never end.
“When you lose a child, I don’t care what anybody says, you can’t just forget that child. You cannot forget it,” Ford said.
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