Back in 1976, a boy named Donald Miles Whaley, just 12 years old, liked to hang out at a local shopping center. Barbara Dyer Channell, who at the time worked at May Co., knew Donald – nicknamed Donnie – when he’d go to the department store to play its juke box.
At the time, “His family lived down the street from my family on Graves Avenue”, Barbara said. Now, after all these years, she can’t shake the case from her mind. After nearly four decades, she says it feels as if the smart-alecky, confident boy she remembers has been forgotten.
On the morning of September 25, 1976, Donald’s mother, Sandra Jean Whaley, reported her son missing since 8 p.m. the night before. Donald, who was wearing a brown Levi jacket, white shirt, brown corduroy pants and blue tennis shoes, had told his sister he leaving to walk home with his girlfriend, who had been at his house visiting. Donald never made it home.
He was last been seen walking near the intersection of Magnolia and Madison avenues in El Cajon, a city in east San Diego County. Nine El Cajon police officers went door-to-door within a five-square-block area from where the boy was last seen, questioning every household.
Six days later, on a Friday morning at 7 a.m. on October 1, Donald’s body was found in a drainage ditch in the Murphy Canyon area, some 10 miles from his home. His body, which was believed to have been tossed from a bridge, was found near an abandoned sand-and-gravel plant in the canyon.
Donald had been sexually assaulted and then strangled. The San Diego County coroner’s office reported at the time that he’d most likely been killed shortly after he was abducted. While the El Cajon Police Department initially investigated it as case number 151058, it was handed off to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
It’s now shown on both department’s Websites as a cold case with a brief description.Several phone calls to each department, including the records division of the sheriff’s department and the homicide unit of El Cajon police, have turned up zero information and unanswered messages. No one seems to know which jurisdiction has the case. What we do know, according to news reports at the time, is that Donald was a seventh grader at Emerald Junior High School in El Cajon, and had left his home at around 8 o’clock on a Saturday night. Then his body was found a few days later.
Barbara Channell wants to know if DNA was collected from the crime scene and, if so, has it been submitted for a possible match to the FBI’s National DNA Index System, which contains DNA contributed by federal, state, and local participating forensic laboratories. Over the years, she has emailed and called law enforcement but has learned nothing. “No one seems interested,” she said.
Looking back, Channell noted, “Donald was a pest coming in to the store and filling up our juke box with songs. We’d shoo him away. He had a smart mouth and seemed street smart. He thought he could take anyone on.” The biggest sticking point for Barbara Channell is the question of DNA. “It just seems like there should be DNA from the crime scene,” she said.
The answer at this point is unknown.
Author: Cathy Scott, true crime author, journalist and blogger based in Las Vegas and San Diego