exposing the dark side of adoption
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1992 slaying victim identified, exhumed from Tempe cemetery


By Mike Sakal

A 16-year-old girl whose body was discovered murdered in a north Phoenix desert area nearly 20 years ago and later buried as a Jane Doe in the Double Butte Cemetery in Tempe has been identified and a Phoenix police homicide investigation seeking leads to find her killer is under way.

Her name is Shannon Aumock, who was classified as a “throwaway child” who lived her life adopted, as a foster child under Child Protective Services and as a chronic runaway. She had behavioral problems and contact with police nearly every week of her life from 1989 to 1991 as she ran away at least 40 times in that period, according to police.

Among the rumble of the adjacent Interstate 10 East and at the foot of one of the buttes, Aumock’s body was exhumed on Tuesday, days after her biological mother’s DNA was found to be a match to the DNA profile forensic examiners built from Shannon’s corpse. Her body was found in a pile of trash by an ATV rider in an undeveloped area of the 2600 block of Deer Valley Road between 20th and 26th streets on May 28, 1992.

“She was tossed aside in death as she was in life,” said Detective Stuart Somershoe of the Phoenix Police Department’s Missing Persons Unit, who began investigating her case with his partner, Will Anderson, last fall.

What got the attention of the missing persons detectives about Aumock’s case that they began investigating last fall is that she was brutally murdered and no one called to report her missing.

“Nobody who dies should ever go as unidentified,” Somershoe said. “Everybody has a mother, everybody has a brother. The good news is that we’ve identified her. The bad news is, we still have a child murderer on the loose.”

Shannon’s birth had been the product of a sexual assault to a 16-year-old mother, who gave her to CPS when she was 3. Shannon was adopted at that age by a Flagstaff family who later lived in Scottsdale, but because of what they said were “uncontrollable behavioral issues,” gave her back to CPS when she was 12.

Aumock’s cause of death was strangulation, according to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office. She was never listed as missing because about a month before her death, she ran away from the last group home she was in under CPS care soon after she was released from the Adobe Mountain Detention Center, Somershoe said.

CPS petitioned the court to relinquish their responsibility of her since she had run away so many times and the last time, could not find her.

Aumock, who had just turned 16, did not have a driver’s license, a job or a Social Security number. No one called authorities to offer any information or tips even after a composite sketch of the girl was released to the public.

But all it took to identify her decades later was one critical break.

Against what a forensic anthropologist for the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office said was “astronomical odds,” Aumock’s biological mother still lived in the Valley. Aumock’s mother provided her DNA to Phoenix police detectives, who began reviewing 1,600 reports on runaways between 1991 and 1994 last fall hoping to identify the girl. Aumock was wearing an orange flower-covered shirt, blue jeans, a black bow in her hair and her pink thick glasses were found near her body.

“She was on our radar ever since I walked through the door of the medical examiner’s office in June, 1992, when I began working there,” said Dr. Laura Fulginiti, a forensic psychologist for the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office. “We were thinking we were going to get her identified right away. It didn’t happen. It took good old-fashioned police grunt work to figure this one out.”

With the help of an ongoing $138,000 federal grant received by the county through the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission and National Institute of Justice to fund research for unidentified deaths, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office has exhumed 24 bodies this year and has identified four of them. The county medical examiner’s office also has leads on three more unidentified deaths, including a man believed from Chandler who was killed in a motorcycle crash in the late 1980s.

Also exhumed on Tuesday was the body of a young woman, who was discovered strangled to death in a field in the 4800 block of East Williams Field Road in Gilbert in 1983. The woman was at least 18 years old and had a lot of orthodontic work done.

Phoenix police also are assisting Tempe police on a case of a young Hispanic woman who died of a drug overdose and whose body was discovered in 2002.

There are about 2,000 people buried in the Double Butte Cemetery for indigents and about 10 percent of them are unidentified, Fulginiti said.

If anyone has any information about the death of Shannon Aumock, they can call the Phoenix Police Department’s Violent Crimes Bureau at (602) 262-6141.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

2011 Mar 22