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Saturday, Feb 08 2014 08:50 PM

Two 'persons of interest' not ruled out in 2001 murder of local woman

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    By Contributed photo

    It has been nearly 13 years, and nobody has been charged in the killing of Wendy Kyle.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Wendy Kyle was a regular in the Bakersfield bar scene.

Arriving after work, she'd make a few stops at different bars and then head home to Oildale. The night of May 28, 2001 she visited the VIP Lounge on California Avenue and The Mint in downtown Bakersfield.

She was known at both places, and people later recalled seeing her at each spot that night.

Kyle, 24, left the VIP Lounge alone. No one remembers if she left The Mint by herself or with a companion.

What is known is that smoke was seen coming from her Oildale house in the early morning of May 29, about an hour after she was last seen.

Someone had stabbed her to death and set the house ablaze.

It's been nearly 13 years, and no one has been charged with her killing. But there's no statute of limitations for murder.

"It's made me a wreck," said Marcia Pack, Kyle's mother who lives in Washington state. "It's been like an ongoing nightmare that just continues."

After years of false leads, dead ends and little hope of finding her daughter's killer, Pack now follows the case of Michael Charles Brown, who's being held in Kern County without bail and is scheduled to go to trial in June for the 2000 murder of a 39-year-old woman. He's also charged with raping four women between 2007 and 2008.

Detectives have not ruled him out as a suspect in Kyle's death. And sheriff's deputies said this week they were pursuing new investigative avenues as a result of reviewing case files for this story.

A family's mourning

Pack said her daughter had a special place in her heart for animals.

She loved cats and dogs, and raised rabbits while involved in the 4-H youth organization. Snakes and rats were also precious to her, and she owned either a python or boa constrictor while in her 20s. Her fascination with ferrets transformed her living room into an elaborate maze of tubes for their play.

She had a funny side, pulling pranks and then giggling when the victim realized what was going on.

Kyle was born in the city of Sierra Madre in Los Angeles County. The family -- which included two older sisters and a younger brother -- moved often, spending time in Sacramento, Orange County, Washington and then Bakersfield.

Laura Miller, one of Kyle's sisters, said Kyle was born on their mother's birthday. She died on Miller's birthday.

Kyle was a talented artist, primarily drawing animals.

"It was jaw-dropping to see all the detail she incorporated into those colorful drawings, such as sketching every individual hair in the fur," Miller said.

Kyle traveled as an adult and enjoyed hiking and camping.

Before moving to Bakersfield, she lived in Portland, Ore. She explored the city, met someone and got engaged, but it didn't work out.

Afterward, she returned to Bakersfield about 1999, and lived with her grandmother. Kyle worked a couple jobs, including at a pet store.

She moved into a small garage-sized house in the 100 block of Circle Drive, just east of North Chester Avenue and north of West China Grade Loop. It would be her final residence.

Final night out

Neighbors reported a fire at Kyle's house at 1:30 a.m. May 29, Pruitt said. Deputies arrived and saw her lying on the floor inside the home.

They forced entry to the home pulled her partially burned body out. She'd been stabbed to death.

"We have not been able to identify a suspect," Pruitt said.

Investigators have, however, identified two persons of interest in her murder. Neither has been ruled out as a suspect.

James Michael Jimenez was interviewed by detectives within months of Kyle's death. Jimenez, 27, at the time, became the focus of the investigation when a Secret Witness informant described overhearing a man admit he killed Kyle, according to court documents.

Jimenez told investigators he knew Kyle but didn't kill her, the reports say. He said he'd last seen her four or five days before her death.

Jimenez was on probation at the time for a stabbing in San Luis Obispo County. The reports say he sliced a man with a box cutter razor blade because the man was having sex with a woman Jimenez said was his girlfriend.

That woman -- and two women in Kern County -- said Jimenez had assaulted and threatened them, according to reports.

Court records show Jimenez has continued to engage in criminal activities. He was sentenced to four years in prison last year after pleading no contest to assault with a deadly weapon other than a gun.

Neither Jimenez nor the second person of interest, Michael Charles Brown, is a stranger to violence.

'Person of interest' linked to murder, series of rapes

An acquaintance of Kyle's, Brown was seen with her at The Mint the day of her death. Pruitt said investigators spoke to Brown but weren't able to tie him to Kyle's murder.

But he's been in custody since 2009 for the murder of another woman instead.

Brown has pleaded not guilty to 25 felonies, including murder, attempted murder and rape, in connection with that 2000 stabbing death of Ruby Lee Jackson-Meriweather as well as the sexual assaults of four women in 2007 and 2008.

Brown declined to be interviewed for this story.

Jackson-Meriweather's nude body was found by one of her four children at her home in the 500 block of Grace Street. Police said she'd been stabbed numerous times in her head and neck.

Jackson-Meriweather was one of five women stabbed to death between 1998 and 2001 whose cases Bakersfield police sent to the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., in 2002. The cases were sent there based on an FBI analysis that the killings may be linked.

The results of those tests have not been released.

The four victims Brown is accused of sexually assaulting said their attacker took them in a car to secluded locations, according to court filings. The reports say he forced them to perform sex acts, and then beat them or choked them.

One woman said the suspect told her if she didn't do what he wanted, he would kill her. "I have killed other (women) before. Do what I say and you won't get hurt," the reports say the suspect told her.

The four sexual assault victims were prostitutes, two of whom positively identified Brown as their attacker from a selection of six pictures of men. Brown told police he has never had sex with a prostitute.

Brown was incarcerated from 2003 until November 2007 for a drunken driving, vehicular manslaughter conviction. Brown's vehicle struck 40-year-old Gary White as White was trying to cross Union Avenue at 10th Street.

The impact lodged White's body in the car's windshield and on its hood. Brown told police he pulled over at a nearby Wienerschnitzel and White's body rolled off the car.

He drove away but was arrested a short time later.

Sister remembers and imagines

Miller, Kyle's sister, said it's difficult to reconcile the savage circumstances of Kyle's death with the incredibly gentle, giving little sister she remembers.

Each year on Miller's birthday, the day Kyle died, she doesn't think of her sister's death as such. She instead thinks of it as a rebirth.

Miller said she imagines Kyle, who spent so much of her life cradling animals in her arms, is now being held in the loving arms of her heavenly father.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the Kern County Sheriff's Office at 861-3110. Anonymous "text" tips can be sent to TIP411 (847411). Type the key word "KCSO" prior to the message.

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