I sometimes catch myself writing a title like that and realise how terrible people are to each other. This is another case of a family attacked and then years go by and there is no justice. I want to thank Dominique for emailing me and suggesting we cover the killings on here.
On 19th February 1997 a father and son were killed in an execution style murder in their California home. Neal Abernathy was 43 years old and his boy was just 12. They were both tied up with electrical cord and shot in the back of the head.
How secure would you feel in your home in the mid to late afternoon? I would probably not give security a second thought. Between 2.30 pm and 5.30 pm some low life gained entry to the neat detached house in Hercules which is a nice place just to the north of San Francisco.
On that February day Neal Abernathy was looking after his son Brendan. The boy had dental appointments, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. He was on a week long break from school and apparently the father and son team had some fast food for lunch. Between 1.30 pm and 2.30 pm the final dentist issues were dealt with and they returned home.
The house was situated in Dunham Court, these are nicely spaced and neatly kept houses. Father and son were brought under some sort of control. They were tied and placed on the floor. A Sherriff’s Office statement suggests whoever it was brought with them the means to tie up the victims.
Mrs Susan Abernathy returned from work and noticed the door was ajar. As she opened the door the family dog greeted her. As she went inside the place, for an instant, she thought her husband and son were play fighting. Another look told her that her world had fallen apart.
The 25 Year Search For A Motive.
Mr Abernathy was a graduate of the University of California, Davis. This college is still going strong now. There he had met his future wife and roomed with a guy called Kent Truscott. Truscott and Susan would marry two years after the murder.
Neal Abernathy originally worked at the Chevron refinery and it was there that his wife was working on the day of the murder. He became dissatisfied and bought an auto tune garage in Hercules. From what I can gather he was no mechanic, his strength was in managing the place. One quote from a friend said that not only didn’t he know much about cars, but he wasn’t interested in them. Elsewhere I see it reported he was thinking of selling the business at the time of his death.
The crime scene at first gave all the signs of burglary. Cupboards were open and there were items out of place. Upon close scrutiny, however, very little had been moved and even less had been stolen. In a San Francisco (SFgate) article from Nov 1997 the police clearly say they do not believe it was a random theft that spiralled into murder. They believe it was a planned attack.
A friend of the family wrote a website dedicated to the murders and the theme was one of finding the culprit. The format is very simple yet the content comprehensively gathered. I have drawn much of my information from there. You can find a link to this site, Rocks4Brains, below
A necklace belonging to Mrs Abernathy’s family had been stolen but expensive audio equipment had been left behind. In one of the few online sources it claims the answer machine was stolen. Detective Sgt. John Eaves gave the East Bay Times an update ten years after the murders. Of the motive or lack of it he said:
‘There was one piece of stereo equipment, valued at about $400 ( left behind), they took the telephone answering machine.’
I find it interesting that this machine disappeared. They were THE thing to have in homes during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. During this time answer phone services were developed by telephone companies here. I assume that was the case in the US. From then on you had a remote system that would take your messages.
My point is by 1997, even though many answerphones were still used in homes, their resale value would have been so low they were not worth stealing. In the 12 years I did as a cop from 1985 to 1997 I attended many burglaries. I cannot recall an answering machine being stolen.
So something was on there that the killer did not want discovered by the cops. Tell me if I have missed a step of logic there but I cannot see that I have,
No burglar in 1997 would take an answer machine. Only someone who had possibly been recorded on one would.
There was no forced entry. Normally that means nothing. It is a term used a lot to indicate the killer was known to the victim. In reality when a gun is used all it indicates is someone knocked on the door and got in the house. Here we have this person removing a recording device. Now we have good grounds for believing one of the Abernathy pair may have been expecting them.
The reason it is thought Neal and Brendan returned and entered the house safely was that Brendan’s next appointment with the dentist had been placed on the fridge door. So it is plausible that the answer phone was checked and this ‘visit’ was expected from there on.
The local cops looked at all the aspects of the family and their business searching for a motive. In one article Mrs Abernathy ( as she was called then) says they even went back through her life wanting to know who had been her childhood neighbours. That is standard procedure in a case that goes a bit stale. You look for any connection that could identify a motive.
Anonymous phone calls came in and so did a note. I have only seen the contents of the note mentioned in one place. It was short and cryptic. It said something along the lines of ‘ There were no tears shed, from someone who knows.’
So who shed no tears? Few strangers would cry for these victims so that suggests someone close to Neal and Brendan killed them. That is if the note was genuine.
One point strikes me. Mr Abernathy and his wife were college graduates in about 1971. They did not work at the refinery as I may have done in some maintenance or production role. The job Mrs Abernathy had was in research. I notice that years later she and Mr Truscott patented a medical product to do with how the body deals with uric acid build up.
I always try and note any possibility of high finance or similar factors. I have no knowledge of this being a factor for sure. All I do know is that the killings were callous and relatively professional if you will forgive the term. The culprits have so far got away with it. Big industry is big money.
I had to fight with a natural desire to jump on similar aspect in the case of Janet Brown and Spike Meenaghan’s murders in the UK. There you had two Oxford University medical researchers killed within months of each other. Janet Brown’s husband was a consultant with a big Swiss pharma company.
Mr Meenaghan was shot through his kitchen window in an assassination style killing. Mrs Brown was bound and beaten in her home in what was the most bizarre set of circumstances I have so far seen.
At the end of it all though there was no direct link between all the parties that was found. I just mention the thought to cover as much ground as possible.
A Nice Juicy Conspiracy Theory
My thoughts above are random ones. Here you have a real conspiracy yet there is doubt it had anything to do with the murders in Hercules.
The content of the website dedicated to the killings also said that in 1998 a man called Michael Riconosciuto contacted the Hercules cops. He claimed he had an idea why the victims were killed. He claimed it was to do with a widespread scandal involving software in the early 1990s. Riconosciuto was doing time for drugs offences when he was interviewed over these murders.
He had in the past been involved in programming for a case management system that was bought by the US government. A massive, 12 year legal battle raged over cash and this was amid allegations that the software had been deliberately corrupted. Michael Riconosciuto was said to have developed a backdoor to the program that allowed users to be tracked. This system was in turn sold to the Canadians.
The inference is that this ‘backdoor’ would have allowed the US and others to get into any Canadian government system the software was installed in. It goes on and is a whole story in itself. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of this. I don’t even know what this was meant to have to do with Neal Abernathy. Only one reference is made and that is that this Michael Riconosciuto claims he had known Mr Abernathy when he was quite young. The cops came away from interviewing Riconosciuto and nothing more has come of that line of enquiry.
What Do You Think of The Murders?
Some person or persons arrived equipped to subdue the owner of an auto tune shop. They are armed and prepared to kill. They do this and also kill a 12 year old boy. They then take the answer phone and an heirloom necklace that is valuable, but not worth killing for. What could be the motive for that?
Both were shot in the back of the head. It was a controlled, callous, organised killing. A killing that happened in the afternoon in a quiet middle class neighbourhood.
Can we accept that this was a burglary? One which early on had the intention to steal yet that plan was abandoned. Was this done for the thrill of killing in some sort of BTK ( US serial killer) style?
If we cannot accept that, I don’t to be honest, then you have a targeted murder. The killing in this case means the offender knew that Mr Abernathy was at home and possibly that he had his boy with him. It was a school holiday, so it fits that many people close to the family would have expected the lad to be there. So who wanted both of them dead?
An off shoot theory was that young Brendan was the actual target. He was a gifted child who had problems with other kids in school. One group that definitely knows who will and who will not be in school are of course other kids. I have not seen this line of thought expanded on. I assume that the idea was these were older children or 12 year olds enlisting the help of family etc.
The Aftermath To This Unsolved Double Murder
There is little about these two poor people online now. A lot has been written in the past but much of it seems to go quiet about 14 years ago. I have put what there is in links below.
An unusual thing happened about five months after the murder. Mrs Abernathy moved back into the house and as of a decade later she was still there. Two years after the murder she married that college room mate of Neal’s. I mentioned his name above, Kent Truscott.
At about the time that Susan Abernathy moved back into the house she also stopped talking to the police directly. She hired a criminal lawyer called Briggs. I have seen a mention of Mr Truscott declining to ever talk to the police about his movements at the time of the murder. However, please note, I went looking for just such a quote and could not find it. Unless you know different, as far as I am concerned both Mrs Abernathy and Mr Truscott have been cleared by the police.
The house had been renovated as in wooden floors were placed over the areas that had been the crime scene and walls were painted. In an interview with the SFGate.com in November 1997 she gave sound reasons for living in the house. She said that she and her husband (Neal) had bought the house in 1984 and it was their ideal. They wanted to pursue the American Dream and living back in the home was an act of defiance. Defiance I presume against whoever had killed her family. She was retaking the space where there had been so many good memories of her husband and son.
I cannot think of a single case of a parent continuing to live in a house where family had been murdered so brutally. Maybe you know of one? That attitude is a show of incredible strength. When she married Mr Truscott in 1999 he then moved in. Some further enquiries I did indicate the couple lived there until about 2018.
Mrs Abernathy (Truscott) said the reason she had put some distance ( the lawyer) between her and the police was simple. She found it exhausting and distressing to be constantly asked questions about the case. She also felt the cops were not telling her much about what was going on in the investigation. I can see why many months later that would be an issue. Mr Truscott, from what I could see in an interview on the 10th anniversary, wanted to try and live a normal life without being haunted by the spectre of this terrible crime.
The couple do not actively pursue the police for information and they do not criticise the cops for their effort.
From the time she hired the lawyer the cops have not interviewed her. The lawyer, Mr Briggs, said that it should be stressed there is no lack of co-operation between his client and the police.
We discussed this outwardly strange occupying of the house by Mrs Abernathy in the office. Nina pointed out that possibly it was not just an act of defiance. The place was where Mrs Abernathy might have felt a last chance to stay connected with her son in particular. It is easy for us to judge how others would deal with such circumstances.
I couldn’t live in such a house, yet what does that mean? I have not lost people the way she did.
I also found out that she went to several psychics trying to uncover out more about who killed Neal and Brendan. That struck me as a counter balance to any thoughts of her involvement in the killings. What guilty party actively goes to psychics seeking the identity of a killer in a murder they committed? This thought is mine alone and I know it has holes in it, yet so does an assumption of her guilty.
Regardless of speculation only one small chance still exists. DNA was identified at the scene. From what I can make out it was not much. The cops have tried to get a profile from it in the past. I hope it is still out there awaiting technology that can solve this 25 year old case.
My thoughts are with Neal and Brendan. They are said to have been good people. It is thought that Neal was shot first and his boy tried to help his father. He was found on top of his dad as if he had struggled to cover him. A brave lad. His killer would not be fit to wipe his shoes.
Last I heard there was a $50,000 reward offered for the right information in this case. I tried to contact the family friend on his website but the email bounced back. If you know any details I have missed please let me know. Some cases get under my skin. This is one of them. I would like to make this double murder a little more prominent. It struck me as sad that the 20 year anniversary and now the 25 year one has passed without comment.
More unsolved Family Murders we have on RCC are: