The Mysterious Murder of Jesslyn Rich - Unsolved Mysteries

A prison guard disappears amidst allegations of corruption and murder inside Frontera Prison.

Jesslyn Rich

Frontera Prison for Women

CASE DETAILS

Frontera Prison, in California, is one of the largest penitentiaries in America for women. Its maximum-security wing houses some of the state’s most dangerous female offenders. But it’s the alleged criminal activities of some guards and administrators that have drawn the most attention.

What did Lucas know about Jesslyn?

It began with the mysterious disappearance of Frontera guard, Jesslyn Rich, in 1984.  Some former prison employees believe that Jesslyn was silenced because of what she knew about a prison drug ring run by other guards.

Jesslyn Rich was a 35 year-old divorced mother of two.  While working at Frontera, she had maintained a straight “A” average in criminology classes at night school.  At the time of her disappearance, Jesslyn had reportedly grown concerned about drug dealing inside the prison walls.

Jesslyn was last seen at a country-western bar on November 11, 1984. She and a friend, Marilyn Ault, were joined by two male acquaintances. Marilyn recalled what happened that night:

“All of a sudden she sits very still and looks almost past me to the front door. And I look at her and her eyes drew wide and fearful looking.  But I didn’t look to the door.  I just for some reason just didn’t turn around.”

Marilyn said that when Jesslyn suddenly excused herself to go to the bathroom, she noticed something suspicious:

“A gentleman appears to me out of the side of my eye going directly behind her.  And that’s the last I seen her. Ever.”

Betty was forced to sign the false report

Jesslyn Rich literally vanished without a trace.  To her family and friends, it seemed out of character for Jesslyn to abandon her children and to scrap her career aspirations.  Her family believed that Jessica had been kidnapped and possibly murdered.  But police investigators said they had no evidence to support that theory. Jesslyn’s brother, Gary Muntz, wasn’t buying it:

“They made light of it, called us just ‘distraught relatives’, suggested that my sister had just ran off on a fling with some person, which is totally absurd.  It just was unheard of.”

Gary tore apart his sister’s house, searching for clues. When he sifted through Jesslyn’s trash, he said he found evidence that her knowledge of illegal activities at the prison put her life in danger:

“Inside the plastic bag were many, many pieces of paper torn up very, very small.  I picked up a few of these and I could tell that it was my sister’s writing or printing.  And they were apparently notes or letters to a friend of hers, a co-worker.  And I figured that I would take them home and sort them out later.”

A threat was scrawled in the margin

The letter had been written to another guard at Frontera. Scrawled on the margin of the last page was Jesslyn’s haunting recital of an apparent threat she had received from the co-worker — that anyone interfering with his drug activities would be taken care of. At the time, this letter was the only concrete evidence indicating that Jesslyn had met with foul play.

The case eventually went cold. Three years later, in 1987, an inmate named Terry Lucas, told a guard that she had information about Jesslyn Rich.  She said she was being threatened by other guards to keep quiet. Betty Thompson, a former Frontera prison guard, recounted a conversation she had with Terry:

“She tells me that she’s got information. She’s got evidence. She knows who was involved in the disappearance of Jesslyn Rich.”

The next morning, Betty Thompson went to see Terry in the prison infirmary, where she was recovering from a cancer biopsy. Betty described what she found:

“When I walked over to touch her, I noticed that Terry was dead.  I went out of the cell and I went down to the nurses’ station and I told them what I had seen and what I knew and the coldness of the room, that she was not covered, her breakfast tray had not been touched and the nurses told me they would take care of it.”

The scandal was the subject of several articles

Betty said that Terry’s body stayed in the cell for a full three days, before the county coroner’s office was called. According to Thompson, an official from the coroner’s office was mystified by what he found.  Betty says there were blades of grass in Terry Lucas’ hair, and multiple bruises on her face, ears, neck, and lower arms.  Her right arm appeared to be broken. According to Betty, the official came to a disturbing conclusion:

“He is saying that he sees evidence that she was suffocated with the pillow that had been under her arm that appeared to be broken.”

Betty Thompson said that after the official met with prison administrators in Lucas’ cell, he had a sudden change of heart:

“He told me that we were not going to call it murder.  And we were not going to say that she was laying there dead for three days.  We were going to, in fact, say that she was actually laying there only two hours and that the cause of death was actually complications due to diabetes.”

Thompson says that one of her superiors demanded that she change her report on Terry Lucas’ death. According to Thompson, she was subjected to threats and intimidation for six hours:

“There was one high administrator that even made the comment that the same thing that happened to Jesslyn Rich, could easily happen to me.  At that point in time, I broke down and cried. I hadn’t told anything what Terry Lucas had said.  And for him to bring up Jesslyn Rich and her disappearance, it said why Terry Lucas had died.  It definitely had something to do with that.”

Thompson says she finally gave in and signed a false report that had been typed for her:

“But I added on the bottom that I had signed the document under duress and the document was untrue.  To my knowledge, that document was ripped up, another one was retyped saying the similar things that were on the first document and that my signature was forged.”

Betty Thompson claims she later received a threatening phone call. The caller told her that if she didn’t learn to do things in a proper manner, she might end up in a muddy ditch.  The following day, a prison officer casually asked her if she had received a call alluding to her being found in a ditch. Betty recalled her reaction:

“The hair on the back of my neck just stood straight up.  I was absolutely petrified because I knew that she knew that they were saying to me and that she was part of whoever was threatening me.”

Betty says the menacing calls continued for seven months.  Then, in June of 1988, Betty was shot at from a moving car outside her home. Thankfully, she was unhurt.  Betty said she immediately called the police, who arrived at her home moments later:

“As I was upstairs filing a police report, a phone call came in and I picked up the phone.  It was a male voice and he said, ‘Next time we won’t miss.’  The police officer saw my face and saw how upset I was.  He included that in his report.”

Eventually, the scandal was the subject of several front-page articles in the Orange County Register.  These articles supported insider accounts of drug dealing and corruption. That year, Betty Thompson and five other guards testified before State Senate hearings on the alleged offenses at Frontera Prison.

Officials at Frontera declined to be interviewed for this story.  However, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections did tell Unsolved Mysteries:

“I’m not saying the things people are alleging didn’t happen.  There’s just no evidence to support them.”


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season five with Robert Stack and in season one with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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26 Comments

  1. Blue bird

    Oh My God No Why Did This Happen ?

    Reply

  2. Blue bird

    This Is So Sad Both Women Had Lost Their Lives Why Was Both Women Murdered?

    Reply

  3. Jesslyn

    I am not certain what happened, but my grandmother I think reacted in a way which she should not have. My mother, aunt and I finally laid her to rest and I do not believe that She made the choices she made on her own. I think someone in the police force felt threatened by her, because they had something to do with the situation. I do not care who that person was, but thank you, for tearing a good mother from their family. And I know you got what you deserved.

    I didn’t get to know my grandmother and this is the closest I ever will get to know her. I believe life would have been better with her in it, but you decided otherwise for selfish gain. Thanks.

    Reply

  4. John

    It is amazing how this continues to grow feet and fuel the theory of conspiracy. In 2005, the FBI closed this case because the man they suspected of killing Rich passed away. They had him under surveillance for years but never could get enough on him to convict him. The FBI revealed to us that they found a hand in the desert they suspected of being Rich’s and confirmed she left the bar with this man. The man was not a prison employee nor was he affiliated with the prison in anyway. As far as Ms Thompson was concerned, the FBI discredited her story because of two glaring flaws: 1) she could not state the name of one supervisor or co-worker she reported her “findings” to and 2) since she only worked the hospital (infirmary clinic) one day she had no knowledge of how long Lucas was deceased. As followed this case, we found that an inmate claimed to have been forced to change reports but in reality testimony revealed this inmate oftentimes had staff (stupid) sign a blank sheet of paper where they signature would normally appear, and she typed up their story as she saw fit – all because the staff were too lazy to stay and complete their reports or too dumb to write clearly. Later, a forensic TV show (Unsolved Mysteries I believe) reported on everything I have said. Ms. Thompson got her stress retirement, the inmate got her transfer and release, the accused Lieutenant took a plea deal to avoid a trial and was basically exonerated anyway.

    Reply

    • Leslie Grace

      How did you find our site and may I ask who are you?

      Reply

    • Jon Fu

      you seem to know a lot about what’s happened? Where did you Work? Would you like to show me your FACE? Since name is NOT JOHN! You feeling GUILTY? Anyone with a heart would say I hope they find her and be brought home close to family. .

      Reply

  5. Debbie

    miss you my friend rest in peace

    Reply

  6. Kenny Ford

  7. Kenny Ford

    If anyone who comes across this page and reads the comments, and I am speaking really to Mrs. Lucas’ family, I can be contacted at kford10@liberty.edu.
    I am not related to anyone involved in this case but I am friends with Mrs. Rich’s family. Answers are still being sought.

    Reply

  8. Leslie

    If anyone here would like to get in touch with me u can find me on Facebook under Leslie Grace. I am wearing a pink shirt in my FB photo.

    Reply

  9. tru2him4e

    So many yrs have gone by since my mother was brutally murdered. Time helps but the memories will never fade. My faith is Christ keeps me going. I know vengeance belongs to Him and those responsible for her death will answer for their actions.

    Reply

  10. Anonymous

    I cry everyday for my mother (Terri Lucas). It hurts to know that these two women was wrongfully murder behind whatever negative dealings that went on in Frontera prison. My mother left behind four children who’s life has been so lost and empty behind this. I truly still pray for Ms.Rich as well and hope justice will be served her on earth or heaven..Rest well MOM I love and miss you so much!!

    Reply

    • Kenny Ford

      To Teri’s child who posted this, I can tell you that without a doubt YOU ARE NOT ALONE in dealing with this.
      I may suggest that you search the name Jesslyn Rich on FB if you are interested in connecting with other people who are going through the same thing you are.

      Reply

    • Kenny

      A slight edit to my last reply: look for Justice for Jesslyn.

      Reply

    • Kenny

      The group is a closed group to ensure privacy but you can still ask to join.

      Reply

  11. Anonymous

    I never new tery becuz she.died in 1987 i was born in1986 an still dnt know wat happen,to my mom

    Reply

  12. Kenny

    There is a group of those of us who think of these two women and of the injustice wrought upon both.
    Jesslyn’s family has grown up and has family of their own now.
    The desire for justice continues unabated.
    And to the person who left the comments, please do not feel afraid to reach out!

    Reply

  13. Kenny

    To the person who left the above comments, rest assured that there are those of us who fight to keep the memories of these women alive. They deserve justice even though the establishment has denied them this. I did not know either of these women but I am friends with Ms. Rich’s family.

    Reply

  14. Kenny

    The memories of Jesslyn Rich and Teri Lee Lucas are being preserved as best as possible by those interested in the case…Those of us who did not know either of them who demand justice for these two women! It is a number that may seem small, but we are united! Let it be known that neither of these two women are forgotten and the families are not alone in this!

    Reply

  15. scared to say

    Love u terry lucus never forget about how good you could fight u never lost a FIGHT IN your life so when i Hurd yo arm was broken i new why cuz u put up a good fight. I no you did unite terry if you believe in God their will be justice

    Reply

  16. scared to say

    Its so . Sad sn unfair that terry was murdered she had four kids . I rmbr going shoping for terry lucus she was bouts to come home from prison her kids were so happy win they found out she died they were still nieve the oldest said my mom is not dead shes in jail. To this day they neva been the same terry has a host of grandkids she neva seen with the names TERRY DETERRYAN AN TERRI all kinds of terrys shes loved missed by many neva forgotten RIP terry an jessylyn.

    Reply

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If you have questions, comments, or complaints concerning our privacy practices or if you wish to change, access, or remove your Personal Data, please contact us as indicated below.  We will attempt, where practical, to respond to your requests and to provide you with additional privacy related information.

Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. is the owner of this Website and retains all ownership rights to the information collected at this Website. Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. reserves the right to change, modify, add, or remove provisions of this Privacy Statement. Any changes to this Privacy Statement will be posted here, and we encourage you to check back from time to time. In addition, Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. will notify registered users of changes as they occur.

We allow third-party companies to serve ads and/or collect certain anonymous information when you visit our web site. These companies may use non-personally identifiable information (e.g., click stream information, browser type, time and date, subject of advertisements clicked or scrolled over) during your visits to this and other Web sites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services likely to be of greater interest to you. These companies typically use a cookie or third party web beacon to collect this information. To learn more about this behavioral advertising practice or to opt-out of this type of advertising, you can visit networkadvertising.org. Your use of the site constitutes your agreement to accept cookies, beacons and third-party advertising. Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. assumes no responsibility for third-party ads.

ARTICLE 1. Personalization
1.1 We may use the contact information you give us to better tailor your Website experience to your interests, and to send you information about Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. and its services as well as promotional material on behalf of some of our partners. We may use other information that you provide to us to show you content in which you may be interested and to display the content according to your preferences. We will also share this information within Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. in order to enhance your experience on this and other Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. Websites.
1.2 In addition, we may share this information with advertisers or other third parties that are not part of the Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. family on an aggregate or other basis that does not disclose your identity or contact information.

ARTICLE 2. Online Surveys/Contests
2.1 From time to time, we may conduct online surveys and contests. These may ask you for contact information (like name or email address) and demographic information (like zip code or age).
2.2 We may use this contact information from our surveys and contests to provide you with information about our company and promotional material on behalf of some of our partners, and to contact you when necessary.

ARTICLE 3. Shopping/Commercial Services
3.1 This Website may offer shopping services, which may be offered by us or by a firm that operates a store under contract with us. If our Website offers shopping or other commercial services, you will use a customer order form to request information, products, and services. The order form will ask you to give us contact information (like name or email address), financial information (like account or credit card numbers), and demographic information (like zip code or age).

3.2 We will use the financial information that you provide to bill you for products and services. By giving our Website your credit card and related personal information, you are authorizing our store to give that information to the merchant and credit card company in order to confirm and fulfill your order.

3.3 We will use contact information from the order form to fulfill your orders. We may also use contact data to get in touch with you when necessary. We will not otherwise use or distribute your financial information without your prior approval.

ARTICLE 4. Public forums
4.1 This Website may make available chat rooms, blogs, forums, message boards, and news groups. Please remember that any information that you disclose in these areas becomes public information and you should exercise caution when deciding to disclose your personal information. Information disclosed by you or by others enters the public domain and may be freely used by any other persons or entities using the site.

ARTICLE 5. Information Sharing With Third Parties
5.1 From time to time we may enter into a special relationship with another company that is not owned by Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. to provide additional features at this Website. These special relationships may include “powered by” partners, business partners, sponsors, and co-branded sites (referred to here as “co-branded pages”). These might include, for example, pages that share our name and that of another entity. You should look for a specific privacy statement on any such co-branded page. Any personal information that you provide when signing up at one of those co-branded pages may be shared with our third party partner. You should also check our partner’s website for information regarding its privacy policies.

5.2 Also, the nature of some features of our Website may require that we share personal information about you with persons or companies outside of Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. For example, this may occur at a feature that enables you, via our Website, to ask questions of persons or entities that are not part of Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. By responding to those features of the site, whether by email or direct entry of information on our Website, you are consenting to our transferring that information to such persons or entities.

5.3 With respect to specific registration modules, like contests, we may disclose personal information collected, and we may post a conspicuous statement on the registration module to the effect that we will be disclosing the information collected with third parties.

5.4 Finally, we may share any of the information collected from you with these other non- Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc companies in an aggregate basis. The aggregated information is not linked to any information that can identify you.

ARTICLE 6. IP Address and Log Files
6.1 We may use your IP address to administer our Website, to help diagnose problems with our server, to analyze trends, to track users’ webpage movements, to help identify you and your shopping cart, and to gather broad demographic information for aggregate use.

ARTICLE 7. Cookies
7.1 This Website may use a standard technology called a “cookie” to collect information about how you use the Website. Cookies reside on your computer and help our Website to recognize your computer’s browser as a previous visitor. This information allows us to customize delivery of information. For example, our Website may use cookies to save and remember registration information or preferences that you may have set while browsing the Website, to keep track of your shopping cart, to ensure you don’t see the same ad content repeatedly, to deliver content specific to your interests, and to save your password so you do not have to re-enter it each time you visit our site. We use cookies only to gather information as indicated in this policy.

7.2 In addition, on occasion our site may also set a “session cookie” which helps us administer the Website. The session cookie expires when you close your browser and does not retain any information about you after it expires.

7.3 Finally, we may also use an ad network provider to help present advertisements on this and other Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. websites. This ad network provider, like other advertising service vendors, uses cookies, web beacons, or similar technologies on the hard drive of your computer to serve you advertisements tailored to interests you have shown by browsing on this and other sites you have visited, and to determine whether you have seen a particular advertisement before and to avoid sending you duplicate advertisements. In doing so, the provider collects non-personal data such as your browser type, your operating system, web pages visited, time of visits, content viewed, ads viewed, and other clickstream data. The use of cookies, web beacons, or similar technologies by these ad network providers is subject to their own privacy policies, not ours, and Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. assumes no responsibility for the collection or use of such information.

ARTICLE 8. Banner Advertising
8.1 We have contracted with an ad-service to place banner advertising on our Website. All of the data provided and generated by the ad-server software remains in our possession. This feature of our Website may, on occasion, set “cookies” on your computer. Any information collected or stored by the ad-service or the cookies is treated in the same manner as other information described in this statement.

ARTICLE 9. Children’s Personal Information
9.1 Consistent with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act:

9.1.1 This site does NOT collect, use, or disclose personal information (including online contact information) of children under the age of thirteen (13).

9.1.2 In the event that a child under the age of 13 attempts to register on our site, we will NOT accept the registration and will delete information received from the child.

9.1.3 In the event that a child posts personal information in a public forum such as a chat room, we will attempt to delete that information once we become aware of it.

ARTICLE 10. Security of Your Personal Information
10.1 Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. employs reasonable security measures consistent with standard industry practice, for information collected through this Website. We believe that we have adequate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of the information we collect on our Website. We also use internal protections to limit access to users’ personal information to only those employees who need the information to perform a specific job.

ARTICLE 11. Sale or Merger
11.1 If this Website is sold to, or merges with, another company not owned by Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc., you should expect that some or all of the information collected from this Website may be transferred to the buyer/surviving company. If so, CMP will seek to obligate the acquiring company to use any personal information transferred by this Website in a manner consistent with this statement, but cannot guarantee that it will be able to impose that requirement or that the acquiring company will comply.

ARTICLE 12. Legal Process
12.1 You should be aware that Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. may be required to disclose your personal information to the government or third parties under certain circumstances, such as in court or regulatory proceedings.

ARTICLE 13.  Contacting the Website

13.1        If you have any questions about this Privacy Statement, the practices of this Website, or your dealings with this Website, please contact us at: unsolved@unsolved.com.

ARTICLE 14.  general information

14.1        Choice of Law:  This Agreement and the Additional Terms shall be governed by, construed and enforced in accordance with the laws of the State of California , as it is applied to agreements entered into and to be performed entirely within such state, without regard to conflict of law principles.

14.2        Choice of Forum:  You agree that any cause of action you or Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. brings to enforce this Agreement and/or the Additional Terms, or in connection with any matters related to this Website and/or the Privacy Statement, shall be submitted to arbitration in the County of Los Angeles, State of California, United States of America in accordance with the commercial rules and regulations of the American Arbitration Association then in effect (as amended herein), provided that said arbitration shall be heard before a single arbitrator, who shall be a retired judge, selected pursuant to such rules and regulations, and shall be conducted on an expedited basis and in confidence. The arbitrator’s decision shall be controlled by the terms and conditions of this agreement and any other agreements I may enter into with you, and shall be final and binding, and shall provide for each party to bear its own costs of arbitration and attorneys’ fees.  Each party expressly waives any right to a jury.  Judgment upon the award of the arbitrator may be entered or enforced in any court of competent jurisdiction. 

14.4        If any provision of this Agreement, or the application thereof to any person or circumstances, is held invalid or for any reason unenforceable then such provision shall be deemed superseded by a valid, enforceable provision that matches, as closely as possible, the original provision, and the other provisions of this Agreement shall remain in full force and effect.  The failure of either party to insist upon strict performance of any provision of this Agreement shall not be construed as a waiver of any provision or right.  Unless expressly provided otherwise, this Agreement is the entire agreement between you and Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. with respect to the use of this Website and shall not be modified except in writing, signed by an authorized representative of Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc.

ARTICLE 15.  European Union and Other Foreign Nations

15.1        This Website is governed by and operated in accordance with the laws of United States of America and is intended for enjoyment of residents of the United States.  Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. makes no representation that this Website is governed by or operated in accordance with the laws of other nations.  By using this Website and submitting any personal information, visitors from outside of the United States acknowledge this Website is subject to U.S. law, consent to the transfer of personal data to the U.S., and waive any claims that may arise under their own national laws.