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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