This photo of Jamie Lynn Walker was taken the Christmas before her death. The photo is courtesy of Judy Sorenson.

As the second oldest child, Jamie Lynn Walker looked after her three younger siblings, offering courage and support while working a waitressing job, performing in school plays and looking forward to marriage.

The 17-year-old loved children and babies, and planned to attend nursing school after graduation so she could help kids fulltime.

Walker received word the evening of April 29, 1978 that a friend had just given birth to a boy at Memorial Hospital. She couldn't pass up the chance to be among the first to see the newborn and congratulate her friend.

She and her fiance were at a friend's house watching TV. She borrowed the fiance's pickup and made her way to the hospital.

But she never went inside.

Walker's body was found in an almond orchard at 7:40 a.m. the next day. She'd been shot once behind the right ear with a small-caliber handgun.

There were indications she'd been sexually assaulted, and a sweater she'd been wearing, as well as two buttons from her blouse and her shoes, were found in the area. The orchard is a quarter mile west of the Famoso drag strip and a half mile south of Famoso-Woody Road.

The fiance's pickup was found at 36th and San Dimas streets, a block from Memorial Hospital. The truck's cab contained the rest of her clothes.

Police theorized the truck was returned near the hospital because that's where Walker's killer had left his own vehicle.

But the question of who that killer is remains unanswered 36 years later.

Family and friends try to fathom the unthinkable

Walker created newsletters detailing what everyone in the family was doing and sent them to her grandfather, who had heart trouble and lived in a Washington state convalescent home. It was her way of keeping him up to date with her life and the lives of her four siblings.

"She was thoughtful, kind for her age," said Judy Sorenson, her mother. "She was really remarkable."

Some teens ask their parents for a car or money to travel overseas as a graduation present. Walker asked for airfare to visit her grandfather.

Lori Foshee, Walker's older sister by 11 months, said Walker was her best friend. She described her as a "little mom," always helping around the house.

As Walker got older, she became more outgoing while Foshee described herself as painfully shy. Foshee said Walker was more like the big sister than she was.

Walker participated in youth groups, performed in the Bakersfield High School drama club and made friends with seemingly everyone she came across.

When younger, the two of them spent summers with their great-grandparents in Oregon. They took trips to lighthouses and dug for clams.

As they got older, they saved babysitting money and took trips to Valley Plaza mall. They picked out clothing they both could wear since they were so close in age and about the same size.

The two planned to buy a car together to share on alternating weekends. They dreamed of living next to each other when older, raising their children side by side.

Walker was killed 40 days before graduation. The murder left her family and BHS classmates reeling.

David Eastwood, senior class president for the BHS class of '78, dedicated his valedictory address to her.

"The loss of a friend is felt more in the unexpected incidents that one experiences after the tragedy," Eastwood said in the address. "Earlier in the week, all the seniors went to get their caps and gowns for the graduation ceremony.

"After the mass filed out I saw one cap and gown still waiting to be picked up, and then I realized that it will never be picked up because it belonged to that same beautiful girl nobody will ever see again."

A scholarship fund was started in her name at BHS and lasted for four years through private donations.

Foshee, married and pregnant with her second child at the time of Walker's death, dropped to the floor and began crying upon hearing the news. One of her brothers punched a wall, breaking his arm. Everyone was sedated except her because of the pregnancy.

"I just wanted to be sedated so bad," Foshee said. "I didn't want to feel these feelings."

That night the entire family slept on a pullout bed in her parents' den. Nobody could bear being alone.

Cathy Betts, Walker's younger sister by about four years, said following her sister's death she came home each day after school and closed the curtains. She was afraid to go anywhere alone.

The murder impacted Betts' life for years.

"I spent my adult years feeling scared, kind of uneasy," she said.

Betts refused to go to counseling when she was younger, saying she couldn't find anyone who suited her.

But one day she was called to her son's high school because he'd gotten in trouble. Betts said she began crying and couldn't stop, and when she talked to her son's dean of students he told her she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

She said she and her siblings usually avoid talking about Walker. They don't want to hurt each other.

Betts said her sister had excellent fashion sense. She recalled one time Walker bought a blue outfit at the mall. Betts liked it so much she talked her father into buying the same outfit, except in pink.

Walker's fashion sense rubbed off on her. Today, Betts works in a boutique store.

"(Walker) was just a nice person," Betts said. "A good role model as an older sister to me."

A suspect identified

At least one person got a look at the man who abducted Walker the night she drove to the hospital.

A woman told police she was driving from Memorial's parking lot when her car's headlights revealed a man struggling with a girl to open the driver's door of a pickup. The woman said the girl wasn't screaming; she must have been terrified.

The woman slowed her car as she passed. The man ducked in front of the truck but looked directly at her.

Distraught about the serious illness of her child, the woman waited a few days before reporting what she saw to police. Later, under hypnosis, she told police the man was white or a light-skinned Hispanic, 25 to 30 years old, about 5 feet 10 inches tall with dark hair.

A composite drawing was widely distributed. There were no results.

Investigators had recovered DNA evidence from semen found at the crime scene. But that evidence, and evidence from seven other homicides, was destroyed -- against police policy -- in 1987 under orders by then-Lt. Bobby Rudder. Rudder retired in 1991 and has lived out of state for more than a decade.

Police said in 2004 there was no explanation why the evidence was destroyed.

It proved especially costly that year after a then-56-year-old migrant farm worker from McFarland was identified as a "good suspect" in Walker's death.

Jose Jaime Aguilar was given a life sentence for a murder in Nevada in 1979. He abducted, sexually assaulted and killed 50-year-old Colleen LeFever, dumping her body in an isolated farm area.

The similarities between LeFever's and Walker's deaths caught investigators' attention. They discovered Aguilar had worked for a farming company near where Walker's body was found.

Bakersfield detectives visited Aguilar in a Nevada prison. He acted strangely and became extremely uncomfortable when Walker's death was mentioned, police said.

Still, without DNA evidence police can't be sure Aguilar is the man who murdered Walker. A fingerprint taken from the pickup Walker drove the night of her death and shoe prints from where she was found couldn't be tied to him.

Aguilar remains imprisoned in Nevada.

Recent years

Sorenson, Walker's mother, said detectives who've handled the case the past few years have been helpful and hard working, but nothing's moved the case forward. She said Aguilar is the only name connected to her daughter's murder.

Sorenson said Aguilar's photo was shown to the woman who witnessed the abduction, but she couldn't be sure Aguilar was the man she saw that night.

"Sometimes I just feel so totally defeated," Sorenson said. "But I have a lot of faith. I pray all the time about it."

Betts wishes Walker could have met her son. Betts sometimes wonders how many children Walker would have had, where she would have lived.

She's made sure her sister's memory won't die with her generation. She talks to her son about Walker, giving him insights into the aunt he'll never meet.

Foshee said she decided years ago to save her sanity and forgive her sister's killer. She underwent grief counseling. She'd been unable to think about her sister without thinking about her death. The murder overshadowed the person.

Starting with her earliest memories, Foshee began recalling everything she could about Walker, piecing together the life of the person who'd once been her closest friend. She can now focus on the person, not the crime.

"None of us will ever be the same since we lost Jamie," Foshee said. "She was a person, and such a beautiful person."

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