"I wish I knew what I know now before."
- Rod Stewart
It was the 22nd of June 1980. A Sunday. Stephanie Mullen arrived home at around 4 am. She expected to find her fourteen year old sister Suzanne Bombardier asleep on the couch downstairs but there was no sign of her. Stephanie assumed that she must have fallen asleep upstairs instead with her two daughters so she went straight to bed so as not to wake them. Stephanie had asked Suzanne to babysit her two girls, who were five and six years old, on the night of the 21st of June at Stephanie's Hudson Court apartment in Antioch, California, United States and Suzanne agreed. It was the first day of Summer and Suzanne was looking forward to the months ahead. She had worked hard in school and made the honor roll for Spring 1980.
Stephanie knew that she could always rely on Suzanne. She was such a well mannered, kind and studious girl and she adored her two nieces. At around noon on the 22nd of June, Stephanie got up to make a late breakfast for her daughters, and around the same time her mother called to ask if Suzanne was coming home. Stephanie asked her two daughters to check on Suzanne. They told her that she wasn't there and that she hadn't slept in their bedroom.
Stephanie went to look for Suzanne herself but she was nowhere to be found in the apartment. What happened to her? There was no sign that anything unusual had happened in the apartment but nobody knew where Suzanne was so the police were notified.
The apartment complex where Stephanie lived
Police tried to ascertain with some degree of certainty when Suzanne was last seen and when she was last at the apartment so they could start from there.
Stephanie told police that the day before, the 21st of June, Stephanie was at work and she asked Suzanne to babysit that night so that she could go out to a coworkers birthday party. As Stephanie had to go to the party straight from work, she asked Suzanne to drop off some clothes for her at the restaurant where she worked.
Stephanie told police that Suzanne brought the clothes to the restaurant some time between 7.30pm and 8pm the night of the 21st of June. She gave them to a coworker as Stephanie was working but Stephanie saw Suzanne across the street from the restaurant and they waved at each other.
Stephanie's two daughters told police that Suzanne was home with them after that and looked after them that night, the night of the 21st of June, and she let them stay up late as a treat. They told police that Suzanne was wearing her nightgown and a red and white terrycloth bathrobe when they went to bed. Police discovered that Suzanne spoke to a friend on the phone at 1.30am and at that time, everything seemed fine with Suzanne. The friend told police that Suzanne told her that she was tired and was going to sleep. Stephanie got home at 4am so police believed that they were dealing with a two and a half hour period, between 1.30am and 4am, as the timeline for when Suzanne went missing.
There was no indication that Suzanne left the house to go anywhere herself, like a party of some sort or that she may have run away. The overnight bag with her belongings inside that she brought with her to Stephanie's apartment was still at the apartment. Her shoes were still there too. Her family were adamant she would not have left the two girls behind unattended unless she had no choice in the matter. None of her clothes, money or belongings were missing from Stephanie's apartment or from her own home where she lived with her mother and stepfather. Due to that, police wondered whether she had been kidnapped. Her father Ted told police that she must have known the person and let them inside as there was no sign of any forced entry. There were no signs of a struggle either. Police believed that foul play was involved due to the unusual circumstances surrounding her disappearance and they didn't rule out the possibility that she was kidnapped. Police had very little leads at that point as the girls who were asleep in the apartment at the time didn't hear anything unusual and none of the neighbors reported hearing or seeing any disturbance of any sort.
A search began. Five days later, around 97 miles from Stephanie's apartment, a fisherman found Suzanne's nude body floating in the San Joaquin River near the Antioch Bridge. Police confirmed her body had been in the water for several days before she was found. She had been stabbed in the chest and died as a result of a single stab wound to the heart. There was evidence found that indicated Suzanne had been sexually assaulted and DNA was obtained from her body but testing was not as advanced then as it is now so no match was found but the evidence was retained and was stored on the police file.
In the years that followed, there were many suspects but police didn't have enough evidence to arrest or charge anyone. For almost four decades, the circumstances surrounding Suzanne's murder remained a mystery.
In 2015, biological evidence was submitted to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office forensic laboratory which is equipped to conduct some of the most advanced DNA testing. Two years later, police discovered that a DNA match had been found. The match identified a man named Mitchell Lynn Bacom. Mitchell was known to the police. Aside from having a lengthy criminal record and being a convicted sexual offender, he was a suspect in the case after Suzanne's body was found. Police spoke to him in 1980 shortly after Suzanne's body was found and he told them that he had an alibi. He claimed he wasn't near the Hudson Court apartment around the time that Suzanne went missing and he was at the Sand Hill Bar between Brentwood and Oakley with his aunt. He told police that he left there around 2am and went to a store at the intersection of Lone Tree Road and Highway 4 before heading home for the night.
Photo of Mitchell Lynn Bacom from 1978
Mitchell was initially named as a suspect at the time because Suzanne's sister Stephanie knew him. She told police that she met him when she was on a date with another man. Even though he saw her with another man, he asked her out. She agreed and went on three dates with him. After going on the three dates, she realized that she didn't want to see him again as she found him boring but Mitchell didn't see things that way. He showed up at the restaurant where she worked and would just sit there and stare at her. He was described as being fixated on her. Mitchell told her that he found a house for them to live in and when she stopped all contact with him, he left multiple messages for her at the restaurant and at her home. He later showed up at her apartment too and she discovered that a coworker had given him her home address.
In 1980, he agreed to take a polygraph test when asked by the police and even though the results were recorded as being inconclusive, he was cleared as a suspect. But, thirty seven years later and due to the DNA match,Mitchell was arrested and charged with murder, kidnapping, rape and oral copulation.
Mitchell Lynn Bacom at the time of his arrest
Mitchell is currently awaiting Trial. The Contra Costa District Attorney’s office has not yet made a determination whether to seek the death penalty, or to pursue a sentence of life without parole. Mitchell has not entered a plea yet. While the Trial has not taken place yet, Attorneys on both sides have given an indication as to what their cases will be like.
The Prosecutor in the case, Mary Knox, believes that Mitchell went to Stephanie's apartment and somehow gained access and threatened Suzanne. The Prosecution believe, based on everything they know about Suzanne and statements made about her by her family, that there is no way she would have left the apartment, leaving behind the two young girls inside alone, unless she had no option in the matter. The Prosecution believe that Mitchell used a five and a half inch long knife to threaten Suzanne with and force her to leave the apartment to go to a second location. They believe that he raped, stabbed her through the heart and then dumped Suzanne's body in the river. The injuries show that Suzanne was stabbed once but it was with such force that it went through her body. Mary said that the evidence suggested that Mitchell killed Suzanne during the rape itself:
“Her death happened in very close proximity to the time Mr. Bacom’s DNA was deposited into (Bombardier’s) mouth. Think of the amount of force you’d have to use to drive a knife through someone’s body.”
Mitchell's lawyer, Cynthia Scofield, also gave an indication of the type of defense that they may use. She admitted that there was probably sexual contact between her client and Suzanne, and that that part could not be argued due to the DNA found, but that that sexual contact may have occurred after Suzanne's death. She claimed that it was possible her client had sex with Suzanne after she was already dead and that the DNA found just indicated that sexual contact took place, it didn't indicate that he was responsible for her rape and murder. She raised the possibility that necrophilia as a defense may be used:
"We have no evidence the sexual act was prior to death. We cannot assume that."
She also pointed to her belief that there was no evidence found that a kidnapping had even taken place. Police confirmed at the time that there were no signs of a struggle or forced entry at Stephanie's apartment. She believes that the Prosecution’s case amounts to unanswered questions and a lot of speculation.
Prior to his arrest on charges relating to Suzanne's death, Mitchell spent time in prison already. He was arrested in Mountain View in Silicon Valley for rape, robbery, assault with intent to commit murder and oral copulation in 1973. A year later, he was convicted of first and second degree burglary, assault with intent to murder and sodomy. He was sentenced to five years to life in prison.
After he was released from prison, he was arrested for robbery and rape in Isleton and convicted of first degree burglary, robbery, rape and sodomy. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison. In 2002, he was convicted in Contra Costa County of failing to properly register as a sex offender and was sentenced to four years in prison.
His crimes included tying ropes around a woman during the rape and sexually assaulting another woman with a cigarette. It was reported that he also stabbed her while humming a song to himself.
In relation to the charges he faces for Suzanne's murder, he is next due in Court in March 2022.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
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- Sandra Pupatello