By Jason Islas
June 27, 2012 -- Santa Monica Police are looking for information related to the murder of Sally and Lester Saunders, who were found with their wrists and ankles bound and their bodies charred from fire.
The couple -- who were in their 50s -- lived at Santa Monica’s Star Motel on Lincoln Boulevard between Pine and Maple Streets as managers until they were brutally murdered during a robbery on January 6, 1979.
Forty years later, the motel is no longer there and no one has been arrested.
This case is among the 58 "cold cases" -- those cases that remain unsolved -- that took place in Santa Monica since 1970 being investigated by the department's Cold Case Homicide Investigation Unit formed five years ago.
Most of the crimes, listed on SMPD’s website, have no witnesses and happened during an era before police work benefited from advances in forensic science.
“A murder (investigation) 20 years ago didn’t have DNA” evidence, said Sergeant Richard Lewis.
One of the biggest factors that investigators look at when determining whether a case has a good shot of being solved is the availability of DNA evidence, according to Lewis.
He added that DNA isn’t the only factor in solving these crimes.
In May, SMPD arrested Patrick David Salmon -- who is now 57 years old -- for the murder of a 16-year-old committed in 1980.
Salmon, and two others who had already been arrested, burst into the boy’s home and shot him to death.
“This cold case was solved through other means,” Lewis said.
It was information gathered using newer technology, and not DNA, that led police detectives to Illinois, South Dakota and ultimately to Pennsylvania, police officials said.
According to a RAND study, since the 1980s, police departments throughout the country have started cold case units and dedicate resources to solving crimes once thought unsolvable.
Though, according to the study, there is no standard point when a case officially becomes cold, the most recent crime on SMPD’s grim list of cold cases took place in the summer of 2004.
Scott Dishmon, 34 years old, was found dead at the entrance of the Santa Monica YMCA. He had died after receiving a blow to the head, according to police.
SMPD’s list of cold cases makes for grim reading.
In May of 1980, three men, asleep in an abandoned building in Downtown Santa Monica, burned to death when someone set the building on fire.
“There were no witnesses to the incident and no arrests were made,” according to police.
And it’s a phrase that is repeated at the end of almost all the case descriptions, like the case of 40 year old Robert Monchton, who was found on the beach early in the morning on February 17 with a single gunshot wound to the head.
Forty-three-year-old Larry McKinney was found in a dumpster behind the Santa Monica Pier in October 1991.
Some of the cold-case victims were killed by gangs, during drive-bys, or were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Although some of these murders took place more than 40 years ago, SMPD’s Cold Case Homicide Investigation Unit continues to look for tips and clues to help solve them.
Those with information on the crimes should call the Santa Monica Police Department Cold Case Homicide Unit at 310.458.8451 or anonymously on the 24hr tip line at 310.458.8449 or WeTip at 800.78-CRIME.