More than 20 years after their disappearance, the remains of two missing Sparks teens were positively identified in March 2000. The skeletal remains of Brenda Lynne Judd, 14, and Sandra Kaye Colley, 13, were discovered in November 1999, when a Hallelujah Junction property owner in Lassen County, just off of U.S. 395, accidentally dug them up with his tractor while getting some fill dirt.
The pair disappeared in Reno during an evening out at the Nevada State Fair in June 1979, victims of convicted sex-slave killer Gerald Gallego, who faced execution in both Nevada and California for four other killings. Gallego was implicated in the girls’ deaths by his wife, Charlene Williams, who told investigators he sexually assaulted the girls, bludgeoned them to death and buried them in a shallow grave.
In a July 7, 1979, story from the Reno Evening Gazette, Jewel Stelling, the mother of Sandra, said the girls were last seen about 8:30 pm, June 24. When they were discovered missing, she and Brenda’s parents searched the fairgrounds.
“It is like they vanished,” Stelling said in the 1979 story. “Both have very good home lives. They only have a very little bit of money,” she added.
The girls were described as the best of friends. They “used to giggle and say they were going to grow up to be famous singers and movie stars,” according to Brenda’s mother, Lela Duncan.
“[Brenda] was a very caring young lady,” Duncan said “She never hurt nobody in her whole life.”
When girls disappeared, they were initially listed as runaways by the Reno Police Department because there was no sign of foul play. But the circumstances not only led family members to believe otherwise but also two teachers and a private investigator.
“When they said runaway, I didn’t quite believe it,” said Mary Mingo, a Sparks High School math teacher who remembers having Brenda in a ninth-grade class the school year before her disappearance told the Reno Evening Gazette.
“It didn’t mesh with what I had seen. She didn’t seem irresponsible or belligerent like the conceived notions we have of runaways.” Mingo described the 14-year-old as “very quiet.” She said she was a B student in math, but “a very good worker. It was a self-paced program, and she was always ahead of everyone else. She did several assignments a day. There was no discipline problem.”
Mingo also indicated Brenda was somewhat of a loner. “She didn’t have many close friends in that class, but it was a small class,” Mingo said.
Barbara Olson, a Sparks High English teacher, told the Reno Evening Gazette that she vaguely remembered having Brenda in a fourth-period class. “It seems to me she was very naive, as most ninth graders basically are. She was a very friendly, open girl. Very sweet.”
Brenda also worked part-time in the maintenance department at the airport.
“She had a paycheck waiting for her which she never picked up,” said Rob Wheeler, a private investigator, hired after the girls’ disappearance. “That doesn’t sound like a runaway.”
Wheeler added that the day before their disappearance, Sandra, who attended Sparks Middle School, competed in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints beauty pageant at Idlewild Park’s, California Building. “[T]heir psychological profile doesn’t point to them being runaways,” he concluded.
After capture, Williams told investigators that at her husbands urging, she’d lured victims to their vehicle with the promise of job. Then they’d abduct the victims and Gallego would sexually assault them as Williams drove to a remote site, where Gallego would kill the victims, often times with a hammer.
Both Sparks girls died from “blunt force trauma,” to their heads.
Around the same time the two girls bodies were found, Gallego was formally sentenced for a second time in Pershing County, Nevada. This time for the 1980 kidnap-murder of 17-year-old Sacramento girls, Karen Chipman Twiggs and Stacey Ann Redican, who were abducted from a shopping mall and later found in a canyon near Lovelock, Nevada.
Williams pleaded guilty to her role in the Nevada killings and testified against Gallego at trial. She served nearly 17 years in the Nevada State Prison for her part in the killings of Stacey and Karen, before being paroled in 1998.
She now lives in the Sacramento area, working for a charity involving wounded soldiers and their families.
Williams claimed she and Gallego prowled mostly shopping centers for victims. However while at the state fair, they founding advertising fliers on parked vehicles, removing a number of them and forming a small stack. They then concocted a plan to invite a girl to their van on the pretext of offering her money to put them under windshields.
They eventually found a girl to Gallego’s ‘liking’ and while she agreed to distribute the fliers, she said she’d first have to check with her father. After she left to do that, the Gallegos decided it would be too risky to take her and when the girl returned, the Gallegos told her they had found someone else.
Next, the two enticed Sandra and Brenda to their van and though it was still daylight, Gallego forced them into the vehicle at gunpoint.
A witness reported seeing the couple in a van and later determined it was registered to Williams. Reno police then located the vehicle parked at Circus-Circus. They also learned that Gallego, using the name of a distant cousin, Stephen R. Feil, and Charlene A. Williams, were married in a Reno wedding chapel on May 31, 1980.
Meanwhile, former coworkers in Reno remembered Gallego, known to them as Steve Feil, as a quiet man with few friends. Gallego worked at the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company from July to September 1979.
“He was a very quiet guy,” recalled Cheryl Langford, office manager of the Reno plant. “He never seemed to say much. “He was quite good-looking, [and] he was friendly when I you spoke to him,” she told the Reno Evening Gazette.
Surprised when several police came to the plant several times to ask about Feil, Lanford said, “I couldn’t believe I actually worked with the guy,” adding that he only was in the office area of the plant about one-half hour each day. A route salesman who delivered Pepsi to local stores, Gallego spent a short time in the office each day before he left on his rounds, she said.
“He just went from store to store and sold pop. We never had any problem with him,” she added.
However after working for the plant a few months, Gallego got into a fist fight with a grocery worker behind a local Warehouse Market, said Dave Ziegler, a supervisor for the bottling company. Ziegler said he did not know what the fight was about and there were no injuries.
“I just told him that he would have to watch his temper,” Ziegler said, adding Feil was then placed on probation. “I interviewed the people at the store and got his side of the story. Seems that both were at fault for getting into it,” he said.
Gallego then worked for a few more months, Ziegler said. “He wasn’t a bad worker. He was always on time and stuff. He sold quite a bit and always made his quota and his commission. He was very conscientious about his job,” he said.
FBI agents arrested the Gallegos in November 1980 in Omaha, Nebraska on charges of murdering Craig Miller and Mary Elizabeth Sowers. The couple was forced into the Gallego’s car at gunpoint, while leaving a fraternity party November 1, 1980.
Craig was ordered from the car and shot; his body was found near Bass Lake, California. They killers then returned to their apartment with Mary, where he sexually abused her before taking her to a field in Placer County where he then executed her.
In 2002, Gallego died of cancer in a Nevada prison medical center while awaiting execution for murder’s of Karen and Stacey.
The pair of killers were also suspected of the murder of Rulan Waite McGill, who was last seen shopping at Meadowood Mall in Reno following dental appointment when she disappeared. The 32-year-old Winnemucca teacher was found submerged in an irrigation ditch behind a warehouse at Greg Street and Industrial Way, in Sparks, having been robbed, sexually assaulted and stabbed to death.
Two days after she left home, her vehicle was found abandoned behind the warehouse. The following morning, Rulan’s stepfather, James Porteous and his brother-in-law, Harold Barnett of Emmett, Idaho discovered her body.
In November 1997, Terry Childs, convicted in 1987 of murdering 17-year-old Lois Sigala in Scotts Valley, California and serving a 41-year sentence told Santa Cruz prosecutors that he was responsible for 11 other murders including Rulan, in the late 1970s. Childs confessed to the crimes to avoid being transferred to Pelican Bay State Prison, near Crescent City, California, known as one of the toughest in the state after stabbing another inmate at Corcoran State Prison in an apparent murder attempt.
He’s currently housed at Salinas Valley State Prison.