Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mother Knows Best: The Story of Theresa Jimmie Cross

Jane Doe #6607-85

Sheila Knorr, age 15
Sheila Knorr, age 15

During late spring 1985, Theresa decided to supplement her small state-assisted income by having 20-year-old daughter Sheila work the streets as a prostitute. Sheila was horrified at her mothers plan, but she was also not going to disobey. Before long, Sheila was bringing home hundreds of dollars a day and Theresa seemed almost proud of her daughter. She eased up on the daily beatings and Sheila was allowed to come and go as she pleased. In a twisted sense, becoming a prostitute had benefited Sheila.

In May 1985, Sheila's freedom was brought to a sudden end. Theresa suspected that her daughter was pregnant and also accused her of having a venereal disease, which Theresa claimed to have gotten by using a toilet. Sheila was beaten black and blue before being hog-tied and locked in a tiny closet next to the bathroom. It was excruciatingly hot within the closet, but Theresa left strict orders for the other children: the door was to be kept closed at all times and they were not permitted to give her any food or water.

"She wanted Sheila to confess," Terry said years later. "That was mother's way. Beat them until they confess." Sheila did eventually confess, but Theresa accused her of lying and the punishment continued. On June 21, 1985, the third day of Sheila's incarceration, the family heard a loud thump coming from the closet. It was the last sound they heard from Sheila. Three days later when they opened the door, they discovered Sheila's decomposing body curled up in a fetal position. Apparently, she had tried to climb up some small shelves in the closet, but they would not hold her weight and she came crashing down.

Theresa grabbed an old cardboard box and filled it with blankets and pillows. She ordered her two sons to place Sheila's remains inside and carry it out to the car. Everyone did as they were told and eventually they were driving up Interstate 80, toward the Truckee Airport. Along the way, Theresa spotted a small field and decided to pull off the road. She ordered the boys to unload their sister's cardboard casket and toss it in the weeds.

A few hours after the box was dropped off, Elmer Barber was making his usual rounds at the Martis Creek Campground and stumbled upon the homemade casket. His curiosity got the best of him and he lifted the flaps of the box open. What he saw inside would prove to haunt him for the rest of his life. Elmer quickly notified the Nevada County Sheriff's Department and within hours the area was swarming with investigators. Nonetheless, they were unable to make a positive identification and there were very few clues to work with. The victim was dubbed Jane Doe #6607-85 and her cause of death was listed as undetermined.

Theresa was extremely paranoid after Sheila 's death and became concerned that the closet contained evidence, which might someday implicate her in her daughter's death. So, on September 29, 1986, Theresa packed up all of the family's belongings and ordered Terry to set the house on fire. Using charcoal lighter fluid, Terry doused the floors and struck a match before climbing out a side window. Regardless of Theresa's intent, neighbors immediately noticed the fire and the local fire department was dispatched to the scene. There was little damage done to the home and investigators had no doubt that the blaze had been started deliberately.

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