Tillman murder case re-opened

August 21, 2008|By Mary O’Keefe

After an eight-year lull, San Bernardino County sheriff’s detectives are once again actively investigating the murder of a La Cañada Flintridge couple.

It was on Feb. 9, 2000, that the bodies of La Cañada residents Harold “Skip” Tillman, 55, and his wife Joni, 51, were found in two isolated desert graves in Yucaipa, about 75 miles east of La Cañada. The couple had last been seen on Feb. 6, 2000, after having dinner at J.J.’s Steakhouse in Pasadena.

The investigation into their deaths had yielded little to no information and had stalled. The department’s newly formed cold case division has recently taken up the case and is asking for the public’s help.


According to Det. Casey Jiles, when murders occur the department works them as best as they can, but sometimes the case is put aside and becomes a cold case. The team has a list of 600 cases that have fallen into this category, some dating back to the 1930s, Jiles said.

In the Tillman case, there is little evidence to follow. The couple, who lived in the 5000 block of Bramblewood Road, had last been seen on Feb. 6 after having dinner with friends in Pasadena. Detectives learned the Tillmans had dropped their dining companions off at about 9 p.m. That was the last time anyone heard from them.

According to an article in the Valley Sun that ran a week after the bodies were found, neighbor Michael Miller said he had heard the Tillmans’ vehicle pull into their garage about 10 p.m. the night of Feb. 6.

“My dogs barked,” he said. “They pulled into their garage and I saw the car come in [to the garage]. I never saw them again.”

Jiles said on Feb. 7, 2000, a man out walking his dog in the Yucaipa area saw the Tillmans’ dog, a Maltese named Teddy, lying on the ground.

“The dog had died of exposure or something along those lines,” Jiles said.

He added that the well-groomed Maltese was not the average desert dog. The man contacted the sheriff’s department, who in turn called the phone number that was listed on Teddy’s tags and left a message.

Meanwhile, in La Cañada friends of the couple were wondering why they hadn’t heard from the Tillmans. The friends entered the Bramblewood house, listened to the message from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department and returned the call.

“[Deputies] began working the scene [in the area the pet dog’s body was found] and found blood in the roadway, then located the graves on Feb. 9,” Jiles said. “The cause of death was strangulation.”

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