Dena Raley: Modesto, California
Dena Raley (also known as Dena McCluskey)
40 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall weighs around 90 pounds, short blonde hair green eyes.
She has been missing since October 10, 1999 from Modesto, Stanislaus County California
IF you know the whereabouts of Dena Raley (also known as Dena McCluskey) OR have any information as to her whereabouts
P L E A S E call Kara Davis or Jon Buehler of Modesto California, Police Missing Persons Department on 209-572-9500, please quote case number 99-89281
You must give some time to your fellow men. Even if it's a little thing, do something for others - something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.
-Albert Schweitzer (1875 - 1965)
Man arrested in 1999 disappearance; police believe they've found Raley-McCluskey's body
November 02, 2007
Modesto Police have arrested a suspect in an 8-year-old murder, potentially resolving the 1999 disappearance of Dena Raley-McCluskey.
Officers arrested Russell Jones, 47, of Modesto and booked him in Stanislaus County Jail about 9 p.m. Thursday night on a murder charge, police Sgt. Craig Gundlach said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
Raley-McCluskey, 36, was last seen in Modesto on Oct. 10, 1999. Her boyfriend reported her missing three days later. The next day, police found her 1987 Nissan Stanza on Oakdale Road in northeast Modesto. Her keys and purse were not in the unlocked car.
Police believe they discovered her body Wednesday, though the remains have not been identified conclusively.
"We believe there is strong evidence to show that Russell Jones played a critical role in Dena Raley's death," Gundlach said.
Gundlach said investigators believe Russell and Raley-McCluskey were acquainted but they did not know the exact nature of their relationship.
Gundlach declined to answer several questions from reporters for details on how the case was solved. He referred further questions to the district attorney, Birgit Fladager, who said her office believes there is enough evidence to file charges. She said she expected Russell will be arraigned Monday. She declined to say anything more.
Donna Raley, the victim's stepmother, thanked investigators for solving the case.
"It's been a long 8 years, and everybody is really happy that we have finally found Dena," she said. "There were times that were frustrating for all of us ... but they've done a really good job."
She also thanked the media for keeping the case in the public eye. Beyond her statement, she said, family members will not comment publicly for some time.
Dena Raley-McCluskey's last days
Dena Raley-McCluskey was last seen Oct. 10, 1999. Wednesday, Modesto Police found a body near Groveland that they believe is hers. They've arrested Russell Jones and booked him on murder charges.
Search for Raley-McCluskey ends at the grave
Police say body may be woman missing 8 years; Modestan held
By ROSALIO AHUMADA
and JEFF JARDINE
last updated: November 03, 2007
Detective Phil Owen and ID specialist Denise Ducot Look over an area. While they wouldn't comment, it appears to be the place where Dena Raley-McCluskey was buried. Jeff Jardine/The Bee
After eight years of searching, Modesto police say they believe they have found the body of Dena Raley-McCluskey and the man responsible for her death.
Information and evidence gathered in the past several weeks led detectives Wednesday to human remains in a shallow grave in a secluded area of Tuolumne County near Groveland.
Sgt. Craig Gundlach, a Modesto police spokesman, said investigators believe the remains are those of Raley-McCluskey, 36, who was last seen Oct. 10, 1999.
Detectives on Thursday arrested Russell Jones, 47, of Modesto on suspicion of murder, he said. Jones was being held at Stanislaus County Jail without bail Friday night.
Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager said Jones is expected to be arraigned Monday afternoon.
"It was enough evidence that was discovered to satisfy us that we're in the position to file charges," Fladager said.
Raley-McCluskey's stepmother, Donna Raley of Modesto, said she believes Jones did not work alone and there are others responsible for her daughter's murder.
The remains have not been positively identified, but investigators are confident it is Raley-McCluskey's body, Gundlach said, adding that it could take weeks, possibly months for forensics experts to positively identify the body.
"If it is her, (the body) might have been there eight years," he said.
Raley-McCluskey was last seen when she stopped to visit an aunt. Three days later, her boyfriend reported her missing. The next day, police found her 1987 Nissan Stanza on Oakdale Road in northeast Modesto.
Raley-McCluskey's keys and purse were not in the unlocked car.
Not knowing took a toll
Raley said their family is relieved to know an arrest had been made and her body apparently had been found.
"Everybody is really happy that we finally found Dena and are able to bring her home," said Raley during a news conference at Modesto police headquarters.
She said there were times her family grew very frustrated with the lack of leads and arrests in the investigation. Not knowing where her daughter was took a heavy toll on the family.
Raley thanked investigators who worked the case throughout the years and the detectives who found her daughter.
"Dena was a very important part of our family; we missed her," Raley said. "And now that we can bring her home, have a Christian burial and a place to go is worth more than anything that any of us could ever know."
On Friday, a small team of Modesto police investigators remained at the grave in Tuolumne County, collecting evidence.
With the help of a backhoe operator, investigators found the body on property, records show, owned by Jones' parents, Robert David and Betty Jean Jones. The secluded 4.9-acre parcel off Whites Gulch Road is about a mile east of Groveland. It's a hilly, thickly wooded area covered with pines, pine needles, oak trees, manzanita and poison oak.
Jones' father declined to comment.
"We don't want to talk about it right now," said Robert David Jones, as he stood behind a black security door at his northwest Modesto home.
Modesto police officials were tight-lipped about the evidence that led detectives to the body and the arrest of Jones, who has worked as a mechanic and as of a year ago was disabled. Officials said they fear releasing the information would jeopardize the investigation.
"There's a lot of work left to do in this case," Gundlach said. "The investigators are working right now as we speak."
Gundlach would not rule out the possibility of finding other suspects, but he said investigators believe Jones played a key role in Raley-McCluskey's disappearance and death.
Gundlach said Jones and Raley-McCluskey had "some type of friendship." He said investigators had questioned Jones in the past as part of this investigation.
Raley-McCluskey once rented a bedroom from Jones at a Modesto house he had owned, one source said.
Finding the body
Detectives found the body on the property, which is accessible by a dirt road. There is a garage or workshop, a couple of travel trailers and an old pickup-mounted camper on the land.
The backhoe operator worked in a triangular area in a small clearing. Yellow police tape remained Friday as the team of investigators, headed by Detective Phil Owen, continued to work. They declined to comment.
They had managed to work in relative obscurity since Wednesday, gaining the attention of only a few people in Groveland despite the parade of vehicles in and out of the property.
Police set up shop
Only those living along Whites Gulch Road knew of the activity. Mike Mil-lard, who lives near where the body was found, said he knew that police were in the area but had no idea what they were looking for.
None of the staff or customers at the grocery store on Ferretti Road, the main thoroughfare into Pine Mountain Lake, seemed to know anything was going on, which is unusual for a small town in which news generally spreads fast.
Employees at P.J.'s Cafe and Pizzeria knew something was up only because Modesto police Sgt. Scott Heller came in to arrange meals for the investigators.
"(Heller) came in Wednesday morning and wanted to open up a tab here," restaurant employee Monica Cervantes said. "He said he (represented) the chief of police of Modesto. "I never asked him (why they where there), but I wondered about it."
Another employee, who declined to give her name, did ask.
"They wouldn't tell us," she said. "They said, 'You'll read about it in the paper before we tell you.' "
Heller supervises the Crimes Against Persons Unit, which includes the Cold Case Squad created in March.
Detective Craig Grogan is assigned to work these cold cases full time and is sifting through more than 40 unsolved major crimes cases. A missing persons investigator also is assigned to the squad.
Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said Heller, Grogan, Sgt. Craig Plante and Sgt. Matt Medina re-examined about seven binders filled with information gathered over the years in Raley-McCluskey's case.
"It was outstanding detective work," Wasden said. "They did what we expected that unit to do."
Bail set at $2 million for man charged in 1999 murder
Woman's body was found last week near Groveland
By GARTH STAPLEY
last updated: November 05, 2007 05:10:30 PM
A judge on Monday afternoon set bail at $2 million for Russell Jones of Modesto, who is charged with murdering Dena Raley-McCluskey eight years ago.
Raley-McCluskey's mother and stepmother attended the brief arraignment and said they were satisfied that Jones, a disabled mechanic who has no job and does not own a home, will remain behind bars until trial.
Police last week unearthed human remains on property near Groveland owned by Jones' parents. Investigators say they are confident the remains are those of Raley-McCluskey.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff appointed a public defender to represent Jones. He is expected to enter a plea Nov. 21, when Zeff will revisit the bail amount.
Dental records confirm body is Raley-McCluskey's, DA's office says
November 06, 2007
Human remains found by Modesto police in a shallow grave near Groveland last week are those of Dena Raley-McCluskey, who disappeared eight years ago, the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s office announced this morning.
Dental records confirmed the identity of Raley-McCluskey, who was 36 in 1999, prosecutors say.
Russell Jones, 47, of Modesto was formally charged with murder at an arraignment Monday and remains behind bars with bail set at $2 million.
$2M bail in 1999 slaying
Defendant to enter plea Nov. 21 in the Raley-McCluskey case
By GARTH STAPLEY
last updated: November 06, 2007
A judge set bail at $2 million Monday for Russell Jones of Modesto, who is charged with murdering 36-year-old Dena Raley-McCluskey eight years ago.
Her stepmother, Donna Raley, said after Monday's arraignment that she had seen Jones with Raley-McCluskey only days before she vanished. She had rented a room from Jones but they were not romantically involved, said Raley, who raised Raley-McCluskey.
"(Jones) had been to my house with Dena," Raley said.
Raley and her husband, the victim's father, who died last year, told The Sacramento Bee four years ago that they believed Raley-McCluskey's boyfriend was involved in her disappearance. The boyfriend, Mark Keough, reported her missing Oct. 10, 1999, and now is an inmate at California Correctional Center near Susanville, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Keough, Jones and Raley-McCluskey were friends when she disappeared, Raley said.
Deputy District Attorney Alan Cassidy refused to say how cold case detectives linked Jones to Raley-McCluskey's disappearance, which had baffled her family and police since October 1999.
Modesto police last week unearthed human remains in a shallow grave on property near Groveland owned by Jones' parents. Investigators say they are confident the remains are those of Raley-McCluskey.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff on Monday appointed a public defender to represent Jones. He is expected to enter a plea Nov. 21, when Zeff will revisit the bail amount.
Raley-McCluskey's mother and stepmother said Monday they were satisfied that Jones, 47, a disabled mechanic who has no job and does not own a home, will remain behind bars until trial. Jones told the judge he could not afford an attorney.
Raley was surrounded Monday by supporters, including Susan Levy, mother of Chandra Levy, the former federal prisons intern from Modesto whose body was recovered from a Washington, D.C., park more than a year after she disappeared in 2001. Raley and Levy that year founded Wings of Protection, a support group for people with missing loved ones.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, sent a representative to the arraignment in support of Raley.
Raley-McCluskey's mother, Barbara West, and sister, Sonja Raley-Johnson, also attended Monday's proceedings with a separate group of supporters.
"I've been in the shadows for eight years," West said.
She said she met Jones at a wedding and spoke with him once on the telephone. "I thought he was kind of good- looking," West said, "but Dena said, 'No, no.' "
Standing in a courthouse hallway, Raley glanced up at Lady Justice, a statue of a Roman goddess holding scales and a sword, with the inscription: "And justice for all."
"They need to put a line through 'all' and say, 'Justice for some,' " she said. "We lost Dena."
Dena Raley's Stepmother Discusses Murder Case
Written by Tim Daly, Reporter
It's hard to imagine feeling relief at a time like this, but that's exactly what Donna Raley is experiencing.
Donna is the stepmother of Dena Raley, whose body was discovered near Groveland last week. Because Dena had been missing for more than eight years, Donna can finally think of the healing process.
"There is nothing bad about this. It's bad that it happened, but we knew eight years ago what happened. We didn't know where her body was. This is all good," said Raley.
Modesto police say it was simply good work by the department's cold case detective to break the case. Dena Raley's body was discovered in Tuolumne County. A man whose parents once owned the land was arrested. Russell Jones, 47, is charged with murder. His bail has been set at $2 million.
Jones was an acquaintance of Raley, and had once rented a room to her. Donna Raley said his arrest came as a complete shock, because she'd never sensed any problems between the two.
Now that a trial seems likely, Donna Raley said she and Dena's birth mom will both actively watch the process.
"Barb (Barbara West) and I will be there every single day. We'll show unity and show that Dena mattered, that she's important to us, and we will be there," said Raley.
Family Mourns Woman Missing Eight Years
Written by Karen Massie, Reporter
It's a day they thought would never come.
"Dena was my life. I spent every waking moment trying to figure out how I could make her life more enjoyable," said Sonja Raley-Johnson, who did her best to hold back tears at a somber memorial Saturday for her sister Dena Raley.
"I knew she was out there somewhere and I felt hopeless," Raley's mother Barbara West said.
West last saw her 37-year-old daughter just before she disappeared in October 1999. A few days later, police found Raley's car abandoned on a busy Modesto Street. Her purse and car keys were missing and there was no sign of Raley.
Her mother wonders why the case didn't get constant nationwide attention like high-profile searches for two other missing Modesto women -- congressional intern Chandra Levy and young pregnant mother-to-be Lacy Peterson.
"I was very upset about the situation. I had a lot of the animosity about it. It just seemed like for eight years [Dena] was just kept in the bottom drawer and I always said it would take somebody, someone to come out and say where she's at," West said.
Last year, investigators in the Modesto Police Cold Case Unit developed information which led them to believe Raley was murdered and that 47-year-old Russell Todd Jones was the suspect.
Using the new information, police found Raley's body on a property in Tuolumne County once owned by Jones' family. Within days, Jones, who police said once rented a room to Raley, was charged with Raley's murder.
"I'm going to follow this to the end," West said. "I will be sitting in court and see the man get what he deserves."
She said she'll also be thinking about her daughter. "I know I brought her home, but I'm never going to have closure even though I do have her back now."
Despite the pain, West said she's just grateful she can finally say goodbye.
Dena Michelle "Dink" Raley-McCluskey
DENA MICHELLE RALEY- McCLUSKEY DINK'' JUNE 12, 1963 - OCT 10, 1999 Dena Michelle Raley-McCluskey 36, was born in Modesto to Barbara and Richard Raley.
Dena enjoyed fishing, many other outdoor activities, playing pool, listening to western music and line dancing. She attended Downey High School from 1978 to 1981 where she was the Head Cheerleader. She loved spending time with her family and her Siamese cat.
She is survived by her mother Barbara West of Modesto; her step- father Darwin West of Modesto; her sister Sonja Johnson of Sonora; her brother Robert West of Modesto; her aunt Linda Bookman of Modesto; two nephews Ben Johnson of Sonora, Nathanial West of Modesto; many cousins, aunts and uncles; her step-mother Donna Raley of Modesto, and her step- sister Shannon Harp of Oregon. Dena is preceded in death by her Father Richard Raley, Maternal grandmother Bettie Whala, paternal grandmother Virginia Neyman and a step-grandfather John Neyman.
Memorial services will be held Saturday, February 16, 2008 at Lakewood Funeral Home. There will be no reception following the services. In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made to the Dena Raley McCluskey trust fund at Bank of the West. Please log on to www.mem.com to view her life story. Feel free to contact Dena's family with any questions or to share memories at 209-502-0593. www.modbee.com/obituaries
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