Trigger Warning: This series, including this installment, discusses multiple forms of trauma, including child abuse, sexual assault, prostitution, drug abuse, and mental health.
Content Warning: This series, including this installment, contains graphic language and depictions.
Theresa Ann Bier.
In last week’s installment, we met Skip Welch, a Fresno man with a meth habit, an obsession with Bigfoot, and a history of taking teenage girls into the mountains where, in 1986, he literally almost scared one young girl to death. This week, it is one year later and Skip meets another teenage girl.
SKIPPING SCHOOL WITH SKIP
With only a week or two left of school, 16-year-old Theresa Bier couldn’t wait for summer vacation. Theresa was not a good student. Described as a “slow learner,” she was behind in many ways.
She didn’t seem nearly as mature intellectually as she was physically. She had the timid voice of a child but the body of a woman. An awkward time, for sure.
A few days after Memorial Day weekend 1987, Theresa told two of her friends, Peggy and Janice, that she that she was planning to go to the mountains — would probably play hooky to do so — with a guy she had recently met. It was going to be an adventure.
This guy, Skip, was pretty old (43 years old to be exact) but really interesting and knew some amazing stuff about the mountains. They were going, Theresa told her dumbfounded friends, to look for Bigfoot. Skip, she explained, has seen the legendary creature, for real, and knows everything about him.
THERESA’S EARLY LIFE
To say that Theresa Ann Bier had a messed up childhood is an understatement. She was born April 16, 1971, to Shirley and David Bier, who were anything but model parents. Their first daughter, Yolanda, had been born in 1966 while David was in Vietnam. Yolanda lived with David’s grandmother, Mary Bier, from the time she was a baby as Shirley, a teenager when she got pregnant, was uninterested in caring for Yolanda by herself.
After David’s return from the service, the couple asked to get Yolanda back. But before long, David called his grandmother, explaining that he didn’t like the way Shirley was treating the girl and sent her back to live with his grandmother again.
Nonetheless, the couple had two more daughters: Vicki and then Theresa. Both girls were physically abused by Shirley.
When Theresa was about three years old, she was severely injured, ending up in the hospital. Shirley wrapped little Theresa’s leg around the crib slats and twisted until it broke.
She also beat her, breaking several ribs. At this point, Social Services intervened and took the girls away. It was also about this time that the couple split up, and Shirley, who suffered from mental illness, left and relocated to Tucson, Arizona.
Yolanda continued to live with her great-grandmother, but Vicki and Theresa were placed foster care. It would have been far too much for Mary Bier, in her 70s, to care for all three girls, so Sylvia Pierce, a friend from church, took Vicki and Theresa into her home.
At close to 50 years old, Sylvia had her hands full with the girls, but she and her husband were able to at least provide a stable home. The two Bier girls lived with Sylvia for several years before their lives were thrown back into disturbing chaos.
David Bier wanted his younger daughters back. With Shirley no longer a threat to the girls and now with a new wife, he felt he had a good case. David had married Margie Richmond, who had daughters of her own and had once been married to Shirley’s half-brother, John Richmond.
Thus having created a new (albeit convoluted) family unit, David Bier petitioned the court to get his little girls back. Despite the family history of abuse, he was awarded custody.
And so the pre-adolescent Theresa — who had been the victim of serious abuse as a young child, but had found respite in a stable, caring foster home for years — became reunited with her father, moving to Southern California where both he and Margie Bier worked as janitors.
Decades later, Theresa’s oldest sister would comment: “Why my dad decided to have them go live in Compton in his disgusting home with his disgusting new wife, I’ll never know.”
Yolanda, who had the good fortune of being raised by her great-grandmother, had visited her dad down in Compton shortly before Vicki and Theresa went there to live. Her memory of her dad’s new wife, Margie, was not flattering.
Yolanda recalls how “she’d lock her refrigerator and just sit there and eat her lunch and not feed her kids anything.” Of course, her memory was perhaps tainted or exaggerated, but it does seem certain the environment Vicki and Theresa had entered was anything but ideal.
It is unclear how long Theresa lived with her dad and Margie in Compton. Yolanda remembers it being several years, from the time Theresa was a pre-teen until around 15.
Later police investigations suggest it was only a couple of years. In any case, Theresa eventually did return to Fresno and stayed with her great-grandmother. Vicki, her sister, had come back earlier to stay with the elderly woman, but as Mary Bier stated in police reports, she ran away “to live out on the street.”
Yolanda remembers the summer when Theresa moved in with her great-grandmother. Mary Bier took one look at the young teen and immediately took her to the doctor, aghast that she was so “totally malnourished.”
When her father came to pick her up at the end of that summer, Theresa refused to go with him. Yolanda confronted her dad, telling him Theresa didn’t want to live with him anymore.
According to Yolanda, she and her father got into a physical altercation. How hard David Bier fought to keep his daughter is debatable.
Police reports maintain he “lost interest” in caring for her. And so it was that Theresa came to live with her great-grandmother in Fresno. But, unfortunately, it was not for long.
It was about this time that Theresa’s uncle, John Richmond, who also lived in Fresno, sensed an opportunity. With his former brother-in-law (and ex-wife’s current husband) uninterested in caring for Theresa, and his mentally-ill sister out of the picture, Richmond actively pursued gaining custody of his niece (who also happened to be his ex-wife Margie’s step-daughter).
One motivation for this was perhaps the modest stipend he might receive as a “foster parent.” But a worse situation for Theresa could not be imagined.
John Richmond was well known to Fresno law enforcement. Cops knew him as “Blind Johnny.” He was, in the words of one detective, “a doper who fenced stolen property.”
Detectives laughed about that: “A fence who couldn’t see what he was buying and selling.” He looked like a cross between Roy Orbison, with his dark glasses, and James Dean, with his combed-back hair and sensitive rebel appeal.
He lost his sight, according to one story he told, by shooting himself playing Russian Roulette. Another story maintained that he shot himself when a young beauty named Rose jilted him for Bing Crosby’s son, Lindsay.
Some who knew him were convinced that he could actually see a little, playing up the blindness to his advantage. Given all this, he was like a character in a David Lynch film.
John Richmond had two young sons when he took in Theresa. His daughters, by this time, were living with his ex-wife Margie and her husband, David Bier.
His new wife and presumably the mother of these young sons was reportedly a prostitute. He also had a 17-year-old girlfriend, Tammy, who often stayed over at his place.
Tammy remembers Theresa during this time as being “very, very withdrawn. She would stay in her room, to herself.” A scared little girl is how she described her, a scared little girl who Tammy lamented was basically “a slave.”
Blind Johnny would make Theresa babysit his little boys, often causing her to miss school. They lived in a filthy, squalid apartment, and at one point Richmond’s wife took Theresa to Southern California with the boys where she turned tricks while Theresa watched the kids. Theresa would often call her great-grandmother to complain about this. And while it pained Mary Bier to hear of such disturbing conditions, there was little she could do about it.
But there were other comments and complaints that were not so easy to ignore. Mary would admit to authorities later that she knew Theresa had made comments to the effect that her uncle was in some way molesting her. The elderly woman wouldn’t say explicitly just how. Perhaps it was too embarrassing to say out loud. But Theresa’s sisters were not as shy about saying it.
Theresa told her sister, Vicki, that her uncle had “fucked her” on several occasions. And it wasn’t just him.
Richmond’s girlfriend, Tammy, later colorfully recalled how he would let his friends “fucking shoot drugs and fuck her.” She described some of these friends as “old time prisoners, old dudes… convicts that… were ex-heroin addicts.” Theresa was living an unimaginably hard life.
HIGH SCHOOL YEARS
By June 1987, Theresa had nearly completed her freshman year at Central High in northwest Fresno, even though at 16 she was a year or more older than most of her classmates. It is easy to understand how she was so far behind. Abuse, absences, and aptitude all conspired against her.
She had a reputation among teachers as being slow and immature. She was placed in special education classes. If the teachers and counselors knew the shit she’d been through and was still experiencing, their assessment might have been more generous.
FIELD TRIP TO THE MOUNTAINS
On Monday morning, the first day of June 1987, Blind Johnny woke up early to find Skip Welch at his place. Theresa was ostensibly getting ready for school.
Skip, one can imagine, had probably been tweaking all night. There might even have been some kind of transaction — a drug deal perhaps — to be made between him and Blind Johnny.
Skip offered to take Theresa to school, which, of course, was never the plan. Theresa had already told her friends the week before the real plan.
But off they went, Theresa with schoolbooks in hand. By mid-morning, the school called Richmond (her legal guardian, undoubtedly not listed in their records as “Blind Johnny”) to inform him that Theresa was not at school.
Without skipping a beat, he told them she was home sick. He would later explain that he told this little white lie because he preferred to handle the matter on his own. It’s hard to imagine that he really cared if Theresa was ditching class. But it was who she was with that should have given him pause.
Sometime late that morning, Skip and Theresa made a stop before heading to the mountains. Skip was having trouble with his car — a beat-up, old Chevrolet Monte Carlo — so they stopped off at his daughter’s place. Chandra Welch was just a few years older than Theresa.
An attractive woman just shy of her 20th birthday, she wasn’t too surprised to see her father with an underage girl. Nor was she shocked when Theresa told her how excited she was to be going to the mountains and how they were going to search for Bigfoot. Chandra had grown up hearing her dad talk about the mysterious creature.
Chandra asked Theresa if she did drugs. Theresa claimed she did not. Good, Chandra thought. But knowing her dad’s reputation, she did not have a good feeling.
Everyone knew Skip was a speed freak. And what’s more disturbing was his reputation for getting young girls high and enticing them into doing things they might not otherwise do. But who was Chandra to interfere?
After Skip went to cash his disability check and got his car running, the two were off. Theresa was giddy with excitement now that their adventure could begin.
By evening, Blind Johnny — who would later claim he had been calling around to find out where Theresa might be — began to “get a bad feeling.” This Skip guy is mentally unstable, he said he learned; always talking about Bigfoot and such.
Maybe Theresa wasn’t safe. It was nearly 9:30 at night before John Richmond finally called the Fresno police to report his niece, Theresa Ann Bier, missing.
In next week’s installment of Meth, Murder and Bigfoot, Fresno police detective Doug Stokes has a missing person case land on his desk that ends up being stranger than anything he ever thought possible.