Murder of Michele Avila
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|Born||Michele Yvette Avila
February 8, 1968
Los Angeles, California
|Died||October 2, 1985
Los Angeles County, California
|Cause of death||Homicide by forced drowning|
|Body discovered||Angeles National Forest|
|Resting place||San Fernando Mission Cemetery|
|Other names||Missy Avila|
|Education||San Fernando High School|
Michele Yvette "Missy" Avila (February 8, 1968 – October 2, 1985) was an American teenager who was murdered by her former best friends and rivals, Karen Severson and Laura Doyle, in October 1985.
Michele Avila and her friends grew up in Arleta, Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley. Michele Avila and Karen Severson had been best friends since they were eight years old. The two girls began to grow apart when they entered San Fernando High School; Severson reportedly grew jealous of Avila because she was considered more popular and attractive. Severson was also upset because Avila began spending less time with her, opting to spend her time with boys. Severson later started a rumor that Avila had been having sex with various boys. As a result, Avila was beaten up by a group of girls who accused her of sleeping with their boyfriends.
During the girls' junior year in high school, Avila began dating a boy named Randy. Avila broke the relationship off after a month due to Randy's constant partying. Shortly after the break up, Severson and Randy began a relationship and eventually moved into an apartment together. Severson later told Avila's mother Irene that she once witnessed Randy pulling Avila onto his lap. Avila told Randy she was not interested in rekindling their relationship and advised Severson to break up with Randy. The incident angered Severson and she stopped speaking to Avila. Ten days before Avila's death, the two got into a physical altercation in a neighborhood park. According to witnesses, Severson threatened Avila with a broken beer bottle and then pushed and slapped her.
On October 2, Avila told her mother that she was going out with one of her school friends, Laura Doyle. Doyle picked Avila up and the two left. Four hours later, Doyle called Avila's mother and asked to speak to Missy. After Avila's mother told Doyle that she thought her daughter was with her, Doyle told her that she had dropped Avila off with three boys driving a blue Camaro. After getting gas, Doyle said she returned to the location where she dropped Avila off but she and the three boys were gone.
On October 5, Avila's body was found face down in a stream in Big Tujunga Canyon in Angeles National Forest. She had been forcibly drowned in eight inches of water, her waist length hair was hacked off and there was a four-foot log found on top of her body.
Conviction and aftermath
Irene Avila later said she had no reason to suspect Severson or Doyle were involved in her daughter's death. Both had attended Avila's funeral and Doyle sent the family a sympathy card along with $20. Severson also moved in with Irene Avila for a time to console her and become a "surrogate daughter" (although this is disputed by Severson). Severson was also seemingly obsessed with the murder. She visited Avila's grave several times a week, covered the walls of her room with pictures of Avila and newspaper clippings about the crime, and repeatedly visited the creek where Avila's body was found. At one point, she told Irene Avila that she had seen Avila's ghost.
Police had no leads in the case and the case went cold. In July 1988, Eva Chirumbolo, another teen who had taken the 45-minute drive into the mountains, came forward and told police about the murder. Severson and Doyle were arrested and charged with first degree murder. According to the prosecutors, Severson and Doyle lured Avila to the creek and then proceeded to yell at her about her supposed promiscuity. Both girls accused her of having sex with their boyfriends and told her that she had messed up too many relationships. The two then held Avila face down in approximately six inches of water. To hold her body down in the water, the two placed a four-foot, 100-pound log on her body.
In March 1990, Severson and Doyle were convicted of second degree murder, and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. The jurors later said they were not convinced that the murder was planned and rejected the first degree murder charge. Karen Severson was released from prison on December 9, 2011, after serving 23.5 years. Laura Doyle was released from prison in December 2012 after serving 22 years.
In popular culture
- The case inspired a book, Missy's Murder by Karen Kingsbury, who covered the case.
- The case also inspired a movie, A Killer Among Friends, starring Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Patty Duke.
- On January 13, 2012, the case was featured on an episode of Deadly Women called "Deadly Delinquents".
- On March 31, 2013, the case was featured on an episode of Unusual Suspects called "Deadly Forest".
- On December 17, 2014, the case was featured on the Dr. Phil show, with an interview with Karen Severson.
- Bartholomew, Dana (December 10, 2012). "Last woman convicted in Missy Avila murder released from prison on Monday". Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- Kingsbury, Karen (September 18, 1989). "Karen Severson Swore She'd Find Her Best Friend's Murderer—Now She Stands Accused of the Crime". People. 32 (12). ISSN 0093-7673.
- "2 women sentenced for drowning teen". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. March 11, 1990. p. A8. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
- "Two women sentenced in jealousy drowning". Ellensburg Daily Record. UPI. March 10, 1990. p. 7. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
- Loynd, Ray (December 8, 1992). "TV Reviews: Devilish Plotting in 'A Killer Among Friends'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- Colvin, Richard Lee (December 5, 1991). "Book Review: Tale of Girl's Slaying in 1985 Is Elevated to the Level of Myth: "Missy's Murder" by Karen Kingsbury". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
- Bartholomew, Dana (July 11, 2011). "Killer's impending release painful for slain girl's family". Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
- "Deadly Wom': Deadly Delinquents: S5E19". Wn.com. July 28, 2015. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- "Unusual Suspects: Murdered for Jealousy?". Investigation Discovery. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- "Convicted Murderer Karen Severson Gives Her Account of What Happened the Day Missy Avila Died". Dr. Phil.com. December 18, 2014. Retrieved March 19, 2017.