Murder of Vicki Lynne Hoskinson

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Vicki Lynne Hoskinson
BornFebruary 2, 1976
DiedSeptember 17, 1984(1984-09-17) (aged 8)
Cause of deathHomicide of undetermined etiology
Body discoveredApril 12, 1985
Tucson desert
Parent(s)Debbie Carlson

Vicki Lynne Hoskinson (February 2, 1976 – September 17, 1984) was an 8-year-old American girl who disappeared while riding her bike to mail a birthday card to her aunt in Tucson, Arizona.[1] Her abductor, Frank Jarvis Atwood (born January 29, 1956),[2] was traced through witness testimony and physical evidence (which the abductor alleged in a later appeal was planted on his car). Seven months later, Vicki's remains were found in a desert area 20 miles (32 km) away and Atwood was found guilty of first degree murder. He was sentenced to death and has been on death row in Arizona since 1987.


On Monday, September 17, 1984, Vicki asked and received permission from her mother, Debbie Carlson, to ride her bike to a mailbox to post a birthday card to her aunt.[3] This was the first time Carlson had allowed any of her children to go out on their own, previously using the buddy system. After 20 minutes, Carlson sent Vicki's 11-year-old sister Stephanie to look for her; Stephanie found Vicki's bike lying on the side of the road a few blocks away, and one block from the elementary school.[3] Carlson placed Vicki's bike in her car trunk and called the Pima County Sheriff's Department. Detective Gary Dhaemers responded, and a few hours later a command center was set up.

Apprehension of suspect[edit]

Initial FBI composite of a woman seen with a child matching Hoskinson's description prior to Frank Atwood being identified as the perpetrator.

Not long after Hoskinson's abduction was publicized, a tipster reported seeing a young female matching the victim's description in a store, accompanied by an adult female. A composite sketch was created of the girl's companion, but eventually, police determined the sighting was unrelated to the abduction of Hoskinson.[4]

After interviews with possible witnesses, Sam Hall, a coach at an elementary school, stated he saw a suspicious-looking driver parked in a vehicle in an alley beside the school on the day Vicki disappeared.[5] Hall had been supervising a group of students at play when he noticed a suspicious vehicle. According to Hall, the driver was making strange gestures and was struggling with the manual gearshift lever. He memorized the license plate, ran to his car to get a notepad and wrote it down. He later gave it to police after hearing Vicki was missing.[6][7][infringing link?] A little girl said the driver made an obscene gesture to her as he cruised by her house. Another saw the driver back into a telephone pole.[3]

The trace on the license plate led to a 28-year-old Los Angeles man named Frank Jarvis Atwood. Agents ran a background check and found kidnapping and child molestation charges.[3] Atwood was out on parole in California for sexual abuse of an 8-year old boy. They went to the address where Atwood's vehicle was registered. It was the home of Atwood's parents, Frank Jarvis Atwood Sr., a retired army brigadier general and his wife, who was more protective of their son.[8] A few hours later, Atwood called his parents stating his car had broken down in Texas and he needed money wired to get it fixed. His mother wrote down the address in Kerrville, Texas, where Atwood awaited a new transmission. His father copied the information and drove to a nearby payphone and reported the address to the FBI. FBI agents in Texas detained Atwood and his traveling companion, James McDonald, at the mechanic shop on September 20 and impounded the car.[5]

During questioning, Atwood told investigators he was in Vicki's neighborhood on September 17, the day she disappeared, staying in a nearby park. About 3:00 PM, he left to buy drugs and returned to the park about 5:00PM, but did not say where he was during the two-hour period. McDonald corroborated Atwood's story, and told investigators that he and Atwood had an argument in the park about 3:00. After that, Atwood left for two hours and returned with bloodstains on his hands and clothing. Atwood told McDonald he got into a fight with a drug dealer and stabbed him. Investigators found two men who claimed Atwood spent two nights in their trailer. One of them, known as Mad Dog, claimed Atwood's clothes and hands were bloodstained, and that they had suggested Atwood get rid of his clothes. Atwood told them that he stabbed a double-crossing drug dealer.[1]


While no physical evidence in the car could be linked to Vicki's person,[6] accident reconstruction experts matched pink paint on the front bumper of Atwood's vehicle to the color of the paint on Vicki's bike, and traced damage to the car's gravel pan to one of the bike's pedals.[5][6] Traces of nickel plating from the bumper were also found on the bike.[6][9] Returning to the site where the bike was found, investigators discovered damage to the mailbox post about 12 inches above ground, consistent with the height of Atwood's sports car, and believed this to be the spot where the car allegedly struck Vicki's bike at a slow speed.[6] Atwood's clothing from the day of Vicki's disappearance was never recovered.

Arrest and trial[edit]

Ten days after Vicki's disappearance, Atwood was arrested and charged with one count of kidnapping.[1] A month after Vicki's disappearance, Atwood was extradited from Texas to Arizona to answer the charge against him. [10] On December 3, 1984, Atwood pleaded not guilty to kidnapping charges. Because of the publicity of the case in Tucson, the trial was moved to Phoenix. Jury selection took almost 6 weeks.

Discovery of remains[edit]

On April 12, 1985, a hiker found a small human skull in the Tucson desert, about 20 miles (32 km) from where the bike had been found.[6] The skeleton had been scattered by animals. Due to the state of the remains, the cause of death could not be determined, nor whether the child had been sexually abused.[3] Dental records confirmed they were Vicki's remains.[11] Traces of adipocere found on the skull fixed the time that the body had been placed in the desert to within 48 hours of Vicki's disappearance.[6]

Death sentence[edit]

Atwood was indicted and found guilty of first degree murder, and was sentenced to death on May 8, 1987.[6] During his years on death row, Atwood has "gotten married, been baptized in the Greek Orthodox Christian church, obtained two associate degrees, a bachelor's degree in English/pre-law and a master's degree in literature. He has written six books, five of which have been published. He's also working with people on the outside to create a website".[3] As of 2021, he was one of the longest-seated prisoners on death row.[3] He claims that police tampered with the evidence found on his car, and that no physical evidence has been found placing Vicki in his car.[3] His ongoing appeals for judicial re-review of his case have been denied.[12][13]

As of April 2021, Atwood is one of the 20 Arizona death row inmates who has exhausted all appeals. On April 6, 2021, Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced that his office is seeking to file an execution warrant for Atwood. If and when the State of Arizona resume executions, and if an execution date is set, Atwood would be allowed to choose either lethal injection or gas inhalation as his preferred method to die (he was convicted of his crime before November 26, 1992).[14][15]


After her daughter's murder, Debbie Carlson became a victims' rights activist. She helped establish a victims' advocacy group called "We the People"; worked for the passage of Arizona's Victims' Bill of Rights, which was passed in 1990; and helped institute Southern Arizona's Amber Alert system in 2000.[3]

The case was covered in the third season of Forensic Files and The FBI Files.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Limberis, Chris (4 March 2004). "Justice Delayed". Tucson Weekly. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  2. ^ "ADC Inmate Datasearch". Archived from the original on October 6, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Smith, Kim (10 June 2012). "After 25 years, Vicki's mother is fed up with murder appeals". Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  4. ^ Zorn, Steven. “The Predator.” The FBI Files, season 3, episode 6, Discovery Channel, 20 Nov. 2000.
  5. ^ a b c "Frank Jarvis Atwood, Petitioner, vs. Charles L. Ryan, et al, Respondents". Justia Dockets & Filings. 27 January 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Evans, Colin (2004). Murder Two: The Second Casebook of Forensic Detection. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 14–16. ISBN 0471666998.
  7. ^ shmekil (2011-07-20), Kidnapping Murder of Leiby Kletzky 8y/o Similar to Vicky [sic] Lynn Hoskinson 8y/o, retrieved 2017-08-04
  8. ^ The FBI Files, Season 3 Episode 6.
  9. ^ Williams, Ethan (5 February 2014). "The Case Of Vicki Lynn Hoskinson". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  10. ^ "State v Atwood, 171 Ariz. 576 (1993)". Arizona Reporter.
  11. ^ Harrison, Jeff (2015). "Forensic Legend in Our Own Backyard". Arizona Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  12. ^ Fischer, Howard (13 September 2017). "Killer loses another appeal in 1984 Tucson murder of Vicki Lynne Hoskinson, 7". Capitol Media Services. Arizona Daily Star. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017. Retrieved 15 January 2018. Wednesday's ruling could finally bring Atwood, who has been on death row for 30 years, close to the end of exhausting all of his appeals.
  13. ^ "Death row inmate denied appeal". KGUN 9 Digital Staff. Tucson, AZ: Scripps Media, Inc. KGUN9-TV. 13 September 2017. Retrieved 15 January 2018. Today, the U.S. ninth circuit court of appeals denied Atwood's appeal.
  14. ^ Jenkins, Jimmy; Goldstein, Steve (March 5, 2021). "Arizona Department Of Corrections Says It Has Lethal Injection Drugs, Ready To Resume Executions". KJZZ (FM). Retrieved April 22, 2021.
  15. ^ Ryan, Jill (April 7, 2021). "Arizona Plans To Seek Warrants For 1st Executions In Years". KJZZ (FM). Retrieved April 22, 2021.
  16. ^ The Predator | FULL EPISODE | The FBI Files. The FBI Files. February 15, 2020 – via YouTube.

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