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Cold Case Spotlight

No arrests 46 years after Sarah Lou Gammons’ brutal California killing

Sarah Lou Gammons was an avid piano player, Suzi Hampton Coen remembers. Sarah played piano during Sunday church services at the Gustine Presbyterian Community Church and was married to the pastor, Reverend Kenneth Gammons.

Suzi grew up in Gustine, California, and told Dateline that as a kid she spent time with Sarah, 31, at the church during an after-school program.

“It was just a little fun thing for kids to do after school,” Suzi told Dateline. “They did crafts and helped us do homework in the church’s youth center.”

Sarah Lou Gammons

Suzi was eight years old in February 16, 1973. After school that Friday, she went to the church and listened to Sarah practicing piano for that weekend’s church services.

“It was amazing -- beautiful. I can remember as a child knowing it was like angels singing,” Suzi told Dateline.

That day, Suzi was the last child to get picked up. When she left, Sarah was still at the church. Suzi could never have known it would be the last time she would see Sarah alive.

“Maybe a couple of hours later, my mom came through the door in a panic -- and she wasn't a panicky person,” Suzi told Dateline. Her mother told her disturbing news: Sarah had been stabbed to death at the church just hours after Suzi had left her.

According to the archives of a local newspaper, Sarah’s husband Kenneth Gammons found his wife stabbed in the face multiple times. She also had slash wounds to her neck. Sarah had been found in a home on the church’s property.

Sarah Lou Gammons

Dateline could not reach Kenneth Gammons for comment. According to the Gustine Police Department Chief Milt Medeiros, the case is open, but has been passed onto the Merced County District Attorney’s Office Investigations Unit.

“Seven or eight months ago, I looked over this case and decided it needed further investigating by the D.A.,” Chief Medeiros told Dateline. “Once I came on board as the chief [in 2017], I thought it needed some fresh eyes on the case.”

Chief Medeiros told Dateline he has had no direct contact with the Gammons family, and that he could not comment further on the case since it is being handled by the District Attorney’s Office. The Merced County District Attorney’s Office was unable to comment on this report by Sunday.

“What I did see was there were some investigative leads that could be followed up on -- and hopefully there will be a resolution for the family,” Chief Medeiros said.

Suzi said this case has haunted her and the small town of Gustine’s almost 6,000 residents.

“People didn’t really lock their doors back then, but after what happened to Sarah, the whole city changed,” Suzi recalls. “None of the kids were allowed to walk alone anymore. Since then, it’s become a much different place.”

If you have any information about Sarah’s case, please contact the Merced County District Attorney’s Office at 209-385-7381.