California police reopen murder of 5-year-old girl who vanished on way to school in 1982

SEASIDE, Calif. — Anne Pham decided one rainy California morning in January 1982 that she could walk alone to her school a few blocks away.

Two days later, the kindergartner’s lifeless body was found in some bushes on Fort Ord, a nearby U.S. Army post that has since been shuttered. Anne, 5, had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

Cold case investigators in Seaside announced last week that they have reopened case, which has remained unsolved for more than 40 years. Seaside police detectives are working with the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Task Force to bring the little girl’s killer to justice.

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Authorities said new leads have surfaced, but they did not offer details of what those leads are.

“Whoever is responsible for this is an absolute monster,” Seaside Police Chief Nicholas Borges told People magazine. “Most monsters don’t change their ways.

“What keeps me up at night is knowing that there are other potential victims out there. Every second that goes by, there is someone else out there that can be a potential victim.”

Anne Sang Thi Pham was one of 10 siblings born to a Vietnamese fisherman and his wife. Her father, Tuong Pham, was drafted to serve in the South Vietnamese Army.

When the country fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975, Pham, his wife and their seven children fled on a fishing vessel with 200 others. They spent days adrift on the sea, according to a story from the Monterey Herald archives.

“They were eventually caught by the U.S. Navy and brought to Seaside to start a new life,” Seaside police officials said in a statement.

The following year, in 1976, Anne became the first member of the family born in the U.S. She was born in Beaumont, Texas, before the Phams relocated to California so her father could return to fishing.

The Herald described the little girl as shy and sensitive, but independent. She loved attending school at Highland School, just blocks from her family’s home.

“The teacher said she was smart and came to school on time every day,” Anne’s oldest brother, Kheu Van Pham, told a reporter in 1982.

At the start of the school year, the children’s mother started out walking Anne to school. By Jan. 21, 1982, however, Anne had begun taking the brief journey alone.

“(She said), ‘Stay home, Mom. I can walk by myself,’” Kheu Pham told the Herald.

The little girl vanished in the few minutes that last walk would have taken.

A U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Division investigator looking for a marijuana grow on Fort Ord found the girl’s body two days later. She had been dumped in some brush near what was known as South Boundary Road.

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Seaside police detectives investigated the case, as did the FBI and the Army CID, but the case went cold. Anne’s parents have both since died, but her surviving siblings have been told that the case is being reopened.

“This is one of the most disturbing cold cases we’ve had,” Borges told the Herald last week. “Going through all our files, it’s clear there is a monster involved. And while I can’t get into specifics, there is a lot of evidence, and I am hopeful we can bring justice for that beautiful little angel.”

Borges told People that all available physical evidence has been sent to a lab for DNA testing. Investigators hope that shining a light on the case will prompt possible witnesses to come forward.

“We know for a fact somebody had to have seen something that didn’t look right, and all it takes is one person to read an article, see a news clipping, see her picture and say, ‘Oh my goodness, I remember this,’” the chief told the magazine.

Anyone with information on Anne Pham’s murder can call Borges at 831-899-6892, Sgt. Matthew Doza at 831-899-6751 or the anonymous tip line at 831-899-6282. Tipsters can also contact Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Matthew L’Heureux at 831-755-5267.

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