SDPD Revisits Teenager's Unsolved 1978 Murder

15-Year-Old Barbara Nantais was brutally killed at Torrey Pines State Beach in August 1978

By Paul Krueger and Monica Garske
|  Wednesday, May 8, 2013  |  Updated 8:34 PM PDT
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San Diego's Unsolved Cold Cases

Barbara Nantais, 15, was brutally murdered at a local beach in August 1978. Her murder has never been solved, but now detectives are revisiting the cold case in hopes of finding new answers.

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SDPD Investigating 1978 Cold Case

The San Diego Police Department is investigating a homicide from 1978 on Torrey Pines beach, in which Barbara Nantais was killed.
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The brutal killing of a teenager on a San Diego beach nearly 35 years ago is getting new attention from police.

The death of 15-year-old Barbara Nantais at Torrey Pines State Beach has never been solved.

Nantais was sleeping on the beach on August 13, 1978, with her boyfriend, 17-year-old Jim Alt, when the couple was attacked by an unknown suspect or suspects.

According to SDPD cold case records, passers-by noticed Nantais’ body lying in the sand. She had been strangled and beaten to death, and one of her breasts had been severed.

Alt was also attacked by the unknown suspect(s), and suffered permanent physical and emotional injuries, including a severe head wound that left him semi-conscious with no recollection of the attack.

On Wednesday, Barbara Nantais’s brother told NBC 7 his sister’s unsolved murder still haunts him.

"I see that picture of my sister who was 15-and-a-half, 16 years and then I see my [own] daughter getting older, and I recognize how [Barbara] barely had any time on this earth," said Tom Nantais.

Nantais says he wants justice not just for Barbara, and also for her boyfriend at the time, Jim Alt.

"If he gets resolution, I'll have resolution," said Tom Nantais.

Now, after a passionate plea from Barbara's family, homicide detectives with the SDPD’s cold case unit are taking another look at the evidence.

Lieutenant Ernie Herbert told NBC 7 there have been huge advances in DNA technology since the case was last reviewed.

Detectives are now hopeful new science will generate new leads. They're also re-interviewing witnesses.

So, three decades later, the Nantais family hopes a high-tech crime lab, and old-fashion police work, will bring some closure to their neverending nightmare.

“She was just a budding as a person, as a human being, and had massive potential,” Tom Nantais says of his late sister.

According to police records, there was another murder on that same beach, almost exactly six years later. In that case, the victim was 14 year-old Claire Hough.

Her death, like Barbara’s, has never been solved.

SDPD cold case records say similarities in both murder cases suggest that they could’ve been committed by the same perpetrator.

Detectives are now reviewing Hough’s case as well.

This news comes on the heels of another decades-long cold case that was recently solved by homicide investigators.

San Diego resident Bruce McCullough was arrested on May 2 as the suspect in the unsolved 1976 murder of his then-girlfriend, Donna Smith.

McCullough is suspected of killing Smith near Tucson, Ariz. Investigators say he fled the area after the murder and assumed another identity for decades.

This year, homicide investigators got a break in the case when they learned that not only was McCullough using his identity again, but that he had been living in San Diego. He is now in custody facing a charge of first degree murder and extradition to Arizona.

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