The Chia kids murder: Still unsolved 30 years later

Chia family.
Chia family.(KOLO)
Published: Oct. 18, 2019 at 6:47 PM PDT
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It was 30 years ago two young children disappeared in broad daylight near their home in south Reno. Their murder remains unsolved, but a retired detective who continues to work it says the case is anything but cold.

Their gravestone sits on a grassy hillside in Reno's Mountain View Cemetery. Above their names are cartoons of Donald Duck and Cinderella. That tells you all you need to know about their ages-- 8 and 6--and their innocence.

Those who were living here at the time will likely remember their names and the shock of learning of their disappearance 30 years ago.

Few crimes have touched the community as deeply as the murders of Charles and Jennifer Chia.

The grief was still raw two and a half years later as classmates embraced Anne Chia at the dedication of a memorial at Anderson Elementary School.

Thirty years ago today some of those students rode a school bus with Charles and Jennifer to a south Reno neighborhood at Talbot and Redfield, behind a present day Sam's Club.

They got off and walked toward their home a short distance away. Somewhere on that short journey, they were taken by someone they knew or who possessed sufficient force.

The area, a nearby field, now a shopping center, was searched, neighbors contacted. No sign of what had happened, who had taken them.

The following summer their remains were found down an embankment off Highway 70 in Sierra Valley near Blairsden, just east of the turnoff to Graeagle.

The clothes found there were the ones they had worn to school that day, indicating they were murdered shortly after they were taken.

The protocol was different back then. The case had been assigned to the Juvenile Division. It was until nearly a year after their disappearance Detective Ron Dreher and his partner in the Major Crimes Division got the case.

He inherited a small file and built from there. Years later the case file would fill a wall next to his desk. As he worked, pictures of Charles and Jennifer looked on from above his computer.

There have been and are leads.

Shortly after their disappearance a man named James Grooms offered safe return of the kids for $100,000 dollars. He later would claim no actual knowledge of the crime, but would serve nearly 10 years for extortion. With an apparent connection to a Volkswagen sedan seen near where the bodies were found, he's never been cleared.

Another vehicle, a brown van with a distinctive Miller beer gear shift knob was also seen there, but never found.

And a few days before Charles and Jennifer were taken, a young man with long blonde hair attempted to force two other children who had just gotten off school bus into his white pickup several miles east in Beckwourth.

Intriguing leads, but unanswered questions that still loom large 30 years later.

Dreher is retired now, but holding a private investigator's license still works the case--a case, he says. is anything. but cold.

"A cold case is something where you have no leads. This is not a cold case. It's very solvable. We just need people to come forward again and keep this case as alive as possible."

He's hoping someone in this neighborhood or in the Sierra Valley--perhaps one of the children who were on that bus and now like Charles and Jennifer would be in their 30's will think back 30 years ago, which he points out was the day after the Loma Prieta earthquake in the Bay Area, will search their memory and provide that missing piece.

"We've got children here that were taken. We know we can solve this case if people to come forward that saw something."

Anyone with thoughts or information should call the Reno Police Robbery Homicide Division at 775-334-2188 or Secret Witness at 775-322-4900. Secret Witness is offering a $5,000 reward for information about the case. People who give tips to Secret Witness can remain anonymous.

Ron Dreher says they're free to call him directly at 775-830-8877.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2019