This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
Starr Lara and her sister, Jamie, loved to watch the Wizard of Oz together and they always tried to watch its annual showing. Jamie also loved to ride horses and chew on lemons. Lemon pie was her favorite.
The two sisters grew up in Vancouver, Washington, and traveled between foster homes. They were placed in their first foster home when they were three and four years old. They landed in their final foster home over a decade later.
One chilly December day, Jamie didn’t come home one. That was 50 years ago. Starr and Jamie never watched the Wizard of Oz together again.
Jamie’s belongings were found in the woods five months later. Police and her family believe she was murdered, but her case has never been solved.
Their foster mother, Grace, had already been a widow for 10 years before young Jamie and Starr came into her life. The sisters stayed with Grace at her small farm a few years before, but had been moved and then returned.
The farm had cows, chicken, ducks, a dog, a few cats, and a garden. Berry fields were close by, and the family would get fresh milk from a dairy down the road. The milk was still warm when they delivered it.
This would be the last place the girls lived together, and they were happy there.
The Grissim sisters loved to celebrate Thanksgiving together, and it was their favorite holiday. Grace was a great cook, and on Thanksgiving, she made homemade potato rolls.
“We would eat like a whole pan by ourselves,” Starr recalled with a laugh. “They were so good.”
Jamie was creative. She was an artist and loved to draw faces, and she was very good at putting on eyeliner.
“I used to watch her, but I could never put on eyeliner like her,” Starr said. “It was just like perfection.”
Jamie had “beautiful cursive writing.” She read and wrote poetry in her free time. Starr admired her older sister and wished she was as talented with a pencil.
Starr and Jamie often took a short walk to their friend Donna Ayer’s house after school to hang out. The three became close friends. Donna said they mainly spoke about school and boys, as most teenage girls do when they hang out together.
“Jamie was always very outgoing, and bubbly. She had a really bubbly personality. And always seemed happy even though her circumstances might not have been,” Donna said. “She was just a free spirit. I don’t think she let a lot bother her, and if she did, she didn’t show it. And she always protected her sister. They were very close.”
On December 7, 1971, Jamie was expected to be home after school between 1:00 and 1:30. She only had two classes that day.
When Starr walked off the bus at 4:30, she immediately noticed that Jamie wasn’t around.
Authorities originally believed that Jamie was a runaway. While they took an initial report that night, it would be 30 days later that an official missing persons report was filed.
“It was really difficult,” Starr recalled. “One day she was there, and the other she wasn’t.”
Starr knew that her sister was dead the moment they found her belongings without Jamie anywhere in sight.
Her murder has not officially been solved, but it does not remain a mystery. Starr received the crime synopsis for her sister 40 years after the incident. At that point, the police told Starr that they believe a suspected serial killer from the area, Warren Forrest, murdered Jamie. His known victims match Jamie’s physical description, but there is not enough evidence to try him for her murder.
Starr struggled for years after her sister’s death. She began to rebel by running away from home. She had a son in high school and went to college for a year and a half, but she didn’t finish her degree until 2010. Through the years, she has never stopped fighting for the justice her sister deserves. Starr has advocated persistently for Jamie’s murder to be solved.
In 1974, Forrest was convicted of murdering 19-year-old Krista Blake and he received a life sentence with a chance of parole. Starr has attended every parole hearing and has spoken before the parole board. She learned about remains that were unidentified but were found close to her sister’s belongings. She always hoped they were Jamie’s. However, police said that dental records indicated the remains were not those of Jamie.
Starr continued to ask that the remains be tested for DNA to identify her. Later, a police officer told her the remains had been lost.
“I just felt like (the detective) kicked me in the stomach because for over 30 years I held out hope she could be my sister,” she said.
Reporter Dan Tilkin of KOIN 6 News in Oregon found the last place the remains were sent and passed the information to Starr. She then reached out to Dr. Snow, the medical examiner, at the time. He was 83 years old when she called, but he remembered the remains.
Snow said he would find a copy of the FedEx he sent back with the remains. Starr presented the FedEx letter to the current medical examiner, who said she needed time to search for the remains.
A couple of months later the remains were found mixed into another victim’s evidence. After over 30 years, they finally found the remains – but testing showed they belonged to Martha Morrison.
Forrest was charged with Morrison’s murder in January of 2020. His trial is scheduled to begin in 2022. If convicted, he’ll face a life sentence with no chance of parole.
“Short of him telling the truth, because her remains were never found, the closest thing I can get to justice is seeing him convicted of Martha’s murder,” Starr said. “Unless they find (Jamie’s) remains and charge him, which is really far-fetched.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Jamie Grissim, please call the Clark County Sheriff’s Office at (360) 397-2020.
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