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It was July 2018 and I had received a call from a man named Frank Cole in Mariposa, CA. He sounded like he was going in too many directions to follow at once and reminded me of mother my Donna Jean Crowder and her attempts to explain the abuse she suffered at the hands of my father, Albert Sanchez Gonzales. There was no doubt my dad was an evil man. I was all of 5 years old when I heard my mother scream for help behind my parent’s bathroom door. I ran as fast as I could… someone was hurting my mother. And when I burst open the door my father was brutally slapping my mother as she was sitting, I believe, on the sink. I yelled at him to stop and to get off of her.
I don’t remember very much after that. My mother left us the next day. I didn’t know why she left us until 7 years later when she came back into our lives. I learned how she had been brutally raped that day and I had been knocked unconscious by my dad. All I remember of my mother was seeing her with a swollen and bruised face and her head hung down never looking at me. She had sunglasses on and sat next to the window of a Greyhound bus as it pulled away. The year was 1972 and for the remainder of my dad’s life, I became the object of my his daily violent rage.
My mother tried to go to law enforcement, tried to file for custody and yet she was told she had abandoned us and that was that. We as children were told our mother was dead. Little did we know she had joined the Army and became an LVN. She remarried a man named Steve Morris in Merced and they had a son named Derick.
For my mother, Donna, it was a lifetime of fighting. Telling her story to anyone who would listen while absorbing so much information. Her photo was literally taped to the Merced County District Attorney’s office throughout the 1980s. Soon her descriptions of what happened became a mixed bag of what she could recall over the past forty years until she died in my arms in July 2006. I whispered to her as she choked on the Black Death of cancer that she could finally be at peace from all the ridicule and blame by law enforcement and child services.
She never told any of us about her cancer until it was too late. She was a nurse and knew what she was facing. She decided she’d had enough. Life had not treated her well as she called, wrote and even posted on line for anyone to listen.
Frank Cole reminds me of my mother. He has a story to tell, but most write him off as crazy or just overwhelmed with grief and that he’s looking to blame the disappearance of his 19-year-old son Ronnie Cole on anyone who disliked him. Frank his wife and Frank’s mother Donna have struggled, along with Ashlee, Reanalyn, Tyler and Dylan Cole as well as cousin Tammi Tofeneli, to get anyone to listen. To get anyone to take a deeper look at the obvious discrepancies, the obvious timeline conflicts, the missing money and drugs from Ronnie’s black box, and on and on. But the Mariposa County Sheriff’s office, the California CHP Mariposa Division, and even the local news outlet, the Mariposa Gazette, would not listen to anything the family had to say. And all the while Ronnie Cole’s death remained an accidental drowning.
I wrote a story detailing the information I had gathered at the time about Ronnie Cole’s disappearance (read it by clicking HERE), but I lacked the Sheriff’s reports and witness statements in order to fully understand what may have happened that day. And so many more questions went unanswered. Among the key people were Brandi Riggins Willey, Debi-Jean Congdon and Luke Willey.
Luke Willey ended up going to prison on a seven year sentence shortly after I wrote the story about his violent unchecked rampages. And like only one other case in California, Dylan Morse DUI manslaughter case out of Santa Rosa, CA, had a felony convict been brought back to court in a matter of months to be re-sentenced to a lesser term. And without having to wait like all other inmates on his appeal. Luke was recently released back into the community he violently rampaged for years without the local paper, the Gazette, informing their community. Neither did anyone inform Luke Willey’s victims of his early release so they could be prepared.
Luke’s adopted dad owns the Pizza Factory and many locals complained of Luke claiming he would put drugs or other nefarious items on pizzas of local patrons he did not like. And Luke also threatened to kill Ronnie Cole shortly before his death which was witnessed by several locals. Luke Willey is currently on parole.
Brandi Riggins Willey has allegedly been arrested for attempting to hire someone to kill her own husband at the time, Luke Willey. She has also been arrested for vehicle theft and was on probation at the time of Ronnie Cole’s death. She has lied multiple times to deputies and has never been asked about the drugs and alcohol that played a part in the events leading up to that day.
Since my story “Mariposa Burning”, I had continued to follow the Jerry Cox case writing about it regularly. Keeping those interested in how Mariposa County could legally steal a hard working American’s 437 acres of land and the progress being made to expose the corruption through the federal courts. Jerry’s attorney, Marc Angelucci, had called me on a few occasions and we’d discussed Jerry’s case and the National Coalition For Men. An advocacy group that focuses on the rights of men.
In July of this year, Marc was shot three times as he came to his front door and died at the scene. Although the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office has not concluded their investigation naming Roy Den Hollander as Marc’s murderer, the FBI has. Van Hollander is accused of traveling to California from New York, killing Marc, then traveling back to New Jersey where he allegedly opened fire on a judge’s family killing the judges son and wounding her husband. I say allegedly because nothing has been released that was found at the scene of Den Hollander’s alleged suicide that would tie him to the the events at Marc’s home. There has been as photo of him at the train station showing he traveled to San Bernardino, but nothing more.
After seeing the corporate media outlets once again going along with the FBI’s narrative, I decided to go to Crestline, CA., and to interview Jerry Cox and then to Bakersfield, CA., to interview Jennifer Johnson. Both had cases pending before Mariposa County Judge Dana Walton and were being represented by Marc Angelucci. Marc, along with his team of investigators, had uncovered a lot of corruption in Mariposa County. During my last interview with Jennifer Johnson the story I wrote about Ronnie Cole in July 2018 came up.
When I returned home I tried every number I had to contact the Cole Family. I even tried reaching them through social media but to no avail. Nearly three months later I get a message from Frank Cole, Ronnie’s father, and I call him. He didn’t seem to recall that I was the same investigative public journalist he’d met over the phone two years ago, but it soon became apparent as we talked about his son and what may have actually happened.
The Sheriff’s Reports
There have been many rumors circulating about what happened that day at 2:30 PM June 23, 2017, when 19-year-old Ronnie Cole went to Cable Rock with Brandi Riggins Willey and Debi-Jean Congdon. Some added that Luke Willey was involved and had made death threats against Ronnie. There was a lot of misinformation and I could not understand why it was that way until I received the Sheriff’s investigation reports. In them there seems to be an elementary level investigation performed by officers who record discrepancies in witness statements, but do nothing to follow-up on those discrepancies. Here are those reports sent to me by the Mariposa County Sheriff’s office for you to read;
As you can see from the reports the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Deputies seemed to have had more issues with the Cole Family than actual felons sitting in their jail. I went through the documents word by word for three days and nights trying to understand how the deputies came to their conclusions when they closed this case. There were just too many discrepancies.
The Coroner’s Narrative
I needed to see the coroner’s report to understand what he/she found as the cause of Ronnie Cole’s death and if there were any punctures or bruising on his body that could be consistent with an assault. The Sheriff’s Department sent me their corner’s narrative of when the coroner found the body and the tests requested to be performed, but not the actual autopsy report with the cause of death listed. Instead a Sheriff’s deputy issued a supplemental report stating what she was told what the cause of death was, which is not an official record from the coroner. See below;
Questions For Sheriff’s Investigators
So I called Kristi the PIO at the Sheriff’s department and asked if I could submit questions to the deputies involved and she agreed. These are the questions I submitted but never received an answer to any of them. Here are the questions below;
Eye Witness Statements Describe Others May Be Involved
A witness by the name of Raymond Morrow hand wrote a 19 page declaration about having spent several hours with Ronnie that day before Brandi, Luke and two others picked him up to go to the river. He gave the declaration to Ashlee who then gave it to me for review. See below;
The Cole Family and I began contacting several eyewitnesses that day including an eyewitness who did not want me to publish her name, but wanted to tell what really happened. When I started to press her on details in her story that did not make sense she became upset and told me not to call her or publish her name.
Podcast Promo Creates Buzz
After the promo aired a buzz started going around about the truth coming to light about what really happened to Ronnie Cole on June 23, 2020 at about 2:30 PM. And as I feverishly worked all night without sleep, on 1600 milligrams of ibuprofen, an H-Wave and four pots of coffee I began asking Ronnie Cole to show me the way. And finally part one of the two part series was done about the Ronnie Cole story and released on IPJ The Podcast.
Podcast Released For Just Over Two Hours Before Eye Witness Proclaims Ronnie Cole’s Death Was Not An Accident
The family praised the way I had taken the listener step-by-step through the timeline and we believed it gave a more accurate picture of the events that unfolded that day. Within two hours of its release an eyewitness called the Cole Family in tears. Tired of hiding the truth from the Cole family and Ronnie’s friends she allowed them to record her statement about what actually happened to Ronnie that day and who was responsible for his death. She confirmed that he did not go swimming or jump in the water on his own accord before drowning in the raging high cold water of the Merced River that day.
The recording was murky and hard to hear so they asked the eyewitness if she would call me. She did and allowed me to record her statement of what happened that day. It was difficult to listen to her pain, the hell she had gone through, but then I thought of the Cole Family and how they went through so much more not knowing what happened to their Ronnie.
As the family gathers for a rally to support justice for Ronnie Cole, I can’t help but think we still do not have the whole truth as to what happened that day. More investigation is needed and deputies must follow-up on every lead to ensure the story is accurate and anyone who may have been involved in criminal intent goes to jail for a very very long time.
And it’s not just Ronnie’s death that we were able to get answers to. Another Mariposa woman, Natalie Hefner, came forward alleging Luke Willey raped her after giving her a Xanax bar while she was under the age of consent. Yes there is much more to the Brandi Riggins Willey and Luke Willey story left to discover. And it’s my belief once all of the crime and corruption comes forward from within Mariposa’s local government, if brought into the public light, it will help Mariposa County move forward in a positive direction. Making it the great little town before Yosemite that it really could be.
On Monday evening we will upload the audio statements made regarding Ronnie’s death and Natalie Hefner’s claim of rape against Luke Willey.