Babysitter's death prompts answers nearly 40 years later

El Paso - Nearly four decades later and the Bonilla family is still searching for clues on who killed 13-year-old Janet Bonilla.

Janet was described as a class act—fun, tall, and full of life. Her siblings say she didn’t have one shy bone in her body. 

"Very funny, outgoing, playing around, jokes, she loved music a lot, dancing, she left everything for me to do… house chores," her sister Catherine Bonilla Schultz says. Her brother Mike Bonilla, who was five years older than Janet, says she was a happy and outgoing girl.

On November 25,1977, Catherine says Janet was asked to babysit a neighbor’s children. The family she was asked to babysit for had gone to Juarez to go clubbing with visiting relatives. Janet was eager to raise money for Christmas gifts so she said yes to the offer. What no one knew was that would have been the last time they’d see Janet alive. 

In 1977 the Bonilla family lived in the 8600 block of Mount Shasta. It would be a few hundred feet away from that home that Janet’s father would find his daughter dead on the floor – strangled.

"My dad had left across the street and I had left on my own to go see. I saw people outside crying, and then I went in and I went into the bedroom and that’s when I saw my sister. My dad was giving her CPR. I thought she was still alive because she was still warm," Catherine says.  

Detectives handling the case back then believed someone had broken in the early morning through a bedroom window, killing the teen. News of Janet’s murder shocked the community. Nothing of this extent had happened in this small, quiet neighborhood.

Detective Michael Aman from the El Paso Police Department's Cold Case Unit says this case was notorious in the Borderland due to the fact that it was a young babysitter who was brutally murdered. Police say a major obstacle in the case was the fact that there were no witnesses over the age of 8 that morning. The parents of the three children Janet was babysitting for didn’t return from Juarez until 5:30 that morning. 

"The children were there, but they were between the ages of 3-7. One of the children, the older one observed part of what happened and could offer bits and pieces of something," says Aman. "But of course no complete suspect description that would pin our crime on any particular individual."

Officers had very little evidence to work with, nothing was stolen from the scene, and the children were unharmed. Police at the time even had the oldest child hypnotized, as an attempt to gather more evidence, but were unsuccessful.  

"Now we are going back almost 40 years in 1977, so as far as physical evidence, all that was doable was fingerprints, and blood-typing. There was no DNA," Aman says.  

At the time, detectives had 2 main suspects. One was a teenage boy who was infatuated with Janet. The second was the driver of a suspicious red mustang in the neighborhood. But both were eventually ruled out. 

So was Janet killed by a complete stranger or was it someone she knew? Detective Aman says that if it somebody she knew, there has to be someone who knew that person who possibly knows what occurred in the early morning on November 26,1977. 

As for her siblings, Mike and Catherine have their own suspicions on who killed their sister. "I’m pretty sure I know who it is. But until someone talks and identifies them, and is willing to make a statement or corroborate with everything else that has happened, all we can do is sit and hope that they do talk, it would ease the pain for a lot of people," Mike says. 

Although Janet’s parents died without knowing who killed their daughter, Catherine says she’s never going to give up on finding out who murdered her sister. "If you’re listening, know what we’re going through, all the suffering that we’ve gone through, if you have a heart, at least a heart you would come out. Or somebody say something," Catherine says.  

With the advancement of DNA technology, the cold case unit says they plan to re-look at evidence they have to see if it leads to anything solid. Anyone with information on the case is urged to contact Crime Stoppers at 915-566-TIPS. 

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