Missy Avila

A movie based on this case is the first true crime movie I remember seeing. It was 1992 and a movie called "A Killer Among Friends."  I think this case struck me so because I was not much younger when Missy when she died, although a bit older when the movie came out.  I was not so far out of high school at the time to remember just how those times were.  The older I get the more fascinating the story seems to me.  As we age and look back to our younger years we think about the things that irritated us or bothered us in those years and it just seems so silly now that we even worried or stressed about some of those things.  But, at the time things like boys, movies, style and make up were the things you cared about most.  Sure, we all had arguments with people over a boy or a girl and we may have ended relationships over them but few took it as far as Karen Severson and Laura Doyle.

Missy Avila had been friends with Karen since she was a young girl of seven or eight, riding bikes and playing with Barbie's.  Laura soon joined their group.  By the time they reached high school they had grown apart quite a bit.  Most claim that this was because Missy was more attractive and popular than the other girls.  They all lived and went to school in Artela California, just outside of Los Angeles.  By 1985 things had become tense between the three girls.  From the outside it looked like typical teenage behavior, one day they seems to get along and the next they were not speaking to each other.  

On October 2, 1985 things seemed to be better between the three, especially between Missy and Laura, or so everyone thought.  Laura had gone to Missy's house to pick her up to hang out.  Missy left promising her mother she would be back by a particular time.  A few hours later Laura called Missy's house looking for her.  When Missy's mother, Irene, said she thought she was still with Laura, Laura told Irene that while they were out they had seen three guys that apparently knew Missy in a blue Camaro and Missy stayed with them while Laura went to get gas.  She said when she returned to get her Missy and the boys were gone.  For the next three days everyone began looking for Missy and the boys in the blue Camaro.  Karen Severson especially helped. Friends and family vowed to find her.  Then on October 5th Missy was found.  She was face down in a stream in a nearby National Forest.  She had been beaten, her hair was cut, and she had been forcibly drowned in about 8 inches of water with a 100 pound log across her holding her down.

Over the next nearly 3 years there were no clues.  Most still believed that the boys in the blue Camaro were the only thing they had to go on but that had led no where. In the meantime Karen in particular had become even closer to Irene and Missy's brothers.  She had moved into Irene's home for a period of time with her young daughter.  And then in July of 1988 a young girl named Eva Chirumbolo started talking to the police.  Over the last few years she had been struggling emotionally.  Then her brother had died and not only had it made things worse, it had made her realize what it felt to lose someone close to you. The story that emerged changed everything.  According to Eva on the day of October 2, 1985 she had rode in a car with Karen.  At some point they had met up with Laura Doyle and Missy who were in Laura's car.  They followed each other to Angles National Forest.  When they got there Eva claims that Laura and Karen immediately got out of their cars and while Missy was still sitting in Laura's they began to yell at her.  Missy began crying and Karen and Laura forced her down a trail and near the stream.  Once there Eva says that Karen and Laura continued yelling at Missy claiming she had slept with their boyfriends and calling her names. Eva claimed that as things started getting out of control she left the area and headed back towards the cars.  She said when Karen and Laura emerged Missy was not with them.

So just what happened that things got this far out of hand?  As with most cases all of the truth may not be completely known. As Dr. House says... "Everybody lies" and that especially applies to those who have committed crimes.  Over time sometimes more and more of the truth will come out but there almost always seems to be an underlying need by criminals to down play their own roles and divert things as much as possible. Even when they take responsibility for their actions they often tend to still blame the victim for making them feel a particular way.  I should be clear right off the bat that no matter the behavior, that may have been real or imagined, no one deserves to lose their life, especially in this manner.  In the same respect as a mother of now grown children I know that children, especially teens, never seem to be the same person at home as they are elsewhere, better or worse.  We live in a society that attempts to live by the idea of not "speaking ill of the dead" and that is not my intention here what so ever, but I do believe in dead or alive people we should be honest about things that happened, choices made and behaviors exhibited.  Again, this is not to speak ill of Missy, nor did she deserve what happens but there is evidence that she was not the sweet, innocent, fun loving person that she is often portrayed. There have been reports by other classmates that Missy was quite the bully, just as Karen and Laura were.  In fact their reports claim that Missy, Karen and Laura were very much alike as far as personality.  The problem likely lied with the fact that Missy was more attractive than either Karen or Laura and had more boyfriends while often times those same boys would ignore Laura who was rather lanky and Karen who was overweight.  

At the time of Missy's death Laura had just broken up with a boy named Victor who claimed that Laura was clingy (but in fairness almost ALL teenage girls are) and overly jealous and Karen had been involved with a boy named Randy.  Missy had dated both Victor and Randy for a short period before either of the girls got with them. According to Victor, he and Missy had remained friends and may have been looking into getting back together.  Victor claims that apparently Laura was all but stalking him and had seen him with Missy not long before she was murdered.  Laura had confronted them at his home and Victor ordered her to leave.  In the mean time Randy and Karen were having issues and Karen claims to have walked in on Missy sitting on Randy's lap.  Missy supposedly tried to explain that it was Randy who had pulled her on his lap and that she did not want anything to do with him.  When Karen would complain about Randy, Missy would tell her she should break up with him as she deserved better. Karen apparently saw this as an attempt by Missy to get back with Randy.  So prosecutors would later claim that when Karen and Laura took Missy to the edge of that stream it was a planned mission in which they knew Missy would not be leaving alive.

Once Eva Chirumbolo finished with the police it was not long before Karen and Laura were arrested and the community was stunned.  Irene Avila was understandably exceptionally surprised, especially about Karen.  Although they had been arrested and charged with first degree murder, in March of 1990 they were convicted of second degree murder and each were sentenced to 15 years to life.  The jurors later said that they were not convinced that the girls took Missy there planning to kill her which was required for a first degree conviction.  Karen had argued that she had only planned to scare or bully Missy and apparently the jury believed that.  Karen was released from prison in December of 2011 and the following December Laura was released.

There is not much out there from Laura since she has been released.  It seems that she has likely gone on with life quietly.  Although obviously still angry with the once best friends that murdered her daughter, Irene, has stated that at least by 2002 at a parole hearing Laura had taken responsibility for her role and likely more of the truth of what happened emerged. The same cannot be said for Karen. It is said that after her release she began working as a telemarketer but by 2014 things were changing.  First she wrote a book called "My Life, I Lived It." In 2002 the Supreme Court of California had struck down what in essence was called the "Son of Sam" law saying that it violated one's First Amendment rights.  This law had prevented criminals from profiting from their crimes through things like movies and books. When Karen came out with her book Missy's family began a fierce fight to get a new law enacted.  Karen for her part had claimed that she would donate a portion (although she obviously had not specified) of the proceeds to an anti-bullying organization in Missy's name. But, she was quick to point out that finding work post prison was difficult so of course she did not intend to donate all of the proceeds.  I just recently learned of her book so I have not, nor do I know if I will, read it.  I have read, and seen interviews with Karen, most notably on the Dr. Phil show in December 2014.  It appears, and I can only assume that her book shows the same attitude, that she feels little remorse.  In the few times that she appears to say the "right thing" she shows no emotion behind it and often apparently felt the need to make continued snide remarks against Missy.  In one particular statement she has made she has told of the moment in which she, Karen and Missy are at the stream, she claims that "Missy knew what she had done" and yet "she never said she was sorry."  So, nearly 30 years after she murdered another human being, she still holds on to anger that a 17 year old girl did not apologize to her.  She always seemed to be quick to point out that Missy was not the "angel" she has been portrayed.  As I stated above, that is probably a true statement but Karen obviously did not learn in prison what she should or should not say, especially in public. When those statements come from a killer's mouth, they sound more like justification for their actions, and there is no justification for this murder.

As a side note... a while back I saw a true crime episode on Discovery ID on this case.  I do not recall exactly which series it was to be truthful but after I had watched it I had gotten online and looked around.  I do not believe that I knew at that point that either Karen or Laura had been released from prison so I began a search considering how much I had remembered this case.  I came across things that were said to have been posted by members of Missy's family.  Among them were comments that at least one of the people interviewed in the show I had just previously watched was unknown to the family.  In the show the girl had claimed to be a very good friend of Missy's both when they were young and at the time of her murder yet family members claimed to not know who she was.  If this is true then it was obvious that she was not in fact a close friend of Missy's and also shows again that one should be careful about what information they take from such shows.


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