It was the 15th of June, 1990, when Linda Wallace returned home from work in Anaheim, California, to be met by a horrific scene. She found the lifeless body of her 9-year-old daughter, Autumn Wallace, facedown in a puddle of her own blood on the bathroom floor. Autumn had been home alone after school, waiting for her older sister to return from school and her mother to return home from work. The home had been ransacked and a number of items had been stolen. Autumn had been stabbed a total of 57 times and died alone on the bathroom floor.1
Investigators would announce that there was no evidence of a forced entry, leading them to speculate that Autumn may have known her killer. They set up a command post outside the Wallace home as forensic experts examined the home in search for evidence which could lead them to the killer or killers. They were using a laser-detection system which seeks out fingerprints and clothing fibres.2 According to neighbours, nobody had heard that anything suspicious that afternoon.
On the 23rd of June, Autumn was laid to rest. Friends, family and classmates of Autumn packed into the Magnolia Baptist Church to pay their final respects to the slain youngster. “Sometimes, there are people like that who are so special that they teach us about life,” said Rev. Michael Bradaric. “Autumn was one of those special people.” People in attendance shared their fond memories of Autumn and questioned how an innocent little girl could be struck down in such a senseless and seemingly random act.3
Towards the end of the month, there was an unexpected twist in the case when it was announced that somebody who knew the Wallace family had been arrested for the murder of Autumn. 18-year-old Maria del Rosio Alfaro had been identified as a suspect when her fingerprints were found in blood throughout the home.4 Alfaro was a friend of Autumn’s older sister and had visited the home several times.
It would soon enough be revealed that after Alfaro was arrested, she had made a full confession to the murder. Alfaro had a troubled childhood which resulted in her developing a drug addiction and selling sex at just 12-years-old to fund her addiction. She confessed that she had arrived at the Wallace home that afternoon to steal items which she could then sell and purchase drugs. She had already taken drugs twice that day and needed money for more, stating: “I was really wire, really coked out and stuff.”5
Alfaro said that she showed up at the Wallace home and when Autumn answered, she asked if she could use the bathroom. Since Autumn knew Alfaro as her sister’s friend, she opened the door and let her in. Before Alfaro knocked on the door, Autumn had been playing with crayons and scissors. According to Alfaro, she didn’t expect that Autumn would be at home. She knew that after stealing the items, Autumn would be able to identify her.
She said that she lifted a knife from the kitchen before proceeding to the bathroom. She then lured Autumn to the bathroom by asking her to help clean her eyelash curler. Here, Alfaro stabbed Autumn a total of 57 times. Autumn was brutally murdered for just $250 of loot, including a television and a Nintendo, which Alfaro then sold for drugs.
Alfaro would be bound over for trial on first-degree murder charges. The prosecution announced that they would be seeking the death penalty against her.
During the opening statements of the murder trial, Deputy District Attorney Charles Middleton held up graphic crime scene photographs as he detailed the grim murder of Autumn. He said that after leaving Autumn bleeding to death, Alfaro “methodically went through the house” looting items to support her drug addiction.
Alfaro’s defence attorney, William Monroe, however, provided a different version of events. While Alfaro had initially confessed to the murder, she was now claiming that she had been forced to partake in the murder.6
According to Alfaro, she had been at the Wallace home with a man she identified simply as “Beto.” She claimed that he forced her to stab Autumn a couple of times before he actually killed her. She also claimed that she could not identify the mystery man out of fear he would exact revenge on her children. Evidence was presented, however, which showed that the only two people present at the crime scene were Alfaro and Autumn.
The jury would deliberate for less than four hours before finding Maria del Rosio Alfaro guilty of the murder. They felt as though the evidence presented against Alfaro was overwhelming, including the forensic evidence as well as the videotaped confession that Alfaro had made following her arrest.7
It would now be up to that same jury to recommend whether Alfaro be sentenced to life imprisonment or death. During the sentencing phase, testimony about Alfaro’s life was presented by her defence in a bid to save her life. She dropped out of school and was pregnant by 14-years-old. She stole money from her mother and grandmother before selling sex to pay for p to 50 daily injections of cocaine and heroin. Her defence would cite childhood friends who knew Alfaro as a “gentle girl” and said that she had tried to give up on drugs but had been unsuccessful. 8
Her mother, Silvia Alfaro, said that she had often searched the streets at night and chased after her daughter in a losing tug of war with drug addiction. She said that just a few days before Autumn was murdered, she had begged her to clean her life up.
Prosecutor Chuck Middleston on the other hand, said that the murder supported a death sentence, stating: “Sometimes the brutal nature of an act speaks for itself.” He didn’t call on any witnesses to testify but simply held up an enlarged photograph of Autumn after she had been murdered.
The jury would ultimately side with the prosecution and would sentence Alfaro to death. As the verdict was read out, she grabbed her defence lawyer’s hand and questioned: “I can’t believe it. Why did they do this?” Outside of court, Autumn’s mother, Linda, said: “At least she’ll know when it’s coming. My daughter didn’t..” She currently remains on Death Row.
- The Orange County Register, 16 June, 1990 – “Girl, 9, Slain in OC Home”
- The Los Angeles Times, 22 June, 1990 – “600 Interviewed for Clues to Girl’s Killing”
- The Los Angeles Times, 24 June, 1990 – “Warm Remembrances of Slain Girl”
- The Los Angeles Times, 29 June, 1990 – “Family Friend Held in Slaying of Anaheim Girl”
- The Los Angeles Times, 20 November, 1990 – “Killed Girl, 9, to Escape Arrest”
- The Orange County Register, 10 June, 1992 – “Jury Votes Death for OC Woman”
- Daily Breeze, 24 March, 1992 – “Woman Convicted in Stabbing Death”
- The Orange County Register, 31 March, 1992 – “Penalty Trial”