The Murder of Terri Lynn Deschamp

Last week I wrote a post about the murders of Robin Marie Nuss and her unborn child by Charles Lawrence Alarid, her husband of six weeks. Unfortunately, Nuss and her baby weren’t his only victims.

The Murder of Terri Lynn Deschamp

Seventeen year-old Terri Lynn Deschamp was an aspiring model who lived in Montebello, California with her family. In 1982, when she was fifteen, she visited her aunt and uncle in Lodi and met Nathan Richards. They fell in love and, according to Deschamp’s aunt, Deschamp was “crazy about” Richards.  So much so that two years later, she returned to the area after a fight with her parents and moved into the Rainbow Motel with him.

Richards, who worked as a security guard in Lodi, last saw Deschamp on the night of July 24, 1984, when she visited him at his workplace. She left to walk back to the motel and disappeared soon after.*

The Rainbow Motel in Lodi, CA (now known as the Wine Country Inn).

At the time, Charles Lawrence Alarid was also living in the motel. Investigators questioned him about her disappearance but he wasn’t considered a suspect. Richards himself was under suspicion until a polygraph test cleared him, but rumors of his involvement persisted. Months went by with no leads. Desperate for information, her relatives hired a psychic to help locate her but came up with nothing. Then, a year after she disappeared, dogs belonging to a local rancher dug up some bones along Bear Creek in Lodi. One of them was a human skull. Using dental records, experts determined the remains belonged to Deschamp.

Though it was now a murder investigation, there was little evidence of how she died or who killed her and the case remained cold. Alarid eventually moved to El Dorado County, where he murdered his wife and unborn child in 1989. He was convicted on two counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Sgt. John Drummond, one of the detectives on the Deschamp case, couldn’t let it go. “It always ate on me,” he said. “She was not a tramp, not a drug dealer, not somebody who, by her own volition, put herself in harm’s way. She really was a nice girl.”

Drummond’s statement is quoted in a 1997 newspaper article. The language he used troubles me, as it implies that certain victims—particularly sex workers or women who are perceived as being promiscuous—somehow deserve their fates when they meet with violence. Still, it was Drummond’s doggedness that finally broke the case. Authorities knew Alarid was one of the last people to see Deschamp alive, and after his murder convictions in 1989, Drummond periodically visited him at Folsom Prison to ask him about Deschamp’s death. In 1994, Alarid finally agreed to confess if Drummond brought him a photo album containing photographs of his mother and other relatives that was stored in an evidence locker.

“He told us if we brought him his photo album, he would tell us what happened,” Drummond said.

Alarid told deputies he’d given Deschamp a ride on the night she disappeared. He tried to convince her to leave Richards for him and wanted to take her out to New Hogan Reservoir. She refused and demanded he take her back to the motel.

Alarid told deputies they got into a “little argument.” He had a pistol and it went off. He “hit her once,” then panicked and fled the scene, leaving her body in the exact spot where the dogs found her a year later.

Alarid first confessed to killing Deschamp in 1995, but a charge wasn’t filed because he hadn’t properly waived his right against self-incrimination. In 1997, he confessed again and was officially charged with her murder. Judge Frank A. Grande added six years to his second life sentence because he used a gun and because of his earlier convictions for murder and auto theft. The small penalty disappointed Nathan Richards, who attended the sentencing hearing. “I feel he should have gotten the death penalty. He’s going back to prison and getting three meals a day after admitting to [a third] murder.”

He was nonetheless grateful the case was coming to a close. “There were a lot of ugly rumors I had to live with for a long time.” Of Deschamp, he said, “she didn’t deserve to be taken so short in life. She had so much to offer.”

Deschamp is buried in Cherokee Memorial Park in Lodi, California, though even that was not without incident. In an unfortunate twist, Deschamp’s family asked for her remains to be returned so they could give her a proper burial and were were told they were lost.

After the dogs found Deschamp’s remains in 1985, investigators sent them to Delta Pathology of Stockton. They were then sent to a forensic dental expert, who identified them as belonging to Deschamp. From there, they went to an expert in San Diego, who confirmed the identification. After that, they were sent back to Stockton, and possibly, the Justice Department in Sacramento. The paper trail ended on December 29, 1985, in an entry on the coroner’s report that indicated the bones and skeletal remains were in the custody of the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Office Detective Division.

Apologetic deputies theorized that an earlier administration might have released her remains to an unknown relative or another forensic expert without updating the paperwork. It’s unclear when, or even if, Terri Deschamp’s remains were returned to the family. She does have a grave site, however, where I hope she rests in peace.

I don’t fault the investigators who failed to apprehend Charles Alarid at the time of Deschamp’s killing, but my research into her murder leaves me with a few questions. It’s obvious Robin Marie Nuss and her baby would likely still be alive if Alarid had been caught in 1984, but was he emboldened by the fact that he got away with murdering Deschamp? Emboldened enough to think he might also be able to get away with killing his pregnant wife?

I also wonder if he falsely confessed to Deschamp’s killing so he could get his precious photo album back. He was already serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole so maybe he didn’t see a downside to confessing if he could get something for it. But this is all speculation, of course, and I don’t mean to suggest that anyone else could be guilty of the crime. Whatever the case, Alarid is behind bars for the rest of his life, which is where he belongs.

*Some reports say Charles Alarid gave Deschamp a ride to Richards’ workplace, and that she and Richards argued that night.

Holly West

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