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Two L.A. Detectives Never Gave Up on Solving a Young Mother’s Brutal Murder

Perps are behind bars almost 30 years after they committed vicious crimes, and law enforcement officers are duly rewarded for hard work

She had the saddest and most violent of endings — but the memory of a young woman’s murder did not fade with time, at least not for the two dedicated detectives who made it their mission to catch her killers.

This Tuesday, those two tenacious detectives were honored by the sheriff’s office of Los Angeles for helping to put the perpetrators behind bars. While justice may not have been swift in this case, it was definitely certain.

Leslie Long, an outgoing mother of three young children, had taken a job at a Chevron gas station near her home in Palmdale, California, to pay for a new bedroom suite for the home she shared with her kids and her husband, who was her high school sweetheart.

Long, just 20 years old, told her family she was proud to be working a “man’s job” as a Chevron gas station attendant, according to the Los Angeles Times.

During her shift at the station on Sunday, Dec. 3, 1978, two male suspects accosted Long, as Santa Clarita Valley’s The Signal reported. They forced her to drive with them to an isolated desert area in the Antelope Valley, raped her, made her kneel on the ground — and shot her five times in the back of the head.

Authorities said money was missing from a floor safe, her purse was left behind, and a driver who later stopped to buy gas at the station found coins scattered on the floor, according to the LA Times. Three days after Long’s disappearance, a sheriff’s department helicopter search team found her body at the base of a small hill, about eight miles from the station.

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Terry Moses and Neal Antoine Matthews were charged today with the capital murder of Leslie Long, a mother of three…

Posted by The Antelope Valley Times on Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Detective John Paillet headed the Leslie Long investigation in 1978. He and other investigators insisted that a sexual assault kit be collected in the hope that future scientific advances would catch the woman’s murderers. Paillet also was careful to collect key pieces of evidence in the case, according to The Signal.

Almost 30 years later, that methodical work paid off. Two suspects were convicted of the crime in 2017 — and the two detectives are now being praised for their unrelenting pursuance of justice.

Neal Antoine Matthews, 60, and Terry Moses, 61, were convicted in September 2017 of first-degree murder; jurors also found special-circumstance allegations of murder during a robbery, murder during a kidnapping, and murder during a rape, reported The Signal.

In 2017, the two suspects who took a young life were sentenced to life themselves — without the possibility of parole.

At the time of Long’s killing, both men were active gang members, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) said back in 2015, according to the Times.

On Tuesday, Detective John Paillet was awarded a sheriff’s star scroll, while Detective Steven Lankford, who returned to the LASD’s homicide bureau as a 120-day contract employee after he put in 33 years of service to close out the case, received a quality of service award, The Signal noted.

Lankford continued the work that Paillet had done during his career with the sheriff’s office, following evidence and tracking down witnesses.

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“They prepared for the future with considerable forethought and collected valuable evidence, which ultimately helped solve the case,” the LASD wrote in a statement.

“The dedication of the detectives to their craft and their bottomless tenacity perfectly illustrate the persona of the homicide bureau’s mascot, the Bulldog.”

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In a statement to LifeZette, the LASD’s sheriff’s office said, “Homicide Capt. Christopher Bergner said at the ceremony, ‘After almost 30 years of retirement, Homicide Investigator John Paillet returned to testify in a 1978 murder case, bring justice for the victim and closure to her family. At almost 88 years old, John [Paillet] is still committed to the Department and citizens of Los Angeles County. It was a pleasure to acknowledge his efforts and to meet such a humble man.'”

In 2017, the two suspects who took a young life were sentenced to life themselves — without the possibility of parole.

Deirdre Reilly is a senior editor with LifeZette. Follow her on Twitter.

(photo credit, homepage image: The Signal)

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