Six weeks after John Steven Burgess entered the WASCO state prison, 198 volunteers scattered throughout the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu, searching for clues to the disappearance of Donna Jou. Nothing was found. Since then, noted California attorney Gloria Allred has joined forces with Jou's family demanding answers, and large protests have been held outside Burgess' L.A. home, the last place Jou was seen on the night she disappeared. But all for naught. The question remains: Where is Donna Jou?
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
by Kathryn Casey She's five-foot-three-inches tall and weighs 110 pounds. She's beautiful, with dark brown eyes and a ready smile. And she's brilliant, a straight-A student who'd just finished her freshman year at San Diego State and planned to attend Harvard med. She comes from an accomplished family: her father a space engineer, her mother a medical lab tech, her sister an attorney, and her brother's studying physics. One day, Donna Jou dreamed of being a neurosurgeon and saving lives. Yet little more than a year ago, she did something monumentally stupid and, it appears, threw hers away.
On June 23, 2007, the 19-year-old stood outside her mother's house in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, waiting for the arrival of a man she met on Craigslist.org. Her sister later said Donna was new to the area and trying to make friends on the Internet. How innocent that sounds. How dangerous it is. Up drove 35-year-old John Stephen Burgess on his 1981 Yamaha motorcycle. Away they went, to Burgess' rented L.A. home for a party. A home where he rented out beds to students. A home he advertised as "pot friendly."
Hours later, Donna's mom, Nili, got a text message: "Battery's dying. I'm in San Diego. Be home soon. I love you Mommy." It seemed odd. First: Donna never used caps when she text messaged. Second: She never called Nili "Mommy." The next day, Donna Jou's family reported her missing. Not long after, authorities named Burgess as a person of interest in the case. It turns out that Donna's Internet friend was a sex offender, one who'd been convicted of three counts of battery in 2002, and performing a lewd and lascivious act on a 14-year-old girl in 2003.
Meanwhile, Burgess hid his motorcycle, the one he used to pick up Jou, and spray-painted his 1998 blue Ford pickup black. Authorities found his plastic tool box, personalized license plate, motorcycle helmet, rubber dishwashing gloves, rope, and scrub brush, all stashed in bushes a mile-and-a-half from his house. By then, Burgess had fled L.A., putting hundreds of miles between himself and the investigation into Jou's disappearance. On July 26, 2007, Burgess was tracked to his hometown of Jacksonville, Floirda, where he was arrested for possession of crack. Extradited back to L.A., he was booked into the county jail. It came as little surprise that at that time he was named the primary suspect in Donna Jou's disappearance. His bail was set at $250,000. Burgess posted bond and (does this surprise anyone?), he fled again, back to Florida. When authorities found him, he was arrested for theft and having fake I.D. Back in California, his bail was doubled and he was thrown into prison on a charge of not registering as a sex offender.
It's easy to get angry with Jou. What was she thinking? How could she have gone off with a man she knew nothing about, only what he'd told her about himself on the Internet? Burgess was calling himself Sinjin Stevens. Donna didn't even know his real name. Jou was a bright kid. She had every advantage. How could she have ignored all the newspaper articles, books, and TV programs trumpeting the dangers and suggesting precautions for Internet dating? Sure, there are reasons. She was young, still at that bullet-proof stage, when most of us believe truly bad things only happen to other people. But still, what do we all have to do to get the word out, to make sure our kids understand how dangerous it is to invite a stranger into their lives? The Donna Jou case epitomizes the problem: even smart kids with all the advantages make really stupid mistakes.
So where is Donna Jou? Burgess, piece of human debris that he is, has offered to talk, but only if given immunity, like that's ever going to happen.
This all leaves Donna's family praying she'll be found alive and fearing that they'll never know what happened to her. "I feel strongly that we have not reached the point where we should give up hope. My heart and soul tell me to hold on, and to cherish the thought that 'see you soon' still describes what we believe will be the ultimate outcome of this case....I will persist and stop at nothing to find my daughter, reunite with her or find closure," Nili Jou wrote on the family's website, on the first anniversary of Donna's disappearance.
So, let's keep our eyes open for Donna Jou. Anyone living in Los Angeles, Jacksonville, anywhere who knows anything about this case, please get in touch with America's Most Wanted or the Jou family. And, as useless as it may seem after reading this, please don't forget to remind your kids that the Internet is one hell of a dangerous place to make friends. Okay?Tweet