Upset by a mystery greeting card, the father of a Tucson woman slain in 1973 offers $10,000 for information leading to the killer.
Father’s hope for justice lives on
GABRIELLE FIMBRES Citizen Staff Writer
Twenty-three years ago, young Leesa Jo Shaner was ripped from her cozy life as a wife and mother when she was abducted, murdered and discarded in a shallow grave southeast of Tucson.
The murder of Leesa, 22, was one of the most publicized slayings in Tucson history. Despite the work of dozens of investigators, the killer or killers remain free.
But Leesa’s father, retired FBI agent Jim Miller, won’t allow the case to die. And he refuses to give up hope that someday the woman’s killer or killers will be caught.
Miller is so convinced the killer or killers remain in Tucson, he is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and indictment.
Now retired in Boulder, Colo., Miller said “not a day goes by” that he doesn’t think of his daughter, who was abducted from the Tucson International Airport parking lot on May 29, 1973.
Her nude remains were found four months later at the Fort Huachuca Army base.
“It’s time to put this thing to bed,” said Miller, 71. “Sometimes I think it’s time to decide that everything’s been done than can be, and God will take care of it. But then I just think I need to help God as long as I can.”
So Miller is doing the only thing he can think of to possibly close the case. He’s offering $10,000 of his savings, hoping to persuade any witnesses to come forward.
Starting today, a classified ad offering the reward is running in the Tucson Citizen and The Arizona Daily Star.
“Maybe the $10,000 will jar someone,” Miller said. “I’m convinced someone in Tucson still knows what happened.”
That’s a gut feeling he’s had all along. But a mysterious greeting card received three years ago reinforced his belief.
The card, bearing a Tucson postmark, arrived on the 20th anniversary of Leesa’s abduction.
The card had been created at a stationery store on a computer. The front of the card showed “an innocuous individual next to a guy in a great big bunny rabbit’s suit,” Miller said.
The caption read: “Known to each other as X and Q, the two agents often arranged inconspicuous rendezvous in public places.”
Inside the card was written: “I’d love to tell you all the things I’ve been up to, but if I did, I’d have to kill you.”
The card was signed: “Dear X, Didn’t you recognize me? Q”
Miller was stunned by the card and its arrival on the 20th anniversary of Leesa’s disappearance.
He insists no one he knows would have sent the card as a prank.
Miller sent the card to the behavioral sciences lab at FBI headquarters in Virginia, where an agent analyzed it.
“He considered it to be sent from someone involved in the murder,” Miller said.
So Miller continues on, hoping the offer of $10,000 will finally put this case to rest. But until then, all the details of his daughter’s murder continue to torture his mind.
What happened in 1973
She had eagerly awaited the reunion for months, and young Leesa Jo Shaner longed to see her husband, Gary, again.
It was 1973, and the Shaners and their 2-year-old daughter, Krista, had been living in Okinawa, where Gary Shaner was stationed in the Air Force.
The family had separated earlier that year, when Leesa returned home to Tucson with her daughter. She was expecting their second child and wanted to deliver the baby here.
When the Shaners’ son, Brady, was 6 weeks old, Leesa received word that her husband was being discharged from the military and was on his way home. So, shortly after 9:30 p.m. on May 29, 1973, the tall, attractive blonde set off for Tucson International Airport in her father’s brown-and-white AMC Javelin.
Jim Miller tried to persuade Leesa to let him go along for the ride. But Leesa wanted to meet her husband alone, to share a few minutes before returning to the Miller’s East Side home for a family celebration.
But the reunion never took place. Leesa was abducted from the airport parking lot, apparently dragged from her father’s car.
Police and FBI agents tracked down hundreds of leads, but could find no sign of Leesa.
Leesa’s parents became so desperate, they even called on psychics, to no avail.
Months passed, and the woman’s family held out hope that she was being held captive and would someday come home to her children.
But Leesa’s children never saw their mother again. Her remains were found nearly four months after her abduction in a shallow grave in a remote section of Fort Huachuca, 70 miles southeast of Tucson. No cause of death could be determined.
A haunting phone call
Whoever kidnapped Leesa drove past a guarded entrance, so investigators focused on men stationed at the base. But more than 16,000 soldiers, dependents and civilian employees were assigned to the base Á an impossible number to investigate.
Still, hundreds of men from the base were checked out. Some had moved as far away as Hong Kong and London, but were tracked down. Despite the work of dozens of investigators, no arrests were made.
Perhaps the best lead that eluded investigators came a few weeks after the woman’s disappearance, on July 6, 1973, when Jim Miller received a telephone call at the FBI office here.
A nervous man told Miller that he knew “who killed Lisa Kaner (sic),” Miller said.
The man was reluctant to talk on the FBI line, so Miller gave him his home phone number. He asked him to give him enough time to rush home and call him there. The call never came.
The call to the FBI office was traced to a pay phone in a lowrent district in Detroit, but investigators were never able to connect that information with any potential suspects.
The call haunts Miller, who believes it was a valid tip. He believes one of the killers may have told a buddy about the slaying.
Woman recalls incident
Another lead that Miller believes was valid involved information from an elderly Tucson woman. The night of the abduction, the woman was sitting on the porch of her home, near Old Nogales Highway and Hughes Access Road.
Shortly before 10:30 p.m., a few minutes after the abduction, the woman said she heard a sedan pull up near her home, and a woman got out. She was chased down and dragged back to the car.
The woman’s daughter called police, but the woman could remember few details.
For six years, Miller urged FBI agents to have the woman hypnotized, to determine if there were other details she hadn’t recalled, Miller said.
Finally, in 1979, the woman was hypnotized. Under hypnosis, she was able to give a better description of the two white males who chased the woman, as well as a description of the white male behind the wheel.
She recalled that the woman cried out, “Mother, help me,” as she was dragged back to the car.
The woman was able to describe the car and give a partial license plate number. But the car could never be traced.
Miller believes his daughter found herself in the middle of a drug deal at the airport parking lot. And he fears his daughter told her abductors her father was an FBI agent. He believes they may have felt they had to kill her after that.
Another theory was that Leesa was spotted on her way to the airport and was followed, abducted and raped before she was killed.
Robbery was ruled out as a motive. Leesa’s wedding rings were found on her finger, and her purse, containing cash, was found in the car’s back seat.
Also found on the car was a partial palm print, but it was never matched.
Grown children live in Oregon
After Leesa’s body was found, Gary Shaner and his children returned to Portland, where his family lived.
Gary Shaner became a highway patrolman and later worked for Mountain Bell. He remarried after he left Tucson.
Leesa’s parents divorced, and her mother, Elizabeth, left Tucson. Miller blames the divorce in part on the slaying.
And Leesa’s children grew up without their mother.
Krista, 25, has traveled and worked in France, and Brady, 23, joined the military and was stationed in Korea. Both now live in Portland.
“Leesa was so proud of them,” Miller said. “And they’ve turned out so well. Their father did well by them.”
Miller is hoping the reward he’s offering can put this case to rest before he dies.
“I’ve already gotten my obituary written,” he said. “It says if it hasn’t been solved by the time of my death, don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.”
A reward of $10,000 is offered for information leading to an arrest and indictment in the murder of Leesa Jo Shaner. Anyone with information should call the FBI office in Tucson at 623-4306. Or write to Jim Miller, 1319 Alpine, No. 11, Boulder, Colo. 80304.
PHOTO CAPTION: LOURIE ZIPF/For the Tucson Citizen Jim Miller shows pictures of his four daughters, including Leesa Jo, who was abducted and killed in 1973.