Rodney Blockton II didn’t know his mother, Celia Victor, well as a child – but remembers her warm and cheerful phone calls. When he was 9 or 10, they suddenly stopped coming, he said. No one knew why.
“I was always wondering what had happened – it was unusual,” he said Saturday, standing near the flower-covered altar at his mother’s memorial. “I was glad to get some closure, to find out that she didn’t leave me.”
Blockton, now grown, was one of dozens of family members and childhood friends gathered to honor Victor, whose ashes were recently delivered from Seattle. The Sacramento native’s skeletal remains were found behind a freight shipping business there in 1989, but her case remained cold until December 2014, when investigators began sharing her photo in Sacramento. Within days, a flood of phone calls came in from loved ones who wanted to identify her.
“I broke – I just started crying,” said sibling Arlene Seuell about recognizing her sister’s photo. “It was a bittersweet thing because now I know, but why did you have to go? When we got the urn with the ashes, I just hugged the urn and I said, ‘I’m so sorry I couldn’t keep you safe.’ ”
Victor was born in 1963 and grew up with Seull and their sister Donna Vasquez in two different foster homes. As a teenager she had a smart, sassy attitude and looks that drew attention from boys in the neighborhood, her foster brother Carl Hollis said. She was friendly and loved to volunteer at the church, relatives recalled.
She also had a few too many run-ins with the law – likely the reason she left for Seattle, Vasquez said. The sisters weren’t all that worried at the time. Victor would always call to check in, and they were confident she would come back.
“Only death kept her from coming home,” Seuell said.
It was because of her arrests in Sacramento County that investigators were able to trace Victor back to her hometown, said FBI Special Agent Daniel Rodriguez, who spoke at the service. Part of the reason it took so long to identify the young woman was because she had used so many aliases during her travels. But her FBI number, connected to her fingerprints, pointed them toward Sacramento.
Rodriguez said it’s rare that Jane Does such as Victor are identified, though social media can help, especially with a large family on the lookout. Even though family members identified the photo in 2014, it took nearly a year for DNA tests to confirm that the skeletal remains were Victor’s.
Victor’s homicide investigation is ongoing, as the killer has not yet been identified, he said. Detectives in Seattle said Victor may have been slain by Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer who killed at least 70 young women in the 1980s and ’90s, Seuell said.
On Saturday, the white-walled Church of the Sovereign God in south Sacramento was packed with loved ones in flowered headbands and luau necklaces, a tribute to Victor’s Hawaiian heritage and her middle name Nalei, meaning flower.
People who knew Victor as a child laughed about neighborhood memories. Many gave thanks to God for answering questions about Victor that have weighed on them for three decades. All stressed the importance of keeping in touch with family.
“It’s heartbreaking about this young woman, what happened,” said pastor Wally Roberts at the service’s conclusion. “But it’s a blessing to know that in such a short time she left such a great legacy, and has impacted so many people.”