Kimberlie Kantonen cold case moves toward resolution

David Smith, GateHouse California
Kimberlie Kay Kantonen

Twenty five years after Kimberlie Kay Kantonen disappeared, Arnold Aggas Sr. of Hornbrook pleaded no contest in her killing.

Kantonen was 19 years old and four months pregnant when she went missing in early March of 1989. At the time, she had been living on Aggas’ property with his son. Aggas reported Kantonen missing on March 8, 1989, after telling the girl’s mother that Kantonen left a note saying she was running off to Washington with a trucker.

For 25 years, local police worked to solve the disappearance.

In July 2012, Aggas sat in on a preliminary hearing to determine whether he would be charged with Kantonen’s murder.

The charge failed to stick, but Aggas remained in custody on unrelated charges.

On Thursday, District Attorney Kirk Andrus and Aggas’ attorney Robert Warshawski reported Aggas would be pleading no contest to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and one count of preventing or dissuading a witness from making a report or testifying.

Aggas faced the two voluntary manslaughter charges for the killing of Kantonen and her unborn fetus, and penal code 192 (a) describes the crime as “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice … upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.”

Andrus explained to the court that the potential sentence for the three crimes is 13 years, which will be reduced to approximately 8 after accounting for the time Aggas has been in custody since 2011.

Andrus commended a number of individuals for pursuit of the case, including Sheriff Jon Lopey and his predecessor Rick Riggins, both of whom devoted significant resources to the case over the years. Former Sheriff Charlie Byrd also oversaw the investigation in its early stages, he said.

Both during and after the hearing, Andrus explained the decision to drop murder charges and pursue the lesser voluntary manslaughter.

He told the court that in order to pursue the murder charge, the prosecution would have to ask a jury to convict without a body, forensic evidence, or a lineup of credible witnesses.

Judge William Davis, who also presided over Aggas’ preliminary hearing, concurred with Andrus’ assessment of the available evidence and accepted that as the basis for a lesser charge.

What the prosecution did have, Andrus said later, was a number of admissions that led investigators to believe Aggas killed Kantonen, as well as important corroboration from a witness.

“The man deserves more time. The crime deserves more time. But this is what we can prove. That’s what this comes down to... He didn’t confess to murder, but he told us enough,” he said.

On Thursday, both Andrus and Lopey praised the work of Lieutenant Mark Hilsenberg, who conducted the interrogation of Aggas, and Sergeant Chris Rees, who worked as the lead investigator.

They both also praised the work of former Detective Frank Barrett, who passed away in 2011.

“He had a great passion for this case,” Andrus told the court.

Aggas is expected to be formally sentenced on June 17 in the Siskiyou County Superior Court, at which time friends and family of Kantonen will offer statements about the impact her disappearance had on their lives.

Aggas will turn 70 years old this year and will be close to 80 when his sentence is complete.

Lopey also shared thoughts on the case, calling the plea a chance for closure for Kantonen’s family.

“This guilty plea also serves as some sense of justice for a young, expectant, innocent, talented young woman who was killed in the prime of her life,” Lopey said. “Kimberly would have been 45 years old in July of this year, and her child would now be nearly 25 years of age.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Kimberlie, her child, and to her family and friends.”

With the resolution of the Kantonen case, Lopey said work will continue on others gone cold, incuding the disappearances of Hannah Zaccaglini and Karin Mero from McCloud in 1997; and Angela Fullmer, who disappeared from the Lake Siskiyou area in 2002.

“Bottom line – no victims will ever be forgotten,” Lopey said.