Skip to main content


Cold Case: Joseph Parnell


If you have a tip, call the SDPD Homicide Unit at 619-531-2293. For anonymous tips, call Crimestoppers at 888-580-8477 or submit your tip online.

Joseph Parnell

June 27, 1992

Interstate 5 and Interstate 8


On the afternoon of July 27, 1992, Cal-Trans workers cleaning up trash on the east side of Interstate 15 south of Interstate 8 discovered a body wrapped in a sheet at the bottom of a ravine. The body appeared to have been there several weeks.

The body turned out to be that of a male who had been stabbed to death. The victim in this case has never been identified. A follow-up investigation, which included consultation by a forensic anthropologist, developed the following information about the victim: the victim was a male between the ages of 40-55 at the time of his death, white or Hispanic, 58 tall and slim, with brown hair 3 to 4 inches long. The victim was possibly gay. He had a large tattoo of a panther on his left chest. Advanced decomposition made it impossible to determine if there were other tattoos. The victim's top two front teeth were porcelain crowns. He was wearing a Cordoba leather belt with a white metal buckle, blue Levi jeans bearing a large, prominent patch on the right rear pocket stating: Levi Strauss, San Francisco.

UPDATE: In February 2008, this John Doe victim was identified as Joseph Ernest Parnell, age 36 at the time of his death. Parnell was originally from Boston, Massachusetts. He spent several years of his life as a drifter, and accumulated a record of petty arrests in Florida and South Carolina before he moved to San Diego and decided it was time to turn his life around. Parnell got a job at the Burger King Restaurant at 10th and B Streets downtown, and was reportedly working there in June 1992 when he suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. At the time, no one connected Parnell's unexplained disappearance with the discovery of a body several weeks later on the side of a freeway across town.

Parnell's family members told investigators that, at the time he disappeared, Parnell was staying with a young woman and her family. The woman was a co-worker at the same Burger King.

The woman is not a suspect in the case, but detectives would like to identify and interview her regarding Parnell's activities immediately prior to his disappearance. Detectives would also like to interview anyone who worked at this Burger King in 1992.

The woman is described as a Hispanic female, who was 19-20 years old at the time, possibly named Margarite or something similar. She may have lived outside downtown and used the trolley to travel to work.