Home » Shemaeah Gunnell, 5: Missing Girl Was Murdered Along with Mother, Sister
A beautiful Arizona family was struck down with tragedy when single mother Valerie Lorraine Gunnell invited a monster into her home. In late 1988, Alvie Copeland Kiles was completing a four-year stint in prison after being convicted on aggravated assault charges. Four months after being released, Kiles was living with his girlfriend, Valerie, and her children: five-year-old Shemaeah Gunnell and nine-month-old Lecresha Kirklin in Yuma, Arizona. Kiles was regularly checking with his parole officer and attending his court-appointed counseling sessions, but he still succumbed to his addictions to heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. Yet, no one picked up on Kiles’ recurring drug use.
On February 10, 1989, Kiles was mysteriously seen by a number of people driving around in Valerie’s vehicle. No one thought anything of it until Kiles visited a neighbor and confessed that he had killed Valerie, Shemaeah, and Lecresha. He explained that he and Valerie got into an argument because she was angry that he stole her money and food stamps to buy drugs. The fight turned violent and he allegedly said it ended with the cruel deaths of the family of three.
And why did the little girls have to die? According to Kiles, the sisters began to cry as they witnessed their mother’s murder. They were said to be screaming and because they could possibly identify him, he believed he had to rid the scene of any witnesses.
To prove his account, Kiles led the bewildered neighbor to the home where Valerie’s body was wrapped in a blanket. She had been beaten to death and placed in the hallway. The scene was something out of a horror film. There was blood in Valerie’s bedroom as well as two large pools of blood in the girls’ room.
Kiles reportedly told the neighbor, his mother, and a family friend that he left Valerie’s body in the house but threw Shemaeah and Lecresha’s bodies into the Colorado River. Lecresha’s remains were later located in an irrigation canal in Mexico. A medical examiner determined that like her mother, the nine-month-old was also beaten to death.
Almost 30 years later, Shemaeah’s remains have never been found.
Even without the five-year-old’s body, Kiles was charged, tried, and convicted of the three murders. He was initially sentenced to death, but a court found that during his trial he had an inadequate defense, so his conviction was overturned. However, in his second trial, he was sentenced to death once again for Valerie’s murder.
For the murders of the innocent young girls, he received life in prison. Kiles is currently awaiting execution but continues to fight his case in the appeals court arguing that he didn’t premeditate the crimes. His death sentence still stands.
Just in case Shemaeah may be alive somewhere, an artist rendering of what she would look like as an adult was created (the photo below was done to show Shemaeah at 21-years-old). She would be 34-years-old at the time of this article’s publication. If you have any information about this case that would be helpful in location Shemaeah Gunnell, please contact the Yuma Police Department at 928-373-4670 or your local authorities.
Please share this story about Shemaeah Gunnell to help bring her home. She is our sister and her life matters.
Help Publicize This Case:
Journalist. Activist. Storyteller. •OurBlackGirls.com •@OurBlackGirls on IG, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Spotify Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, & Anchor FM