Summary of Offense:
Michael Thornton and Janeen Snyder were
convicted of kidnapping, torturing, sexually abusing and killing
16-year-old Michelle Curran on April 17, 2001.
Two other teenage girls testified at the trial
of how Snyder lured them to a hotel and Thornton raped them.
Snyder also confessed to killing a 14-year-old girl who had been
missing for over five years.
Snyder was a friend of Thornton’s daughter and
moved in with him after having problems with her own family.
Thornton’s former wife testified to overhearing him discuss how he
had killed a young girl and dismembered her body before throwing
it in the ocean.
Thornton and Snyder were sentenced to death on
September 7, 2006 in Riverside County.
Pair sentenced to death for torture killing
September 7, 2006
RIVERSIDE - Michelle Curran was 16 when she was kidnapped from
her Las Vegas neighborhood in late March 2001.
Two weeks later, her nude body was discovered inside a horse
trailer in Rubidoux. She had been tied up, sexually assaulted and
shot in the head.
On Thursday, Michelle's family and friends reminded a packed
courtroom that she was a girl with dreams. She was the niece who
died before she got her driver's license, attended a prom or
graduated from high school. Michelle was the would-be maid of
honor at her lone sister's wedding.
Riverside judge Paul Zellerbach listened to the statements, then
sentenced the girl's killers to death.
Earlier this year, separate juries convicted a Rialto couple,
Michael Forrest Thornton, 50, a one-time hair salon owner, and
Janeen Marie Snyder, 26, of murder. They also determined the
couple was eligible for the death penalty for kidnapping and
In May 2006, the juries recommended Thornton and Snyder be
sentenced to die.
Zellerbach said that after reviewing the evidence and reading
the transcripts of the almost six-months trial, he agreed.
The defendants held Michelle Curran captive during a 14-day
period, gave her drugs, intimidated her with firearms and sexually
exploited her, Zellerbach said.
The Curran assault marked one in what authorities believed to
be a long string of attacks.
The judge mentioned other girls whom the couple had been
suspected of stalking and assaulting, evidence that came out
during the penalty phase of the trial.
Zellerbach said there was some validity to Snyder's defense
attorneys' argument that their client was dominated by Thornton at
a very young age.
"It is also clear to the court that Mr. Thornton was the
leader, if one wants to characterize it as that, but that Miss
Snyder was a willing and voluntary participant," Zellerbach said.
"She was not merely a puppet or a pawn."
Zellerbach said that Thornton used Snyder as the lure or bait
for young girls to participate in the sexual sadism that would
follow. Curran's last moments were especially brutal. She was tied
to rafters by both her hands and her feet and violated.
"It was Miss Snyder who ultimately approached Miss Curran in
this very vulnerable position, put the gun to her forehead and
pulled the trigger," Zellerbach said.
Before the sentencing, family members choked back tears as they
read prepared statements or offered impromptu messages to the
defendants. The judge warned a few people to direct the comments
to him. Candy Curran, the victim's mother, said she had waited six
years for this moment, but she struggled as she tried to speak.
Her sentences were short, hindered by moments of crying.
Later, outside the courtroom, Curran said that Michelle's
friends and relatives expressed her feelings better than she had
herself. Curran squeezed a Dalmatian she has kept with her to
honor the daughter who loved the breed so much.
An uncle, Richard Curran, told the judge, "I can't even look at
these people. They disgust me." Then, to Thornton, Curran blurted:
"You low-life scumbag."
His brother, Richard Curran, grieved for the niece who never
got the opportunity to graduate from high school.
"You're looking downward," he told the defendants. "That's
where they'll be going."
The case struck a nerve with both jury panels. Almost every
juror returned to hear the judge's sentences, a fact Zellerbach
touched on before his decisions.
Juror Suzanne Davis, of Temecula, said she wanted the closure.
She said the trial plucked her from her life into a life "that
you want no part of."
Rialto Couple Convicted Of Murder In Teen's
Mar 30, 2006
RIVERSIDE - A Rialto couple who witnesses
testified lured teen girls into drug- and sex-fueled parties was
convicted Thursday of murder in the shooting death of a Las Vegas
The Riverside Superior Court jury deliberated
over seven hours to find Michael Forrest Thornton, 50, and Janeen
Marie Snyder, 26, guilty of murder, rape with a foreign object and
Snyder broke into tears as the clerk read the
verdicts in a packed courtroom while Thornton displayed no
emotion, according to Ingrid Wyatt of the District Attorney's
Thornton and Snyder were convicted of killing
Michelle Curran on April 17, 2001, after taking her captive and
sexually abusing her for nearly three weeks.
During the 3 1/2-month trial, testimony from
young women and law enforcement officers showed that Thornton and
Snyder preyed on teen girls, cruising Inland Empire streets
looking for girls to pick up.
Snyder would befriend the girls and take them
to motels or residences to meet Thornton. At least two teen girls
were held against their will as Thornton and Snyder fed them a
steady diet of methamphetamine and sexually abused them, according
The couple would threaten to kill the girls if
they complained to anybody or wanted to go home.
Thornton and Snyder were never charged with
crimes in connection with the previous abductions due to lack of
Deputy District Attorney Michael Rushton used
the testimony of the other abducted girls to illustrate the ordeal
Curran went through before she died and to establish a pattern by
Curran's bruised, nude body was discovered
April 22, 2001, in a storage shed for horse equipment in Rubidoux.
Ligature marks were found on her wrists and ankles.
The victim was shot once in the head by Snyder,
according to testimony. Thornton was described as the "brains"
behind the team with Snyder the "bait" to get their victims,
according to court testimony.
The defense argued that Snyder was under
Thornton's control. The defendants face the death penalty.
Detective tells of second victim in rape-murder trial
March 16, 2006
RIVERSIDE – A detective testified Thursday that
a young sexual assault victim told her how a couple – now accused
in the death of another teen –held her captive for more than a
month and drugged her to prevent her escape.
San Bernardino County sheriff's Sgt. Debra
Bauman was a detective when she interviewed a 14-year-old girl who
described how she was held captive in a Rialto home and “felt” she
was being sexually assaulted while heavily drugged.
Bauman was called as a defense witness in the
Riverside Superior Court murder trial of Michael Forrest Thornton,
50, and Janeen Marie Snyder, 26, both of Rialto. They are charged
with kidnapping, rape, torture and murder in connection with the
April 17, 2001, death of Michelle Curran, 16, of Las Vegas.
The couple are accused of kidnapping Curran on
April 4, 2001, and sexually abusing her before leaving her dead in
a Rubidoux storage shed.
Bauman was originally a prosecution witness
when the trial began in January to establish that Thornton and
Snyder had a pattern of luring young teenage girls into a world of
sex and drugs.
The Rialto girl, interviewed by Bauman in March
2000, testified at the trial that she feared being killed if she
tried to escape from Thornton and Snyder.
Bauman testified under direct examination by
defense attorney Pete Scalisi that she interviewed the victim for
nearly three hours and had to “drag” details of the captivity from
Under cross-examination by Deputy District
Attorney Michael Rushton, Bauman answered mostly “yes” or “no” to
statements Rushton read from her report.
The sergeant said the victim “asked 60 to 100
times” to go home, but the defendants refused to let her go.
At one point Thornton and Snyder told the girl,
“You stay here. If you go, you go dead.”
“They threatened to kill her family in front of
her if she said anything,” Bauman said.
The defendants would put drugs in her food over
a long period of time before she started taking it voluntarily,
the detective said.
The drugs included methamphetamine and
She attempted to escape once through a bathroom
window, but was caught by Thornton, Bauman said.
The girl, who is now 19 years old, acknowledged
to the detective that she had opportunities to escape. On one
occasion, Thornton took her to a restaurant, but she was “so out
of it” on drugs she felt she couldn't flee, Bauman said.
The girl also told Bauman that she was not sure
whether she had sex with Thornton and Snyder, but she “felt” she
One one occasion, she woke up to find Thornton
and Snyder laughing at her because they had sex with her although
she didn't remember it, Bauman said.
Detectives seek key details
in teen's slaying
How Las Vegas high schooler met suspects
By Ryan Oliver - Las vegas Review-Journal
July 12, 2001
How Michelle Curran met the two suspects
charged with raping, torturing and killing her on a California
ranch is a mystery that continues to puzzle detectives three
months after the Western High School sophomore's body was found.
"I know when they left Las Vegas, and I know
where they went later in the evening in California," said Robert
Joseph, a homicide investigator with the Riverside County
Sheriff's Office. "The one question I can't answer is how my
victim came to be with my suspects."
Riverside County authorities, in their first
candid interview about the events surrounding Curran's slaying,
disclosed new information about the case in hopes of finding fresh
leads into what led Curran to her killers. Officials plan to
revisit Las Vegas next week as part of their investigation.
Curran's petite body was found inside a horse
trailer April 22 on a property in Rubidoux, Calif., just north of
Riverside. Police said she was raped and tortured before she was
killed with a single gunshot to the head on April 17.
Michael F. Thornton, 45, and his girlfriend,
Janeen Snyder, 21, both of Rialto, Calif., have been charged with
murder in connection with Curran's slaying. The circumstances of
Curran's death could make the pair eligible for the death penalty.
Evidence suggests the suspects had an appetite
for sex with third parties, particularly with young, teen-age
girls, said Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Mike
Snyder had met Thornton, the owner of a chain
of eight hair salons in Southern California, as a runaway when she
was 13 or 14 years old and he was in his 30s, Rushton said. "She
eventually became his lover." She also became a part-time stripper
in Las Vegas while maintaining her residence with Thornton in
California, Rushton said.
Police released a photograph of Curran and
Snyder together shortly before Curran was killed with both seated
in a beige GMC Suburban, registered in Thornton's mother's name.
The Polaroid shot was discovered by detectives in the room of a
Rubidoux hotel where the trio had been staying, Joseph said.
Investigators do not know whether Curran was
forcibly abducted as she walked to school on the morning of April
4 or whether she voluntarily went with the suspects.
Curran doesn't appear to be held against her
will in the photograph, but guns, handcuffs, rope, bungee cords
and a Velcro strap with hair on it were later found by police
inside the vehicle, according to a search warrant.
"We're assuming the photo was probably taken by
the male suspect," Joseph said. "Whether it was staged or not, we
Thornton and Snyder declined comment for this
story from their jail cells at the Robert Presley Detention Center
Curran reportedly was last seen in Las Vegas by
her older sister as Curran left her home on Parsifal Place, near
Jones Boulevard and Washington Avenue, about 7 a.m., Joseph said.
Curran had left in a huff because the elder sibling was being
allowed to stay home from school and she wasn't, he said.
Curran told her sister she would get breakfast
at McDonald's or another fast food restaurant on her way to
school, Joseph said.
Meanwhile, registration records at the Main
Street Inn, on Main near Washington Avenue, show the suspects
checked in April 2 and left on April 4, he said. On the night of
the April 4, the suspects checked into the Lake Arrowhead Lodge in
Arrowhead, Calif., about four to five hours from Las Vegas in the
San Bernardino National Forest.
A hotel clerk recalled a dark-haired girl with
the pair, Joseph said. Curran, a natural blonde, had dyed her hair
dark brown about a month before her disappearance, Joseph said.
Joseph said the trio spent much of the
afternoon driving to Lake Arrowhead.
"There's only about four hours I can't account
for on that day," he said of the crucial morning.
On April 5, Curran's family filed a missing
person report with Las Vegas police.
Joseph said that by April 6, the trio had
driven to Thornton's mother's house in Mesa, Ariz., and stayed
there through April 11.
A note left at the house, alleged to have been
signed by Curran, said she was with Mike and Janeen and was being
treated well, said Rushton, the prosecutor.
The trio then drove to Fontana, Calif., near
the suspects' home in Rialto, and checked into a hotel there on
April 12, he said. On the morning of April 17, the day police
believe Curran was killed, they checked into a Motel 6 in
Rubidoux, Rushton said.
During their time in California, the trio was
seen numerous times by Thornton's friends, Joseph said.
A ranger at a Riverside County park also
recalled seeing Curran with the two suspects on April 17 and told
police Curran did not seem to be under any duress, Joseph said.
The park is close to the 2 1/2-acre horse ranch where Curran was
killed later that day.
Thornton and Snyder were arrested by deputies
as they fled the property when the owner discovered them in a
horse shed and reported a burglary in progress, police said. They
were held on $1 million bond despite being charged only with
breaking and entering, because a large amount of blood was found
in the shed, police said.
The property owner discovered Curran's body
stuffed in a horse trailer five days later, police said.
The arrest wasn't the first for Thornton or
Snyder. A 14-year-old girl in 2000 claimed she was held at the
pair's home against her will for 30 days and sexually assaulted,
Rushton said. Thornton and Snyder were arrested, but the charges
were later dropped by San Bernardino County prosecutors citing a
lack of evidence.
Despite the decision to not prosecute, Rushton
said, "the facts of that case will come to bear in the prosecution
here in Riverside County."
In the latest arrest, Riverside detectives also
found maps with addresses to Riverside-area schools inside the GMC
Suburban the pair had been driving, Rushton said.
A videotape showing Thornton and Snyder having
sex with a third woman also was recovered by police, he said. The
woman appears to be older than 18, which is California's age of
"There's nothing of an illegal nature on the
tape," he said. "There's also nothing with Michelle on any of the
Authorities have recovered three computers from
the couple's property and are analyzing them for any clues that
might reveal how they met Curran, Rushton said. So far, no
evidence of an Internet relationship has emerged, he said.
"We are curious to see what method they used,"
he said. "On its face, it may have appeared friendly at first. But
underneath it was more sinister."
Anyone with information about Curran's case is
asked to call the Riverside County Sheriff's Office at (909)
341-8817 or the Metropolitan Police Department's Missing Persons
Detail at 229-2907.
Michael Thornton and Janeen Marie Synder
Michael Thornton and Janeen Marie Synder are
two American killers who murdered two young girls, 14-year-old
Jesse Kay Peters and 16-year-old Michelle Curran. Both girls were
abducted by the murderous couple, sexually assaulted, and then
They targeted young girls as sexual targets,
the objects of Michael's sexual fantasies, and Janeen Synder acted
as the bait to get the girls to Michael Thornton. Once she got
them to him, he made sure the girls never escaped, abused and
exploited them sexually, and then murdered them. For their roles
in the murders of the two girls, both Michael Thornton and Janeen
Marie Snyder were sentenced to death.
Michael Thornton was born in 1955 in
a standard middle class family. His first job was as a grocery
bagger and when he was 18, he joined the air force. In the early
1970s, he gets married and begins a family. He and his wife have a
son together. However, soon his wife discovers some disturbing
things about Thornton. She notices him sexually molest a
6-year-old girl. After this event, she divorces him. A custody
battle then ensues over their child, and Michael Thornton wins the
custody over their son. Soon after, he meets a new woman, Pamela,
and the two marry and have a daughter. Thornton moves in with
Pamela in Rialto, California, and begins a new life with her.
However, just as the previous marriage, things again turn dark. In
the marriage, Thornton physically abuses his wife, strangling her
at times. He even put a gun to her head and threatened to kill
her. He was also abusive to his two children, his son and
In 1996, his daughter, then 16, asks
if a troubled friend can stay with them in the house, whose name
is Janeen Snyder. Michael Thornton allows Janeen to come into the
house and the two form the beginning of what would be a a sick
sadistic duo. Michael Thornton and Janeen Snyder, both meth users,
feed off of drugs and sex. Michael Thornton, a sexual sadist, has
fantasies that he wants to fulfill with young girls. He decides
that Janeen would be the perfect partner of his to lure young
girls to him for his sexual pleasures. The two plot it out and
then put the sick plan into reality.
Later that year in 1996, the first
gruesome incident occurs. Cheryl Peters works for Michael Thornton
in a hair salon that he owned in California. She made her living
doing other women's hair and was content working for Michael for a
while. However, one day, Cheryl has an argument with her boss,
Thornton, and, in rage, quits the job on the spot. The other hair
salonists in the shop follow suit and walk out with her. Angered
by the event, Michael Thornton scopes out Cheryl's house and goes
after her one and only daughter, 14-year-old Jesse Kay Peters.
Michael uses Janeen to lure Jesse out of the house. Janeen's charm
works as planned and they're able to get her into the car. Once
Michael has custody of Jesse, the couple take her to his house.
While Snyder watched, Thornton handcuffed Jesse to his bed and
raped her. He then took her to his baththub in the bathroom that
was half full of water and dunks her head in the bathtub and keeps
it down until she is dead. He then dismembers her body and puts
the parts into containers and dumps her into the Pacific Ocean.
Michael and Janeen become deadly
partners in crime. They continue to feed on drugs and sex. They
become filled with sexual passion for each other. But soon tire of
the routine. Michael gets bored with Janeen alone and decides they
should seek out some other young girls to spicen up the action.
They scout out local places, looking for a target.
5 years after the death of Jesse
Peters, in 2001, Michael Thornton spots 16-year-old Michelle
Curran in Las Vegas, Nevada and decides that she is the one who
will be his next chosen target.
Janeen gets out of the car. Being a
girl and young just like Michelle Curran, she gains instant
rapport with Michelle. The charm and deceit work as Michelle
eventually is coaxed and follows Janeen into Michael's vehicle.
Once in, there is no escaping for Michelle. Michael tells her he
has a gun. From then on, the two have Michelle as theirs. The
couple keep Michelle for several weeks, sexually molesting her all
the while. After a while, they decide that Michelle knows too much
about their inner circle and must die. Michael and Janeen trespass
on a horse's ranch in Ribidoux, California, and decide to kill
Michelle there. They first torture her in a room on a ranch which
was laced with all types of ropes, ties, and other paraphernalia.
Michael then gives Janeen a gun and she delivers the fatal blow to
the head of Michelle curran.
For their roles in the crime of
Michelle Curran, Michael Thornton and Janeen Snyder were given