Children fight to keep parents' killer behind bars

ByMarc Brown and Lisa Bartley via KABC logo
Friday, February 13, 2015
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The son and daughter of a murdered Southern California couple are fighting to keep their parents' killer behind bars as he goes up for parole at the end of the month.

Cheryl Effron stood ankle deep in dried blood. Splatter could be seen everywhere. Even 37 years after her parents' brutal murder, the crime scene remains burned into her mind.

"It was horrendous, it was rage, it was anger -- and when I close my eyes, that's what I see," said Effron, daughter of murdered Southern California couple James and Essie Effron.

Years later, Cheryl Effron and her brother Gary Effron are fighting to keep Jose Gonzalez, the killer of their parents, behind bars.

"I'm fighting for justice for my mother and father," Cheryl Effron said. "I'm also fighting for what's right and I'm fighting to have the justice system mean justice. There's nothing right or correct about letting someone like this go and there never will be."

Gonzalez is now 59. He met and married his current wife while behind bars. He could soon be living with her if he's granted parole at a hearing scheduled for later this month.

"He's not a remorseful human being," Gary Effron said. "In my eyes, he's not a human being, he's a monster. He's not capable of remorse."


In 1977, James and Essie Effron raised two happy, successful children. Daughter Cheryl Effron had just graduated from medical school. Gary Effron was a few years into practicing law.

James and Essie Effron
James and Essie Effron

"My dad was am amazing man. My mother was Betty Crocker," Cheryl Effron said.

Essie Effron, a 4 foot and 11 inches tall, British spitfire, was diagnosed with colon cancer. She and her husband made the difficult decision to close down their popular clothing store, a fixture in San Diego since James Effron's father opened its doors in 1923.

"They didn't know what the future held for my mother in light of her cancer," Gary Effron said. "They decided to go out of business, so they could spend all of their time together."


Gonzalez was hired as a temporary worker at the store. The 22 year old didn't last long on the job. The Effrons fired him for being rude to customers. Essie Effron told her daughter that Gonzalez's reaction to being fired frightened her.

"He looked at me like he was going to kill me. And no one has ever looked at me like that before," Cheryl Effron said her mother told her. "Those were her words, those were her last words to me."

The next day, Nov. 21, 1977, Gonzalez and two accomplices forced James and Essie Effron into the basement of the store. They were separated from one another, tied up with neckties and beaten with metal pipes.

"Their heads were wrapped in blankets and they were bludgeoned to death, both of them," San Diego Deputy District Attorney Richard Sachs said. "It was a horribly painful, bloody way to die."

A body is shown at the crime scene of the brutal murder of James and Essie Effron.

Essie Effron, who'd been undergoing chemotherapy, died at the scene. James Effron held on for 12 more days, but lost his life shortly after learning his wife had not survived.

"He didn't want to live after that," Cheryl Effron said.

James Effron did live long enough to tell police and his family who had committed the terrible crime. Gonzalez was arrested after pawning a ring at a shop in Los Angeles, a ring that had been taken off Essie Effron's hand at the time of her murder.

Evidence from the case against Jose Gonzalez in the murder of a Southern California couple is shown.
Evidence from the case against Jose Gonzalez in the murder of a Southern California couple is shown.


Charges were eventually dismissed against the other men, but Gonzalez was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder.

Jose Gonzalez is shown after he is sentenced for the murder of Essie and James Effron.
Jose Gonzalez is shown after he is sentenced for the murder of Essie and James Effron.

"A crime like this committed today, double murder, torture murder, lying-in-wait murder, all those would be grounds for life without parole and the death penalty. But those laws simply didn't exist back then," Sachs said.

The California Supreme Court had overturned the death penalty. State lawmakers passed a law reinstating capital punishment, but it came too late for the Effron family. Gary Effron remembers what the judge said on the day Gonzalez was sentenced to prison.

"He talked about the fact that this was one of the most brutal murders he'd ever seen," Gary Effron said. "The judge said he regretted the fact that life in prison with the possibility of parole was the stiffest sentenced he could impose under the law as it existed at that point in time."


Despite the gruesome nature of his crime, Gonzalez is eligible for parole with a hearing scheduled for Feb. 24. It will be Gonzalez's eighth parole hearing. Each time Gary and Cheryl Effron have had to sit face-to-face with the killer of their parents and relive the horror of their deaths.

"A part of me dies every time I have to go through this," Cheryl Effron said. "Every three years when I have to go through a parole hearing, a piece of me -- a piece of my personal happiness -- is chipped away."

Her sense of safety is forever shaken. Gonzalez allegedly threatened Cheryl Effron during the trial and again at one of his first parole hearings.

"I walked into the room and he filled with this rage and started to lunge forward," Cheryl Effron said.

Cheryl Effron believes if Gonzalez is set free, he'll come after her and her loved ones.

Sachs has prepared the Effron family for the very real possibility that the convicted double killer could be granted paroled at the upcoming hearing.

In California, a record number of inmates with life sentences are being set free due to a series of court decisions that place less weight on the crime itself and more weight on whether the inmate is a current risk to public safety.

"So, what they're trying to say is, yes, we'll look at the crime, but the crime is the least important thing to us. What's more important is who he is today," said Sachs, who hopes to convince the Board of Parole that Gonzalez should still be considered a threat.

"Anybody who could do this is always going to be a danger to society," said Gary Effron who shows a favorite photo of his parents to the parole board at each hearing.

Cheryl Effron tells Eyewitness News she'll ask the parole board what it takes to keep a convicted double killer in prison. If this crime doesn't warrant a true life sentence, what does?

"There's plenty of killing left in Jose Gonzalez -- and do we have to let him out to find that out?" Cheryl Effron asked.