Gerald and Charlene Gallego: The Sex Slave Murderers

The killer couple kidnapped, raped, and murdered 10 women and teens across three states

DeLani R. Bartlette
12 min readFeb 2, 2021
Charlene and Gerald Gallego

Nov. 2, 1980: A man and a young boy are walking on a dirt road near Bass Lake in central California when they notice something odd just ahead of them. As they approach, they can tell that it’s a man, dressed in a formal suit, lying face-down on the side of the road. They immediately call the police.

Police find the man’s wallet in his back pocket and use it to identify him as Craig Miller, a 22-year-old student at Sacramento State University who had been reported missing the day before. His cause of death is easily determined: three gunshot wounds to the back of his head. Investigators find three spent .25-caliber bullet casings nearby.

Though Sacramento has a fairly high crime rate, this particular crime reminds police of some similar cases.

Two years earlier, in September 1978, two girls — 17-year-old Rhonda Scheffler and 16-year-old Kippi Vaught — disappeared from a local mall. Two days after they disappeared, a farmworker found their naked bodies in a field. They had been sexually assaulted, bludgeoned with a tire iron, and shot in the head with a .25-caliber weapon.

Then, in April of 1980, two more girls had gone missing: Stacy Ann Redican and Karen Twiggs, both 17. Their remains weren’t found until July, in a rural area in Nevada. Despite decomposition and extensive animal predation, the medical examiner was able to determine they had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death with blunt objects.

Immediately after police contact Craig’s family with the horrible news, a young man walks into the Sacramento police station. He identifies himself as a fraternity brother of Craig’s and tells them what he witnessed the night Craig went missing.

Craig and his 21-year-old fiance, Mary Beth Sowers, had attended a formal dinner hosted by Craig’s fraternity at a local restaurant. They left around midnight, and the fraternity brother left right afterwards. He tells police he noticed Craig and Mary Beth sitting in the backseat of a car he’d never seen before, a blue Oldsmobile Cutlass. He says he hopped into the front seat of the car — which was empty — and jokingly asked, “Where are we going?”

He says Craig and Mary Beth looked afraid, and Craig told him that he shouldn’t be there. Immediately, a petite blond woman appeared and began yelling at him and even slapped him. The fraternity brother got out of the car, but made sure to write down the license number as it sped away.

This is an incredible lead. Police track the license number and find the car is registered to Charles Williams. Police go to Williams’ home, in an upscale part of Sacramento, to interview Charles and his wife, Mercedes. They tell police that yes, the blue Cutlass is their car, but it’s driven by their daughter, Charlene Feil.

This name rings a bell with police. In July, 34-year-old bartender Virginia Mochel went missing after working her shift. Her car was left in the bar’s parking lot, unlocked.

In October, her skeletal remains, partially hidden by brush, were found by an angler on a riverbank outside of Clarksburg. She was bound with nylon rope, which was also wound around her neck.

While Virginia’s case doesn’t seem to have much in common with the earlier abductions and murders, the records show that a couple named Charlene and Stephen Feil were the last to be seen with her.

As police are questioning the Williamses, Charlene herself drives up in the blue Cutlass. She matches the witness’ description, but police notice one other detail: she is visibly pregnant.

Charlene denies being at the scene or having ever met Craig or Mary Beth. She says she was with her husband, Stephen Feil; they had gone to see a movie in his car.

She lets police search her car, but they find no evidence; the car is immaculately clean.

Police ask Charlene to come back to the station later for more questioning, and she agrees.

Meanwhile, they track down Stephen Feil’s address and obtain a warrant to search his apartment. Like the car, it’s spotless, almost like a military barracks. There are several weapons neatly lined up — but no .25-caliber firearm. However, police do find several unused .25-caliber bullets, which they take into custody as evidence.

When Charlene fails to show up for her interview, police go back to the Williamses.

During this second round of questioning, police find out a lot more about the couple. The Williamses tell investigators that their son-in-law’s name is not, in fact, Stephen Feil. It’s a fake identity they had helped him obtain; his real name is Gerald Gallego. They had helped him, they say, in order to give him a fresh start — because of his extensive criminal record, he couldn’t find legitimate work. So when Gerald and Charlene got married, despite their resistance to the relationship, the Williamses had done this favor for them as a wedding gift.

Charlene, they tell police, was their only child, and had once been a smart, gifted girl — her IQ had been pegged at 160. She had done well in school and showed talent as a violinist. Her parents adored her, and some would even say they spoiled her, giving her anything she wanted and setting no boundaries.

However, when she was only 7, her mother had survived a serious accident that left her disabled. Despite the fact that the Williamses were well-off financially, Charlene was expected to step into her mother’s role as both housekeeper and her father’s business partner.

The weight of so much responsibility finally took its toll on her. As she entered her teenage years, she began to rebel: smoking, drinking, doing drugs, and staying out all night.

She would mooch — or steal — money from her parents, then take that money and buy drugs or gamble.

In fact, that’s how Charlene — who, by that time, had already been married and divorced twice — met Gerald: in a poker club. Within two weeks, Charlene had moved in with him, despite a nearly 10-year age difference.

The Williamses tell police they never liked him — they say he seemed like trouble, and once they learned about his background, they liked him even less.

Gerald’s upbringing was almost the opposite of Charlene’s. His father had been arrested for killing a town marshall when Gerald was just an infant. During an escape attempt, he’d killed a prison guard. For his crimes, he was sentenced to death, making him the first person to be executed in the gas chamber in Mississippi.

While Gerald was growing up, his mother was a sex worker, and she brought a rotating cast of abusive step-dads into Gerald’s life. By the time he was in his teens, he was engaging in the family business with his brothers: theft, burglary, selling drugs. By the time he met Charlene, he had been married five times already.

As Sacramento police are working to build a case against the Gallegos, they question some of Gerald’s co-workers at the bar where he worked. One server describes him as often having firearms on him; one day, he’d brandished a .25-caliber handgun and shot it into the ceiling. She shows police the exact spot, where they find a bullet that looks an awful lot like the ones found near Craig Miller’s body. Ballistics tests will prove they had been fired from the same weapon — and were a match to the unused bullets found in Gerald’s apartment. The maker’s stamp had a small defect, making that batch extremely rare.

Then, three weeks after she’d gone missing, Mary Beth Sowers’ body is discovered in an isolated field in rural Placer County, still wearing the formal dress she’d been in when she went missing. She, like the other victims, had been sexually assaulted and then shot in the head with a .25-caliber weapon. The bullets are later shown to be a match for the bullets found near Craig’s body as well as those recovered from the bar where Gerald worked.

Now there is enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant, but the Gallegos have cleared out their apartment and abandoned their car.

Police enlist the Williamses to help them find the Gallegos. Just a few days later, Charlene calls her mother to ask for money. She won’t say where they are, but tells her mother to send the money to a Western Union in Omaha, Nebraska.

Now police know the killers have crossed state lines, and so enlist the help of the FBI. Agents stake out the Western Union until, on Nov. 17, 1980, they see Charlene and Gerald approach. Charlene enters the store alone, while Gerald waits, hidden, nearby. Agents move in and arrest the couple without incident.

The two are questioned separately. At first, neither one will admit to anything.

But soon, Charlene begins talking. She tells police that they had waited in the parking lot near the restaurant, looking for someone to take. When they saw Craig and Mary Beth, Gerald got out of the car and pointed the gun at the couple, forcing them into the car. That’s when the fraternity brother arrived, nearly ruining the plan.

After chasing off the fraternity brother, Gerald instructed Charlene to drive to the rural area near Bass Lake. She says Gerald ordered the young man out of the car, then shot him in the back of the head. As he lay on the side of the road, Gerald shot him twice more.

Then, she says, Gerald ordered her to drive back to their apartment. Once there, Gerald drugged Mary Beth and took her into the bedroom, where he raped her repeatedly throughout the night. Charlene says she laid on the couch watching TV and dozing off.

Then, when the sun came up, he brought Mary Beth back out to the car and ordered Charlene to drive them to an isolated field. There, he ordered Mary Beth to lie down. When she did, he shot her.

The detectives are stunned that a woman would willingly help her husband commit such a brutal act.

But Charlene isn’t done talking. She breaks down in tears and says, “This wasn’t the first time.”

In order to get more information, prosecutors strike a plea deal with Charlene: in exchange for her testimony, she would receive a reduced sentence for her role in the crimes.

So Charlene keeps talking. She tells police it all started in 1978, a year after they had met. At first, their affair had been extremely passionate. But at some point, Gerald told Charlene he was impotent. He could no longer be aroused by sex with a willing partner — he needed a sexual slave.

First they had tried some role-playing with a sex worker, but that was not enough for Gerald. Starting in September 1978, the couple took their fantasies one final step further.

They went to a local mall to look for a teenaged girl to abduct. Gerald instructed Charlene to go in and find two girls and lure them into their van. Charlene found 17-year-old Rhonda Schleffler and 16-year-old Kippi Vaught and struck up a conversation. She asked them if they wanted to smoke pot, and when they said yes, she led them out to the van.

Once inside, they were confronted with Gerald — and his .25-caliber pistol. Charlene says she drove the van while Gerald bound the girls with duct tape. She drove to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where Gerald had the girls get out of the van. There, he sexually assaulted them.

She says Gerald and the girls got back into the van, and Gerald ordered her to drive to another isolated area. There, he had the girls get out one more time. He took them far from the road, where he shot each of them in the back of the head.

Later that month, Gerald’s daughter filed charges against him for molesting her repeatedly from the time she was 6. Gerald decided to get out of the state, so they moved, eventually settling in Reno, Nevada.

On June 24, 1979 — Fathers Day — Gerald told Charlene he wanted to abduct another girl. So the couple went to the Washoe County Fair to trawl for victims, using the same MO as they had in Sacramento.

There, Charlene met 14-year-old Brenda Judd and 13-year-old Sandra Colley. Using the same bait as before, she lured the two to the van, where Gerald was waiting, this time with a .44-caliber pistol. While Charlene drove, Gerald sexually assaulted the two in the back of the van. After several hours, he instructed Charlene to drive into the desert. There, he took each girl, one by one, out of the van, carrying a hammer and a shovel. Each time, he returned alone. Charlene is able to take detectives to the area where she had parked the van, but she says that she couldn’t see where Gerald took the girls when he killed them.

Authorities launch a massive search effort for their remains, but find nothing. It would be more than 20 years before a property owner finds them in a shallow grave just across the California border.

Eventually, the Gallegos moved back to Sacramento, where, in April of 1980, they had lured Stacy Redican and Karen Twiggs from a mall using the same ruse. Again, Charlene drove while Gerald assaulted them. Again, she parked the van while Gerald led them off, carrying a hammer and a shovel.

In June 1980, they tried something different. They were driving along the highway in southern Oregon when they came upon a pregnant woman hitchhiking. Gerald said he wanted the woman — 21-year-old Linda Aguilar — so they pulled over and let her in. Charlene drove to a rural area, where Gerald sexually assaulted Linda. He then beat her over the head with a rock, then strangled her to make sure she was dead.

Her remains, still bound with nylon rope, were found on the beach by a German tourist couple. More disturbingly, the medical examiner found sand in her lungs, which indicated that she had still been alive when she had been buried.

July 17, 1980, was Gerald’s 34th birthday. Charlene says that he decided he wanted to abduct Virginia Mochel, even though she was much older than the other victims, and they knew her — she was a bartender at a bar they both frequented. They had simply waited, Charlene says, for Virginia to leave at the end of her shift. Once they lured her into the car, Gerald bound her with a fishing line and sexually assaulted her. Charlene tells police that after that, Virginia had begged Gerald to kill her — so he did so, by strangling her with more fishing line and dumping her body near a river.

With the final confession, Charlene has admitted to helping abduct, rape, and kill 10 victims in three states. She claimed she was forced to help because she was afraid of Gerald.

Gerald, unsurprisingly, pointed the finger at Charlene, claiming she was really the mastermind.

But it was only with Charlene’s testimony that prosecutors were able to bring all the charges against the couple. Gerald, ever the narcissist, insisted on representing himself at his California trial. Unsurprisingly, in June 1983, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

A year later (and after several legal delays), he was extradited to Pershing County, Nevada, where he stood trial for the murders of Stacy Redican and Karen Twiggs. However, Pershing County was so impoverished it couldn’t afford the cost of prosecuting him. So a Sacramento newspaper columnist urged the public to contribute to Pershing County to cover the costs. More than $20,000 was raised, making it the first murder prosecution to be partly financed by private donations.

He was found guilty and handed another death sentence.

Yet neither sentence would be carried out. On July 18, 2002, he died of cancer.

As for Charlene, she served her full sentence: 16 years and eight months. In 1997, she walked out of the women’s prison in Carson City, Nevada, a free woman.

Now going by “Williams” again, she eventually resettled in Sacramento and tried to live a private life. However, her notoriety could not be escaped so easily. In 2012 she agreed to speak to the media, expressing remorse for being part of the crimes and insisting that she had tried to stop Gerald.


Born to Kill? Season 6, Episode 1: “Gerald and Charlene Gallego: The Love Slave Killers.”

Chereb, Sandra: “DNA Tests Confirm Remains of Sparks Teens,” Las Vegas Sun, Feb. 23, 2000.

Documenting Reality: Teenage Killers: Gerald and Charlene Gallego.

Medina, Maria. “Sacramento’s ‘Sex Slave Murders’ Killer Discovered Living In Area; Speaks After Years Of Silence,” CBS Sacramento, Jan. 31, 2013.

Snapped: Killer Couples. Season 4, Episode 6: “Charlene and Gerald Gallego.”

Taylor, Michael: “‘Sex-Slave’ Killer Dies in Nevada Prison Hospital.” San Francisco Chronicle, July 20, 2002.