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True Crime Arizona: The 1984 murder of teenage paper girl Christy Ann Fornoff

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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- In 1984, a teenage girl’s murder changed Arizona forever.

13-year-old Christy Ann Fornoff was on her paper route with her mom nearby when she disappeared. Her convicted killer tried to deceive everyone, including her parents.

“Christy was the outgoing child. She was the one who charmed people,” said her mom Carol Fornoff.

“Just a happy little girl. Stuff like that,” her father Roger said. “Just sitting here, my eyes are tearing, you know?”

Christy Ann Fornoff was full of spirit with a streak of independence, her mom Carol, was all too familiar with.

Christy’s can-do attitude was apparent in everything she did, including her job as a local paper girl. It was May 9th, 1984. Her siblings had gone to a friend’s house when Christy turned to her mom.

“She said, ‘Mom, you know what? I have someone I need to collect from. They told me I need to come back. And I’m supposed to ask people if they want to sign up for the paper’ I said ‘Well, I’ll just go with you,” Carol recalled.

Christy had been on the job for five months. Carol said she was a businesswoman far beyond her years.

“In the 80s, this was pretty normal for kids to be on a paper route, right?” asked reporter Briana Whitney.

“Oh yes, yes, and out collecting,” Carol said.

“There was responsibility, financial learning; you know how to count money,” said Roger.

Christy and her mom got to the Rocky Point apartments in Tempe that evening when a tenant started chatting with Carol.

“So Christy said, 'mom, after a few minutes, I’m going to go. You know where I’m going to go. You know the couple?'… yes, I know where you are, honey. I’ll meet you there in a few minutes,” Carol remembered.

But minutes later, when Carol went to meet her daughter, she found her bike on the ground. It was silent. Christy wasn’t there.

“I yelled, ‘Christy! Christy! Where are you?’ I didn’t go up to the house. I don’t know why, but I didn’t. So, we ran home,” Carol said.

The frantic search began for the teen. Police, family, friends; everyone was looking for Christy.

One of the most helpful people in the search, the apartment’s maintenance man, 29-year-old Don Beaty.

“So he just really embedded himself with the investigation to help?” asked Whitney.

“Oh, yes. We went to storage sheds; we went through everything on the property,” Roger said.

Carol made a plea to the public. She believed her daughter was still alive.

“I said, ‘If you’ve got Christy let her go, she’s a forgiving child, and we would forgive you. Please let her go.’ So, it was a matter of begging for her, which I would do anything to get her back,” Carol said.

But days later, a police chaplain showed up at the Fornoff’s door.

“He said, ‘I’m so sorry to tell you, but we’ve found her body down at the apartment complex,” Carol recalled with a look of sadness.

It was maintenance man Don Beaty who found the body. That’s when he became the main character in the case and the main suspect.

“It was just this whole eerie feeling around the complex. By chance, we just literally went to his apartment and knocked on the door. I can’t remember exactly what we asked him, but he let us into his apartment,” said Jim Fry.

Jim Fry was a news photographer for Channel 3 in Phoenix at the time.

To this day, he still is. He was only 25 years old, standing with a news camera at Don Beaty’s front door.

“You think that there’s something sinister that lurks behind that face,” Fry said. “He kept on denying everything. He felt like he was just this victim of circumstances, and I don’t know why they’re investigating me. I don’t know why they came into my apartment looking for evidence. I just don’t know why,” Fry remembered.

“If anybody out there finds a body, and if they have to go through the same thing I’m going through, I feel sorry for that person,” Don Beaty said on camera in part of that interview.

Police kept tabs on Beaty and swabbed his apartment for evidence. Carol and Roger shared the same uneasy feeling, a hunch Don Beaty killed their daughter.

Then, to their disbelief and horror, he showed up at Christy’s funeral and caught Roger’s eye as he mourned with a family friend.

‘I said, ‘Don’t move. I’m going to show you the killer.’ He walked down the side aisle across the front of the church. I turned her around, and I said, ‘That’s the guy. And he came up and shook my hand,” Roger said.

Days later, the evidence came back.

Don Beaty arrest

Don Beaty's mugshot after being arrested

Christy’s DNA, blood, and vomit were found in Beaty’s closet. There was evidence of rape on Christy’s body.

“We’re hoping and praying she did not experience that before she was choked,” said Carol. “To be at full peace about that, I have to just choose what I believe. That she was not aware.”

“It’s just really spooky finding out later about circumstances later and realizing you were in the same apartment as this man,” said Fry.

“Where she died…” said Whitney.

“Where she died,” Fry said. “That whole world of innocence was gone. A 13-year-old collecting money for a paper route is murdered? I mean, that alone changed everybody in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa.”

The road to justice for the Fornoff’s didn’t come easy. Trial one for Don Beaty ended in a hung jury. Carol and Roger were angry and shocked.

But before trial two could begin, Beaty slipped up and said something to the prison psychiatrist.

“He just was talking, and he said, ‘I didn’t mean to kill her, but she was crying for her mother.’ And the guard went…what did you say?” both Carol and Roger said.

That became admissible in court. This time not only was he found guilty but sentenced to death. It would be decades later but in 2011. Beaty would see his final day.

“Don Beaty absolutely did not want to die,” said Barrett Marson, who was the public information officer for the Arizona Department of Corrections that year.

“The inmate is moved the night before to the ‘death cell,’ which is in the death chamber,” said Marson. Marson said Beaty was so scared of being executed he tried to beat a ticking clock.

“He tried to put himself into a diabetic coma with his last meal. He ordered so much sugar stuff”,” Marson said. “He had ordered ice cream and cookies and regular coke and all those things, but we figured out he was trying to put himself in a diabetic coma because he did not want to die. Life, even in prison, was better than no life,” Marson said.

“When you think back to his execution, is there one part of that day that sticks out in your mind?” asked Whitney.

‘Oh, it really was his last words,” Marson said.

That’s because his last words were directed straight to the Fornoff family, sitting in right in front of him, waiting for their daughter’s killer to die.

“The curtain opens up, and he looks at us. Each one of us felt he looked directly into our eyes alone. He said, ‘You will see your daughter in heaven,” Carol recalled. “In his own way, he apologized, and we all felt at ease about it.”

“If you don’t forgive someone, you’re carrying this bag of rocks on your shoulder. You are hurting. You’ve got to let go,” said both Carol and Roger.

Through forgiveness, the Fornoff’s found purpose in Pine, Arizona, at their home named “Christy House in the Pines.”

For years, they’ve hosted retreats for families who have also lost children to murder.

“We hope that we are hope for them,” said Carol.

You can’t help but notice a theme at their home, Christy’s favorite -- butterflies.

After Don Beaty’s final trial, Carol and Roger went to Colorado to get away and reflect. They went on a river rafting trip when a yellow butterfly flew onto carol’s shoulder and tucked itself inside her life jacket.

“This butterfly was safe. He was inside for a two-and-a-half-hour trip. The whole time,” said Carol. “Gosh, that had to be Christy. She got her wings in heaven, but she needed our help. So, she came down and stayed with us.”

Forever their little girl, her spirit preserved in moments and memories.

“She’s enriched our lives even though she didn’t live,’ said Carol.

Christy’s cherished letters still come to life with every word.

“Dear Mom. I would like you to be my very best mother forever and if there’s any work I would be glad to do it. I appreciate the things you’ve done for me. Love, Christy.”

 

Copyright 2020 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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