In October of 1997, author Lois Duncan Arquette sat in a darkened theater as the film adaption of her 1973 book, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, began unspooling for an unsuspecting audience. While the crowd ate up the modernized throwback to ’80s “slasher” flicks kicked off by its predecessor, SCREAM, the previous year (from I KNOW screenwriter Kevin Williamson), Duncan was somewhat horrified by the all-but-unrecognizable version of her story.
Sure, there was a character named Julie James at the center of it, and her & her friends begin receiving ominous warnings stating “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” But that’s basically where the similarities end. In the book version, Julie and her friends accidentally hit and kill a 10-year-old boy on his bike, and the impending story was always intended to be an emotional morality tale.
In the movie, the group hit a man on the road and toss his body into the lake, leaving him for dead when he was still alive. He comes back for revenge in the form of faceless, hook-handed killer. But it wasn’t so much the changes to the source material that bothered the creator. In actuality, she had suffered such a terrible loss in her personal life that it was hard to see these young people murdered up on screen and not think of what had happened in her reality.
On July 16th, 1989, Duncan’s youngest daughter, Kaitlyn Arquette, was shot to death coming home from a friend’s house in Albuquerque, New Mexico in what police believed was a random drive-by shooting. However, the more Duncan delved into trying to make sense of the tragedy, the more she believed there was something far more sinister to the crime than it just being a coincidental random act of violence.
It was approximately 11PM that Sunday night as Kaitlyn headed South on 19th street and prepared to make a left on Lomas Blvd, just past the railroad tracks. It was lightly raining when two shots entered the passenger side striking her left temple and cheek. The car spun out of control and she landed in front of a wooden telephone pole some 700 feet from the actual shooting. She was rushed to the hospital in a coma. Later that day, she was pronounced brain dead and taken off her respirator.
Kaitlyn had just completed high school and moved into her first studio apartment. She had a serious relationship with her boyfriend, Dung Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who had met her a year and a half prior, and who was a seemingly good guy that the Arquette family all took an immediate liking to. On the day of the murder, the couple had had another argument, and that evening, Nguyen was out drinking with a few friends at a bar. They dropped him off at her apartment, but she never came home. Detectives tested his hands for gun powder residue, which came back negative and also found a letter from Kait to Dung apologizing for their earlier argument.
Five days after Kait’s death, Dung had attempted suicide by stabbing himself in the stomach with a 4-inch folding knife. When the Detective questioned him in the hospital, he was wracked with guilt over her death, saying if he had not gotten into an argument with her she would not have been in that area of town or alone. When Lois went to visit him, he thanked her for coming and told her, “I didn’t kill her.” She replied that she knew he didn’t. But that if he knew who did, he needed to decide whether he loved Kait enough to tell them who did. Lois recalled his reply as, “I know. I’m deciding.”
When the police questioned him after his recovery, he had nothing more to say. And when Lois examined the make-up letter from the day of her death, she immediately recognized that the handwriting did not match Kaitlyn’s. Interestingly enough, Dung had also been leading somewhat of a double-life. Rumor had it he had participated in a series of insurance fraud scams orchestrated by a Vietnamese crime ring in Southern California. This was a huge operation in which car accidents would be staged, and all parties involved would pursue large settlements afterwards. Could his criminal past have had anything to do with Kait’s death?
Despite skepticism, Lois employed the help of psychic detectives, since the police weren’t coming up with any solid leads. After meeting with one, she had sent out artifacts from Kait’s life to several more psychics with the hope they’d come back with some sort of useful information. The strangest incident to come of these interactions was from psychic Noreen Renier, who was able to come up with a police sketch of the supposed shooter. The man in the picture looks exactly like a character that Lois had created for her as-yet-to-be-released book DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU. The similarities were eerie. The character in the book was a hitman named Mike Vamp, who drove a Camaro and targeted the main female character of the story, whom Duncan had based on her daughter Kait.
Around this time, the Albuquerque Police Department had arrested and charged two men with the murder of Kaitlyn Arquette. They were Juvenal “Juve” Escobedo, who drove a Camaro, and Miguel Garcia, whom friends called Mike, or sometimes by his nickname “Vamp.” These arrests were based on the testimony of a friend of the pair that claimed he was in the backseat of the car when the murder took place, but almost immediately, the narrative fell apart. The revolver the police found and assumed was the murder weapon was missing a bushing and a spring, and was completely inoperable, and had been since months before the murder. Charges were dismissed.
None of the strange details surrounding the case were making any sense. So, Lois penned a new book WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER, which was published in 1992 and she immediately went on a media tour, appearing on shows for Larry King Live and Sally Jesse Raphael, hoping that someone out there would have insight into what really happened. One person that took note was Private Investigator, Pat Caristo, who took on the case and went back to the very beginning to start from scratch.
The new investigator almost immediately discovered a new suspect. It turned out a plainclothes Detective was on the scene, as well as a police officer that had initially passed the crime scene after having seen two cars and thinking it was an automobile accident. He turned around to find only one automobile and Kait slumped over in her seat. A witness recalled seeing a Volkswagen bug speed away from the crime scene. The Detective found a man standing by the car and got a statement. That man was Paul Apodaca, who had a long criminal history for violence against women. He also owned a Volkswagen bug.
Basically, standard police procedure wasn’t followed, otherwise the police on the scene would’ve run Apodaca’s name through their system and seen his rap sheet come up. Also, crucial evidence was missing. No bullets or shells were ever found on the crime scene. Initial analysis implied a small caliber gun was used, yet the hole in the driver’s side door appeared to come from something much larger, like a .38. Was the mishandling of the crime scene covered up due to embarrassment of incompetence?
So what really happened? Did Kaitlyn find out something she wasn’t supposed to regarding her boyfriend’s ties to the Vietnamese in charge of these staged insurance scams? Was it a random act of violence? Did the criminal on the scene with a long list of violence towards women have anything to do with it? Or is the identity of the killer forever clouded in the mishandling of evidence from inexperienced police at the time?
Sadly, Duncan never got the answers she sought after for the latter half of her life.
On June 15th, 2016, Lois Duncan passed away at her home in South Sarasota, Florida at the age of 82. Although, the murder of Kaitlyn Arquette still remains unsolved, you can read Duncan’s two books regarding details of the case: WHO KILLED MY DAUGHTER? and ONE TO THE WOLVES. For a detailed breakdown and timeline of the case, you can read this lengthy in-depth & well researched article by Tim Stelloh on Buzzfeed right here.