Suspected serial killer behind East Bay cold cases identified

HAYWARD, Calif. (KRON) — East Bay police revealed the identity of a suspected serial killer who preyed on women in the 1970s and got away with murder for five decades.

Hayward Police Chief Bryan Matthews held a press conference Thursday announcing two cold cases are now closed: the 1979 murder of Theresa Pica in Hayward, and the 1972 rape and murder of Nellie Hicks in Newark.

Cold case detectives used advances in DNA technology to identify the suspected killer as Fred Bernard Farnham of Oregon.

The investigation into Farnham mirrored cold case investigation tactics used to catch the “Golden State Killer,” Matthews said.

Farnham, 73, died in a hospital in 2007 before detectives were able to link him to the killings. His identity was revealed on Thursday to help bring closure to the victims’ families, the police chief said. Some of the victims’ now-adult children spoke at the press conference.

Five decades “is a long time. (Today) we have answers in the murders of Theresa Pica and Nellie Hicks,” Matthews said.

In 1979, 48-year-old Pica was found dead by three of her children inside their Hayward home, Matthews said. She had been bound, sexually assaulted, and died from blunt force trauma. The Hayward police chief said, “The scene was disturbing, to say the least.”

DNA testing did not exist at the time. Recently, new genealogical DNA technology matched Farnham, who was convicted of several sexual assaults in the South Bay around the same time as the murders.

In May of 1972, 60-year-old Hicks she was brutally attacked by a home intruder, raped, and slain inside her Newark home while her family members were asleep, police said. The elementary school teacher was bludgeoned to death with a brick wrapped in a nylon stocking, according to her family.

Dave Hicks hold up a photograph of his mother, Nellie Hicks, at a press conference on Feb. 8, 2024. (KRON4 Photo)

Her body was found by her son, Ron, who passed away three months prior to police solving Hicks’ cold case.

Hicks’ youngest son, Dave Hicks, said he remembers his mother was a hero. “My mom raised a family of six and she worked full time as a teacher.” She worked as an elementary school teacher for a school in San Leandro.

Dave Hicks described the killer as “one sick individual.”

“My mom was murdered and raped at the age of 60. A man comes through the back sliding door, hit my mom in the head with a brick wrapped in a nylon stocking, he draped her over a chair arm and raped her. My brother Ron woke up and found this,” Dave Hicks said.

A Newark and Hayward detectives noticed similarities between the Hicks and Pica murders.

No arrests were ever made in the two East Bay killings. But Matthews commended Hayward police officers who meticulously collected evidence from the crime scene back in the 1970s, “not even knowing that DNA was a thing,” the chief said.

Farnham had a criminal record in Santa Clara County from the 1970s. He served prison time after he was convicted of several sexual assaults in Sunnyvale and San Jose.

Chief Matthews said his detectives believe Farnham got away with more murders and sexual assault crimes, possibly in multiple states. He lived in multiple places around Northern California between the 1950s and 1980s. He was living in Oregon and was out of custody at the time of his death.

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