Cold case vault: A fatal beating outside a Tustin bar in 1983

By Greg Hardesty

Editor’s note: This is an ongoing series about cold cases of interest.

Suspect(s): Suspect No. 1 is a male Hispanic or Indian, 20+ years old, 5 feet 10 inches, 160 pounds, dark hair, dark eyes. Last seen wearing a light-blue, sleeveless UCLA T-shirt, light-colored shorts and running-type shoes.

Suspect No. 2 is a white male, 20-25 years old, 5 feet 11 inches, 270 pounds, dark hair, unknown eye color, brown mustache. Last seen wearing blue jeans and a light-colored, button-up shirt.

Both suspects are described as possibly U.S. Marines.

Suspect No. 2 was said to have bragged about being involved in a raid that failed to free the U.S. hostages in Iran during the hostage crisis in 1979-81.

The suspects. Photos courtesy of Tustin PD

Date of crime: Sept. 18, 1983

Victim: Steven M. Sackerson, 40, who had moved to Tustin from Las Vegas about three months before he was beaten to death.

Sackerson was in a coma for several weeks and was taken off life support and died Nov. 6, 1983.

The victim, Steven Sackerson. Photo courtesy of Tustin PD

Details: Sackerson went to shoot pool at the Walnut Room, a local bar that still exists at 1060 Walnut Ave. His male roommate told the media he had no enemies and did not have a violent temper.

Sackerson was found bleeding from the mouth and ear in the parking lot outside the bar around 1:25 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, 1983. He had lacerations to his face and head.

Witnesses saw two suspects fleeing in a car, which apparently had blocked their view of the fight. The fight apparently had started after a shoving incident inside the Walnut Room.

“He was brutally beaten and left for dead,” said Det. Nasario Solis of the Tustin PD, who about six months ago took a fresh look at the case. “Someone knows these guys.”

At the time of his death, Sackerson was working at Servomatic Solar Systems in Tustin.

His roommate believed he had an ex-wife in Reno, Nev., and also a sister who lived in Nevada.

The fatal beating of Sackerson generated hundreds of leads back in 1983, but the case went cold about a year later.

Because the suspects were believed to possibly be Marines, the Naval Intelligence Services and United States Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division also investigated the slaying.

Tustin PD Det. Nasario Solis, Investigations Unit, talks about his investigation of a cold case.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In 1983, Tustin had a large population of Marines, many of whom were stationed at the Tustin helicopter base (the Marine Corps Air Station Tustin closed in July 1999).

In 2004, following advances in DNA technology, the TPD re-submitted Sanderson’s clothing, including a plaid shirt and blue jeans, for examination by the Orange County Crime Lab.

But that failed to yield any DNA hits.

Solis worked at the TPD from 1984-1999 before becoming an investigator with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, where he specialized in child and elder abuse. He retired from the OCDA in 2013 and returned to the TPD in 2016, where he is working several cold cases.

He believes some witnesses now may be willing to come forward.

“If you were a witness to this crime at the time, maybe you didn’t know that (Sackerson) died a couple of months later, so what would be your motivation to come forward back then?” Solis said.

“I’m hoping (publicity) will generate some kind of interest,” he added. “Maybe there’s a child or a grandchild of a witness who was told something. Maybe even the suspects, if they’re still alive, will come forward to clear their consciences. You never know. This is something you don’t forget, committing a murder.

“At the very least, (Sackerson’s family) deserves that this case be looked at again.”

Latest developments: The Orange County Crime Lab is processing the victim’s clothing for any possible DNA at the recent request of Tustin PD Det. Eric Haug, who is hoping that today’s technology will ID the suspects.

Contact: If you have any information about this homicide, contact Det. Nasario Solis of the Tustin PD’s Investigations Unit at 714-573-3248 or nsolis@tustinca.org

Tustin PD Det. Nasario Solis. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC