Who killed my daughter?

LAS VEGAS — Thursday, October 27, 2016. The time was 12:30 p.m. The calls happened in rapid succession. Each call quickly escalating from fear and panic, to shock and disbelief. My phone rang again. In an eternal moment of brief silence, I knew. “She’s dead, isn’t she…”

“Oh, Mom!” my oldest son, Preston, let out the most gut-wrenching, agonizing sob I have ever heard. Sydney, his older sister who was also his best friend was dead. Only moments before, Preston had received calls from his cousin Lauren, and Sydney’s friend, Frankie, telling him they hadn’t heard from Sydney since late Tuesday night. That was the last time anyone would see her alive.

The realization hit me with the full force of a wrecking ball. My head felt like it exploded, spinning with no sense of direction…no clear consciousness. I hysterically searched my mind—to think, to act—only I was mentally paralyzed. Vomit burned my throat. I couldn’t take a breath. I can only describe it as an out-of-body experience playing in slow motion, yet seemingly spiraling out of control at warp speed. I have never felt such an intense pain in my life… as if someone suddenly ripped my heart from my chest with crushing, unrelenting force, leaving a gaping, Sydney-sized hole. I believe a part of my heart died at that moment, and I’m forever changed. We all are.

My thoughts turned to my firefighting husband. I knew I must tell him that his daughter—our firstborn child—was dead. Unbeknownst to us at the time, his coworkers from the fire department were the ones who ran the medical response to Sydney’s apartment. They were the ones who found her body. At least Steve did not have to hear about her death from a coworker. It was a blessing he was at the station when I called. He answered the phone. “Steve, Sydney’s dead! Sydney’s dead! She’s at her apartment!”. Our new reality was a waking nightmare. Everything we had imagined would be…would never be.

I raced to her apartment while frantically calling 911. I kept praying, pleading and hoping. Please don’t let it let be her! Please, please, PLEASE don’t let it be her.   

I saw the yellow crime tape as soon as I pulled up. It was blocking a large portion of the complex as well as the entrance to her apartment. Chaos and commotion were everywhere as I quickly navigated the people, policemen, patrol cars and investigations vans. I noted a police officer standing in the sectioned-off area, but there was no way he was going to stop me from reaching Sydney. I raced up the walkway toward her apartment door, but he moved directly in front of me barring my entrance. I begged with him, “Please, I have to get in there. That’s my daughter’s apartment. Please let me go, I need to get in there. Please. Just let me see my daughter. Please! I need to get my daughter. Please. Please!”

He continued to hold me back, “Ma’am, Ma’am, I’m sorry. You cannot go in there. I cannot let you go in there. Ma’am, I am sorry, but you cannot see your daughter.”

My knees buckled. The police officer then escorted me past the detectives, crime scene investigators, and other officers. I looked over my shoulder to see strangers coming in and out of my daughter’s apartment. Cold dread washed over me. I suddenly didn’t want to talk with anyone. I didn’t want to hear the unspeakable words confirming what I already knew.

Preston had already arrived and was standing there in shock. I will never forget the shattered look on my son’s face. There was nothing I could say or do to take his pain away. My sister and her family had arrived. One look at her face and I knew. My Sydney was gone. Then Steve arrived.

The police did their best to block off the entrance to the apartment, but the news of the double homicide traveled like wildfire. My raw, broken heart was now struggling with anger as I felt the violation of our private pain being overtaken by all the onlookers and media swarming the apartment complex. Helicopters buzzed overhead trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening. All I wanted in the world was to protect my family…and hold Sydney.

We soon learned from the detectives on the scene that the other victim was Nehemiah “Neo” Kauffman. There were no other details to offer, except that it was Neo’s friend who found them both dead in the apartment.

My mind has repeatedly played and replayed what that night must have been like for Sydney. Did she fight for her life? Did she try to get away? Did they rape her, beat her? How long did she suffer? Did she cry out for her life? Did she recognize who shot her? These and so many more unthinkable mind-movies are forever seared inside my head and continue to haunt me to this day.

The detectives began gathering as much information as they could from the people who were there. I did not know any of Nehemiah’s friends at the apartment, but I did recognize two friends of Sydney’s. One of the girls was Frankie Zappia. Sydney and Frankie had been friends since junior high school.

The friends that were present all told the police that a person named Shane Valentine was the one who committed these heinous murders. We would soon learn from news articles that Shane is a known pimp, with a lengthy and violent criminal record who appears to be untouchable with other pimps when it comes to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) and the Clark County District Attorney’s Office.

Las Vegas Judge Melanie Andress-Tobiasson has been quoted in the Baltimore Post-Examiner talking about alleged sex-trafficker Jamal Rashid, AKA Mally Mal: “Mally Mal’s people, in other words, pimps that worked under Mally Mal’s permission were pretty much untouchable…”. Other news articles explain the connection between Mally Mal and a five-year FBI federal corruption investigation into some current and former members of the LVMPD VICE unit.  Other news articles disclosed alleged misconduct in the DA’s Office. In fact, just a few weeks prior to the murders, on October 8, Shane threatened to kill Nehemiah, Frankie and Sydney.

Tweets, Snapchat and Instagram began flooding social media. We had two kids still in high school who had no idea their lives were about to dramatically change forever. Steve and I were not going to let them find out this horrific news so callously (as if the phone call we would make to them would be any better). Friends and family raced to the house before the kids got home to be there with them when we called.

With no time to even begin to process the horror, we needed to plan Sydney’s funeral. Family started to arrive from out of town. Everyone except my parents. I never told them Sydney had been killed. It would have killed them. You see, the week before Sydney died, I had visited my mom in Utah. She was very ill and on hospice. I knew when I went to visit her, I was really saying goodbye. I remember thinking on the drive home from Utah that I couldn’t cry another tear. I was wrong. Two days after leaving my mother’s deathbed, I was now saying goodbye to my brutally murdered daughter. My mom died shortly after Sydney. She never knew.

It was now Halloween, but no trick-or-treaters would find us at home. Steve and I were driving the 45 minutes to the mortuary in silence. It was going to be the first time we would see our beloved girl since she was killed. The emotional wrecking ball was relentless. I was struggling with the desperate longing to see and hold my baby, but also the sheer dread of what we might see.

Sydney had been shot in the face.

We sat alone in a large room. On one side were several chairs and couches and a massive open area. Across the room was a wall of swooping curtains acting as the backdrop for what we were about to witness. From the darkness, they slowly entered from a side room, wheeling Sydney in on a metal table. Under the recessed lights, I could see the form of her body. Her head was slightly raised with her neck resting on a cushion block, and I immediately recognized her long, blond hair. Her arms were resting at her sides and a blanket was draped over her body. When they came to a stop in the center of the room I started to hyperventilate and sob uncontrollably.

I tried to stand up, but my knees wouldn’t hold me. I shakily sat back down. I did not want to witness the reality of our sweet daughter’s death…that she was really, truly gone. I was afraid to look at her once beautiful face. I pictured her warm, healing smile. Would her lovely face now hold the trauma of her last moments? Would I see the pain of her begging for her life as she stared down the barrel of the gun, and they pulled the trigger?

As we moved closer, I caught sight of her face and felt the room start spinning. The mortician must have heard me gasp because he started to apologize profusely. He had spent countless hours working to make her face and hair more presentable. But it was an impossible task.

My daughter looked to be wearing a horror mask. A large portion of her face was swollen and misshapen. Her eyes were as black as raccoons. Gun powder spray had burned her face from the shot taken at close range.

But I know any mother reading this will understand when I say that it didn’t take long before I saw something more. The love I felt as I touched her delicate arm and held her feminine hand was overwhelming. She was cold to the touch, which was expected, but as I looked back at her still face, all I could see was her innate beauty. Not the imperfections of her murder. I brushed her long, blond hair with my hand. I stroked her cheek. And I cried. It was not Sydney’s lifeless body lying there…it was Sydney! I will never forget the sweet gift of being able to touch and feel my daughter once more. She was perfect…still beautiful in my eyes. I wished to stay with her forever. In this small moment, my heart felt whole again. The realization that we needed to leave her body there, alone, was almost unbearable.

Over the next several days information came in quickly with allegations about Shane Valentine being a person of interest in the double homicide. Immediately after the murder, he had driven to California where he was quickly arrested and extradited back to Las Vegas. Were pieces of this grizzly puzzle finally falling into place? The murders were violent and brutal. I have heard many times that it was one of the bloodiest crime scenes the investigators had ever witnessed. I knew that the blood they kept referring to was Sydney’s.

Detectives told me Sydney did not die quickly.

The wrecking ball of pain hits again. At the time, we had no idea the vortex of depravity we were about to get sucked into. Words like corruption, manipulation, shady deals, human trafficking, prostitution, and coverup were now part of the puzzle. These past 32 months have felt like living in a sickening movie with an unbelievable plot containing too many nauseating twists and turns. Our hearts are continually strangled as we navigate this pendulum of pain, swinging from one horrific detail to another. Just who are the heroes and who are the villains? I can understand why many who have experienced a tragedy like ours, never come back from that dark place. For me, retreating into depression just isn’t an option. We need truth.

This murder investigation appears to be riddled with corruption, lies, incompetence, and negligence on so many levels. It’s as if we are forever reliving that pinnacle of pain when we first learned Sydney’s life had been snuffed out forever. I wish I could somehow express to you the emotions of frustration, anger, fear and despair my family and I have felt. It’s like a slow, endless suffocation.

The closest thing I can compare it to is drowning. Imagine you are being held under water, and your eyes are wide open. You can see the person standing above you, holding you down. They are watching you. You are screaming as loud as you can, but your voice is all but muffled by the stinging water. You are choking. The water is filling your mouth, nose, lungs. You know that you can’t hold your breath forever. You begin flailing as anger and panic surge through your body. You can’t get a foothold and keep slipping. You desperately try to grab on to the person who is holding you down. Then they bring you up for a quick partial gasp of air before shoving your head right down under the water again. This is what it’s like as we seek some semblance of justice for Sydney and Nehemiah. It is an exhausting, excruciating process. From the initial phone call, to witnessing the crime scene, to seeing Sydney’s tortured body, to the entire, ongoing investigation… a living hell.

It would not take long to realize the murder investigation was doomed from the start. How does one find truth when the whole thing is poisoned with deceit and coverup? Call it a mother’s intuition, gut instinct, or just a feeling, but we knew things were not as they seemed. And we were right.

Connie and Sydney Land

March 24, 1995. Sydney Ellysse Land, our first child, is born. She was a beautiful baby and grew to be an incredible daughter, sister, and friend. She was easy-going, fun-loving, quiet and reserved until she got to know you. She had a calm, soothing and magnetic quality about her. She touched the lives of everyone she encountered. She was a gentle and compassionate young woman. She was smart and quick-witted. She was truly amazing.

I remember lying in the hospital bed after giving birth to Syd. It was nighttime and the lights of the nurses’ station softly brightened the room. I can still picture her tiny, swaddled body sleeping peacefully in the cradle right next to me. My heart felt full to bursting at this miracle in my life. I knew I was as close to heaven on earth as I could ever. She was the greatest gift and blessing in my life, and the bond we share will never be broken.

Sydney loved her siblings. Syd and Preston were extremely close and best of friends. She was always so protective of Gavin. He had a special place in her heart. Kendall was her one and only baby sister. She would razz them constantly, and her shenanigans never eased. About a year before she died, Sydney wrote loving, personal messages to each of her siblings on a mountain of Post-it notes which she then placed in prominent places for each of them to find. She wanted them to know how special they were in her eyes. “You are Beautiful.” “You are courageous.” “You are loving.” And so many more. They left those Post-it notes up for years. This was the love and tenderness Sydney had for her family.

At Sydney’s funeral, we wanted to reciprocate the love she showed to us and all her friends and extended family. So, we invited everyone present to write a special “Post-it of love” to Sydney. It was very humbling to read all the intimate notes from people who truly loved our girl. Sydney’s compassion and generosity touched so many lives.

We knew from a very early age that Sydney had a mind of her own. When she was three years old, my mom gave me a book titled Children Who Say No When You Want Them to Say Yes. What a perfect book for Sydney.

I will never forget her first dance recital when Sydney was just four years old. There she was—perfectly poised, front row and center stage—in her pretty, yellow tutu. She had attended months of dance class and it was now the Big Show! The music begins and all the little ballerinas begin to dance. All except Syd. She stands there, arms folded, and does nothing. She looks to her left; she looks to her right, watching the girls do their dance. As the music ends and all the other girls stop dancing, Sydney now decides she wants to dance. She raises her arms over her head, does one slow spin, stops, then takes a bow. That was Sydney!

We have a short lifetime of wonderful memories of her.

Friends have always been very important to Sydney and they played a big part in her life. Sydney was everyone’s biggest fan and always saw the best in people. She loved people for who they were and for who they could become. She would give the shirt off her back, even to the point of being a detriment to herself, if it helped someone. She was fiercely loyal and would stand up and speak up for what was right. She was the one true friend you could call anytime, day or night, and you knew she would be there for you, no matter what.

As beautiful as Sydney was on the inside she was just as beautiful on the outside. Unfortunately, she never saw herself that way. Sydney did not have very high self-esteem. I could never understand this. She was beautiful. I think Sydney believed she wasn’t worthy or deserving of an incredible guy, so the guys she did date took advantage of her genuinely kind heart.

She was unsure of what she wanted to do as a career. She was continuing her education while deciding on a career path in the medical field or as an aesthetician. Sydney loved being 21 and living in Vegas…the shopping, the dining, the great concerts, and the nightlife. She liked to party with her friends and she always had a great time. She enjoyed working at the Palm restaurant at Caesars Palace and felt that her coworkers were like her second family. She would never reach her 22nd birthday.

About a month or two prior to her murder, Steve and I started to experience a slow escalation of anxiety about Sydney. Over time the warning signs and our parent’s intuition would kick into high alert. We had no idea the magnitude of the danger, abuse and control happening in her relationship with Nehemiah.

The first we knew of Sydney seeing someone was toward the end of August. Steve and I were working in the yard outside the house when we notice a car pulls up. We see a guy is sitting in the car for an extended period. He doesn’t get out or introduce himself. He sits in the car and waits. Sydney gets in the car and they drive off. It was Nehemiah. Call us old-fashioned, but it didn’t make the best first impression. Sydney did not introduce him, so that was also a concern for us. This was our first warning sign.

A few weeks later while waiting for our dentist appointment, in walks Sydney with Nehemiah. That was the first time I met him. He was quiet and polite. After the appointment, Nehemiah and Sydney came to the house. He seemed very nice when we chatted. It was the only time I ever really talked with him. Afterward, I asked Sydney about Neo, but she didn’t say much about him…only that he was a busser at Wynn Resort and Casino. She was very vague when it came to Neo.

A week or so after our appointment, I got a call from our friend who owns the dental practice. She was very concerned about the interaction they witnessed between Nehemiah and Sydney. She said she wasn’t sure how to tell me this, but Neo was acting very controlling and would not let Sydney be alone during her exam. Neo insisted on remaining in the exam room with her. The dentist had to kick Neo out of the exam room and made him wait in the lobby. Neo was not happy. They called to tell me how troubled they were about Neo’s extremely possessive and disturbing behavior.

I would like to think that Sydney saw something good in Nehemiah and that the beginning of their relationship was a healthy one. The interaction between Sydney and Nehemiah witnessed by others, however, clearly shows a relationship that was anything but healthy. People have described it as dysfunctional and abusive. Sydney had never been in love before, so to her, maybe she viewed this controlling domination as a form of love. I was already concerned and now my anxiety levels were reaching new heights. I was unsure of how to approach Sydney, desiring to keep the lines of communication open between us. I could see she was starting to withdraw and becoming more distant.

Sydney Land

The Palm restaurant had been closed for the summer due to renovations, and by the time the restaurant was ready to reopen in September, Sydney’s money was almost gone. She told us she was moving into an apartment with some girlfriends from work, and she wouldn’t have to pay rent at first. We knew something was going on. We told her to live at home, save her money and focus on school and work. We became very suspicious about these new living conditions and continued to encourage her to live at home. It’s hard to tell a 21-year-old what to do.

We soon learned Neo was driving Sydney’s car. Since I had cosigned on the car with Sydney, I told her that I was not going to allow this. I explained how we would be liable if something happened and we were not willing to take that risk. Even with all our demands, Neo continued to drive the car. It finally came to a head on September 24. I set up an appointment for her to go to the Dealership and trade the car in and get a different car in her name only. We got into a pretty good argument over the car that morning. A few hours later I got a call from the car salesman who worked with Sydney.

“Hi Mrs. Land, I had your daughter Sydney here with her friend a few minutes ago. Mrs. Land, this guy was walking around, yelling at her, talking down to her and disrespecting her. He told her he didn’t want to be driving “no fucked-up Nissan”, he wanted to be driving a Dodge or a BMW and he wanted her to go look someplace else for a car he could drive. Mrs. Land, if I hadn’t been at work, I would have clocked him for speaking to her that way. If that was my daughter, my niece, or my granddaughter, I would do whatever I could to get her away from him. You need to get your daughter away from him. He is a bad dude.”

I immediately called Sydney and we met for lunch that day. I needed to talk to her. I prayed she would hear my pleas of concern for her safety. I told her I would do everything in my power to keep her safe, but if she continued to go down the road she was on, it was going to end tragically for her.

To this day, I don’t know why I said those specific words. It was as if I knew subconsciously something bad was going to happen.

We soon found out Sydney was living with Neo. Our anxiety and fear heightened. We asked where she lived, but she would not tell us. She had never kept something like this from us before. One time she let it slip that she lived off Flamingo and Hualapai. Since I now had a general location, I spent many days driving around looking for her car. I would wait as people would drive into a complex and follow in behind. I searched from complex to complex. If I could find her car, I knew her apartment would be close by. I didn’t know what to do, but I had to do something.

Steve found the lease Sydney signed for The Union apartments. We could not fathom she’d sign a lease for $1700. How could our young daughter be stuck with that financial commitment? She was not even back on her feet yet, and now this. We offered to help her find for a roommate to offset the rent. We tried to get her out of her lease. We finally told her we would pay the rent just to get her away from the financial bind she had gotten herself into and to get away from Nehemiah.

Things continued to unravel for Sydney. A postcard came in the mail. A speeding ticket had turned into a warrant due to lack of payment. I was furious. That was the final straw. That afternoon I called Sydney, but she didn’t answer. I left a scathing message. I drove to her apartment and found her car parked. I was there for only a few minutes before I saw Nehemiah and another guy were getting into her car I walked up and told him to get themselves and all of their shit out of my car! I said I was taking the car because of the warrant.

Sydney was upset that I took the car. I did it to protect her. We figured Neo was involved with some serious stuff based on the amount of weed and other items he took from the car. If she didn’t have a car he could drive, he couldn’t implicate her or involve her in any of his illegal activities while driving her car. Sydney begged to get her car back. We told her to pay off the warrant, and she could get the car back to trade in. It was a huge inconvenience to not have a car. A huge inconvenience for Nehemiah.

We later learned co-workers would offer to give Sydney a ride home from work, but she told them “Neo will kill me if I get a ride.” I am unsure if there was physical abuse in their relationship or not. Sydney’s friends told us after she died, that Neo and Frankie were controlling who Sydney could talk to. They would not let Sydney around any of her good friends and when they did call, they were never allowed to talk to Sydney.

My daughter Kendall called Sydney, but Neo answered her phone. Kendall could hear Sydney in the background begging Neo to let her talk to her sister. He wouldn’t allow it. Another time Kendall called Sydney, and she did answer. Kendall said she could hear Sydney explaining to Neo it was only her sister, and could she please just talk to her. They were completely controlling her. We never knew.

After the murders happened, the detectives told me that Nehemiah was involved in pimping, home invasions, and other illegal activities. Nehemiah was at one time a good kid with a promising basketball career.

Per Frankie Zappia, Nehemiah and Shane were involved in some illegal things which led to Shane and Neo arguing over a possible gun in the parking lot at the Red Rock Casino on the morning of October 8, 2016. Frankie told me that Shane had called looking for Neo earlier that morning. He called Sydney’s phone looking for Nehemiah, but Frankie answered Sydney’s phone. She pretended to be Sydney and started disrespecting Shane and talking trash. Shane thought it was Sydney on the phone. Frankie told me that she told Shane it was really her, and not Sydney. Shane said he was going to kill Frankie, Nehemiah, and his girlfriend.

Later that same morning Shane Valentine went over and shot into Nehemiah’s occupied family home, ran a car into their garage, and threw rocks through their window. We would later learn that the police would close this case due to “insufficient evidence for prosecution,” even though there were three eyewitnesses.

It wasn’t until after the double homicide that the lead homicide detective, Detective Dosch, realized that the bullet from the drive-by shooting of October 8th had not been retrieved from the Kauffman home.

Judge Tobiasson has stated concerning Valentine: “He’s out on bail on a burglary…they close the drive-by shooting case that they knew he did, and they (the DA’s) got four other cases where they have DNA and fingerprints and don’t file on them and revoke his bail.”

How negligent was CSI in the investigation of the Kauffman home that they failed to even retrieve the bullet(s) on October 8th? Why did the police department close the case just three days after the drive-by shooting, knowing they hadn’t even collected valuable evidence?

Unaware of all these events taking place, Steve and I were having more disturbing premonitions. I remember waking up one night to see Steve wide awake sitting up in bed. I asked him what was wrong. He said, “I am going to get a lawn chair and sit in front of Sydney’s door so no one can go in and hurt her.”

October 11 or 12th, I picked up Sydney to take her to work. She had been crying and was trembling uncontrollably. It scared me to death. I had never seen Sydney like this. I pleaded with her to tell me what was going on. She cried and said, “Mom, it’s so bad. It’s just so, so bad!” I told Sydney that her dad and I would do whatever we had to.

She asked for her car back. I told her I wouldn’t give it to her. As we drove up, I turned to face her and said, “Sydney, we will fix whatever is going on. We will make it better. I promise we will keep you safe.”

Sydney’s expression turned stoic, “Mom. You can’t.”

She never told me about the death threat from Shane Valentine. She never told me the danger she was in. We begged Sydney to come home. She said she was OK. We knew she wasn’t. We could not force her or drag her away, although we wanted to. I wish to God we did.

The premonitions continued. Another night Steve was wide awake, “I am going to move into the apartment with Sydney so I can keep her safe.”

Sydney saw what Shane Valentine had done to Nehemiah’s family home. Sydney would have NEVER come home and put her family in harm’s way. She knew if she told us what was going on, we would have risked our lives to save hers, and she would never have allowed that.

Sydney knew Nehemiah “Neo” Kauffman for only a few months. In that brief time, her “friends” and Neo came to quickly control her every move, her car, her phone, where she went, who she was with. Sydney’s association with Nehemiah Kauffman, Frankie Zappia, and their friends cost Sydney her life. She was foreign to their lifestyle and quickly found herself surrounded by wolves in sheep’s clothing. After talking with so many friends and family, and putting the pieces of the puzzle together, we now realize she was manipulated, terrorized, and lived in fear for her life. Sydney was an innocent victim. She was not the intended target and yet she was shot in the face.

Prior to her last few months alive, Sydney had lived a low-key, conservative life. I imagine Nehemiah kept illegal activities private at first. But once he had his hooks in her, he would have never let her go. It appears she was his property. She provided a car, a house, money, and conveniences for him. I am sure she paid the price when I took the car. That is probably one of the reasons why she tried so desperately to get it back. I can imagine the backlash she received for having it taken away. I wish we had known.

Sydney was not perfect…far from it. I know she made mistakes. I know she felt a lot of pressure to have life all figured out. She wanted to be independent and successful at being out on her own. She wanted to help people and make her family proud. She wanted to have fun and enjoy her friends. She was compassionate, stubborn, funny and loyal. You would have liked her.

We had an extremely close relationship as mother and daughter. Most of the time we got along great. Other times, not so great. When I took her car, it was one of the ‘not so great’ times. Sydney knew I was her mom, first and foremost. I may not have always liked her decisions, but she knew I loved her unconditionally and would fight tirelessly for her. She knew I would never let her down. And I never will.

There have been allegations Nehemiah was a pimp. Frankie Zappia is a known and convicted prostitute. Many names mentioned throughout this murder investigation are tied to sex trafficking and prostitution. And from public sources, we have also learned that individuals tied to this murder are also linked to an FBI investigation of VICE corruption. Is there any hope of finding the truth?

There have been insinuations that Sydney may have been a prostitute. I realize I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell you, and everyone who knew her can tell you, Sydney was never a promiscuous girl. She never had a serious boyfriend or even flings, and she didn’t sleep around. It is my understanding that Sydney had severed all ties with Frankie when she learned Frankie was lying about being a prostitute. I know Sydney was hurt and angry because she did not approve of that lifestyle. But knowing Sydney and who she was, Frankie reached out to her from jail in the summer of 2016. Sydney befriended her again.

I don’t believe Sydney had an immediate and complete change of heart in that short period of time. It simply goes against her very nature. Detectives have told us that it appears they may have been trying to groom her into prostitution. That starts to make sense when you learn about the control and intimidation, the threats, terror, and forced withdrawal from her family and friends. If they were attempting to transform her, they would have needed to use force and severe threats.

It is my responsibility to find who killed my daughter. Everything I do—every billboard, every article, every interview, every press conference, every TV show, every podcast—is to keep this unsolved murder investigation in the public eye. I am working desperately to find who killed my daughter amidst the challenge of sifting through the layers of negligence and corruption surrounding this case. Every one of my efforts will help the Nehemiah Kauffman family also get the peace and justice they need.

Media coverage of the FBI investigation has confirmed: corruption involving some members of the LVMPD vice and criminal intelligence divisions and the DA’s office; cops accepting money from pimps and sex from prostitutes; and shady deals approved by the DA’s office for said pimps and prostitutes. Some of these same players are involved in the murder investigation.

As a parent, it’s hard enough to grieve the loss of your child, but then to learn that corruption is poisoning any hope of justice is beyond comprehension. My trust and faith in the LVMPD, the Clark County DA’s office, and the Las Vegas justice system is all but obliterated. I wish it wasn’t. I believe there are individuals in positions of power who are trying to cover up mistakes at the expense of solving this double homicide.

There are so many questions I desperately want answers to.  Why was one of my homicide detectives, Jarod Grimmett, providing confidential information regarding evidence and suspects pertaining to the homicide investigation to Judge Melanie Andress-Tobiasson, when she and her daughter had interactions with Shane Valentine, one of the persons of interest?

For the six months, while Judge Tobiasson and I were communicating, she referenced conversations between herself and Grimmett in text messages and phone conversations, including details about specific evidence found at the apartment and certain records obtained in relation to the case.

Tobiasson mentioned to the Baltimore Post Examiner that Grimmett confided in her that three people were involved in the double murder. The murder happened around 12:30 a.m. on October 26. Grimmett told her convicted felons Shane Valentine and Dominique Thompson (Domo) went to Neo and Sydney’s apartment. Grimmett also told her that evidence points to Frankie Zappia, whose stepdad is a retired police officer.

Tobiasson said, “The first detective who is investigating the case (Grimmett), thank God is someone who knows me and respects me, and I have a good relationship with. He tells me for the first three or four weeks after the murders while Shane is on the run, what information they have and what proof they have that Shane’s involved and they have his phone ping at the apartment…”

It makes it very hard to have any hope that homicide wants to solve this case. Was Grimmett trying to sabotage any possibility of using the DNA evidence collected in this investigation when he made this following comment?  This is a statement made on national television by Grimmett to Crime Watch Daily, which aired on April 27, 2018, referencing DNA evidence found in the OPEN homicide investigation:

“There were several items that contained DNA evidence, but the problem is these people had a lot of friends, a lot of associates, a lot of people that hung out at the apartment, so working through all of the details of what was relevant and what’s not has been a challenge.”  “I mean when I refer to DNA, there’s cigarette butts everywhere. Ashtrays full of stuff. Drink cups everywhere. So, you talk about DNA being in the apartment, there’s all kinds of stuff you know, so who knows what’s supposed to be there and what wasn’t supposed to be there.”

It is like banging my head against the wall. For over 24 months I begged to my lead detective, sergeants, and lieutenants in homicide that I did not want Grimmett on this case. I believed he was negligent and potentially corrupt. He appeared to be sharing information in an open investigation with Tobiasson which could potentially damage this case. There would be no hope for justice for Sydney.

Desperate, I provided all of my correspondence with Judge Tobiasson, to the homicide detectives in October 2017. Even after all of the documentation, I provided, as well as public statements made by the Judge confirming their communications, my requests for his removal from this case have been discarded like trash.  I was told two weeks ago, by the sergeant in homicide that Dosch and Grimmett are STILL working this investigation when they have time.

The pendulum of confusion and pain continued to swing.

I met Judge Melanie Andress-Tobiasson when she reached out to me via messenger in May 2017. I was so grateful she did. Finally, to have someone on my side, who believed there was corruption happening, and she had the proof for the things I only thought. She was a powerful and influential judge. She lent credibility to the cause we would undoubtedly fight together. Getting justice for Sydney and Nehemiah and exposing the forces trying to bury the corruption. I believed her. I trusted her. I confided in her. She was the peace and support I needed.

I believed and appreciated the information Judge Tobiasson made public in exposing the corruption and coverup in LVMPD Vice and Criminal Intelligence Division, DA’s office and potentially the local FBI office, is accurate and truthful. It was the right thing to do.

What people didn’t know is while she is going public about the crooked cops and DA, looking like a hero, it appears she is involved in her own coverup and unethical practices. She targeted me and my vulnerabilities and used my daughter’s murder for her own personal agenda. She created paranoia, a false sense of hope with her calculated lies, manipulation, and deceit. I believed she genuinely wanted to help our family. I was wrong. I called her the master of puppets.

So many things she never told me and things she intentionally kept secret.  It was only until after reading the articles in the Baltimore Post Examiner, did I come to have a clearer and more sickening understanding behind the possible motives for Judge Tobiasson contacting me.

I learned through my reading that the judge and her daughter Sarah had some very dangerous and volatile interactions with Shane Valentine since their initial encounters in May 2015. This was 18 months before the murders. I was shocked to hear a sitting judge had called Shane Valentine’s attorney in 2016 to give Shane a threatening message. If that wasn’t bad enough, the judge said she went to Shane Valentine’s house and kicked down his door. I could not help but ask myself, what is really going on between the Judge, her daughter Sarah and Shane Valentine?

The judge told me Sarah had a best friend named Ally Bowden. Her dad was an LVMPD cop. I read in the articles that Ally introduced Sarah to Shane and that Ally allegedly worked as a prostitute for Shane Valentine. My heart skipped a beat when I read that at the time of the murders, Ally Bowden was allegedly working as a prostitute for Nehemiah, the other victim. Sarah Tobiasson was friends with Nehemiah. I am was almost scared to go down this road, cops and judge’s daughters with ties to the suspect and victim in a murder investigation? These thoughts kept spiraling, what was the real reason the judge contacted me in the first place. This case became more convoluted by the minute as the truth started to be revealed.

The judge told me countless times I could not trust Detective Dosch. She told me Detective Dosch was a longtime friend of Dano Giersdorf, another LVMPD cop, and Frankie Zappia’s stepfather. She told me Dosch was a liar, corrupt, could not be trusted and do not tell him anything and that he would never solve this case.

Tobiasson told me she was getting evidence and details about the case from Detective Grimmett and he was the ONLY one I could trust and the only one I should speak with at Metro. She told me that over the next 6 months of our communications. She would share the information he provided. She told me I could never tell anyone we were talking and I could not tell anyone what was discussed. It could put us both in serious danger.

She created a state of paranoia and anxiety for me and my family. The judge repeatedly told me that my life and my family’s life may be in danger. I was being followed and my moves were being watched. The police were monitoring my phones, messages, social media. etc. The police were watching my house. She said we needed to get burner phones so they could not follow our conversations, messages, etc.  I lived continually petrified I would lose another child, husband or be killed myself.

Since the murders happened, I have desperately searched for help.  Tobiasson knew I had been to the FBI office on several occasions, trying to get them to take over the case. The corruption and negligence were becoming more so apparent each day.

She told me her “FBI friend” whom she had been talking to was the head of the FBI investigation into the LVMPD and the vice corruption probe. She told me that most likely evidence in the case was already destroyed, that the case would never be solved.

One day she called and told me that her “FBI friend” said the FBI was taking over the murder investigation of Sydney and Nehemiah from Metro. I was ecstatic!!!!  FINALLY!!!! She told me her FBI “friend” needed every bit of documentation, photos, emails, texts, everything I had communicated with Detective Dosch.  I needed to get the information to her ASAP so she could provide it to the FBI.

As far as I know, Tobiasson never provided any of my documentation to the FBI. She has stated in interviews that she has all of the correspondence between me and Detective Dosch. I later learned from the FBI that the FBI never requested the information from Melanie. They had not and were not working on the murder investigation or even looking into it.

It is alleged that Tobiasson offered a bribe of an undisclosed amount to Aryanne Zappia in October 2017. Aryanne was to go back to homicide and change the statement she made with them in December 2016, now stating Shane Valentine is the one who killed Sydney Land.

I never did talk to Detective Grimmett. I believe once she knew I was not talking to Grimmett nor sharing my information with him, she created the FBI story that the FBI needed all of my communication with Dosch. That the FBI was taking over Sydney’s case and that the FBI would have needed all of my correspondence. It makes me wonder as I look back at my dealings with the Judge Tobiasson and looking back at all that has come forward. A gasp of air and I am dunked under water again.

Let me be very clear…not every police officer, DA or Judge is corrupt. 99% are good people who honor and uphold the oaths they made to defend, protect and serve. My family respects and appreciates their loyalty and dedicated service. They are my heroes.

I am talking about the 1% who allow criminals to hide behind their badges and robes. You can’t be a hero and a villain at the same time. Or can you? What I have experienced during the past 32 months is that multiple people involved appear to have ulterior motives.

Not every detective working on my daughter’s case is corrupt, but the LVMPD has been grossly negligent and irresponsible in their handling of this case. They have stripped my daughter of her human rights. They have stripped my daughter of any chance of justice. They have stripped my daughter of her rights of receiving a fair trial.

A few months ago, I received a call at 11:30 p.m. from a gentleman named Doug Poppa. I had no idea who he was, and after all we have been through was somewhat skeptical. Boy, am I grateful for Mr. Poppa. What he would share with me proved that he was a legitimate investigative journalist with a wealth of factual knowledge. Together, we were able to fill in so many pieces of the puzzle. Things finally started to make sense.

I soon learned he wanted to write stories, which would uncover the truth about the murder…the corruption, coverup, and negligence in the case. He was the ONLY journalist who was writing about this story. The REAL stories concerning the corruption, sex scandals, secret deals, the pimps and criminals and the ties to the murder- all taking place within the LVMPD and the Clark County DA’s office and judicial office. He is careful to back up all his stories with proof and documentation from transcribed interviews.

The Baltimore Post Examiner has exposed possible negligence in this case. Since names have been mentioned who are tied to the case, the superiors in the homicide division severed all communication between me and my homicide detectives. I am no longer allowed to communicate with the detectives handling the case and all correspondence is to go through one sergeant.

As I sit and write this, I am fearful of the retaliation I will get from the police department, DA and judges. As of May 12th, I have already been told by a representative in Homicide that if I continue to share any information discussed with Doug Poppa of the Baltimore Post Examiner, my one point of contact will “distance” himself from me. I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

For the past two years, I have waited and prayed. I remained publicly silent about the corruption, but I’ve been privately vocal by expressing my concerns to the police department insomuch as providing proof and documentation to corroborate my concerns. The police have the proof but have chosen to do nothing about it. It has ostensibly fallen on deaf ears. I am afraid to open my mouth and go public for fear that the police will stop working my daughter’s case altogether. However, remaining silent has not moved us any closer to the truth. What am I to do?

The local media have been incredible in keeping this unsolved double homicide in the public eye, and for that, we are grateful. Who’s to say where we would be if they had not done so. What we did recognize, however, was that no one really wrote about the truth behind the billboards or the stories behind the press conferences. Mr. Poppa was willing to go deeper.

Negligence, coverup, and corruption are huge concerns based on an accumulation of my own interaction, documentation, and statements from various news outlets and interviews. As a private citizen, I do not have the privilege of inner-department memos, reports, evidence, and correspondence, although I know they exist. There appear to be many pieces to this puzzle that occurred before the murders even happened. Although the pieces are starting to come together, I realize there is so much more than I can’t currently comprehend. Sydney is gone forever, and we don’t even know the half of it.

What I do know is I have a responsibility to my daughter, my family, and all the other victims and their families who have also suffered at the hands of corruption. I must speak up, speak out, and speak only the truth. I can only hope someone will hear my desperate pleas for help.

Stones are my words. The water is the public. I will continue to throw my stones into the water, in the hope of creating a flow of ripples that will travel so far and so wide that one day they will merge into a forceful wave that is unavoidable. When that day comes, and I believe it will, accountability and justice will occur.

Until then, I continue to throw my stones.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about this case, please read these articles: 


















11 thoughts on “Who killed my daughter?

  • June 22, 2019 at 6:09 PM

    Connie can you please delete my previous message after you read it? I’d really appreciate it if you would. Thank you

  • June 22, 2019 at 5:06 PM

    Hi Connie,
    I have always thought highly of you and your family through all the years of knowing you at Garehime ES. In case you don’t remember me, I am the Office Manager that’s been there many years. I was heartbroken for you and your family when I first heard of this happening and now again reading this it breaks my heart again for you and all your going through. My sister saw your article I had shared on my Facebook page, read it and it automatically connected with her, she asked if I knew how to get in touch with you. I told her I would write to you to see if you would want to talk to her. See, I don’t know if you believe in it, but she has the ability to sometimes connect with the other side. She calls her “ gift” both a blessing and a curse. lol Anyway, she would really like to talk to you. She’s not a professional with this and usually does not share this with many, not all accept it, but she feels strongly that she needs to talk to you, if you are open to it. If you are, please let me know how you would like me to have you connect, phone or email.
    God bless you and your family,

  • June 20, 2019 at 2:17 PM

    Sydney didn’t like her mom you’re a lying dike

  • June 14, 2019 at 1:30 AM

    I have shared your story with a podcast called “crime junkie”. They’re huge on wanting to help get a message out for families who’s crimes were never solved. It’s one of the most popular podcasts on Spotify with over a million listeners. My request may he looked over but I recommend you reach out as well along with any others in your circle. The way you’ve written your story would be just the source of information they’d need. I’m so sorry for you loss and I hope for the best for you and your family!

    • June 14, 2019 at 10:48 PM

      Alexis- Thank you so much for your kind words and support. I was at Crimecon this past weekend working to share this story to media and podcast. I will definitely reach out to them.
      Thank you for sharing Sydneys story and helping us find justice for these kids!

  • June 13, 2019 at 11:25 PM

    Connie, I’m so very sorry that I have not reached out to you sooner I just read your posts and try to imagine the horrific pain that you and the family have gone through. I had no idea the whole story of course we only portions and pieces of it but you have put it all together so beautifully. I was in tears most of the time although I knew see you and Steve through work I never got to meet your kids, Sydney sounds just like you. Beautiful in the inside and out I cannot imagine nor do I ever want to have to imagine excruciating pain something like this causes. I will post it on Twitter I will post it on Facebook I will paint it on Pinterest I will put it everywhere I can for you as I normally share what I find that you have written or talked about on Facebook. I will pray for you, that Justice will be served for Sydney. Have you tried to reach out to John Walsh maybe he could put it on his television show for public attention or anything so this case can get resolved and out of the hands of the corrupt here in Vegas. Xoxo Rachel

    • June 14, 2019 at 10:55 PM

      Rachel- my dear friend, it doesn’t matter how much time passes, with true friends we pick up where we left off. I sincerely appreciate our friendship, and all of the love and support you have continually shown for so many years. Sydney was a beautiful girl both inside and outside.
      Thank you for continuing to share our posts, petitions, and story. We could not make it through this alone. I have not tried to reach out to John walsh, but I will definitely look into it. This story is not only about Sydney but so many other families who have fallen prey to this corruption, etc. This fight is for all of them too <3 Love you bunches! Con

  • June 12, 2019 at 1:59 PM

    Thank you Doug for your continued support.

  • June 10, 2019 at 12:59 AM

    Hey Doung,

    I only of another young lady that was killed and LVMPD covered it up. These stories are very similar. I am a Federal Whistle Blower. I can expose massive amounts of corruption. I understand it form a legal perspective and I can incriminate its of high profile people in Las Vegas.

  • June 7, 2019 at 6:52 PM

    Beautifully written, just very sad it needed to be. Thank you for sharing and speaking out. The truth does matter and I hope all involved get what they deserve. Keep shining that light, Doug.

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