Strange clue links defendant to crime scene, detectives say: He left his thumb behind

William Thomas Schendel is accused of murder in the death of Aimee Eddington-Crawford.
William Thomas Schendel is accused of murder in the death of Aimee Eddington-Crawford.

Investigators say William Thomas Schendel left behind the tip of his thumb when his girlfriend, Aimee Eddington-Crawford, bit it off last year during a violent confrontation at her home near Knights Ferry.

The 40-year-old woman was found dead in her shower after suffering “massive blunt force trauma” to her head, according to testimony in a preliminary hearing for Schendel. He’s accused of murder in Eddington-Crawford’s death.

The hearing, which started Thursday, is to determine whether there is enough evidence for Schendel to stand trial. Authorities believe he used a candle holder to attack his girlfriend.

Eddington-Crawford’s body was discovered about 4 p.m. May 1, 2018, at her home in the 13000 block of Horseshoe Road. It’s a rural area with a lot of ranch homes just north of Highway 108 and several miles east of Oakdale.

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Aimee Crawford seen here in 2014 during a Santa Pub Crawl, was found deceased in a home near Oakdale, Calif. on May 1st, of this year. William Schendel of Modesto has been charged with her murder. John Westberg

Several hours before Eddington-Crawford’s body was found, Schendel, 55, was involved in a crash on Highway 120, just west of the intersection with Seidner Road in Escalon.

California Highway Patrol Officer Preston Bingham arrived at the crash site that morning and found Schendel sitting in the driver’s seat of a heavily damaged gray Honda Accord. Schendel was pinned inside the car and had to be pulled out by authorities.

The car had crashed with a Dodge Ram 1500 pickup hauling a RV trailer. The pickup driver, Gilbert Ehresman, told the officer the car collided with the left front end of his pickup.

Schendel was hospitalized with injuries, including broken bones in his hands and broken ribs. At the hospital, he told the CHP officer that he was driving about 55 mph when his car drifted off the road. Schendel said he over-corrected and crashed with the pickup. Bingham testified that as he questioned Schendel, he didn’t know anything about what had happened at the Horseshoe Road home.

Joshua Crawford, Eddington-Crawford’s ex-husband, arrived at her home about 11:30 a.m. May 1, 2018, to drop off a weed eater, he told Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Gerhardt. Crawford saw her vehicle parked at her home, but she didn’t answer the door or respond to him honking his horn, Gerhardt testified. Crawford called his daughter to check on her mother.

Eddington-Crawford’s children used a GPS app to track their mother’s iPhone to a tow yard. Authorities later found the woman’s rose-colored iPhone inside Schendel’s crashed Honda. Gerhardt testified that her children recognized Schendel’s car at the tow yard and were told that the Honda was involved in a serious crash.

Her children then went to the Horseshoe Road home about 4 p.m. to check on their mother and found her body.

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A residence on the 13000 block of Horseshoe Road near Oakdale, Calif. is pictured on Monday May 7, 2018. A homicide victim's body was found by family members there on May 1, 2018. Joan Barnett Lee

Sheriff’s Detective Adam Rodriguez testified that he learned of the crash and searched the gray Honda. Rodriguez said there was blood smeared on several items inside the car. The detective also said that he found an envelope with $2,000 in cash placed underneath a spare tire in a compartment in the trunk of the car. Rodriguez said he didn’t know at the time when the cash was placed there.

Defendant’s jail phone calls

Sheriff’s Detective Michael Fisher, the lead investigator in the homicide case, reviewed hundreds of phone calls Schendel made from the Stanislaus County Jail in the several months after his arrest in Eddington-Crawford’s death.

In a June 18 phone call, Schendel talks to his ex-wife about the violent confrontation with Eddington-Crawford, Fisher testified. The defendant mentions the candle holder.

Schendel in the phone call described himself acting in self-defense, then he says “bam, bam, bam,” according to the detective. Fisher said Schendel also described Eddington-Crawford biting off his thumb during the confrontation.

Michelle Switzer, a sheriff’s crime scene technician, made a cast of the thumb tip. She compared Schendel’s left thumb fingerprint obtained from a state Department of Justice database. She testified that Schendel’s fingerprint matched the thumb tip found.

Testimony in Schendel’s preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue Monday afternoon in Stanislaus Superior Court. A forensic pathologist is expected to testify about an autopsy he conducted and how Eddington-Crawford died.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.