By Scott Thomas Anderson
The woman had been arrested on a warrant that day while doing her court-ordered community service.
“Well, that’s kind of shitty,” one of the investigators offered when she mentioned it.
Tessa was not having a good day – and she did not want to be sitting across from two detectives in an interview room at the Sacramento County Jail. She told them she couldn’t guess what they wanted from her. A digital recorder caught her hesitation. The two men were Rocklin Police Detective Zach Lewis and Placer County District Attorney Investigator Ashley Englefield.
“Have you ever heard of the Butterfly Effect?” Englefield threw out, alluding to a metaphor in chaos theory that describes how the flutter of butterfly wings can trigger a hurricane across the world.
Tessa wasn’t following.
“I am here talking to you not because of something you did, or have any involvement with,” Englefield reflected, “but now, you sort of do.”
It was July 6, 2020.
The detectives would soon ask Tessa about a situation they’d been probing for two-and-a-half years. The case was mystifying: A man from Rocklin had vanished somewhere in Sacramento County. Three days later, an intruder was spotted inside that man’s house before escaping into the neighborhood. A full week passed and then the missing man’s truck was found abandoned in North Highlands. Soon, California Highway Patrol officers were engaged in a harrowing high-speed pursuit with a street-level hood who ultimately caused a tragedy on the roadways as he fled. The story converged with the Rocklin tale, because that day’s carnage unexpectedly revealed a cache of items that belonged to the man who’d disappeared. And the drunk driver who’d caused the deadly police chase – he had zero known ties to the person everyone was looking for.
From the outside, the details seemed to take the shape of random foul play, a case of opportunism that manifested in a one-in-a-million crime headline.
But the detectives sitting across from Tessa now didn’t think so.
They knew that the felon who’d led the high-speed pursuit might not have deep ties to the man at the center of their missing person’s case, but there was a different individual living in Sacramento County who had a very personal interest in him. That person is who they wanted to ask Tessa about as she sat in the jail interview room. And once Tessa understood this, she seemed to freeze.
She didn’t want to talk about him.
Englefield asked why.
“He knows people,” she replied.
The detective looked at her. “He knows people?”
“Yeah, does this have anything to do with him?” Tessa clarified. “Just you guys sitting here, talking to me right now, could get me hurt.”
Englefield tried to calm her, but it wasn’t working.
“You guys are going to get me killed,” Tessa said. “I got to go.”
Two years earlier: The house call
Rocklin police officer John Constable stopped his patrol vehicle at a tidy, brick-and-wood ranch-style house a few turns off Pacific Street. The reporting party, Leslie Wright, waited near some matching garage doors with neat, blue trimming. Leslie was ready to tell the officer about a jarring encounter.
The property belonged to Leslie’s brother, Ray Dean Wright, a 62-year-old expert cabinet-maker. Leslie hadn’t heard from Wright lately, so he decided to drop by. He noticed that his brother’s white Ford F250 pickup was nowhere to be found. Then, Leslie heard noises coming from the rear of the house. What followed was later recounted in court. Leslie started calling out, “Hello? Hello?” Suddenly, an unknown man was coming towards him. The trespasser was dark-complexed with a mustache and soul patch, his flattop peppered with gray. Leslie noticed he was wearing glasses and a dark Dickies-style jacket. The man quickly took off out of the area.
Now Officer Constable was heading into the house to investigate. There were no signs of forced entry. The place wasn’t ransacked, either. Constable could detect an overpowering scent of cannabis wafting through the rooms. That was significant because Ray Wright was a recovering alcoholic. It’s believed that he was living sober. Moving into the kitchen, Constable saw a fresh drinking cup with a straw in it, one that was still sweating with condensation. The officer ultimately bagged that into evidence.
As a search began for Ray Wright, friends and family checked neighborhoods in South Placer County, as well as the cabinet-making shop he was renting in a far-flung corner of Rio Linda. There were no signs of the Rocklin man anywhere. Authorities were able to determine that he’d dropped off the map two days before the intruder was spotted in his house. The last geo-location for Wright’s cell phone pinged off a cell tower in North Highlands. Then, exactly ten days after the vanishing, Wright’s Ford pickup was located on a block of Freedom Park.
That was a bad sign.
And then – a break. Or, more specifically, a chase.
On January 27, 2018, the California Highway Patrol found themselves tearing down the roadway after an intoxicated driver who was trying to allude them. The man had his foot-to-the-floor of a Chevy Highlander, barreling past different neighborhoods in Sacramento County. The chaos ended when he crashed into another vehicle, causing catastrophic injuries to a man named Julian Sop and a woman named Hilaria Mejia. The CHP officers who put the cuffs on the out-of-control driver determined that he was Victor Merle Gray, a felon with a long rap sheet that included evading police officers with a willful disregard for public safety. Standing at the crash site, CHP could see that Gray had brought his way with disaster in spades again: Two innocent people were being rushed by ambulance to nearby hospitals. A dog had also been killed. Inspecting the Chevy Highlander, the officers found that Gray had been driving around with a Ruger pistol. His vehicle was towed from the scene.
Soon, doctors inside an emergency room were confronted with a grim reality. Julian Sop had suffered paralysis and was comatose from a brain injury. As the weeks went on, and Sop’s condition worsened, CHP investigators made their way to the tow yard where Gray’s Highlander had been sitting. Examining the vehicle’s tags, they realized it had a fake registration sticker on it and the decal had actually been pulled off a Ford F250 that belonged to a Rocklin resident – Ray Wright.
On May 8, 2018, a team of investigators met at the FBI’s Office in Roseville to comb through Gray’s SUV. They carefully documented a black tarp wrapping a yellow, blood-soaked rain coat. They also located plastic bags and a hat that said, Ray Wright Construction. The lost man’s wallet was tucked inside a melted lunch box.
During the search, detectives zeroed in on a Starbucks cup with the name “Katie” scrawled onto it with a pen. Katie, they would later discover, lived in a trailer that was virtually next to Ray Wright’s cabinet shop in Rio Linda.
Victor Gray’s connection to Ray Wright was still completely unclear.
As Tessa watched the investigators from her seat in the interview room on that day in 2020, the conversation was beginning to steer increasingly towards two men. One man she knew very little about. The other she knew too much about but didn’t want to say. His name was Robert “Bobby” Manor.
Whenever Tessa was talking about Victor Gray, she acted as if she wasn’t even sure about his name. “Some dude” is how she referred to him. Yet “Bobby” was a different story. The moment the investigators indicated they wanted to talk about him was the instance Tessa assured them that they could get her hurt.
The digital recorder caught Englefield’s sympathy as he acknowledged that Tessa was free to leave the room.
“This is not your faut,” Englefield muttered. “You didn’t do this shit.”
Tessa did not leave.
The more the investigators talked to her, the more she opened up about Bobby Manor. She recalled that she’d first met him when she was a massage therapist working for a chiropractor treating Manor for ongoing pain. According to later court testimony, in 2011 Manor had been on his way to visit his ailing father when his vehicle was struck by a drunk driver. Manor’s wife had been riding with him. The couple sustained major injuries. Pain and discomfort racked Manor’s body in the years that followed.
Tessa would make house visits to Manor’s address in the Naomi neighborhood of Sacramento to work on his injuries. Eventually, Tessa admitted, the two of them had ended up dating. It was a rocky relationship. There was tension over a number of things, including a girl that Manor sometimes slept with named Katie. Tessa said that she’d noticed Manor was also obsessed with the drunk driver who’d collided with him. Even though that driver had been arrested, prosecuted and served jail time, Manor didn’t consider that matter closed. The driver reportedly owed Manor more than $400,000 from a pain-and-suffering judgement that he hadn’t paid. Tessa told the investigators that Manor talked about this individual all the time. Perhaps more disturbingly, she’d noticed Manor searching websites at night in an effort to find where the driver was living.
“He mentioned on numerous occasions he wanted to get that guy,” Tessa remembered.
The investigators kept her talking. At one point, Tessa recounted that in the winter of 2018, she had gone over to Manor’s house to discuss their deteriorating relationship. But when she got there, that’s not what “Bobby” wanted to talk about. Instead, he wanted to brag. In Tessa’s recollection, Manor had looked at his girlfriend and proclaimed that he “took care of something – something he wanted to take care of for a long time.”
The detectives urged Tessa to keep going. She was leery.
“He’s still controlling you,” Englefield told her. “He put so much fear into you.”
Then, Tessa spoke through those feelings – and the jail interview ended with a revelation. This act that Manor was boasting about also involved the other man that investigators had brought up, Victor Gray. Manor didn’t know Gray well, Tessa confirmed, but they were both tied to what went down.
“Whoever the dude was, he was wantin’ to get paid,” she said. “And I don’t think Bobby had the money to pay him.”
‘It’s the thing that happens’
The first court hearing held over Ray Wright’s disappearance took place in Sacramento during the spring of 2022. As witnesses after witness took the stand, it became clear Robert “Bobby” Manor was a significant methamphetamine dealer in the north city, one who was known to have a violent temper.
But it also turned out that there was a person within Manor’s orbit that people were far more afraid of than him – and it was not Victor Gray.
Mark Nyquist was a tatted mountain of a man, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 240 pounds. According to a 2004 investigation by The Kansas City Pitch, before moving to California, Nyquist was an inmate inside Leavenworth Prison who was known as “a physically imposing” member of the Aryan Brotherhood. Originally founded in San Quintin, the Aryan Brotherhood has been identified by the FBI as one of the most-murderous white power organizations in the nation. They make up 1 percent of the federal prison population but account for 25 percent of violent acts perpetrated within. According to journalist Kendrick Blackwood’s reporting, Nyquist himself was transferred out of Leavenworth and into a super maximum facility in Colorado after it was discovered that he and another Aryan Brotherhood member planned to attack a correctional officer.
Despite his vicious reputation, Nyquist was eventually released back into society. He ended up in North Sacramento, some say serving as unofficial “muscle” for Bobby Manor’s meth-dealing operation. Whatever their connection, Manor and Nyquist were often seen together. That was a reality that Englefield and Lewis couldn’t ignore as they worked the case. They needed to map-out all of Manor’s criminal network. With the help of other detectives, including Placer County D.A. Investigator Ed Mateo, a digital forensics specialist, they managed to track down a number of potential witnesses. One of them was a 47-year-old meth user named James, who often scored his drugs from Manor.
James was ultimately called to the witness stand during the hearing in 2022.
Early in his testimony, James said that he’d taken his first snort of crank in high school. That was a memory Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Matt Chisholm continued to ask about as he set the stage.
“I’d always been exposed to it,” James recalled, “but it wasn’t until, like, some bikers gave me ‘crystal’ that I was done for.”
“And in that 16 years,” Chisholm went on, “how often did use meth?”
“I couldn’t function without it,” James admitted. “I mean, so, when I woke up to when I went to sleep. I was the first thing I thought about before I ate.”
James went on to say that he bought his drugs from Manor, who lived in a weathered, one-story house on a short street near the corner of Roseville Road and Marconi Avenue. The secluded avenue only had four houses flanking its sides, along with a smog and brakes shop, a tiny car lot and a nondescript construction supply yard. The weedy hill near its terminus often had a line of broken-down RVs and camper trailers strewn along its edge. Bobby Manor’s house, on the far side of this moveable feast of junk, had a backyard that could fit as many as nine dormant vehicles in it; and satellite images show that it has been brimming with dusty sedans, old trucks and random boats A different witness in the case had described the scene at Manor’s house as “a bunch of cars in the yard – a bunch of vagrant-ass mechanics running around.”
James would make comments that painted a similar picture, noting that on a particular night in question, he’d seen Manor and number of friends there, including someone who’s been referenced in reports as “Dale Garage Monkey.”
But before Chisholm had James discuss that specific evening, the prosecutor asked if he’d ever known his drug dealer to have an obsession.
“Did he appear to be fixated on anyone?” Chisholm probed.
“Well, I mean, he’s fixated on a lot of people,” James ventured. “We all do when we’re getting high on meth, usually. It’s the thing that happens.”
After getting James to acknowledge that he was aware of Manor’s car wreck in 2011, Chisholm asked James if he himself had ever experienced problems with Manor. James answered that there had been some tension between them at one point, because one of Manor’s numerous girlfriends had grabbed James’s young, handsome son, swept him off somewhere and then “cougarized” him. It was a situation that Manor and his cohorts took as a sign of disrespect.
“But he was just a kid,” James said of his son, “he didn’t know any better.”
James added that he was never really scared of Manor. The meth supplier’s right-hand man, however – the known Aryan Brotherhood member Mark Nyquist – was a different story.
“Describe your relationship with Mark Nyquist,” the prosecutor began.
“Um, depending on his mood, he could be very weird or almost scary,” James observed. “And you never really, like, knew what he was thinking until you talked to him.”
Finally, Chisholm steered to the questioning to the night of infamy at Manor’s house. “How was Mark [Nyquist] acting on this night?”
“Um, kind of giving me that crazy eye that he has,” James remembered, “that makes me nervous.”
“So, you had a beef with Mark at that time?” Chisolm asked.
“Oh, yeah,” James replied, his thoughts jogging over to the ‘cougarization’ of his kid. “He told me he was probably going to stab me, and he was going to stab my son.”
“Were you scared of him?”
James was not the only witness who took that stand that day who described Mark Nyquist. After detectives found the Starbucks cup inside Gray’s Highlander with the name ‘Katie’ scribbled on it, they had determined Katie was a 33-year-old woman who had dated Bobby Manor for a stint and then continued buying drugs from him.
Chisholm called Katie to testify.
“Are you scared of Bobby Manor?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Because when we were dating, he was abusive to me,” she responded. “Put his hands on me. If he got angry, he would use physical force to hurt me … There was a couple of times that were bad. One time, he borrowed my car, and I was calling him and calling him.”
She added, “I called him too many times, I guess – I got slapped and choked.”
“Did you ever see Bobby with guns?”
“Were you worried he might use those against you?”
“Yes,” Katie said, “very.”
Then, Chisholm turned to the topic of Manor’s infamous friend. “Were you scared of Mark Nyquist?”
“Because he was part of the Aryan Brotherhood,” Katie told him, “and Bobby himself told me he’s a scary guy.”
The whole time that Chisholm had Katie and James on the witness stand, his line of questioning was circling towards a January night in 2018 when Manor had Nyquist and other friends over at his house. James told detectives that he’d dropped by that evening to buy meth and Manor had made a boastful comment that “we got him.” Around the time those words came out of his mouth, James glanced into the corner of the garage and saw Nyquist wiping blood off a chair with hydrogen peroxide.
Matt Chisholm wasn’t hiding his skepticism.
On January 4, 2022 the prosecutor walked into a jail interview room. He had Sacramento District Attorney Investigator Kevin Papineau at his side. The two were there to meet an inmate named Chris who’d been serving a sentence in county. Chris had been locked up for a while, but his stint was nearly up. Now, out of the blue, he was coming forward with information about his cellmate, Victor Gray.
“Before we even go there, I kind of want to get a feel for you,” Chisholm cautioned the prisoner. “Here’s the deal. From what I can see, you don’t – you don’t got much time to do.”
“No,” Chris agreed.
“So, I’m thinking in my head, what the hell do you really want?” Chisolm said. “Why the hell do you want to talk to me?”
Chris danced around that question for a while, eventually asking, more to himself, “I mean, you can’t be bad forever, right?”
Chisholm and Papineau were listening. A digital recorder was on. Chris described himself as a “low-level criminal,” not a dangerous man. However, the trio he was ready to talk about, Bobby Manor, Mark Nyquist and Victor Gray, clearly were dangerous. Chris had known Manor for about 12 years. He had known Nyquist for a spell, too. Gray, on the other hand, was someone Chris only met after becoming “cellies” with him in the jail. It was a chance meeting that gave Chris his own view of the Butterfly Effect: After all, he’d understood for a longtime that Manor had an obsession with a drunk driver who’d caused him lasting injuries – Ray Wright. But it wasn’t until Chris was stuck in a cell with Gray that he discovered the gruesome coda to that preoccupation.
“He would say he was sore all the time,” Chris recalled of Manor, “that his bones hurt.”
It was the proverbial wings of the butterfly that finally got Manor his revenge for that pain.
Chris knew the outlines of that – the locations and coincidences.
Ray Wright had decided to rent his cabinet shop out in the secluded fields of Rio Linda because the building belonged to his friend Loren. Loren, in turn, had a live-in girlfriend and she had a daughter who was staying inside a trailer on the same piece of property – Katie. That would be the same Katie who was Manor’s one-time girlfriend and still-active drug client.
The decision Wright made in Rocklin – to rent his friend’s outbuilding in Rio Linda – led to a hurricane on the other side of North Sacramento. Manor eventually knew exactly where his target was.
Katie also provided Manor with his introduction to Victor Gray, a man she’d been sleeping with since encountering him at Thunder Valley Casino.
Now, Chris was filling in details that clicked with what Katie herself had already told investigators. When confronted, Katie had opened up about the day that Ray Wright went missing. She recalled that she’d been in her trailer when Gray had started texting about whether Wright was nearby in his shop. Katie suggested, in later testimony, that she thought Gray just wanted to burglarize Wright or steal his truck. Gray had recently mentioned needing money to get his wife out of jail. Katie admitted that she’d sent Gray a message confirming that Loren was gone, but Wright was on the property in his work space. Katie also claimed that, for a while, she believed Gray and Wright encountered each other later afternoon, and that Gray had punched Wright in the face and boosted his Ford F250.
Katie ultimately realized the situation was more serious.
“I think it was a couple of days later,” she mentioned on the witness stand. “My mom called and said, ‘Have you seen Ray? Everybody is looking for him and I don’t know where he is.’”
“How did that make you feel?” Chisholm asked her.
“Nervous,” she responded.
The story was coming together, and as Chisholm sat in front of his new jailhouse witness, Chris, he wanted more information – if it was credible.
Chris said that, after three weeks of being celled with Gray, the latter started bragging that he had in fact – in Chris’s words – “delivered the dude to Bobby and Mark.”
“Alive, though,” Chris added.
Chisholm kept the conversation going. Chris recounted that Gray had poisoned Wright at the Rio Linda property before driving him to Manor’s house in North Sacramento. When Gray arrived at the hub of “vagrant-ass mechanics,” Manor and Nyquist were waiting with plastic sheets laid out in a room. By Chris’s telling, the two men then killed Wright before chopping him into pieces.
“You mentioned they had plastic down,” Chisholm noted. “Did Gray tell you how they knew to set all that up?”
“Yeah, cause it was plotted upon,” Chris shot back, “way ahead of time.”
Chisholm wanted to know exactly how Wright’s life was ended before the cutting tools came out. According to Chris, after all those years of dreaming about it, Manor himself couldn’t go through with the final step.
“[Gray] said, once the dude was there, Bobby couldn’t slap him,” Chris mentioned, the term ‘slap’ being street parlance for ‘shoot.’
“Bobby couldn’t?” Chisholm repeated.
“Couldn’t slap him,” Chris confirmed.
Sources close to the investigation told SN&R that it’s believed Nyquist ultimately leveled the death blow.
Nyquist died, reportedly from a medical event, before detectives in Sacramento and Placer could arrest him. On March 17, 2023, Manor and Gray were convicted in trial of numerous charges related to kidnapping and murder. Both were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The years-long mystery had involved numerous law enforcement agency: It had started with Wright’s missing person’s case in Placer County, and then took on more dimensions when it was clear Wright was kidnapped from the unincorporated farmlands of Sacramento County and ultimately killed and potentially dismembered within Sacramento city limits. The California Highway Patrol had played a major role in discovering evidence. Rocklin police officer John Constable had his own part when he bagged the sweating cup inside Wright’s house after the intruder was spotted: The straw came back with a DNA match to Victor Gray. Among all the dogged contributions, Placer County District Attorney Investigator Ashley Englefield had been a driving force in the probe. Then, Chisholm, on behalf of the Sacramento DA’s Office, had brought the case home with a jury.
Ray Wright’s remains have never been found.
As Chisholm sat across from Chris on that January day in 2022, he couldn’t know for sure that the saga would end with a measure of justice. He only knew more details were coming into focus. And he also knew that Chris probably wanted to get out of jail even earlier than he was scheduled. Throughout their conversation, Chris insisted to Chisholm he wasn’t driving a hard bargain to improve his own situation. But, towards the end of the interview, the inmate loosened up enough to acknowledge that there was a reason he wanted to leave the clink as soon as possible.
“My French bulldog 11-years-old,” Chris said, “and I want to see him.”