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Relatives suspect drugs in deaths

Newhall couple were engaged a few weeks before their bodies were found in a studio apartment on Mond

Posted: October 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Whatever their problems, Jeff Donnelly and Christine Towner were in love.

Two weeks ago, beaming with smiles, they told friends and family they were going to be married.

Then, about a week later, they dropped from sight.

On Monday, they were found dead on the floor of the studio apartment they rented on the leafy Newhall street Heritage Lane.

Friends and family of both victims said they suspect heroin is to blame.

“She told me in the last month that she was using heroin,” said Towner’s father, Greg Towner, of San Clemente.

“She told me recently she had been shooting (injecting) heroin,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the couple visited him and his other daughter in Laguna Niguel, he said.

“Jeff drove down two weeks ago, and both were really happy,” he said, recalling the visit. “They had gotten engaged and were going to get married.”

Heroin use

Towner said his daughter Christine had struggled with drug addiction when she attended high school in Bellflower.

“She originally got addicted to meth and went to rehab and, as far as I know, she was clean,” he said Thursday.

Investigators with the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Department are still trying to reach any blood relation of the 51-year-old Donnelly so they can publicly release his name. On Thursday, they released the name of Towner, 29, formerly of Torrance.

Both Donnelly and Towner grew up Torrance, relatives say.

Greg Towner said he only received one bit of distressing news from his daughter.

“They used to fight a lot, and she called me once, wanting me to help her get away from him,” he said. “She wanted me to help her escape in the middle of the night.”

The couple seemed to reconcile their differences, eventually becoming engaged, he noted.

Relatives on Donnelly’s side said they also recall a happy couple on the road to marriage.

“He was crazy in love with her,” said Donnelly’s ex-wife, Donna Ossola, of Bullhead City, Ariz.

Ossola had two sons with Jeff Donnelly when the two were together in the early ’90s, living for a while in San Juan Capistrano.

When they split up, Donnelly moved to the Santa Clarita Valley, living for a while in Castaic.

He worked repairing motorcycles at Santa Clarita Motorsports on Arch Street in Newhall, acquaintances confirmed.

About two-and-a-half years ago, Donnelly lost his job at the shop, which went out of business about six months later, said his landlord.

In February 2010, Donnelly rented the studio apartment on the property owned by Leonard Miller.


When Ossola received word that her ex-husband died, she said she was not surprised.

“Honestly, I kind of expected to get that call due to his reckless lifestyle,” she said.

“She (Towner) was a heroin addict, and two months ago, he (Donnelly) was fine, no problems. He called and told me, ‘By the way, I have a girlfriend.’ Then nothing. It was very strange,” she said.

“I didn’t put two and two together until I got the news,” she said. “I think it was more of an accidental overdose.”

Her sons, 18 and 20 years old, are devastated over the news that their father, who until a few weeks ago kept in touch, is now dead, she said.

“I tell them, ‘Your father’s not a monster,’” Ossola said, suggesting to her sons he was the victim of a drug accident and not a suicide.

Investigators with the coroner’s office have performed autopsies on the bodies but have not released a cause or manner of death for either victim.

They will not know if heroin was a factor in the deaths until the results of toxicology tests are complete.


Deputies with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station have seen a rise in the number of heroin-related deaths this year.

On Oct. 10, around the day people reported last seeing Donnelly and Towner alive, a 22-year-old woman was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose.

Carlie Coulter, 22, was found dead in a local hotel room.

In the last year, at least six young adults from the Santa Clarita Valley, all described as in their early 20s, have died from heroin overdoses, said Santa Clarita city spokesman Evan Thomason, who organized a public meeting about the dangers of heroin in August.



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