Modesto police charge neighbor with strangling woman

Detectives arrested a man suspected of strangling his neighbor, a woman who was found dead May 6 in her downtown Modesto apartment, a police spokesman said Thursday.

Modesto police Sgt. Brian Findlen said Jacqueline Marie Borja Schmitz, 29, was found in her home in the 700 block of 18th Street, just north of G Street.

On Wednesday, homicide detectives arrested Albert Lee Talley, 36, on suspicion of murder, Findlen said. Talley was in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail in another case when he was arrested in the slaying.

He was being held at the jail Thursday night without bail. Talley was scheduled to appear in Stanislaus County Superior Court today.

Modesto police arrested Talley on suspicion of carjacking this month after he reportedly stole a vehicle from a woman at the Walgreens drugstore on Sylvan Avenue and Coffee Road, several hours after Schmitz was found dead.

Talley approached the woman at the Walgreens as she walked to her vehicle and demanded she hand over her keys, said Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager.

She said Talley and the woman struggled over the keys until she dropped them and he picked them up, ran to her car and drove away.

On May 7, Modesto police found Talley driving the stolen vehicle and arrested him after a short chase, Fladager said.

Talley pleaded guilty to the carjacking charge in his first court appearance May 15, Fladager said, and he was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Findlen said Talley lived in an apartment in the same complex as Schmitz, and that they knew each other. Findlen declined to comment on the nature of their relationship and the possible motive for the attack, fearing it would harm the investigation.

A property manager found Schmitz alone during a routine check of her apartment about 1:10 p.m. on May 6.

Detectives did not find any obvious signs of forced entry into the apartment. Schmitz lived alone, Findlen said, and it was unclear whether she had any family in the Modesto area.

Detectives believe Schmitz was last seen alive May 4. They are seeking anyone who knows Talley or Schmitz and anyone who may have seen her in the days and weeks before she was found dead.

Findlen said detectives on Thursday evening were looking for Shellie Morris, 35, for questioning as a potential witness in the investigation. He said Morris is believed to be a transient who frequents downtown Modesto, the Tuolumne River area and Modesto city parks.

Aja Yamzon, 29, of Ripon said she knew Schmitz from their years attending Johansen High School in Modesto. She said she and other classmates lost track of Schmitz after she graduated in 1997.

"It's just very odd for all of us," Yamzon said. "We knew her in a different time than the situation she might have been in now."

Detectives ask anyone with information about this case or Morris' whereabouts to call Modesto police at 572-9500. Tipsters can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters can also e-mail tips through the Crime Stoppers Web site,, or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" plus the message. Callers to Crime Stoppers are eligible for a cash reward.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.