Woman Whose Body was Found in Modesto Alley in April Died of Asphyxiation, Police Say

MODESTO -- "I can't go in my backyard without thinking Jenny was right there," said Kandy Harshbarger.

"A gentleman waved me down and said there's a body in the alley," she said.

When Harshbarger found that body in the alley right behind her backyard, she knew immediately the woman was her acquaintance, 41-year-old Jenny Wu.

"Just the sweetest little thing, real quiet, wouldn't say two words to anybody really," Harshbarger said.

Wu was well known to all her neighbors on Evergreen Avenue in Modesto as the lady who walked up and down the street all day long with her head down. She lived just a few blocks away from where she was found dead, at the Modesto Residential Living Center, which houses dependent adults who cannot live alone.

"I'm sure somebody at some point saw something," said Heather Graves, spokesperson for the Modesto Police Department.

The Modesto Police Department has been investigating her death as a homicide ever since. But now, four months later, they are revealing something new. They say Wu was asphyxiated.

"We have had some reports and some witnesses come forward, however, we are actively pursuing any leads that we may get," Graves said.

So far, they have no description of her killer.

"I see drug deals happen all the time on the street in the park, police can’t do it all 'cause there's just too much going on," Harshbarger said.

Harshbarger says so many people typically walk through the Modesto alley where Wu's body was found that even if somebody had heard a commotion they probably wouldn’t have looked outside before the killer got away.

"Yeah, it's kinda hard. You wonder 'why didn't i hear something? why didn’t they see something?'" Harshbarger said.

Police initially said that Wu was found among dirt and debris in the alley, partially clothed.

But the woman who found her says she was completely naked except for a single piece of cloth over her back and that trauma to her body suggested sexual assault.

"When I saw her the way she was presented, I guess you would say, I knew exactly what happened to her, I knew she had been raped," Harshbarger said.

Harshbarger said Wu's family brought her to Modesto from San Francisco three years ago because they thought it was safer.

"It just kills you they brought her here to be safer and she wasn’t," she said.

But she was cared about immensely by all the neighbors who left flowers at her memorial, who will never forget how someone took advantage of her vulnerability.

"I do, I think about her a lot," Harshbarger said.