One of the most remembered films for people who grew up in 90s was a made-for-television thriller called A Killer Among Friends. The movie starred Tiffani Thiessen, who was still starring as Kelly Kapowski on Saved by the Bell. In A Killer Among Friends, Thiessen played Jenny Monroe, a teen girl whose murder goes unsolved. Jennifer’s mother, Jean Monroe (Patty Duke), invites Jenny’s best friend Ellen (Margaret Welsh) to move in with her as they work together to find Jenny’s killer.
One year later, one of Jenny and Ellen’s friends, Kathy (Janne Mortil) comes forward and says she can no longer live with the guilt of being an accomplice. Kathy says she was present when Ellen and another friend, Carla, brought Jenny into the woods. They began terrorizing Jenny by slapping her and cutting off chunks of her hair. The event culminated with Ellen and Carla drowning Jenny and then weighing her body down in the stream with a heavy log.
At trial, Kathy says they were motivated by a rumor that Jenny slept with their boyfriends. However, the real motivation is revealed to be Ellen’s jealousy of Jenny’s whole life. Ellen had wanted to be thin and popular like Jenny, making it even creepier that she had moved into Jenny’s home and even tried to live in the dead girl’s room. At the conclusion of the trial, Ellen and Carla are found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
Like many salacious made-for-television movies, the plot was inspired by a real crime story. Seven years earlier in October 1985, a 17-year-old high school student named Missy Avila was murdered by her two best friends, Karen Severson and Laura Doyle. Missy and Karen grew up together and had been friends since the age of eight.
In high school, Karen became jealous of Missy because she considered her friend to be more popular and because Missy chose to spend time dating instead of with Karen. Karen started a rumor that Missy slept around, and eventually a “group of girls” beat Missy up in retaliation for supposedly sleeping with their boyfriends.
The following year, Karen and Missy grew even further apart when Karen began dating a fellow student named Randy right after Missy broke up with him. Reportedly, Randy tried to get back with Missy while dating Karen. Missy refused and told Karen about the encounter, advising her to break up with Randy. Around this time, witnesses saw Missy and Karen fighting in a public park, during which Karen threatened Missy with a broken bottle and pushed and slapped her.
On October 1, 1985 Missy Avila went missing after being picked up by one of her friends, Laura Doyle. Missy’s body was discovered in a stream four days later. Initially, Missy’s mother didn’t think that her friends had anything to do with Missy’s death. Missy’s friends went to her funeral and acted as if they were devastated. Like in the movie, Karen even moved in with Missy’s mom for a while. During this time, Karen was obsessed with Missy’s murder and covered her room in newspaper clippings about the case. She also told Missy’s mother that she had seen Missy’s ghost.
For almost three years, Missy’s murder remained unsolved. In June of 1988, Eva Chirumbolo came forward as one of the girls who had been with Missy Avila on the day of her murder. Eva said Karen Severson and another friend, Laura Doyle, lured Missy out into the woods and then confronted her about “sleeping with their boyfriends.” Karen and Laura eventually drowned Missy in a stream and placed a heavy log on top of her body. Like in A Killer Among Friends, the girls were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
Karen Severson served 23.5 years in prison and was released in 2011. Laura Doyle served 22 years and was released in 2012. After leaving prison, Karen wrote a book about the murder and attempted to turn it into a film but was sued by Missy’s family. The result was the passing of “Missy’s Law” in California, which requires anyone publishing a book by a criminal to notify the victim’s family. In 2014, Karen Severson appeared on an episode of Dr. Phil to discuss the case.
Missy Avila is remembered on a memorial Facebook group, Remembering a friend, Michele Avila.