For years, Cheryl Ann Raffeo was a fixture at the Fresno intersection of Blackstone and Ashlan avenues.
The thin, homeless woman was always there with her shopping cart and pets to offer a smile to passersby.
Her daily routine centered around that location, said Tammy Barker-Noell, an employee with Cat House on the Kings who met Raffeo in 2009.
And, you could always count on Raffeo showing up at Petco during the holidays to make sure her black cat Tiny got a photo with Santa, Barker-Noell said. She met Raffeo after the woman rescued the cat and bottle fed it as a kitten. Barker-Noell helped connect Raffeo to services to vaccinate, microchip and neuter her pet.
“Lots of people knew her in the Blackstone and Ashlan area,” Barker-Noell said. “That was her family. … A lot of people kind of watched out for her.”
Each morning the same person bought Raffeo breakfast at McDonald’s. Every Sunday she attended the First Baptist Church on East Saginaw Way. And she often visited Petco to get food for her many pets, charge her phone up and use the restroom.
But Raffeo went missing from her “home” for several weeks. The Fresno County Coroner identified her as the person found dead on the side of the road in Tollhouse last month. Now, detectives are working to determine how Raffeo died and the circumstances leading up to her death.
Tony Botti, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said the investigation doesn’t point to murder or a suspicious death. The investigation is ongoing, and toxicology results that are due at the end of this month may paint a better picture of how Raffeo died.
“All those years, I never heard of her going there,” Barker-Noell said of Tollhouse, a community in the foothills northeast of Clovis. “Somebody had to give her a ride.”
Residents who knew her are circulating a flier on Facebook in hopes of shedding light on how she died. Barker-Noell was one of them. Another one is Amber Hall-Holmes, who groomed Raffeo’s dog at Petco.
“She loved her dog very much. She told me she was all she had out there and that she wanted to make sure she was taken care of,” Hall-Holmes said. “I think she was very misunderstood, but I will miss seeing her on Blackstone and Ashlan.”
“She worried more about the dog than herself at times,” another commenter said.
Anyone with information can contact Detective Adrian Villegas at 559-600-8210, the sheriff’s office at 559-600-3111 or Crime Stoppers at 559-498-7867. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.