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Entries in Cold Case (23)

Wednesday
Mar272013

How Police Identified Severed Head After 24-Year Mystery

New Jersey State Police|Times of Trenton/Hopewell Police(HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP, N.J.) -- A severed head found on a golf course 24 years ago has been identified using DNA evidence and may be linked to a serial killer, New Jersey police said Wednesday.

The head of 25-year-old Heidi Balch, who worked as a prostitute around Manhattan in 1988, was found on a Hopewell Township, N.J., golf course in 1989, but was only identified this month after collaboration between the New Jersey State Police and the Hopewell Township Police Department.

“It was shocking,” said Hopewell Township Police Chief George Meyer, who was one of the detectives called to the scene after the head was found near the seventh hole.

“Periodically, over the years, detectives would pick up the case and make efforts at identifying her,” he said. ”I kind of thought, ‘No, she is never going to be identified.’”

A break came when detectives realized the dumped head matched a story from serial killer Joel Rifkin, who claimed to have dismembered and dumped a victim named Susie around New Jersey, State Police Det. Sgt. Stephen Urbanski told ABC News. Rifkin was never convicted for the alleged crime, but is serving 200 years in prison for other murders.

Detectives decided to chase the story.

“The team obtained the names of all the prostitutes that were registered around the same time [from the NYPD],” Urbanski said.

They then compared the photos to the composite of the severed head. A woman named Susan Spencer seemed to be a match.

After chasing aliases and false Social Security numbers attached to the woman, a face on a missing persons website jumped out at Urbanski.

It was Heidi Balch.

The problem was, Balch wasn’t reported missing by her aunt until 2001 and when making the report, she told police that her niece was last seen in 1995.

Still, the team decided to pursue the lead and paid the aunt a visit. Not only did they learn that the sighting in 1995 was secondhand information, but Balch’s parents were alive and living in Baltimore.

“After interviewing [the aunt], we went down to Baltimore and grabbed the mom’s DNA,” Urbanski said.

The DNA was a match to the skull, closing the 24-year-old cold case.

“Looking at the horrific case, and after a lot of people worked on it, it was amazing it came to this,” Urbanski said. “It was a matter of finding those clues.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan032013

Colorado Springs Cops Crack 1976 Murder

Colorado Springs Police Department(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) -- Colorado Springs police believe they have solved a 36-year-old cold case by linking a man serving time for a sexual assault to the 1976 murder of a hotel maid.

Authorities said a DNA analysis led to the arrest of Robert Baillie, 58, who is already in the state’s prison system serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole for a sexual assault.

On Dec. 3, 1976, the body of Janet Conrad, a maid at the Antlers Plaza Hotel, was discovered in a linen room on the tenth floor. Police said the 34-year-old woman had been strangled or suffocated.

Over the years, authorities interviewed countless witnesses. However, no suspects developed.

A break in the case came in 2009 when the Colorado Springs Police Department received a grant from The National Institute of Justice under the “Solving Cold Cases With DNA” program. The money allowed authorities to re-examine Conrad’s murder and pinpoint biological evidence they may have missed.

The DNA evidence was then run through the Combined DNA Index System database, and was found to match Baillie.

“It feels amazing,” Lt. Adrian Vasquez of the Colorado Springs Police Department told ABC News affiliate KRDO-TV.  “The guys are very ecstatic about this, being able to call the family up. You don’t really bring closure to a family in something like this.  But just being able to give them that good news, and let them at least understand that somebody has been brought to justice.”

Baillie’s next parole hearing is in January 2014.

It was not yet known whether he had an attorney.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec052012

Baton Rouge Police Hope They've Cracked 28-Year-Old Murder Case

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Investigators in Baton Rouge, La., say they may have cracked a 28-year-old cold murder case after re-arresting two suspects who were originally linked to the 1984 disappearance of a Louisiana businessman.

Leila Mulla, 57, was arrested by Louisiana investigators in New York City, and Ronald Dalton Dunnagan, 64, was arrested in Bossier City, La., Monday. The missing man, Gary Kergan, was last seen alive at Mulla's Baton Rouge home Nov. 29, 1984, police say.

Mulla, who, according to the Queens (N.Y.) District Attorney's office is now a registered nurse, was seen with Kergan, 29, on that night in 1984 at a Baton Rouge nightclub. Kergan was seen wearing flashy jewelry and carrying a significant amount of cash when they left in his Cadillac, police say.

Kergan and his brother owned a string of Sonic fast-food restaurants in Louisiana.

Baton Rouge Police Lt. Don Kelly, who was then a reporter in the city before joining the police force, said Kergan was specifically targeted by Mulla and Dunnagan.

"[Kergan and Mulla] met at the strip club. They [Mulla and Dunnagan] were robbing him of jewelry and cash," he told ABC News. "He [Kergan] flashed jewelry and money, drove the big Caddy....I don't know about their [Mulla and Dunnagan's] relationship, whether they were dating...or mentor-mentee."

Kelly said that when investigators searched Mulla's apartment at the time, there was blood and signs of an effort to clean it up.

Kergan's car was later found abandoned in Metairie, La. A significant amount of blood was located in the trunk of the car, Kelly said, but it could not be determined at the time whether it belonged to Kergan.

"Of course, speculation was that [the blood] was Kergan's. But the technology didn't exist, with DNA testing, to establish that. And his family didn't know his blood type. It made it almost impossible," Kelly said.

Mulla, an exotic dancer at the time, moved out of the apartment within a few days of Kergan's disappearance, Kelly said. She and Dunnagan went to Las Vegas, where they were arrested weeks later.

Investigators had also obtained Mulla's diary, in which she outlined a plan to rob Kergan, Kelly said.

After their arrest in December 1984, Mulla and Dunnagan were charged in connection with Kergan's death. Although they had a timeline of events placing Mulla with Kergan on the night he was last seen, and evidence of a possible crime in her apartment, it wasn't enough, Kelly said. With only circumstantial evidence against the two, the district attorney opted not to prosecute.

Kergan's body has not been found. He was declared legally dead by the courts in 1986. But investigators were able to make an arrest in the nearly 30-year-old murder case when, as part of cold case review, the blood in the car was re-examined.

In March of this year, Baton Rouge police placed Det. John Dotchier in charge of re-examining the department's hundreds of cold cases. Kergan's death became the first one in which the enthusiastic detective got a break when blood from Kergan's Cadillac was re-tested at the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab. DNA analysis showed that the blood belonged to Kergan.

"We've got hundreds of unsolved cases, and this one was looked at this year," Kelly said. "When he saw this one with the blood, he could have swung and missed. It's the first one he's solved."

Kelly said he district attorney's office believes that it now has enough evidence to convict Mulla and Dunnagan.

He has been charged with first-degree murder, she has been charged with second-degree murder and both have been charged with criminal conspiracy and simple robbery. They won't be arraigned until they are returned to Baton Rouge to face formal charges.

 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec032012

DNA from "In Cold Blood" Killers Could Solve 1959 Florida Cold Case

Comstock/Thinkstock(OSPREY, Fla.) -- More than 50 years after the Walker family was murdered in the quiet, carefree town of Osprey, Fla., the focus of the cold case investigation has shifted to two notorious killers who were the basis of Truman Capote's true-crime book In Cold Blood.

Investigators from the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office are hoping to travel to Kansas as soon as an order is approved by a judge to exhume the bodies of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock. They hope mitochondrial DNA evidence collected from the bones of the killers, who were executed by hanging in 1965, will help close a cold case that rattled Sarasota County.

On Dec. 19, 1959, the Walker family, including parents Cliff and Christine and their toddler children Jimmie and Debbie, were shot to death in their Osprey home.

Detective Kim McGath, who has been assigned to the Walker case for the past four years, said she decided to start from the beginning last year in investigating the case, and through her research developed a hunch that Smith and Hickock could be responsible. The men were briefly investigated in 1960, but were ruled out as suspects after passing lie detector tests.

"Some things started jumping out at me," she told ABC News.

After committing the In Cold Blood murder of Herbert Clutter, his wife and two children on Nov. 15, 1959, Smith and Hickock hit the road, hiding out from law enforcement in Mexico and Florida, among other places, according to Capote's book and law enforcement accounts. They were ultimately captured in Las Vegas.

By the time they reached Florida, the men were spotted throughout the state looking for odd jobs to make a quick buck, often at mechanics' shops and gas stations, according to Capote's book.

It's possible the young family, who had been in the market to purchase a Chevrolet Bel Air, may have crossed paths with Smith and Hickock, who were driving a 1956 model and likely needed money, McGath said.

They were spotted several times in the Sarasota area the day of the murders, and after the Walker family was killed, one of the men was seen with a "scratched-up face," McGath said.

Physical evidence, long before the emergence of DNA testing, was also left behind, McGath said.

Christine Walker had been raped and semen was found in her underwear, she said, and there was a bloody cowboy hat.

And two suspicious hairs, which were inconsistent with the Walker family, were found in the home.

"There was a dark hair found in the bathroom, where baby Debbie was found in the bathtub, and a long blonde hair inside the dress of Christine Walker," McGath said.

Smith recalled reading about the murders in the Miami Herald.

"Know what I wouldn't be surprised? If this wasn't done by a lunatic. Some nut that read about what happened out in Kansas," Smith told Hickock while the two were on the beach in Acapulco, in an exchange Capote recounted in his book. The men never confessed to the murders.

DNA may prove otherwise if it can be extracted from the bones of the men, who have been dead for 47 years.

"It's absolutely possible," McGath said. "It depends on all kinds of circumstances. The soil conditions, the weather, what type of casket it is in. We will have no idea until we get out there."

Fifty-three years after the murders, closure remains just as important to the residents of Osprey.

"People really changed the way they lived. They locked everything, were afraid of their neighbors," she said. "There has just been such a great desire for this to be solved because it really affected so many people. It really is a lot more far reaching than a lot of people realize."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov082012

Long-Missing Iowa Man’s Skeleton Found During Home Renovation

Iowa Department of Public Safety(SAC CITY, Iowa) -- A man was renovating his home in Sac City, Iowa, when he came across what appeared to be skeletal remains in his basement. When he called the police, authorities arrived on scene and confirmed his suspicion.

“It was found buried in a very inaccessible spot in the basement,” Sac City Chief of Police John Thomsen told ABC News. “There are suspicious circumstances to it just for where the remains were found.”

The remains were sent to the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsy and possible identification, according to police. Dental records positively identified the remains as those of Mark Koster.

Koster, 58, went missing on July 4, 2009. His disappearance was investigated at the time and a search warrant served on his home turned up no signs of foul play. He was legally declared dead at his family’s request in 2010, according to ABC News’ Sioux City affiliate KCAU-TV.

He reportedly had an unidentified male roommate living with him for about three months before he disappeared, Thomsen said. Neighbors knew of the man, but do not know his name. The case is currently under investigation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul252012

Texas Cold Case: Arrest in 1980 Murder After DNA Match Made

Williamson County Sheriff's Office(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Nearly thirty-two years after Mildred McKinney was sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled in her home, authorities in Texas have made an arrest in the elderly woman's murder.

Authorities announced Tuesday that Stephen Alan Thomas, 53, is being held at Williamson County Jail on a capital murder charge for the Nov. 4, 1980 murder of McKinney, who was then 73.

Henry Lee Lucas, a convicted serial killer who has since died, had confessed to the crime, but his admission was discounted in the late 1980s after DNA testing, said Sgt. John Foster of the Williamson County Sheriff's Office.

"We never did know Stephen Alan Thomas until the DNA hit," Foster said. "That just opened a whole direction in the case."

Thomas' DNA was found on a ligature, which was used to tie McKinney's body, Foster said. His fingerprint was also found in her home, according to police. On June 27, 2012, a lab test showed the DNA was a match.

Authorities traveled to Dallas to interview Thomas and later to Austin, where he had relocated to his parents' home, Foster said.

"The first time I talked to him, he denied everything and ever knowing Mildred McKinney, ever being in her house and any type of sexual contact with her," Foster said. "[If that was the case] his DNA being in that house should have never been in there. He kind of worked himself into a bit of a problem there."

Foster said that because of the pending investigation, he was unable to discuss any theories as to why McKinney was targeted or whether Thomas knew her. But he said he was "thrilled" to see an arrest after several decades.

"I've been an officer for almost 20 years and this was the worst homicide that I've ever seen. From looking at pictures and having this case for almost eight years now, this is just total brutality for this poor little woman."

McKinney's grandson, Bob Stapleton, released a statement to ABC News' affiliate KVUE praising the work of Foster and the Williams County Sheriff's Department.

"Without their resolve, their determination, and their passion for this cold case we may have never known closure to my grandmother's story. She was a glorious woman who my family and I love and cherish and who will continue to live on in our fondest memories," he wrote.

Thomas is being held at Williamson County Jail on a $1 million bond.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jul202012

New York Cold Case from 1987 Closed with Arrest of Suspect

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Police closed the book on a 1987 cold case this week when they arrested a man in connection with the murder of a 19-year-old girl in Brooklyn.

Edwin Alcaide was detained by police Thursday night for the stabbing death of Lissette Torres on New Year’s Eve in 1987.

For Torres’ family, the arrest was a long time coming. The NYPD’s Cold Case squad reopened the investigation in 2010, posting flyers around the neighborhood where she was killed, asking for information that might help solve the case.

On New Year’s Eve in 1987, Torres left her home, telling her family she would be back by midnight to ring in the new year with them. That was the last time they saw her alive. Her body was discovered the next day in a lot under the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park.

The case went cold, and although Edwin Alcaide was questioned during the original investigation, nobody was ever detained for the murder.

Alcaide, who was 28 at the time of the murder, and the victim were acquaintances, and sources told ABC News affiliate WABC that Torres and Alcaide fought before she was killed.

This year, police were able to match DNA from tissue samples found under Torres’ nails to DNA from Edwin Alcaide, who is in the system as a Level 3 sex offender. He has prior arrests for rape, drug dealing, attempted murder, robbery and sexual assault, according to WABC.

The sexual assault conviction, a 1998 charge of first-degree sexual abuse of an 8-year-old boy, was the one that got his DNA in the registry, and eventually connected him with Torres’ murder.

“I can now die in peace,” Lissette’s mother Rose told the New York Daily News, “knowing that my daughter now lies in peace.”

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Tuesday
Jul102012

1985 Cold-Case Homicide Solved

Lewis County Sheriff's Office(LEWIS COUNTY, Wash.) -- Washington state officials have apparently solved the 1985 cold-case homicide of an elderly couple with an arrest that fulfills a grieving son's promise to his parents.

Wilhelmina "Minnie" Maurin and Edward "Ed" Maurin's dead bodies were found Christmas Eve 1985. They had been shot to death and dragged into a wooded area.

"At their funeral, I laid my hand on their casket and I said, 'I will find out who did this,'" the couple's son, Dennis Hadaller, said at a news conference Monday.

A team of investigators from the Lewis County Sheriff's Office in Chehalis, Wash., was dispatched to Alaska July 8 to make an arrest in connection to the slayings.

Rick Riffe, 53, of King Salmon, Ala., was arrested and will be processed for extradition back to Washington to stand trial for what Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield called "horrific crimes."

Minnie and Ed Maurin were 83 and 81 years old, respectively, when they were reported missing by family members Dec. 19, 1985.

"We have developed evidence that Rick and his now deceased brother, John Riffe, kidnapped the Maurins from their residence and drove them to the bank, forcing Ed to withdraw $8,500 in cash," Mansfield wrote in a news release.

Five days after their disappearance, the couple's bodies were found in a wooded area at the end of a road in Chehalis. The investigation revealed that they had been shot inside their car with a shotgun and then dragged to a wooded location where they were found by a passerby, according to police.

Mansfield said the Riffe brothers were their primary suspects from the beginning of their investigation, but they did not have evidence of probable cause "until much later on."

"Detectives feel many witnesses did not come forward during the time of the initial investigation due to being fearful of the Riffe brothers and possible retaliation for speaking out," Mansfield wrote in the news release.

Both Riffe brothers moved to Alaska in 1987 and John Riffe died "ironically" the week before investigators bought tickets to travel to Alaska for the arrests, police said.

"I believe in karma, these are bad, evil people," Mansfield said at Monday's news conference.

The prosecutor in the case told ABC News' Seattle affiliate KOMO that he did not plan to pursue the death penalty for Riffe because of his failing health.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jun272012

Cops Solve ‘Ski-Mask Rapist’ Cold Case

Comstock/Thinkstock(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) -- Police in North Carolina have solved a cold case more than 30 years old, arresting a suspect they believe terrorized a series of women in 1979 and was nicknamed “the ski-mask rapist.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said Tuesday they had arrested Jerry Lee Brooks, 62, at a rented condo in Surfside Beach, S.C., just one day after a grand jury indicted him on 13 charges of rape, breaking and entering, burglary and kidnapping.

So far, police have connected Brooks to three rapes, but he may ultimately be connected to more, according to authorities.

“We are still investigating to determine if he was involved in any more crimes from around that time, late 1970s and early 1980s,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department spokesman Robert Fey.

In December,  police reopened the decades old cold case file and positively linked Brooks to the attacks using DNA sequencing, a technology unavailable at the time of the rapes.

In 1979, the only thing linking the attacks was the balaclava the attacker wore, earning him the nickname “the ski-mask rapist.”

Brooks was being held in the Horry County, S.C., jail awaiting extradition to Charlotte in order to be arraigned and tried there.  A spokeswoman said he was expected to arrive at the Mecklenburg County jail late Wednesday.

According to court records, Brooks served time in the 1980s and 1990s for various crimes including breaking and entering, safe cracking, and embezzlement. He was last released in 2005 after serving a federal sentence for armed robbery.

Authorities did not know whether Brooks had yet hired an attorney.

A man identifying himself only as Brooks’ roommate Larry, described the suspect to ABC News affiliate WPDE as, "a good person, easygoing and laid back."

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Monday
Jun042012

FBI Releases New Sketch in Morgan Harrington Murder Investigation

FBI(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- A revised FBI sketch of the suspect in the killing of Morgan Harrington has been released, part of a revived effort to find the Virginia Tech student's murderer nearly three years after her death.

Help Save the Next Girl, a victim's rights group founded by Harrington's parents, released the revised FBI sketch of an unidentified possible suspect who has been linked to a 2005 sexual assault case in Fairfax County some two hours north.

Harrington disappeared Oct. 17, 2009, during a Metallica concert on the University of Virginia campus. Her body was found in January 2010 at a farm in Albemarle County, not too far away.

As the investigation unfolded, information forensically linked the man pictured in the sketch to a sexual assault in Fairfax County in 2005.

The FBI has revised the sketch, which was initially developed by Fairfax County police following the September 2005 sexual assault during which the suspect grabbed a woman and dragged her to a pool and park area and sexually assaulted her.

The FBI and Virginia State Police have been working on the investigation. Few details have emerged about the night she went missing. Harrington had gone to a Metallica concert at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville when she got separated from her friends, who believe she stepped outside for a cigarette.

Surveillance cameras at the concert caught Harrington getting turned away from several entrances as she tried to return to the concert. Later, witnesses told police they saw someone matching her description in a nearby grassy parking lot, and then walking on an adjacent road.

The morning after the concert, Harrington's purse and cellphone were found in that grassy field, and later, her parents, Dan and Gil Harrington, called police to report her missing.

Morgan's mother, Gil Harrington, told ABC News affiliate WJLA in 2010: "It's easy for a community to grow complacent and forget that there is still violence and that a predator still walks the streets."

Police have said that the suspect may have changed his appearance in five years since the first attack he is suspected of committing, but Harrington's family and friends still hope someone might remember him or make a connection.

Police said there were tricky "obstacles" to get to the location on Anchorage Farm where the body was found, so they asked people who live in the area to alert investigators to whoever was familiar with the roads and terrain there.

In the coming days, the FBI is planning to bring more attention to the case.

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