Detectives don’t give up on cold cases
Tim Hack and Kelly Drew were a young couple in love when they went missing after a wedding reception in 1980.
The Jefferson County high school sweethearts, both 19, were last seen at 11 p.m. leaving the Concord House in Sullivan.
Investigators found Drew’s clothes a week after the couple disappeared.
Squirrel hunters found her body in the woods a month later. She apparently had been strangled.
Searchers found Hack’s body the next day. He had been stabbed.
The case went cold for 30 years until June, when investigators re-interviewed Edward W. Edwards, 76, of Louisville, Ky., who had worked as a handyman at the Concord House.
Edwards’ statements were inconsistent with his interview 30 years earlier, and investigators got a sample of his DNA. Edwards’ DNA matched semen found on Drew’s pants, leading to his arrest.
The Hack and Drew murders are one of two area cold cases where detectives recently made arrests after years of investigation. The 1997 murder of Dawn Brossard in Walworth County also went cold until her husband was arrested in September 2008. He is currently on trial.
Meanwhile, six other cold cases remain under investigation at the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, Janesville Police Department and Walworth County Sheriff’s Office.
New technology, recent tips and a state grant have kept the cases alive, investigators said.
In Rock County, detectives continue investigating three cold cases, Sheriff’s Capt. Todd Christiansen said.
“When things calm down, we work on them. When it gets busy, we set them aside, but we are actively pursing all three,” he said.
The cases have seen activity this year as new information gets reported and physical evidence gets reviewed for possible resubmission to the state crime lab, Christiansen said.
“In the last couple months, for whatever reason, we’ve received information that we are following up on,” he said. “So far, most of it hasn’t panned out, but we are trying to solve them.”
In Janesville, police detectives have a 40-year-old cold case. Detectives have organized and reviewed the evidence in recent years. The state cold-case unit has reviewed the case. Detectives also have followed up on new information in recent years, Detective Erik Goth said.
But as years pass, it is unlikely the case will get solved, he said.
In Walworth County, sheriff’s detectives have two cold homicides, Capt. Dana Nigbor said. The cases are open, and detectives continue following leads.
The files are “not sitting on a shelf,” she said.
“Once you organize your file, sometimes what you were looking for has always been there,” Nigbor said. “We either get lucky or we don’t.”
The problem with cold homicides is the investigations age, detectives retire, memories fade and the likelihood of solving them is reduced, investigators said.
Detectives often struggle keeping up with new crimes and might not have time for cold cases, investigators said.
Yet new technology and investigative techniques continue to provide fresh looks at cold cases, investigators said. DNA evidence also has helped.
Detectives typically need one piece of information to break a case, and they are trying to find it, investigators said. They would love to tell members of the victim’s family who killed their loved one and why.
Richard Luell, a special agent with the state Division of Criminal Investigation, does nothing but investigate cold cases in Wisconsin. A $500,000 federal grant pays investigators and scientists to review the cases.
The cold-case unit helped local agencies in the investigations that led to the arrests of Brossard and Edwards.
Luell calls cold homicides real life “who done its.”
“The reason that they were cold is that they were difficult to solve in the first place, and the passage of time makes it even more difficult,” Luell said. “One of the positive aspects is that we have made so many advances in science.”
Often, he said, the key to solving a cold case is finding hair, fiber or blood on physical evidence such as the victim’s body or clothing.
New technology might extract DNA out of evidence not detected in previous years, Luell said. Computer programs also help organize case files to find leads.
“What I need to do is tie the deed to the doer, and physical evidence can solve that problem,” he said. “It’s a long and drawn-out process. It’s not like you just get DNA.”
Suspects or witnesses also can be re-interviewed, he said.
A suspect might not be found after reviewing a cold case, but new leads are often generated, Luell said.
“There is nothing fast about it. There is nothing really glorious about it,” he said. “It’s that old gumshoe work of going through all the reports.”
And someday, he said, it might reveal the killer.
Six unsolved homicides remain under investigation at the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, Walworth County Sheriff’s Office and Janesville Police Department.
Albert Buehl, 62, found dead June 16, 1969, in Janesville
Buehl was fatally shot in the walk-in cooler at the former Cronin-Hovland Liquor Store along West Court Street in Janesville.
The Janesville resident was shot twice with a shotgun, once in the head and a second time in the back. The murder happened between 8 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. after he opened the store.
A refrigerator serviceman found Buehl.
Two witnesses reported seeing a white 1959 Chevrolet Impala near the liquor store at the time of the slaying. The vehicle or its owner has never been found.
Eight people, including Buehl’s relatives and business associates, passed a lie-detector test during the investigation.
The perpetrator in a similar murder two weeks later at a Chicago liquor store was cleared in Buehl’s homicide.
The case eventually went cold.
Erik Goth, Janesville police detective, said the case has been reviewed in the past 10 years.
A state Department of Justice investigator came to the police department several years ago and reviewed the case, Goth said.
Physical evidence such as clothes and fingerprints was resubmitted to the state crime lab for analysis, but no DNA evidence or leads were developed, he said.
The case file was later organized, Goth said, and all the evidence was photographed.
In recent years, new information has been reported to police, but the tips led nowhere, he said.
Goth has three theories on Buehl’s murder.
The first is that it was a robbery, but the problem is no money was stolen from the liquor store or from Buehl, who had $85 in his pocket, he said. And it didn’t make sense for the perpetrator to kill Buehl before stealing anything.
The second theory is that the mob killed Buehl, Goth said.
Buehl spent lots of money gambling, he said, and Buehl wasn’t good about paying his debts.
Buehl’s name also came up in a separate mafia investigation years before his murder, Goth said.
The mafia theory, however, also has problems, Goth said. If mobsters wanted him dead for gambling debts, they would have taken money.
The original investigators also never believed the mafia was responsible, he said.
Buehl was likely murdered by someone who knew him, Goth said.
Buehl ran around on his wife, gambled and had debts, he said.
Several people might have had a motive to kill him, Goth said.
Forty years after the murder, finding the Impala or its owner is the No. 1 priority, Goth said.
But the likelihood the killer is alive and enough evidence exists for a conviction is slim, he said. Still, detectives will continue reviewing the case.
“This case would require just an out-and-out confession,” Goth said.
Barbara Nelson, 34, found dead after Aug. 5, 1982, in rural Walworth County
Nelson’s body was found in a Walworth County cornfield alongside Bray Road, about half a mile west of Highway 11.
The Edgerton resident was last seen Tuesday, Aug. 5, 1982 when she was reportedly abducted during a robbery at her job in a Dane County convenience store.
Capt. Dana Nigbor of the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office said the case is open and detectives continue to follow leads.
“I have a very good feeling with Barbara Nelson,” Nigbor said.
Nigbor would not disclose information about recent leads on the case.
She added: “It is not sitting on a shelf.”
Virginia Bothum Hendrickson, 23, found dead June 5, 1988, near Janesville
Hendrickson was killed in her rented home along Knilans Road west of Highway 51 outside Janesville.
Her throat was slashed. Her skull was fractured. She was stabbed or slashed 35 to 40 times.
A 5-inch knife blade was found at the scene with a missing handle, possibly because it was broken during the stabbing. Other knives could have been used.
Hendrickson’s infant daughter was found unharmed in her crib in an upstairs bedroom.
Investigators found no sign of forced entry, and nothing appeared to be stolen.
Hendrickson was friendly and had invited four people to live with her, including a boyfriend who stayed with her off and on. Hendrickson went to several bars. She was last seen alive at The Zoo on Beloit Avenue.
More than 150 people were interviewed early in the investigation. Suspects emerged, but no arrests were made.
A year after the murder, investigators received a tip and searched the Rock River for missing weapons. No weapon was found.
Todd Christiansen, a Rock County sheriff’s captain, said the detective assigned to the case recently received new information on the murder.
The detective interviewed a person, but the tip didn’t generate any valid leads, Christiansen said.
Meanwhile, the detective is reviewing the case’s physical evidence to see whether it would be worth resubmitting it to the crime lab.
New technology might find DNA or other evidence not detected earlier.
Terryl J. Stanford, 29, found dead Aug. 24, 1994, near Beloit
Stanford was found near Naughty But Nice, an adult novelty store on Shopiere Road along Interstate 90/39 east of Beloit.
An employee of the store found her body near a popular overnight rest stop for truckers.
Stanford was found barefoot in what appeared to be a purple shirt and dark slacks. It was unknown how long the body had been there.
She was later identified through fingerprints as a Chicago woman with arrests for prostitution and criminal trespassing at truck stops. She had four kids.
Investigators believed Stanford was killed somewhere else and disposed of outside Beloit. Suffocation was the suspected cause of death.
The case went cold until April 1995 when a trucker was arrested in North Carolina on suspicion of killing three prostitutes and dumping their bodies along Interstates in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
The trucker, Sean Patrick Goble, then 28, of Asheboro, N.C., was wanted for questioning in the murders of dozens of women found along Interstates.
The women also died of smothering or strangulation.
It was later learned Goble was not in Wisconsin at the time of Stanford’s murder, Christiansen said.
A detective assigned to Stanford’s case has submitted the evidence to the FBI, which reviews whether the murder is related to other trucker homicides across the country, Christiansen said.
The detective has received new information in the case and intends to conduct more interviews, he said.
Physical evidence also could be resubmitted to the crime lab, Christiansen said.
Crystal Linn Soulier, 18, found dead March 20, 1997, near Beloit
Soulier left her home in Shell Lake in October 1996 to visit family in Beloit.
Her family reported her missing later that month.
Soulier’s skeletal remains were found in March 1997 near Naughty But Nice. She was identified through jewelry found with the body and dental records.
Soulier and Stanford were both found dead in the same area, and they weren’t wearing shoes.
Investigators believe the murders are connected, Christiansen said, and one detective is assigned to both cases.
The Soulier case also has been sent to the FBI to see whether the murder is related to other trucker homicides nationwide, he said.
The detective has recently received new information and intends to conduct more interviews, Christiansen said.
Daniel Walden, 38, found dead March 26, 2002, in East Troy
A man searching for aluminum cans found Walden's body on Bowers Road north of Alpine Valley Music Theater.
At the time, investigators estimated the bones probably had been there for three to 10 years.
Police said the cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the head, and they investigated the death as a homicide.
But they didn’t know the dead person’s identity.
The case remained cold for years until the Walworth County Sheriff's Office obtained a DNA sample from Walden's mother in 2006. They hoped her DNA would identify whether the dead man was a relative.
In May 2009, investigators learned their DNA was similar, and they identified the body as the mother’s South Milwaukee son.
“Until he was identified, we had a starting point and nowhere to go with it,” Nigbor said.
Now, the investigation is active, and detectives are following leads pertaining to Walden’s disappearance from South Milwaukee in 1998.