It all started with a small moment, really. A simple question asked to me in a quiet whisper.
One summer day in 1996, my teenage boyfriend, Micheal, and I went for a drive in his S-10 pick-up truck. It was an afternoon drive that gave us time to talk and spend some time together. On this day, we found ourselves on a tight highway road with speed limits only topping 35 miles per hour. It was a road we were both familiar with, one we had both traveled many times in life. But this day, Micheal slowed the truck a little on one stretch on that highway road and he brought my attention to a house on the other side of the street. Quietly he said, “Hey, do you see that man right there?”
It was summer and the driver’s side window was down and I leaned across the seat slightly, squinting my eyes to see the man being pointed out to me. “Yes, I see him. Who is he?” I peered out the window to see an older, overweight, gray and bushy-haired man sitting with his legs spread and arms crossed in a chair on the front porch of a modest craftsman style cottage house.
“I don’t know his name, but growing up my dad always told us to stay away from that man and if he ever drove by us in his truck, not to talk to him.”
“Really? Why?” Again, I had questions.
“I don’t know. Something about an unsolved murder of a girl and that guy being a strange dude.” I looked the man over for another moment or two as he gazed back at us and we continued to slowly roll on by.
And that was the moment– that small moment in time occurred about 25 years ago and has set this journey in motion. That one question has sent me on the path to try to uncover the truth about an unsolved homicide of a ten-year-old girl. But back in 1996 when I was a 17-year-old, I didn’t know it yet. I didn’t realize how hearing that one question, I would be hooked and eventually would become obsessed with solving a murder.
An unsolved murder of a girl? What girl? Why had I never known about this? We were slowly driving down a road that I was very familiar with having grown up in the area. It ate at me then. How did I not know the story of an unsolved murder of a girl? It was that day and in that moment that a small spark was lit in me or maybe it could be a little voice starting a soft whisper from within. I wanted to know more.
The Police Officer
Law enforcement families are special. Sure, police officers work long hours, are away from their families often, and risk their lives to protect others. But an unseen part of being in a law enforcement family are the cases that come home with the officer. Those cases are oftentimes easier buried than discussed, better avoided than processed through, and sadly can come to haunt an officer sometimes without a family ever knowing. But every once in a while, one of the cases, the kind that has set wrong with the officer for a lifetime, begins to sneak out in small pieces, and the frustration with an unsolved case comes bubbling to the surface.
That boyfriend, Micheal, with whom I went driving in his Chevy S-1o pick-up truck? He eventually became my fiancé and then eventually became my husband. He still is my husband, in fact. I married into one of those special law enforcement families. His dad, my father-in-law, Tom, was a retired police officer. He worked in several cities throughout his career, retiring as a chief of police when his health started to decline. He was a man of pride who loved his job but had a lifetime of stress written all over him. He could burn through a pack of cigarettes in a day or two. Sleep was not easy for him at times. His heart needed multiple surgeries through the years until sadly when in 2006, he died suddenly of heart failure. Now as an adult reflecting back, I can totally understand how his years in law enforcement and those certain cases that he had tucked away in his mind, at times weighed on him. And this man, my father-in-law, was familiar with this one case in particular. One involving the sort of creepy old man on a porch that he directed my husband and his siblings to avoid at all costs.
Last Thanksgiving after dinner, I asked my brothers-in-law and sister-in law as well as my mother-in-law, what Tom ever said about the suspect, that man on the porch. They gave a simple answer. They didn’t know much besides that he may be a suspect in a child’s murder and when your dad is a cop and he tells you to stay away from someone–you do it. They didn’t ask questions. My mother-in-law added a small bit of information in that the girl went missing from Highland Heights, Kentucky, close to where the man on the porch lived and her body was later found out in Pendleton County, Kentucky, miles away from the Highland Heights area. Tom and his law enforcement colleagues felt that the neighbor (i.e. “the man on the porch”) was always a strong suspect.
And with these little bits of information, my investigation began.