BENTONVILLE -- An investigator involved in a 1981 homicide case believes authorities indentified the killer, but he committed suicide before police made an arrest.
The victim, however, remains a mystery.
Benton County cold cases
• Floyd Junior Ritchey, Aug. 3, 1985, Rogers. Ritchey’s body was found in the remains of a fire at the Office of Human Concern thrift store on First Street in Rogers. The fire was caused by arson. Ritchey died of carbon monoxide inhalation.
• Dana Stidham, 18, July 25, 1989, Bella Vista. Her car was found along U.S. 71 in Bella Vista. The driver’s side window was half down. The right rear tire was low, but still drivable. Some of her clothes were later found off Ealing Circle in Bella Vista. Her skeletal remains were found on Sept. 17, 1989, by a squirrel hunter in a shallow creek off Beal Lane near the intersection of Arkansas highways 340 and 94.
• Terry Alan Fremody, Feb. 18, 1990, Bella Vista. ATV riders found a body on a hillside. Fremody was shot once at close range with a 12-gauge shotgun. The body was moved after he was killed, but authorities could not determine how far.
• Bone Woman or Jane Doe, May 7, 1990, near Maysville. A mushroom hunter discovered a pile of human bones underneath an elm tree off Blue Bird Lane near Maysville. The victim was shot in the face with a shotgun and the body burned.
• Ernestine Andregg, Oct. 31, 1995, Rogers. Andregg was stabbed to death in her home at 405 S. 15th St.
• Sleeping Bag Man, Oct. 16, 1996, Beaver Lake. Fishermen found the 40- to 60-year-old white man floating, wrapped in a sleeping bag, near Monte Ne. The victim died from blunt trauma to the left area of his forehead.
• Socorro Moran-Mendoza, Feb. 1, 1997, near Pea Ridge. An animal trapper found the body inside a suitcase. Her cause of death could not be determined.
• Matthew Cain Summers, June 7, 1998, Rogers. Authorities first believed Matthew, 44 days old, died as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but an autopsy found his skull was fractured.
• Timmy Joe Collins, March 18, 1999, west of Fayetteville. Collins was last seen alive Feb. 21, 1999, at home in Cave Springs. A fisherman found Collins’ body floating in a creek. He had been shot in the head.
• Carl Glen Booth, Jan 23, 2000, outside Siloam Springs. Booth was found in the Ozark National Forest, dead from a gunshot wound to the back of his head.
• Luis Guadarrama Jr., Aug. 14, 2003, Little Flock. The 15-month-old boy died of undetermined causes.
Source: Staff report
The case of "John Doe" made headlines earlier this month when detectives with the Benton County Sheriff's Office had the body exhumed from the Bentonville Cemetery. An order from Benton County Circuit Judge John Scott was signed Oct. 4, said Shannon Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.
The remains were sent to the Arkansas Crime Laboratory to try to get another DNA sample in hopes of identifying the man, Jenkins said.
Sgt. Hunter Petray, a detective with the Sheriff's Office, requested the exhumation.
Pubic hair was collected from the body when it was found, but wasn't tested because the science behind DNA profiling had not been fully developed in 1981, according to Scott's order. The hair was tested July 20, 2016, in a re-examination of the case, according to the order, but there wasn't enough DNA to obtain a profile.
Three people found "John Doe" in a field near Garfield about 5:30 p.m. June 13, 1981, as they drove around looking for the source of a horrible smell. The remains of the white man lay about 25 feet from the road along Benton County 862 near its junction with U.S. 62, according to a June 16, 1981, story from the Rogers Daily News.
The man had been shot four times in what police called an execution-style slaying, according to preliminary autopsy results.
Don Townsend was one of the first investigators on the case. He retired in 2012 as chief deputy after 39 years at the Sheriff's Office and lives in Bentonville.
"We were pretty sure we knew who did it, but didn't have the evidence," Townsend said.
Identifying John Doe
Townsend said they once thought they had identified the body. They worked with Interpol on a theory the remains were a missing man from England, but that person showed up a few weeks later.
The former investigator remembers one unusual feature about John Doe. He had an abnormally large head that autopsy results said was caused by hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. Townsend said they found burr holes in the skull and thought he might have been mildly retarded.
The body was dressed in gray or green trousers and a T-shirt, blue and orange striped jogging shoes and a cloth headband. The victim had red to blond hair and was about 6 feet tall and 170 pounds. The victim was in his late 20s to early 30s.
Townsend believes the victim may have been a homeless man who was helping the suspected killer transport drugs to Bentonville from New York City.
An informant told Townsend he saw John Doe with the suspect and specifically recalled John Doe's large head. He described what John Doe was wearing, which was the same clothing found on the skeletal remains. The informant also provided details not released to the public.
The informant told Townsend about a murder-for-hire plot in Barry County, Mo.
The suspect in John Doe's killing was hired to kill a woman, the informant told Townsend. The woman survived and identified the perpetrator, who was indicted.
The Barry County sheriff questioned the man Oct. 26, 1981, about the assault and the next day he committed suicide, according to court documents. The man left a suicide note identifying who hired him, according to court documents.
Benton County Circuit Judge Xollie Duncan, who was a deputy prosecutor at that time, said she remembers going with Townsend to the scene of the man's death. It was treated like an unattended death until it was determined to be a suicide, she said.
A case with clues
Don Rystrom was the sheriff in 1981 when John Doe's body was discovered. He remembers the heat and the stench from the scene of the more than 38-year-old murder case.
"It was hotter than heck," Rystrom recalled. "There was not a whole lot of the body left. Varmints had got to it. It was a nasty situation."
Rystrom said he burned the clothes he wore that day because he couldn't wash away the smell.
Rystrom, 79, lives in Sallisaw, Okla. He was sheriff from 1981 to 1984.
Rystrom said the body was probably in the field for two to three weeks before it was discovered. The victim had a Timex calendar watch on his left wrist, which was still ticking, he said.
Rystrom and other investigators wondered how the body got to that part of the county. The area was not well traveled back then, he said.
Rystrom said he thought whoever shot the victim "was somebody not familiar with the area." Someone who knew the area could have picked a better place to hide the body, he said, according to the June 15, 1981, edition of the Benton County Daily Democrat.
Officials said the victim may be from the Little Rock area, according to the Daily Democrat.
Rystrom said Townsend came up with two suspects, but no one was ever arrested.
Jenkins said if a DNA sample can be obtained, it will be sent to Parabon NanoLabs to try to identify the man. The business offers a phenotyping service, which produces a descriptive profile of the source of any human DNA sample, including pigmentation, face morphology and other forensically relevant traits, according to the Reston, Va.-based company's website.
Kermit Channell, executive director of the state Crime Lab, said it could take several weeks to get a DNA profile. Getting a good sample will depend on several factors, including the age of the remains, he said.
If the sample needs more testing, it could be sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, which would delay results, he said.
If the Crime Lab can obtain a sample, it will be uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, as a matter of procedure, Channell said.
The National Missing Persons DNA Database also uses the system to identify missing and unidentified individuals, according to the FBI, which runs CODIS.
Rystrom hopes the body can be identified to bring closure to the family.
"For someone to say that was my son," he said. "I've thought about that case over the years. Whatever became of it? Those are the ones you always remember."
NW News on 10/21/2019
Print Headline: 1981 Benton County cold case gets new look