Detectives investigate decades-old homicide cases

Detective Dave Wilson dedicates one day a week to investigating cold cases.
Courtesy Photo

The conclusion of the Becky Doisy murder trial last week closed one of Columbia’s unresolved homicide cases. But the Boone County Sheriff’s Department is still investigating three unsolved murders, all of them more than twenty years old.

Cold case investigations receive no additional government funding and detectives usually work on them in addition to their regular work.

Boone County Sheriff’s Department Detective Dave Wilson dedicates one day a week to investigating cold cases. Wilson is working on the 1987 murder of Cinde Kemple-Buchner, whose body was found deceased in her residence near I-70 Drive Northeast.

“I’m just basically reviewing old reports at this point,” Wilson said. “It’s just making notes of things that I see. I pretty much keep an open mind. I don’t tunnel vision into one thing.”

A case is considered “cold” when it has not yet been fully solved and is not under recent criminal investigation, but still has potential for reinvestigation via new leads from witnesses, evidence or recent criminal activity.

“I can’t tell you the exact number of dates, months or years it takes to be considered a cold case,” Boone County Sheriffs Department Detective Tom O'Sullivan said. “I guess it becomes cold when the leads stop coming in.”

With the development of new technology, O’Sullivan said cold cases are becoming increasingly rare. The freshest homicide cold case in Boone County is almost 20 years old.

Detectives rely heavily on DNA technology to track down evidence.

“DNA is just remarkable with what you can do,” O’Sullivan said.

Detectives are using blood on a broken window to investigate a burglary they had previously considered cold.

“The burglar must have cut his hand breaking through a window and left some blood at the scene,” O’Sullivan said. “Well, our guys collected that blood and sent it down to the lab. They were able to check the DNA in our database. It turns out he was a neighbor of a victim. It’s basically asking, ‘how’d your blood end up in this man’s house where all his stuff was stolen?’”

But sometimes, new leads have nothing to do with technology, referencing the Doisy case, in which Johnny Wright was arrested after voluntarily requesting a background check. He was convicted last Friday for the murder of former MU student Rebecca Doisy, in 1976.

“If Johnny Wright hadn’t gone in the police station requesting a background check, he never would have been found," O’Sullivan said. “He’d been on the lam for 25 years.”

O’Sullivan said cold cases are extremely difficult as people and evidence changes over time.

“(Johnny Wright) just looked like a harmless old man sitting there in court, but when he committed the murder he was 31," O'Sullivan said. "Suspects get old. Trying to track down witnesses is hard. You want to make that arrest as soon as possible because the longer it goes, the tougher it is to solve.”

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