Cold Case Files - In the Care of a Killer; Deadly Lies   View more episodes

Aired at 12:00 PM on Monday, Jun 14, 2010 (6/14/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:01to stir.
00:00:03Farmers head into the fields, and a working mom heads into town.
00:00:09Along the way, Sandy Blankenship drops her two young children at the home of their baby-sitter, 28-year-old Tawny Gunter.
00:00:16Sandy's youngest, two-year-old Billy, doesn't want his mother to leave.
00:00:21>> I remember him looking at me that morning with... he was about ready to start crying, and Tawny was holding him so I could get out the door, and I wanted to turn around and go back, and I didn't.
00:00:36>> KURTIS: At work, Sandy's day unfolds like any other until lunchtime, when she receives a call.
00:00:43>> The secretary there was a good friend of mine, and she told me that there had been an accident, that Billy had fallen down some stairs, and they were taking him to Warrensburg Hospital.
00:00:55>> KURTIS: Sandy and her husband arrive at the hospital as doctors are preparing to airlift Billy to the Children's Hospital in Kansas City.
00:01:02Billy is unconscious and critical.
00:01:05>> I pulled his eyes up just to look at his eyes, because he was just laying there like he was sleeping, and his eyes were real gray.
00:01:15And the lady told me, "Go ahead and talk to him, because he can hear you." So I was talking to Billy on the way to the helicopter.
00:01:25I told him we'd be right behind him; you know, we would be there.
00:01:29>> KURTIS: At Children's Mercy, doctors give Billy a CAT scan and tell the Blankenships his skull is fractured.
00:01:3624 hours later, he is pronounced brain dead.
00:01:40The Blankenships are urged to donate their son's organs and say good-bye.
00:01:45>> I got to hold him for just a little bit, and we talked to the doctor again and discussed organ donations, signed the papers and stuff.
00:01:55And then they told us they would let us know when it was all over, and that's pretty much the way it went.
00:02:04>> KURTIS: Sandy Blankenship looks to her baby-sitter to make sense of the tragedy.
00:02:09Tawny Gunter explains she had taken Billy into the basement and told the boy to stay there.
00:02:14Gunter walked upstairs to fix lunch.
00:02:17Billy apparently tried to follow, making it partway up the flight of stairs before falling back down and hitting his head in the process.
00:02:26Five days after the fall, two- year-old Billy Blankenship is laid to rest, his death believed to be a tragic accident.
00:02:35It will be eight years before anyone has reason to believe otherwise.
00:02:54Amy Younce is a working mom with a problem.
00:02:57She needs a baby-sitter for her three-month-old daughter Mariah Sisco.
00:03:02Amy, however, has a bad feeling about the only available choice, a sitter named Tawny Gunter.
00:03:09>> As far as anybody that I knew, she was the only person left that I could send her to to watch her.
00:03:15And I wasn't really scared that something would happen.
00:03:17I just knew that there was an accident, and I just really didn't want to take her there.
00:03:21>> KURTIS: On the morning of August 3, Amy drops Mariah off at Gunter's daycare.
00:03:25A few hours later, she gets a phone call.
00:03:28>> My secretary come and told me that, you know, they brought the baby to the hospital.
00:03:34And so my sister took me to Warrensburg.
00:03:37Nobody really told us anything, other than they couldn't get her to breathe on her own.
00:03:42>> KURTIS: Doctors at Western Missouri Medical Center decide to airlift the infant to Children's Mercy in Kansas City.
00:03:49Mariah survives the life flight, but dies that night.
00:03:53>> I touched her, and she was real cold.
00:03:57And, you know, all the nurses and everybody was crying.
00:03:59And I just told her to wake up, and she wouldn't.
00:04:04>> KURTIS: Kansas City's medical examiner conducts an autopsy, but can determine no official cause of death.
00:04:11He declines to classify it as an accident, noting that the baby-sitter in this case had at least one other child die in her care.
00:04:25Eight years after Billy Blankenship's body went into the ground, a second child is buried.
00:04:31The memory of Mariah Sisco's death, however, does not slip away quite so easily.
00:04:48Along the streets of Concordia, Missouri, news of Mariah Sisco's death travels fast and well.
00:04:55On August 13, Billy Blankenship's aunt, Terri Holtcamp, arrives for a scheduled visit with her local doctor.
00:05:02Holtcamp, however, gets more than just a checkup.
00:05:06>> He just nonchalantly made the comment, something along the lines of, "Well, that's really terrible that the baby died with that same baby-sitter as Billy." And I just about fell over.
00:05:17I was literally sick.
00:05:19>> KURTIS: For eight years, Holtcamp has suspected her nephew's fall down the stairs was more than an accident, but held her peace.
00:05:27Now she wonders if it's not time to come forward.
00:05:30>> It was August 17, 1998.
00:05:33I had made my decision.
00:05:35I had to be a voice for him.
00:05:37I had to stop her from baby-sitting.
00:05:40I had to stop her from baby-sitting.
00:05:43>> KURTIS: Under a new Missouri law, the Fatality Review Panel is convened to inquire into the circumstances surrounding Mariah Sisco's unexplained death.
00:05:52Holtcamp reaches out to Page Bellamy, a panel member as well as prosecutor for Lafayette County.
00:05:59>> I remember thinking that lightning was striking just too many times at one household.
00:06:04And as we discussed the case amongst ourselves, everybody was suspicious that too many kids are getting hurt and too much is going on in baby-sitter's home.
00:06:13>> KURTIS: When we return, state investigators are sent to Tawny Gunter's home with a video camera and a mandate-- reenact the death of three-month-old Mariah Sisco.
00:06:23>> Picked her up like this and turned her over real fast.
00:06:25I could see her lips were blue.
00:06:27Her feet were really, really white.
00:06:29She was kind of a light white color.
00:06:31I picked her up real quick, and I... "Mariah, Mariah."ieies who need assistance getting around their homes.
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00:07:30Call the number on your scre >> KURTIS: Concordia, Missouri, has a problem.
00:10:26In August of 1998, a three- month-old named Mariah Sisco suddenly stops breathing and dies while in the care of a local baby-sitter named Tawny Gunter.
00:10:37Eight years earlier, a two-year- old named Billy Blankenship fell down a flight of stairs, fractured his skull, and died, also while in the care of Gunter.
00:10:47A review committee is convened to determine whether the cases represent an unfortunate coincidence or something more sinister.
00:11:06One month after Mariah Sisco's death, a team of investigators pays a visit to Tawny Gunter's home.
00:11:12Gus Kolilis heads the team.
00:11:14His job: Commit to tape a reenactment of Mariah Sisco's death.
00:11:20>> What we're trying to do is to get a commitment from the person involved, to lock them in to their version of how the event occurred.
00:11:31>> And I laid her down like this.
00:11:34I had another, like, a receiving blanket that I kind of threw over her.
00:11:39I stepped right outside the door.
00:11:42>> KURTIS: Tawny leads investigators through Mariah's last day alive.
00:11:46She puts the infant down to sleep on the bedroom floor and leaves the room.
00:11:50When she returns, Gunter sees something is wrong.
00:11:54>> ...and I just happened to look down at her feet, and they were real white.
00:11:58And I thought there was something wrong with the baby.
00:12:01So I ran over here, picked her up like this, and turned her over real fast.
00:12:08I could see her lips were blue, her feet were really, really white.
00:12:12She was kind of a light white color.
00:12:14I picked her up real quick, and I... "Mariah, Mariah." I started to trying to get her to... she was kind of limp, but I couldn't tell if she was out unconscious or asleep.
00:12:25>> KURTIS: Gunter's reenactment is consistent with the medical examiner's report and points to a possible SIDS-related death.
00:12:32With no other evidence to consider, investigators turn their attention to the second case involving Gunter, Billy Blankenship's fall down a flight of stairs eight years earlier.
00:12:44>> To me, it was shockingly clear that this was not the mechanism of injury.
00:12:51>> KURTIS: Dr. Lori Frasier is an expert in the study of child abuse.
00:12:54Investigators ask her to review ER notes as well as a CAT scan taken of Blankenship's skull eight years prior.
00:13:02When Frasier reviews the X-rays, she finds a fracture that is massive.
00:13:07>> You could see it in a kid who fell from a building two or three stories and landed with their head on concrete.
00:13:13You could see fractures of children who were, you know, hit by cars and thrown.
00:13:18You'd see it maybe in a child who was an unrestrained passenger in a motor vehicle accident-- something that has some force or velocity to it where the child's impacted forcefully.
00:13:31>> KURTIS: Frasier believes Blankenship's death to be suspicious, his injuries resulting not from an accidental fall as Gunter described, but more likely from a direct blow to the head-- a classic case of child abuse.
00:13:46With Frasier's findings in hand, investigators return to Tawny Gunter's house a second time, this time to re-create the accident that claimed a two- year-old's life.
00:16:07On December 17, investigators roll tape and ask Tawny Gunter to walk them through the death of Billy Blankenship.
00:16:15>> I remember walking over to the refrigerator, taking something out of it, went to the microwave.
00:16:23>> KURTIS: Gunter tells investigators she was making lunch in the kitchen and Billy was in the cellar when Gunter heard two thumps.
00:16:30>> Shortly after I turned the microwave on, I heard, like, a ump and then another thump.
00:16:37>> KURTIS: Gunter rushes to the top of the stairs to find Billy lying at the bottom.
00:16:42>> I went down the steps, looked over at the other kids who were still playing, hadn't had their attention over here.
00:16:48Billy was whimpering just for a little... just a couple of minutes.
00:16:53I thought I had just knocked the air out of him.
00:16:55I picked him up like this, and I asked, I said, "Billy, what are you doing?"-- something like that.
00:17:03And he was quite... he was a little bigger than this doll.
00:17:06So I bring him upstairs.
00:17:09Probably about this point, he kind of started going limp on me.
00:17:17I thought maybe he was trying to go to sleep on me.
00:17:20>> KURTIS: As Billy begins to lose consciousness, Gunter calls for help.
00:17:24>> I remember going, "Billy, wake up, wake up.
00:17:27Stay awake, Billy." My telephone was on the wall here at the time.
00:17:30I picked it up.
00:17:31I had the emergency numbers up here.
00:17:33I called for the ambulance, told them I had a two-year-old that just fallen down the steps.
00:17:39At that point, I kept saying, "Wake up, Billy.
00:17:42Billy, stay awake." I kept trying to get him to stay awake.
00:17:45>> KURTIS: Investigators are suspicious of Gunter's story.
00:17:48As with the prior reenactment, however, they can find no obvious holes.
00:17:53Prosecutor Page Bellamy decides to bring in a fresh set of eyes to review the case in the person of state investigator Jim Ripley.
00:18:01>> They wanted someone from the outside to come in and kind of try to take a look at the case, as much you could, from a distance before you got in the middle of it.
00:18:12>> KURTIS: Ripley and Lieutenant Kyle Marquart review the taped reenactment of Blankenship's death, paying particularly close attention to Tawny Gunter's language, searching for any inconsistencies in her story.
00:18:26>> Sergeant Kyle Marquart was right next to me, and I said, "Why don't you look at this tape?" And he looked the tape, and he said, "Did you see this?" >> I noticed that when she said that she heard the child fall down the steps, and then she said, "I thought I had just knocked the wind out of him." >> Billy was whimpering just for a little... just a couple minutes.
00:18:48I thought I had just knocked the air out of him.
00:18:50I picked him up like this.
00:18:53>> KURTIS: "I thought I had just knocked the air out of him"-- Ripley and Marquart believe those words might provide the inconsistency that lays bare the lie.
00:19:02Earlier in the reenactment, Gunter had claimed she never saw Billy fall down the stairs, but just heard two thumps.
00:19:10Now, however, the baby-sitter puts herself at the scene when Billy fell.
00:19:15>> And she goes to the bottom of the stairs and says, "I thought I had just knocked the air of him," which is not at all consistent with what she's telling you is an unwitnessed fall.
00:19:24And now suddenly as she's re-creating it, she's put herself in the position of being the person responsible.
00:19:32>> KURTIS: Lieutenant Ripley calls Page Bellamy with the inconsistent statement, one that in the prosecutor's mind crystallizes his case.
00:19:40>> For her to make an admission placing her there with Billy at the time he's basically been inred was an admission of guilt as far as I was concerned.
00:19:51>> KURTIS: When we return, Page Bellamy makes one of the most difficult decisions of his career-- to exhume the body of two-year-old Billy Blankenship.
00:20:00>> I'm sure people had said prayers and placed him in a casket with love, then put him in that ground, and to disturb that you have to really be sure.
00:20:11And so I was a bit trepidatious over the whole thing.
00:20:14But as convinced as everyone else was, we knew we had to do it.
00:24:47>> KURTIS: Eight years ago, they buried Billy Blankenship, his death a tragic accident.
00:24:52Now cold-case detectives exhume the two-year-old's body, hoping to unearth a cold case of murder.
00:25:00Even for a seasoned investigator, the exhumation is difficult.
00:25:04>> I'd been in law enforcement for 25 years, and when we opened up that casket and that little boy's body was there with his little blanket and Ninja Turtle... and it just took the air out of that room.
00:25:19>> KURTIS: Over the course of eight years, the child's body has decomposed, making the job of the medical examiner that much more difficult.
00:25:27>> Well, the body was intact.
00:25:29However, the skin and the tissues had degenerated considerably.
00:25:34>> KURTIS: One saving grace: Billy's skull is pristine.
00:25:38It is here that Dr. Dix finds a telling fracture.
00:25:42>> Well, as soon as I saw the fracture, I thought, "This child didn't receive the injury from falling down the stairs." This was at least a four-inch break in this child's skull.
00:25:52>> The skull is kind of divided up by suture lines, and he had this significant fracture to the back of his head that went across the suture lines, which would be, I guess, comparing it to if you cracked a window and then you put a second crack in the window, it would jump across the first crack, which is significant.
00:26:08You know, it would take a lot of impact to do that.
00:26:11>> KURTIS: The medical examiner's findings are unequivocal: Billy Blankenship did not die from an accidental fall.
00:26:18>> He said, "Go back and tell the lady the facts don't fit the story.
00:26:25She has to come up with a different story, because these facts don't fit her story.
00:26:29It didn't happen that way." >> At that point, you know, we had no doubt that this was more than what Tawny Gunter was telling us, and then we had to take that information and confront Mrs. Gunter and see where that would go for us.
00:26:55>> KURTIS: Two weeks after the exhumation, cold-case detectives Jim Ripley and Kyle Marquart travel to Concordia, Missouri.
00:27:02Their goal: To get a confession from a baby-sitter they believe doubles as a killer.
00:27:08They meet Gunter at the local Days Inn and begin to lay out the evidence against her-- the inconsistencies in her taped statements, the significant injuries shown on Billy Blankenship's CAT scan, and finally, exhumation and the medical examiner's examination of the skull itself.
00:27:26All are inconsistent with Tawny Gunter's story of an accidental fall down the stairs.
00:27:31The baby-sitter, however, sticks to her version of the events.
00:27:36>> For lack of a better term, she was very stubborn.
00:27:38>> She was very difficult.
00:27:39I mean, we interviewed her for a long time, and the truth is she got up to use the restroom, I think, maybe wipe her eyes or something, and Sergeant Marquart said, "She's not going to tell us." >> KURTIS: Tawny Gunter returns from the bathroom and sits down.
00:27:55In a moment and without warning, the baby-sitter changes her story entirely.
00:28:24>> And she sat down and said, "I saw him go down the stairs." And that was a revelation, because up to that point, her story was she's at the microwave and she hears, "Thump, thump." >> KURTIS: Gunter's story has gone from a fall she never saw to an accident she saw but did not cause.
00:29:13With one more question, Tawny Gunter takes the final step.
00:29:49>> KURTIS: Gunter admits to spinning Blankenship around and causing his fall down the stairs.
00:29:53With police cameras turned off, she goes even further.
00:29:57>> She's crying, and I just looked at her, and I said, "Tawny, you pushed him, didn't you?" And she just nodded her head, "Yes, I did." She didn't say, "I did," but she nodded her head.
00:30:09>> KURTIS: Cold-case detectives believe Gunter is still stopping short of the truth and that Billy's fracture was caused not by a fall, but by a direct blow to the head.
00:30:19Gunter's statement, however, is enough to support a charge of murder in the second degree.
00:30:2411 years to the day of Billy Blankenship's death, she pleads guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
00:30:30As for the other infant that died in her care, cold-case detectives can develop no evidence proving that Gunter was responsible for Mariah Sisco's demise.
00:30:40To this day, her death remains a mystery.
00:31:00In a crowded courtroom in Missouri, Tawny Gunter awaits sentencing.
00:31:05Billy Blankenship's mother, Sandy, reads a statement to the court about the woman who stole her son.
00:31:13>> Tawny Gunter took from us something that can never be replaced or forgotten.
00:31:17The grief we have endured has been a parent's worst nightmare and impossible for us to come to terms with.
00:31:24It has been the most horrifying experience of our lives.
00:31:27We trusted her with the care and safety of our most precious son, and now we deal with the constant pain of his death.
00:31:35>> KURTIS: The courtroom also watches a video of the two-year- old as he was 12 years ago.
00:31:42>> ♪ A rosy hue settles all around ♪ You've got to feel you're on solid ground ♪ For a spell or two no one seems forlorn ♪ This comes to pass when a child is born... ♪
00:32:11>> KURTIS: When the tape is finished, the judge passes sentence on Tawny Gunter.
00:32:17>> With respect to count one, the court sentences and commits the defendant to the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections for a period of 15 years.
00:32:25>> KURTIS: Gunter receives the maximum sentence, 15 years.
00:32:28The courtroom empties, and nothing is left save the echoes of a cell door slamming and a life never fully lived.
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00:35:09Travel Route 66 northeast from Tulsa, and you'll come to Claremore, Oklahoma.
00:35:14The highway of song and legend cuts through the heart of town, and Claremore's hometown hero, Will Rogers, presides over all.
00:35:23In July of 1986, Frank Ross says good-bye to his relatives after a weekend visit.
00:35:29Ross strikes out on Route 66, headed to nearby Stillwell and home.
00:35:35Two day's later, Ross's sister, Pam Charles, gets a phone call.
00:35:40>> My brother in Stillwell, Teddy, he had called and asked, you know, "Where's Frank?" And I said, "Well, isn't he there?" And he said no, that he never showed up.
00:35:51>> KURTIS: The next day, Frank Ross is still missing.
00:35:54Then his sister spots Frank's car, apparently abandoned in a Claremore parking lot.
00:36:01>> And then that's when we really started getting... we knew that something was wrong.
00:36:05>> KURTIS: Detective John Cummings of the Claremore Police Department picks up the missing persons case.
00:36:11Cummings learns that the night Frank Ross disappeared, he spent time at Claremore's Tack Room lounge.
00:36:18>> Some of the witnesses were able to place him back in the area of the bar where they were playing pool with a gentleman named Kent Hill, James Kent Hill.
00:36:27Apparently Mr. Ross had some cash on him and was buying a lot of drinks and apparently had bragged that he had a large sum of money on him.
00:36:35Pretty typical, you know, two guys at a bar and playing pool and bragging about who's the best.
00:36:41>> KURTIS: The man Frank Ross was last seen with, James Kent Hill, is a familiar face to Claremore police, with a record of several run-ins with the law.
00:36:49Witnesses tell police the two men left the pool hall together around 2:20 AM and drove off in Hill's Plymouth Duster.
00:36:57Detective Cummings drops by Hill's house to check out the story.
00:37:02>> Mr. Hill at first basically denied knowing who Mr. Ross was.
00:37:07Then he remembered, "Oh, yeah, I did play pool with a guy that fits that description.
00:37:12Oh, yeah, I did give him a ride, but I gave him a ride straight to a convenience store to buy a six-pack of beer, then I dropped him back off at his car, and that's the last I saw of him." >> KURTIS: After just a few interviews, investigators begin to find holes in Kent Hill's story.
00:37:29A local woman tells them Ross and Hill came by her house together around 3:10 in the morning, almost 40 minutes after Hill claims he last saw Frank Ross.
00:37:39Bob Powell works the case for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
00:37:44>> So we knew he was lying to us about that.
00:37:47Kent was certainly a strong suspect.
00:37:49There wasn't any indication that there was anybody else involved in this.
00:37:53>> KURTIS: During their first interview with Hill, investigators noticed that his Plymouth Duster was banged up, the back bumper dented, the side mirror fallen off.
00:38:03>> He told us that about two weeks previous to that night that he'd been in rural Rogers County somewhere playing what he described asDukes of Hazzard and lost control of his car and hit a tree and caused that damage.
00:38:16>> KURTIS: Witnesses from the Tack Room Lounge offer a different story, telling police that Hill's car was in perfect condition when he left the Tack Room lounge with Frank Ross.
00:38:25>> It's a very insignificant thing taken by itself, but when you combine it with the other facts of the case, it becomes a point that we want to clarify, and it also becomes a point that we're going to use later on in an interview.
00:38:38>> KURTIS: Police believe they know who killed Frank Ross.nt to a case for murder.
00:38:45Detectives need something a bit more substantial-- something like a body.
00:39:03Claremore's biggest lake is known for its fishing, but this is no ordinary day on the lake.
00:39:10In a twist of fate unrelated to the search for Frank Ross, a local woman has hired a professional diving crew to search for an antique car.
00:39:20Before going off to war, her older brother and a friend had taken their beloved Model T Ford, nicknamed the "Red Robin," and pushed it into Claremore Lake.
00:39:30>> You have to understand that Claremore Lake is a place where teenagers for probably decades have partied around Claremore.
00:39:37And so I'm sure that this plot was hatched over some alcohol.
00:39:42But at any rate, they decided they were going to shove their car off into the lake, and that way no one would ever get the Red Robin.
00:39:50>> KURTIS: On a cold November morning, John Belding suits up and heads beneath the surface in search of the Red Robin.
00:39:56After just five minutes underwater, Belding makes a discovery.
00:40:02>> I was kind of walking along and stumbled into the bones, and I told the command station up here, "I believe I've found some bones." >> KURTIS: Up on shore, the command station reminds Belding that they were hired to find a car.
00:40:17The bones are probably nothing more than a cow carcass.
00:40:20>> I finally asked them, "Does cows around this part of the country wear blue jeans?-- because these bones are in blue jeans and cowboy boots." >> KURTIS: Suddenly, the search for the Red Robin has become a crime scene.
00:40:33In a second stroke of luck, Detective John Cummings is there to take charge.
00:40:37He has come to the lake knowing that divers often find something useful to police, like a stolen car.
00:40:44When he sees the body, Cummings immediately thinks, "Frank Ross." >> As soon as we got it up on shore, I went back to my car and pulled Mr. Ross's file out of my backseat.
00:40:55And I had a photograph the family had given me, and the photograph the family had given me had the exact picture of the shirt that was on the body-- identical.
00:41:04>> KURTIS: An autopsy shows that the body dredged from the lake was about the same height, weight, and age as Frank Ross.
00:41:10In 1986, however, DNA is unavailable to cinch the ID.
00:41:14>> It's frustrating as an investigator, because I really thought that was our guy, and I was positive at this point that Mr. Hill had some involvement in his homicide and his disappearance.
00:41:27>> KURTIS: Without a positive ID, investigators must bury the remains in a John Doe grave and once again bury the Frank Ross investigation under a stack of cold files.
00:41:38And that is where the case stays for six more years, until a broken heart helps to unseal a Ahauto!
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00:43:02úúúúúúúúúúú ?.=(=PCPCPCPCPCPCPCPCPC2h, >> KURTIS: The passage of time-- it can be a cold-case detective's best friend.
00:45:10Relationships change.
00:45:12Lips become unsealed.
00:45:15People talk.
00:45:17In February of 1992, a woman in Claremore, Oklahoma, named Liz Humphrey has just broken up with her live-in boyfriend, Kent Hill.
00:45:26For six years, Hill has been the number-one suspect in the disappearance of Frank Ross, a man who police believe was killed and dumped in Claremore Lake.
00:45:36Now Kent Hill's ex-girlfriend says she knows the truth about Frank Ross and is prepared to tell it all.
00:45:43>> She walked right in the front door and asked to see me and came in my office and said she wanted to tell me about Kent killing the man from the Tack Room.
00:45:52>> When he gets home, he starts telling me that he met this guy, Frank Ross, at the bar.
00:45:58They went and bought beer, went out driving around out in the boonies, out where Joey, his brother, lives.
00:46:07This man put his hand on Kent's leg, like, you know, I guess he was fag.
00:46:15>> KURTIS: Humphrey says Kent Hill was shocked by the move.
00:46:18He slammed on the brakes and pulled over.
00:46:20>> He had that red Duster at the time, and he always kept one of those long knives in between his seats.
00:46:27He grabbed that, ran around the car, stabbed him twice, because he was scared that he was going to hurt him.
00:46:35But, you know, I mean, you don't have to kill somebody to keep them from hurting you.
00:46:40>> KURTIS: Humphrey says that after stabbing Ross, Kent Hill dragged his body into the nearby woods.
00:46:45Several weeks later, feeling the heat from police questioning, Hill decided the woods may not be the best hiding place.
00:46:52>> He felt like he needed to move that body where it was.
00:46:55Well, he got real messed up on some... I don't know what he took just to get up enough nerve to go do this.
00:47:05>> KURTIS: According to his ex- girlfriend, Kent Hill took the corpse, rotting in the high heat, to Claremore Lake and sent it to the bottom.
00:47:13Detective Cummings believes Hill killed Ross as Humphrey describes, but not because Frank Ross had made a pass at him.
00:47:20The real motive, Cummings believes, lies in the wad of cash Ross was flashing around the Tack Room pool hall.
00:47:28Cummings takes his case to Ray Hasselman, the Rogers County Assistant DA.
00:47:33As he reviews the case, Hasselman sees one problem: He believes Kent Hill and Liz Humphrey are common-law husband and wife.
00:47:42>> Well, you have a problem with-- as is common in most states-- that if you are married to an individual and that person tells you something in the privacy of the marriage, that that information is usually not allowable in criminal proceedings or even in civil proceedings.
00:48:02>> KURTIS: Without Humphrey's statement, the state declines to file the case, and the investigation once again goes cold.
00:48:10Detectives, however, might have one card left to play-- a body pulled out of Claremore Lake four months after the murder and now resting in a John Doe grave.
00:48:20Cold-case detectives hope that science can someday give their John Doe a name, and that name turns out to be Frank Ross.
00:48:39>> As far as I know, we're ready to go.
00:48:42>> KURTIS: On December 1, 1993, two men with shovels begin to unearth what cold-case detectives hope will be the clue to solving a murder.
00:48:50>> Have to do this by hand.
00:48:53>> KURTIS: A few yards of dirt later, a shovel hits the edge of John Doe's coffin.
00:48:58The body is removed from the coffin, and a DNA sample is extracted from its bones.
00:49:04Scientists use mitochondrial DNA testing to compare John Doe's DNA to samples taken from Frank Ross's surviving family members.
00:49:12The result confirms what most have suspected all along: the body pulled from Claremore Lake seven years earlier was Pam Charles's brother, Frank Ross.
00:49:23>> In our hearts, we knew it was Frank, but just to finally say for sure, yes, it was a better feeling, you know?-- a more comforting feeling, I guess.
00:49:33>> KURTIS: At the Claremore Cemetery, the John Doe marker is replaced by one reading "Frank Leslie Ross." Death certificate in hand, Detective Cummings once again takes the case to the Rogers County DA.
00:49:46Ray Hasselman agrees this time that all the pieces add up to murder.
00:49:51>> If you can put it together by this person was here, this person was here, this person said this little bit of information, the body was found where they said it would be, when you put all that together, a lot of times jurors, I think, will find the case is a much stronger case.
00:50:06>> KURTIS: The Assistant DA cuts a warrant for Kent Hill's arrest.
00:50:10The charge: First degree murder.
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00:50:57Kent Hill is driving through town when a squad car lights up his rear view mirror.
00:51:02It's John Cummings, Claremore Pd.
00:51:05>> Kent had been questioned several times over the years about this case, never deviated from his story as far as he didn't have anything to do with it.
00:51:14>> KURTIS: This time, Hill takes a different tack.
00:51:16After just 15 minutes of questioning, he drops the story he's been clinging to for nine years, that he took Frank Ross to get a six-pack, then dropped him off at his car alive and well.
00:51:28Now Hill echoes his ex- girlfriend's testimony that he and Frank Ross went for a drive in Hill's Duster.
00:51:52>> KURTIS: Hill claims he grabbed Ross by the throat and strangled him in self-defense.
00:51:56Across the table, Cummings listens and considers all he's learned in nine years about Kent Hill's character.
00:52:04>> His history tells me he's a pretty violent, aggressive individual.
00:52:07Mr. Ross's background, the best we can tell, is very passive, no criminal history-- wouldn't be the type of guy you would think would pull a knife on somebody and try to assault them.
00:52:18>> KURTIS: Cummings wants to test Hill's new story.
00:52:21He takes the suspect for a drive in the country and asks him to find the spot where Hill fought for his life.
00:52:38This is the stretch of road Kent Hill claims he was driving down with Frank Ross.
00:52:43According to Hill, he pulled over at this hairpin curve to go to the bathroom and was attacked.
00:52:49As detective and suspect walk the scene, Cummings notices something that effectively guts Hill's claim of self-defense.
00:52:57The suspect's brother's house is no more than half a mile from where Hill claims he was attacked.
00:53:03If Hill needed to use the bathroom, why not head there?
00:53:07>> If he was afraid of him, why would you stop a half a mile from your brother's house to use the restroom on the side of the county road when you can see the house?
00:53:16You can see his brother's house from that location.
00:53:19It didn't make any sense to me.
00:53:20>> KURTIS: Hill is brought back to the station, where cold-case detectives tell him his story doesn't add up.
00:53:28Under pressure, Hill's account changes once again, but only in the way Hill killed Ross.
00:53:33Instead of using his hands, Hill now claims he used a knife.
00:53:52>> KURTIS: Cummings does not believe either version offered by Hill and bets that a jury won't either.
00:53:57He books the suspect for murder in the first degree.
00:54:01Standing before a judge at his first hearing, Hill decides to cut a deal.
00:54:06He pleads guilty to a charge of manslaughter.
00:54:08On April 26, Kent Hill is sentenced to 20 years.
00:54:23Kent Hill lives here, in Hamilton Correctional Center.
00:54:28In July of 2001, he sits down withCold Case Files.
00:54:32Hill sticks to his story of self-defense.
00:54:35Now, however, death was delivered not at the end of a blade or by strangulation.
00:54:41Now, according to Kent Hill, it was a one-punch knockout.
00:54:45>> He meets me at the back of the car and grabs me by the shoulders.
00:54:48If I didn't have my cuffs on, I could show you.
00:54:50Grabs me by the shoulders, and I look up, and he says, "I'm going to (no audio) you, I'm going to kill you." And I said, "Bam," and that was all she wrote.
00:54:58And he's laying on the ground, and I'm screaming, "Get up, you queer piece of (no audio); I'm going to kick your Because I did, I wanted to whup him bad.
00:55:06>> KURTIS: Underpinning Hill's story is the assumption that Frank Ross is gay, an idea that, according to police, flies in the face of the facts.
00:55:16>> We have at least three barmaids that said he asked them out on dates.
00:55:21I think that was just a poor attempt by Mr. Hill to come up with some kind of a story to cover what he did, which is...
00:55:28all the evidence, we think, points to nothing but a robbery.
00:55:32>> I had no idea if he had any money at all.
00:55:34I know he was buying everybody drinks, talking about how much money he had.
00:55:37Wasn't what I was thinking.
00:55:39Far from it.
00:55:50>> KURTIS: The Model T known as the Red Robin is probably still in Claremore Lake, but the search for it yielded something much more valuable-- the answer to a murder and a small measure of justice for the victim's family.
00:56:05>> We were just ready for him to be behind bars.
00:56:08And whether it was... no matter how long it was, it did make us feel better that they did finally catch him and he did admit to it.