Cold Case Files - Smoky Mountain Mystery; A Drop of Blood   View more episodes

Aired at 12:00 PM on Friday, Jul 30, 2010 (7/30/2010)      View all transcripts from this day


00:00:02>> We were very frustrated with the search effort, and we were just trying to do whatever we could.
00:00:08>> There was nothing else to do ..
00:00:12>> Kurtis: Mike and jeff jones have a problem.
00:00:15On april 16, 1979, they reported their mother, harriet simmons, missing.
00:00:22The day before, harriet had climbed into her car in raleigh, north carolina, for a weekend road trip to nashville.
00:00:28The drive should have taken eight hours.
00:00:31Five days later she still has not arrived.
00:00:35>> It was totally out of character for my mom not to call, you know, when we knew she would, you know, because her kids, you know, were her life, and she would never go that long and not be in touch with them.
00:00:47>> Kurtis: Ronnie dement is harriet's son-in-law.
00:00:50He joins the search and begins to retrace the route she would have taken to nashville.
00:00:56After two and a half hours of driving, he finds simmons's car parked in the exit ramp leading out of a rest stop.
00:01:04>> Seeing the car where it was, I know it was out of character, that her mom would never stop the car in that position.
00:01:12I just knew something happened as she was leaving that rest area.
00:01:17I didn't know what, but I knew she would never stop her car there.
00:01:22>> Kurtis: Ronnie pulls over and calls 911.
00:01:26Inside the car police find that simmons's keys and purse are missing.
00:01:33In the back sits a flat tire, an indication that harriet might have had car trouble and perhaps had asked a stranger for help.
00:01:43>> We pretty much knew that she had had a flat tire and whoever stopped to help her, you know, probably did something to her.
00:01:51>> It was a new car.
00:01:52Who leaves, I mean, a new car in her situation, a brand-new car that was in running condition and working order?
00:01:58>> But at the same time, I would like to say, you got to remember all of us were very young right then and impressionable, and perhaps we didn't know everything that needed to be known.
00:02:08>> Kurtis: Back in franklinton, north carolina, harriet simmons's seven children are anxious, waiting for some word about their mom.
00:02:17In 1979, the siblings range in age from nine to 22 and suspect police are not taking the disappearance seriously.
00:02:26>> They acted as if she was a runaway mother, you know.
00:02:29They stereotype.
00:02:31.. da da da, you know.
00:02:34.. I mean, I actually remember talking to an investigator and them actually saying, you know, "the oldest one of you guys is 19 or 21," you know, and they just really basically treated us like we were bunch of little kids crying, "hey, I want my mommy; " >> Kurtis: Without a body and with no prints or other useable evidence from inside the car, the investigation into harriet simmons's disappearance quickly goes nowhere.
00:03:0111 Months pass, and then the other shoe drops.
00:03:04Simmons's disappearance matures into an undeniable case of murder.
00:06:47>> I got the call around midmorning that a passing motorist had found a skull in the woods.
00:06:55>> Kurtis: Mike wright is a crime scene investigator for the buncombe county sheriff.
00:06:59260 Miles out of raleigh, he heads into a patch of woods just off the blue ridge parkway.
00:07:07>> The skull had been moved from the location of the rest of the .. probably by animal activity, and so we did a grid search of the surrounding area and then located articles of clothing and additional bones of evidence in the leaves.
00:07:26>> Kurtis: Medical examiner dr.
00:07:28John butts determines the victim to be a white female between 45 and 55 years old.
00:07:35He notes four cuts in the victim's clothing and four nearly identical cuts in the victim's bones.
00:07:42>> What we're looking at here is one of the ribs on the left side, and right here above the label you can see a little nick in the bone.
00:07:50So we've put those together-- the injuries to the bones, the injuries to the clothing, the fact that we have a relatively young individual-- and the conclusion would be that she's died as a result of being stabbed.
00:08:03>> Kurtis: Within a week, state investigators provide dental records on a missing woman.
00:08:08 butts compares the records to the jane doe and determines that she is harriet simmons.
00:08:14A phone call is made to harriet's children back in franklinton.
00:08:19>> Of course it's always a shadow hanging over your head.
00:08:21Again, we were so relieved that she was found and we were able to bury her, but of course you want somebody to be caught for it.
00:08:31>> Kurtis: The discovery of a body moves simmons's case from a disappearance to an unsolved homicide.
00:08:37The result, however, is the no suspects and no leads in the investigation.
00:08:44Meanwhile, a second body turns up 18 miles from the blue ridge parkway in asheville, north carolina.
00:08:55>> I was at home, and it was 00 in the morning, and the dispatcher called and said that a body had been located.
00:09:02>> Kurtis: As sunrise creeps up the back of the smoky mountains, mike wright takes another call for another body, this time on the banks of the french broad river.
00:09:14>> She had been stabbed to the chest, and a local resident here had heard her call for help when she had crawled up out of the water, and he had attempted to give c.p.r.
00:09:29>> Kurtis: The neighbor tells police that the girl died in his arms.
00:09:33>> In this case, we had victims that were dead.
00:09:35>> Kurtis: Dave bossard works the scene as an investigator for the sheriff's department.
00:09:40>> She told him that she had been stabbed and thrown in the river and left for dead, and he did have somewhat of conversation with her while he was waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
00:09:50>> Kurtis: The victim carries no and has suffered multiple stab wounds.
00:09:55 works the scene, a second call comes in about a car found eight miles upstream.
00:10:03>> City police officers initially found the car.
00:10:06They had been contacted by a southern railway dispatcher.
00:10:10The train crew had seen the car while the train was crossing this trestle here, and the vehicle was in the river about 20 feet off the shore, upriver from the bridge, and the car was partially submerged about 20 feet off the bank.
00:10:25>> We had no crime scene to work with.
00:10:28>> Kurtis: Police wonder if the vehicle is related to the murder downstream.
00:10:32They track the license plates to a local family and a woman named margaret McConnell.
00:10:37>> They said that they had found the car in the river, and they explained what had happened.
00:10:42Then they asked some of the family to come downtown.
00:10:46>> Kurtis: Margaret mcconnell tells police that her 21-year- old daughter betty sue had taken the car to work earlier that evening and never came home.
00:10:55Two hours later, betty sue McCONNELL IS I.D.ed AS THE Murder victim.
00:11:00.. how ..
00:11:03Most terrible thing I'd ever gone through.
00:11:08>> Kurtis: Local detectives begin working the case, with the help of the state bureau of investigation.
00:11:15>> Detective wright and i, along with other officers, went to the McCONNELL RESIDENCE TO TRY TO Find out as much as we could about betty sue and her acquaintances and that sort of thing.
00:11:26>> Kurtis: Betty sue mcconnell worked the night shift at a donut shop frequented by railroad workers.
00:11:32She had left work at 1:00 a.m.
00:11:33On the night she was killed.
00:11:35>> It would've been physically possible for someone to have killed the victim at the other location, driven the car back here, pushed the car into the river here, and climbed up a very small embankment following along the trestle and be back to the railroad yard where all the railroad workers would be expected to be within a matter of minutes.
00:11:52>> There were quite a few railroad men that would come and go in the course of two or three days.
00:11:58Once we determined who all was there, we had to find out where they lived and try to interview them that way.
00:12:04>> Kurtis: While a team of detectives begins eliminating suspects, police process the victim's car.
00:12:11>> The car, which had been in the river, of course the river had run through it, and it had to be dried before it could be processed for evidence.
00:12:18>> Kurtis: A forensic examination of the vehicle yields no prints, no blood, nothing in the way of a lead.
00:12:26After three months of leg work, detectives are resigned to their luck.
00:12:32BETTY sue McConnell's case joins harriett simmons's in the cold files, where both will stay for 19 years, until a recovering alcoholic feels the sobering sting of conscience.
00:12:42>> And no one could ever be as hard on me as I've been on myself.
00:12:47I should have done this, I could have done that, but at the time .. I was totally >> I try to carry on a very rich family tradition, the heritage of the storyteller.
00:15:22.. ♪
00:15:25>> Kurtis: In asheville, north carolina, jerry harmon is known as the smoky mountain gypsy, a keeper of the appalachian oral history, a singer and songwriter.
00:15:35>> ♪ But his heart won't ever .. ♪
00:15:38I grew up very much around storytelling and was a storyteller myself, and the most devastating thing that ever happened to me was a story that I felt I couldn't tell, I was afraid to tell.
00:15:51When I was a kid sitting out on the front porch with my daddy ..
00:15:55>> Kurtis: For 19 years, harmon has held a close secret, one kept at bay by a combination of fear and booze.
00:16:04>> I lived in a bottle for a long time.
00:16:07I climbed inside of a bottle, and I stayed there, and I didn't feel anything.
00:16:11And then the time came when that didn't work anymore, and finally it just got to the point to where it was just unbearable.
00:16:19>> I set him down in my office, and he began talking about a case from 1979.
00:16:26>> Kurtis: As buncombe county sheriff's captain pat hefner listens, jerry harmon begins to talk about a night 19 years past.
00:16:35>> I knew things that, yeah, police officers, that the law enforcement needed to know about.
00:16:40I knew that I had been with someone who had committed cold- blooded murder.
00:16:51Well, we started riding around drinking beer early in the afternoon, probably noon i guess, and we just rode around and drank and partied all day.
00:17:02>> Kurtis: In august of 1979, jerry harmon is 19 years old and hanging out with a new pal, 22- year-old terry hyatt.
00:17:12, the two men leave a bar and get into hyatt's truck.
00:17:17>> There was a young lady pulled up on the driver's side at a traffic light, and terry made an obscene gesture towards her, and then when she turned to the left, he ran her off the road.
00:17:32And then he jumped out and ran up to her car and jerked the door open and yelled back at me " and he jumped in her car and took off.
00:17:41>> Kurtis: Harmon follows behind terry hyatt, who drives a few miles and then turns down a dirt road.
00:17:48>> And then he got the girl out of the car, came back to the truck, got into the truck with her, and I got away from there, you know.
00:17:57And it's obvious what was going on.
00:17:59He was raping this young lady.
00:18:01And I was just terrified.
00:18:04And then when he finished, i remember he came up to me and .. you know, asked me if i was going to do anything, and i " well, he got in her car and started driving up and down the road extremely fast, you know.
00:18:19And I remember telling her, "get " and she kept saying, "that's my sister's car.
00:18:26" and I said, "forget your sister's car, you know.
00:18:30" >> Kurtis: The young woman, however, does not leave.
00:18:35Hyatt returns, pulls her back into her car, and once again tells harmon to follow.
00:18:42>> And no one could ever be as hard on me as I've been on myself.
00:18:45I should have done this, I could have done that, but at the time .. I was totally freaking out, and I just followed him.
00:18:52I couldn't comprehend what was happening.
00:18:55Why did I not try to do something?
00:18:59But still the thought had never occurred to me that actually someone was going to die.
00:19:03That just didn't seem real, you know.
00:19:07Then we went, and he took her car by some water.
00:19:12>> Kurtis: Hyatt pulls the girl out of the car and begins walking towards the water.
00:19:16>> And then I heard this girl screaming.
00:19:18.. I assumed he was raping her again or something, you know.
00:19:23I mean, that's what I figured was going on.
00:19:28And he came back up there, and then it dawned on me.
00:19:32I didn't hear the girl anymore, and I said, "you killed that " and then he told me yeah, he had.
00:19:41>> Kurtis: Hyatt drives the girl's car a few miles upstream and runs it into the river.
00:19:46>> I was just freaked out.
00:19:48And he said, "you better not ever tell anybody about this because you were here with me and you'll go to prison the rest " >> Kurtis: For 19 years, harmon never breathed a word.
00:20:01Now he tells it all to pat hefner, including the place where the woman's car was dumped, the french broad river.
00:20:08>> That's what keyed me off, because I knew that they had recovered a body at or near the french broad river from 1979 or 1980.
00:20:19So I begin researching, you know, the ones from 1979 and came up with the name betty sue McCONNELL.
00:20:26>> Kurtis: Betty sue mcconnell was 21 when she was stabbed and thrown into the french broad river.
00:20:31The car she was driving was also found in the river.
00:20:35>> So we didn't think there would be any difficulty.
00:20:39>> Kurtis: Pat hefner assigns the case to detective ann benjamin and agent tim shook of the state's cold-case team.
00:20:45The two begin by sitting down with harmon.
00:20:49>> You guys knocked on the door and introduced yourself.
00:20:51" >> well, you finally had somebody show up that was old enough to remember when this murder happened.
00:20:59It was explained to him early on that whatever involvement he had, we certainly couldn't make him any promises.
00:21:05>> Well, what finally made you cross over to where you said, "i " >> well, it wasn't like this particular thing happened.
00:21:14It had been years and years.
00:21:15.. I mean literally waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
00:21:22.. I could hear the screams of that girl.
00:21:27>> His statement about where it occurred, the description of her car, the fact that it was left in a river, all those statements that he made led us to believe that he knew exactly what he was talking about.
00:21:41>> Kurtis: Benjamin and shook believe harmon but would like more in the way of corroboration.
00:21:46Harmon then provides detectives with a second name.
00:21:50>> He had mentioned that if we really wanted to verify his story, we needed to talk to mr.
00:21:56Hyatt's best friend at the time, which was lester dean helms.
00:22:01>> Kurtis: Two months later, ann benjamin tracks lester helms to a nursing home.
00:22:05She and tim shook head over for a chat.
00:22:09>> We just wanted to see if he would corroborate what jerry harmon had already told us.
00:22:14>> We weren't really accusing him of anything except guilty knowledge of things that terry hyatt would have done.
00:22:21>> And he said, "oh, yes, yes, " at that point, tim said, "well, " >> and when we asked him to relate what he recalls, he starts talking about a lady with a flat tire being abducted along the interstate.
00:22:39>> And I was taking notes and .. you know, i thought, "what is he talking about?" you know.
00:22:46>> Kurtis: While helms is talking about murder, it does not appear to be the same murder jerry harmon shared with police.
00:22:54In helms's statement, terry hyatt raped a woman and killed her and then dumped her body in buncombe county, some 18 miles FROM WHERE BETTY sue McConnell's body was found.
00:23:07>> As we're walking out to the car, I remember turning to tim and saying, "what was that all " " >> I had read the file, and it began to click.
00:23:18That sounds like the harriet simmons murder, because her skeletal remains had been found in buncombe county up near the blue ridge parkway.
00:23:27>> Kurtis: Like mcconnell, harriet simmons was abducted from her car.
00:23:30like McConnell, simmons was stabbed multiple times.
00:23:35>> It had never been associated in any way with betty sue McCONNELL'S ABDUCTION AND Subsequent murder, and we were both quite excited.
00:23:44We knew we had some good information and some good witnesses.
00:23:49>> Kurtis: Investigators benjamin and shook believe that terry hyatt could be responsible for at least two cold murders.
00:23:55Then they find a third hyatt victim, this one still very much alive.
00:24:00>> He told my mother, you know, he's put a lot of bodies down there in that river.
00:28:19>> To tell you the truth, the file, when I first got it, was probably about this thick when i was handed it.
00:28:32>> Kurtis: Anne benjamin is trying to make sense of two murders cold for 19 years.
00:28:38>> I put some tabs in here and did some color coding and tried to kind of put it into some sort of an order.
00:28:47>> Kurtis: Two women in two separate attacks, each taken out of her car, raped and murdered.
00:28:54Witnesses have linked one man to each of the murders, an ex- convict named terry alvin hyatt.
00:29:02>> When we looked up his record, we found that he had actually gone to prison in 1979; he had committed a kidnapping.
00:29:10>> Kurtis: The kidnapping occurred just a few months after the second unsolved murder.
00:29:15Hyatt's kidnap victim, carolyn brigman, survived the attack and is still alive.
00:29:21Detective benjamin decides to talk with her.
00:29:24 brigman was very, very fearful all these years of him.
00:29:28He had threatened her that he would come back and get her at the trial.
00:29:32She didn't have a driver's license.
00:29:34She didn't want anybody to track her, so I actually found her through her children.
00:29:39>> My mom came walking through there, and he had his truck parked on the side and had the hood up like he was working on his truck.
00:29:45>> Kurtis: Joseph and melissia are carolyn brigman's son and daughter.
00:29:48Their mom doesn't like to talk about the kidnapping, but now her children are willing to provide the details.
00:29:55>> As she was walking by, she got right in front of the hood, you know, right beside the front of the truck.
00:30:00He spun around and grabbed her and put a knife to her throat and told her, "do not yell and " >> he told her when they crossed the bridge, "i've thrown a lot " >> my mom was trying to convince him to let her go, that she wouldn't tell anybody.
00:30:15>> When he had her in the truck, had a large knife that he held all the time, and of course both our murder victims were stabbed with a knife.
00:30:26>> After awhile he told her that he was going do something he had never done before, and he was going to give her back her life.
00:30:33>> Kurtis: In its details, the brigman attack is almost identical to the two unsolved murders, bolstering benjamin's case and, if carolyn brigman will testify, putting a face to the women terry hyatt is suspected of victimizing.
00:30:48>> She was very willing to go ahead and testify in court, .. you know, we desperately wanted, and she agreed to.
00:30:57>> Kurtis: Brigman's testimony is the final piece the state needs.
00:31:01Warrants are issued, and police descend on terry hyatt's home in asheville.
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00:32:54>> He met us at the door, and his father came to the door also, and we identified ourselves, produced our credentials.
00:33:01>> Kurtis: On a fall morning, terry alvin hyatt is brought in for questioning about the MURDERS OF BETTY sue McConnell and harriet simmons.
00:33:08>> He seemed fairly willing to talk, but his father was very apprehensive and, you know, would rather we weren't there.
00:33:15But of course terry was in his 40s THEN, AND HE MADE THE Decision to talk to us.
00:33:20>> Kurtis: Under questioning, hyatt places himself at the SCENE OF the McConnell crime but says he did not kill her.
00:33:27When asked about harriet simmons, hyatt lawyers up and is arrested.
00:33:33Assistant district attorneys don gast and rodney hasty prepare a case for prosecution.
00:33:39>> We didn't have any, you know, evidence that could, you know, show that he was the person that raped them.
00:33:46But we had lots and lots of pieces of the puzzle that, when assembled, painted a clear picture that this guy is the one that committed these murders.
00:33:56>> Kurtis: The team decides to seek the death penalty.
00:34:00On january 6, 2000, terry hyatt's trial begins.
00:34:05>> All rise.
00:34:07>> Kurtis: Jerry harmon, who was with hyatt when he allegedly KILLED BETTY sue McConnell, takes the witness stand.
00:34:13>> I knew I was finally doing what I should have done before.
00:34:18He'd killed an innocent women that had a family and had done nothing to him whatsoever.
00:34:23No kind of self-defense was involved.
00:34:25It was just cold murder.
00:34:27>> Kurtis: Harmon is followed by lester helms, eyewitness to the simmons murder, and finally by carolyn brigman.
00:34:34>> I have not seen more chilling testimony come from the witness stand than I did that day when all of the family members were there in the courtroom lined up hearing this for the first time, and here this woman is brave enough to the be the only one that lived, and at the time she testified, for all she knew, the jury might let him go and walk out of that courtroom.
00:34:53>> Kurtis: On january 31, 2000, a jury finds hyatt guilty on all counts.
00:35:00>> Terry alvin hyatt to be put to death as by law provided.
00:35:06>> Kurtis: He is sentenced to die by lethal injection.
00:35:09Jeff jones is in the court to see his mother's killer sentenced.
00:35:14>> It's never easy to think about someone else dying, but it has been bittersweet.
00:35:19I mean, it has been a long road for us.
00:35:22We have all grown up with this over our shoulders.
00:35:26And just to know that he passes that close in front of you and this is the person that took your mother's life is a very hard thing to restrain yourself, both emotionally and verbally.
00:35:39You know, it's something you deal with, and we were just glad to have the moment.
00:35:45>> Kurtis: In february of 2000, while terry hyatt sits on death is collected and entered into the state d.n.a.
00:35:57There it hits on yet another unsolved case, the 1987 rape and murder of a charlotte woman named jerri ann jones.
00:36:06When presented with the d.n.a.
00:36:07Evidence and a deal to avoid another death sentence, terry hyatt confesses to charlotte authorities.
00:36:28>> Kurtis: Hyatt goes on to say he raped the young woman.
00:36:54>> Kurtis: On august 2, 2005, hyatt pleads guilty to the murder of jerri jones.
00:36:59THE SIMMONS and McConnell families are both in the courtroom to hear this final verdict.
00:37:04>> While we grieve for the other jones family, we offer our complete support, and we're glad that he's being exposed for what he is.
00:37:15>> Some days I think he should set there and suffer, but i don't think he's doing that, because I really don't think it bothers him.
00:37:22I may be wrong, but I really don't.
00:37:25So I think he should just be put to death.
00:37:28I really do.
00:37:30>> Kurtis: Margaret mcconnell has lived her life bereft of her daughter, betty sue, and raises betty sue's child, heather, as she would her own, rich with memories of the mother heather never knew.
00:37:44>> Still I ask her little things like do I really sound like her?
00:37:51What would she have done?
00:37:54Just because everybody tells me I'm so much like her that I ask all the time.
00:38:06>> And she is like her.
00:38:07She has her personality, her laugh.
00:38:09If she's in a different room, it's hard to tell the difference, because she's a lot like her mother.
00:40:24>> This is the state's exhibit number 28, and it's the piece of the curtain that sergeant kolb collected from the house, and right here in this hole is the place where his blood was left as he cut himself entering mrs.
00:40:40Gaerte's residence, and it's from that small little spot there that the case was broken.
00:40:55>> Nobody answered the phone, so I thought, "well, I'll go over " >> Kurtis: On a monday morning, mary lou gaerte decides to check in on her 86-year-old mother-in- law, julia.
00:41:06She hops in her truck and drives around the corner to julia's farmhouse.
00:41:11On the outside, everything appears to be normal.
00:41:14The inside, however, is a different story.
00:41:18>> It looked like somebody had totally ransacked the house, and a lot of things were really, like, thrown around, torn up.
00:41:23Things were out of the cabinet.
00:41:25>> Kurtis: Mary lou walks through the house and inches towards julia's bedroom.
00:41:29>> In the bedroom, I saw on her bed, she was laying there, but there was a pillow over her head and a footstool on top of that pillow.
00:41:36>> Kurtis: Julia gaerte lies dead, apparently smothered in her own bed.
00:41:41>> It was just kind of like a nightmare, like something was happening, but it really shouldn't be happening.
00:41:47>> Kurtis: Mary lou races down the road to her sister-in-law's.
00:41:51>> All of a sudden mary lou came across the yard screaming, "nanny's been murdered, nanny's been murdered, and somebody robbed her house"-- or something like that.
00:41:58And I thought, "what is she " and then finally we realized what she was saying, and we called 911 at that point.
00:42:04>> The call had just come in of the murder, notifying the sheriff's department of the murder.
00:42:10>> Kurtis: Investigator greg bricker of the indiana state police department catches the call.
00:42:16>> There was no reason for it to gaerte probably wouldn't have offered any resistance to this person whatsoever.
00:42:26And it just wasn't necessary to kill her.
00:42:28It was a vicious, cold-blooded murder, no reason whatsoever.
00:42:32>> It appeared to me to be somebody that had been doing burglaries for a long time, maybe a professional.
00:42:39He hit all the rights spots.
00:42:41Everything's tossed up.
00:42:43>> Kurtis: Crime scene technician thomas kolb is called in to work the scene.
00:42:48Inside the house, he notices two distinct styles of ransacking.
00:42:54>> The main floor was very ransacked.
00:42:57All the drawers had been pulled out, dumped on the floor.
00:42:59>> Kurtis: Upstairs, however, there is very little ransacking.
00:43:03>> Upstairs the drawers were pulled out, you could see things moved, but it wasn't totally dumped on the floor.
00:43:14The bed just had the covers moved back.
00:43:18So upstairs was kind of neat.
00:43:20And there was also two different sets of shoe prints, so I knew there were two people.
00:43:26I knew one would probably be a male and the other a female based on the shoe print.
00:43:32>> Kurtis: Kolb documents the shoe prints and makes his way to the living room, where he gets a close look at the broken window, the possible point of entry.
00:43:41>> We found the rock beside the tv, where it impacted.
00:43:46And there was curtained, so you know that when he came in, he had to move the curtains, and you always hope that you find something.
00:43:56So when I examined the curtains, there was a small reddish-brown spot, which, to me, indicated a blood spot.
00:44:05As soon as I saw the blood, i said, "ah, that's great," you " >> Kurtis: The curtain is bagged and sent to the crime lab for testing.
00:44:15Meanwhile, bricker asks ginny to scan the house and list any stolen items.
00:44:21>> THERE WERE SOME TVs, THERE Was a vcr, a phone that was missing, and also her silverware was taken.
00:44:32>> Kurtis: Bricker checks with local pawn shops but turns up empty handed.
00:44:36Meanwhile, officers canvass the neighborhood.
00:44:40>> We had a team of detectives at that point looking for information as to if anybody had saw anybody out of line, if there was anybody hanging around that they didn't know or any vehicles that they could describe to us.
00:44:54>> Kurtis: Less than a mile down the road investigators meet tracy broxon, a fort wayne cop.
00:45:00Broxon tells police that two days before the murder, she caught a strange man snooping around her house.
00:45:08>> Well, it was odd that he was trying the gate where the dogs was.
00:45:10I didn't know him.
00:45:11We're a half mile back.
00:45:12Who's back here looking in the windows?
00:45:15>> Kurtis: Broxon opened her front door, gun in hand, and confronted the man.
00:45:21>> At that point he started backing off the porch, and he goes, "i'm really lost, I'm .. I think I'm really at the wrong house" type deal.
00:45:28And I said, "yes, you are, " at this point he turned and went at a pretty good clip through the yard here trying to catch up to the van.
00:45:35>> Yeah, somebody's casing the neighborhood, looking for a house to break into.
00:45:39>> Kurtis: Bricker circulates broxon's description of the man and waits for a break.
00:45:44>> It was very frustrating because we weren't getting any information from the public.
00:45:50We had very little information to go on that we gathered at the scene.
00:45:58It was very frustrating, just no tips period.
00:46:03>> Kurtis: In the weeks that follow, bricker tracks down known burglars and brings them in for questioning.
00:46:09One by one, each is eliminated.
00:46:12>> We had some leads on people who were burglarizing homes in the area, and we interviewed those subjects.
00:46:19They all had alibis.
00:46:21So we came up cold.
00:46:24>> Kurtis: Now bricker turns to the crime lab and pins his hopes on science.
00:46:31>> I obtained a small portion of the curtain with a reddish, brownish stain present.
00:46:40>> Kurtis: Leslie harmon is a analyst with the indiana state police.
00:46:45On a monday afternoon, she takes delivery of the gaerte evidence and examines the curtain.
00:46:51>> I took a small portion of that cutting and started my analysis.
00:46:58>> Kurtis: The stain is confirmed to be blood.
00:47:01Harmon eventually extracts a profile and puts it into the codis database.
00:47:07>> The first time that we ran it there were no hits.
00:47:11>> There was absolutely no leads on this case.
00:47:15.. and every lead we did get was a dead end.
00:47:20I just ran out of things to do, places to go, people to look at, .. i suspended the case until further information came up.
00:47:31>> Kurtis: Julia gaerte's case is shipped to the cold files, where it will stay for three and a half years, until police track down a woman who is ready to Imagine one Scooter or Powerchair that would improve your mobility and your life.
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00:48:33>> I got a call from my boss.
00:48:35I remember sitting on the couch, and she called me and said, "hey, mark, you know the gaerte " >> Kurtis: Mark heffelfinger is a detective with the indiana state police.
00:48:44On october 24, he takes a call about the julia gaerte case, now nearly four years cold.
00:48:52>> She goes, "well, we got a match from the blood that was taken from a curtain in the window of that house.
00:48:57It comes back to a guy by the " >> Kurtis: Indiana periodically runs its cold cases through data bank.
00:49:06It was during such an exercise that the name of donald houser, a convicted burglar, came back as a match.
00:49:14>> The d.n.a. was a start.
00:49:15That's a starting point and something to look at.
00:49:17That in and of itself won't necessarily get you a conviction.
00:49:21So what I needed to do at that point was establish what can i find out about donald houser?
00:49:26>> Kurtis: Heffelfinger digs through the file and pulls out a name, angela stone, houser's ex-girlfriend and former burglary accomplice.
00:49:35Within a day, heffelfinger tracks down stone and brings her in for some hard questions.
00:49:45>> This is tape number two, continuation of the interview with angela stone.
00:49:51>> Kurtis: On october 26, detective heffelfinger sits down with angela stone and presses her about julia gaerte's murder.
00:50:01>> At this time, I truly believe she's a witness.
00:50:03I really believe that.
00:50:10>> Kurtis: Heffelfinger believes julia garte's murder was a burglary gone wrong and that angela stone might have been in the house when it happened.
00:50:17After almost two hours of back and forth, angela stone comes across with the details of how her ex-boyfriend killed juila garte.
00:51:07>> I am excited as can be.
00:51:09I am surprised because I didn't think she'd be that good of a witness.
00:51:13But actually she turns out to be more than a witness.
00:51:15She's an accomplice.
00:51:17That just really helped seal this up for us.
00:51:21>> Kurtis: Stone confirms her story with a set of silverware stolen from julia garte's house and given by houser to his mom as a christmas gift.
00:51:31After recovering the stolen item, cold-case detectives are ready to talk with donald houser.
00:51:37>> When I go in to talk to donald houser, I've got just more ammunition, you know.
00:51:41He can't say, "no, it wasn't " your girlfriend at the time says you did it.
00:51:45She saw you do it.
00:51:49Donald houser was brought back to dekalb county.
00:51:51The jail is just across the street there.
00:51:53>> Kurtis: One day after his conversation with angela stone, detective heffelfinger meets with donald houser in a small interview room.
00:52:05>> He sat right here at this table, in this chair, and I sat at that end of the table.
00:52:11He was the calmest, coolest, no emotion whatsoever.
00:52:15>> Kurtis: Heffelfinger has a game plan.
00:52:18He tells houser he's really out to get angela stone and tries to pin him against his ex.
00:52:54>> And I knew that he was in prison now currently because of a burglary he'd done in which she was there also.
00:52:59And she was not in jail, and i think that that was going to be upsetting to him, so I kind of used that as an angle.
00:53:06"Look, I'm not necessarily interested in you, but you're in jail, angela's not.
00:53:10" >> Kurtis: Houser takes the bait and starts talking about the string of burglaries he and stone committed, but denies ever being at the gaerte house-- that is, until heffelfinger tells him about the blood on the curtain and the stolen silverware set recovered from his mother's house.
00:53:36>> Kurtis: Houser switches gears, laying off blame for the murder of julia gaerte on his former girlfriend and partner in crime, anglea stone.
00:54:11>> Whether he was just ignorant of the fact that he was incriminating himself or whether he didn't care or whether he was so focused on getting angela in jail or what, I'm not sure, but either way, he started talking about angela being there, what angela's involvement was.
00:54:22Of course, he couldn't do that without implicating himself so.
00:54:31It was quite exciting, but of course I have to be cool as i could be, too, and not let him know that I'm excited about the fact that he just implicated himself in a murder.
00:54:39>> Kurtis: The case against donald houser is complete.
00:54:42Six years after 86-year-old julia gaerte was murdered, her suspected killer will stand trial.
00:54:54>> This was obviously one of the strongest cases I'll ever see.
00:54:57>> Kurtis: Steven clouse prosecutes the case against donald houser.
00:55:00Central to the state's evidence is the d.n.a.
00:55:04>> This is the state's exhibit number 28 that was admitted into evidence at the trial, and it's the piece of the curtain that sergeant kolb collected from the house that contained donald houser's blood stain.
00:55:18And right here, in this hole, is the place where his blood was left as he cut himself entering gaerte's residence, and it's from that small little spot there that the case was broken.
00:55:31>> Kurtis: On november 11, houser takes the stand and tells the jury he is innocent and that he was on drugs when he confessed.
00:55:40It's a story the jurors don't buy when weighed against the evidence stacked against him.
00:55:46>> We had an eyewitness who testified well, we had a confession, we had physical evidence from the scene the suspect left, and we also had physical evidence recovered four years ter from his mother's home that he had stolen.
00:55:59All this together really made for a great case to prosecute.
00:56:04>> Kurtis: After 20 minutes of deliberations, the jury finds donald houser guilty of murder and sentences him to life without parole.
00:56:12Meanwhile, angela stone pleads guilty to burglary and gets 30 years.
00:56:19.. I was happy-- happy for the family, happy for the community, happy for law enforcement that we could clear this up and we've got somebody off the streets that's capable of killing somebody like mrs.
00:56:32Gaerte, because thatd of person, who knows what they could do?
00:56:38>> Kurtis: For the victim's family, the verdict answers every question in the death of 86-year-old julia gaerte, save one.
00:56:46It is both the hardest and simplest of questions: why?
00:56:52>> She was definitely no threat to anyone.
00:56:54But it was just really, really senseless, because she would have let them have anything just to leave her alone, but they wanted more.
00:57:02And a really, really great woman was lost.