The killer is apparent in the majority of murder cases, often still at the scene when police arrive.
That wasn’t the case for Michael Kent Jamerson’s killer. Or for Brandy Barlow’s killer, or Melvin Giles or the other 14 people in the Lynchburg area whose murders have remained unsolved, some for more than 30 years.
Jamerson was shot to death on May 8 within view of a narrow gravel pull-off along Virginia 130 in the George Washington/Thomas Jefferson National Forest in Amherst County.
Investigators canvassed Virginia 130 with flyers hoping to find someone who saw the car or maybe noticed Jamerson that day, someone who can give them that one clue that will point to the killer.
Jamerson’s murder is one of three cases that joined the ranks of unsolved murders over the past four years alone.
“We never close an unsolved homicide case,”
said Major Steve Hutcherson of the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office. “We’ll never give up hope.”
Catherine Barlow has waited for 27 years for answers. She doesn’t understand how someone could abduct her granddaughter from the yard in front of her Bedford City apartment. The toddler’s body was discovered four months later, in February 1981.
Brandy Barlow would be 30 years old now.
“They couldn’t tell us who killed her,” Barlow said. “Nobody will tell us that. … I just didn’t understand it. I still don’t understand it.”
Brandy was living with Barlow at the time. She dressed the little girl that morning before letting her play with the neighboring children. Those clothes were the only things left to identify Brandy.
“Someone has seen something,” Barlow said. “They are just not bringing it up.”
Sgt. Gary Babb, of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, is investigating Brandy’s murder. The cold-case investigator has spent years digging through the notes and pouring over photographs of Bedford’s unsolved murders.
He has a suspect. In fact, he has a suspect in all three of the unsolved murders in Bedford County. It’s just a matter of pulling the final pieces of the puzzle together in order to file charges.
“The Barlow case is a case that needs to be solved for the community,” Babb said. “It’s been so long and her age … It needs to be closed one way or another.
“Those who have committed these crimes should remember that there is no statute of limitations on murder. These are being investigated. These are being pursued.
“If and when the evidence is sufficient enough, we will charge someone, no matter when it is, no matter how long it takes.”
He started working with cold cases in 1999, with the four-year-old murder of Lori Sluder. Three years later, her estranged husband Roy Sluder was convicted of her murder.
The case won awards for the investigative work, but Babb said the real reward is the Christmas cards he gets from Lori Sluder’s family each year.
“It feels good to solve a case where somebody thinks they have gotten away with murder,” Babb said.
The older a case becomes, the harder it is to investigate. The responding officers have retired, or moved or even died. Same with the witnesses. Leads dry up.
“If a suspect isn’t clear in the first 24 hours, it becomes a lot harder,” Hutcherson said.
Murder cases are not closed until they are solved, said Capt. Steve Rizzuto, of the Bedford City Police Department.
Investigators continually review the unsolved cases, looking at the case from different angles for leads that may have been missed.
Sometimes people call. They’ve heard something. They saw something that they didn’t think was significant at the time. Or they knew something that they were too scared to reveal when the murder happened.
Those phone calls are what investigators are hoping for - some new bit of information that holds the key to putting a killer behind bars.
“There is no question that there are people with information to help in this case,” said Lt. Ken Edwards, of the Lynchburg Police Department. “For whatever reason, they have not come forward.
“Not only do you have witnesses that may not come forward, but you have ones that don’t give you all the information they have or change the facts because they don’t want you to find out about something. It’s frustrating for the investigators and for the victim’s family, too.”
On many of the more recent cases, the Regional Investigation Squad has been called in. That helps a jurisdiction by pulling resources from other counties to help solve a murder without bringing other investigations to a standstill, Edwards said.
The squad consists of investigators from Bedford city and county, Appomattox County, Campbell County, Altavista, Brookneal, Amherst County, the town of Amherst and the Virginia State Police.
“It pulls a lot of experience and manpower into the case without wiping out our resources,” Edwards said.
He said investigators routinely re-interview witnesses in hopes of learning more.
“These are not going to go away,” Edwards said. “In each of these cases, there’s someone out there that has information that can lead us to solving the cases. It may be information they don’t think is important to us but it may be that small piece of the puzzle that we need to solve the crime.”
Hutcherson was the lead investigator when Gregory Hayes Yuille’s body was discovered sitting against a tree off of Wheeler Road in 1986 with multiple gunshot wounds to the head.
That case still plays over in his mind because Yuille’s killer has never been charged.
“There are people out there that have the information and are afraid to come forward,” Hutcherson said. “I think there is someone out there with that one piece of information we need in all these cases.”
“An open homicide is something that is always in the back of your mind,” Hutcherson said. “You never forget it. This one stands out in my mind more than anything else, because it’s not cleared.”
Hopefully, the investigators will find some new evidence that will help them to solve these Unsolved Cases.....