Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft has formed an investigative team to reopen three homicide cases from the 1980s and '90s.
Their focus is on the unsolved murders of Mary Darlene Howard from April 1980, Pamela Miller from May 1989, and most recently opened, Tami Call from February 1990.
Chief Detective Rhonda Jordan, Detective Jerry Twyman, and Detective/Evidence Custodian Mike Martin have been assigned to these cases. Every member has been assigned a working copy of the case file for each homicide.
The Sheriff's decision to reopen cold cases is partly due to recent developments in forensic science capabilities. "There have been so many advances in forensics since these investigations were originally opened,” Jordan said. “The investigators who originally worked on these cases did a great job with what they had. We are going to pick up where they left off, using the technology that's available to us.”
One of these advances is the use of DNA that could possibly be extracted from evidence collected at the original crime scenes. "Anything that we would've taken in would've been sent to the lab initially. So what we've done is we have provided the crime lab with a list of the items. Right now we're working on the Howard murder, so the crime lab is going back and reviewing what would be available for additional testing," Jordan said.
Even though the detectives have the advances of modern technology on their side, they are finding that the passing of time creates challenges. "Darlene Howard is a prime example – 1980 is when that happened,” Jordan said. “When you go back and you have names and locations. A lot of the locations that are referred to whether it be a business, a lounge, you know they're not here anymore. So just trying to figure out the areas that they're talking about, we had to do a lot of work on."
As people relocate over time, tracking down witnesses for interviews can also pose a challenge.
Despite roadblocks, Jordan and her team are dedicated to solving these cold case murders. "We're gonna look at everything,” said said. “We're not ruling anything out. We're not excluding anyone or anything from being a possibility. Anybody whose names are in these case files or anything of that nature or was here during that time frame would be a person of interest."
One person of interest who was in Vernon Parish during the time frame of two cold case murders, is Samuel Galbraith. He is currently serving a 77-year sentence for the 1988 murder and attempted aggravated rape of Karen Hill.
Galbraith was stationed at Fort Polk during the time frame in which both Pamela Miller and Tami Call were killed.
Though she could not comment on specifics of the cases, Jordan said there are similar aspects to the murders of Hill, Miller, and Call.
The investigative team is clearly dedicated to solving these 28- to 38-year-old murders. "We study the files like we're studying for a test. At the end of our shifts we get together in the conference room and discuss them," Jordan said. "We all feel that we owe this to the families of these victims.”
In addition to Jordan, Twyman, and Martin there are other members of the department who have given up some of their personal time in an effort to solve these crimes. Patrol Shift Supervisor Deputy Jason Horton and Vernon Correctional Facility Warden Daniel Rowe are among them.
Additional cold cases will be opened in the near future, according to Jordan.
Craft is asking that anyone with information regarding these cold case homicides to contact Jordan Twyman at (337) 238-7248.