Jerry Beaty was on an island paradise when he learned his world had gone to hell.
"I got a phone call at 9 o'clock in the morning on February 1st and was told that my house had burned, everything I owned was gone, my wife was dead and both my dogs were dead," he said Wednesday. "I literally had nothing left but the suitcases I had with me."
Beaty, a scuba expert, was on Grand Cayman in the western Caribbean in 2005, inspecting damage left behind by Hurricane Ivan several months before. His wife, Shawn Beaty, 50, had stayed at their Bryan County home.
Just like that, she was dead. His wife succumbed to smoke inhalation. The blaze that killed her, Jerry Beaty later learned, was set intentionally, making her the victim of a homicide.
For more than five years, her case has gone unsolved. Beaty has pushed for answers — hiring a private investigator, working with authorities, launching a successful petition drive to get his wife's case before a grand jury — but no one has been arrested.
Now he's getting help from an unlikely source. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced Wednesday it has turned over records from the case to the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute at Auburn University-Montgomery.
"Cold cases ... are so labor-intensive," said Jessica Brown, OSBI spokeswoman. "Any help we can get on a case such as this, we'll take. We've talked to people. We've done interviews. We've done polygraphs. But we have nothing more to go on."
The cold case institute is an intriguing concept. Students from Auburn-Montgomery and Faulkner University in Alabama work with other students at Bauder College in Atlanta to investigate unsolved crimes. Participants don't get grades or credits; instead, they get the chance to work with law enforcement professionals on real crimes.