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,
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-
"Cold cases ... are so
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.
The students scrutinize one case each year. Past cases include the killings of rapper Tupac Shakur and Washington intern Chandra Levy and the disappearance of vacationing college student Natalee Holloway in Aruba. The students agree not to disclose information about the cases.
CNN followed four Bauder College students who were among the group investigating Levy's death. The group whittled a list of suspects from five to one and mailed their findings to the Washington police chief in December 2008.
When a suspect was arrested last year, CNN reported, "Even though they couldn't name their suspect, or even discuss details of what they found, they didn't carry themselves like people who had missed the mark. ... There were big smiles and, in more reflective moments, small tears."
Beaty said the students "solved" the Levy killing.
Beaty persuaded Ralph Ioimo, an associate professor of justice and public safety at Auburn-Montgomery, to take on his wife's case.
"I wrote him a letter," Beaty said. "He wrote back a month later wanting more information. ... Over three or four conversations, they said they had enough information that they wanted to take on the case. Then we hit the wall of not being able to get the OSBI files."
State law prevented OSBI from releasing information to other agencies and to groups outside of law enforcement. Beaty worked with Rob Hudson, district attorney for Logan and Payne counties; state Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa; Sen. Don Barrington, R-Lawton; and Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, to change that.
House Bill 3294 passed during the most recent legislative session, and the case files were sent to Ioimo earlier this month.
"We have more resources focused on this case now than during the entire previous 5 years after it happened," Beaty said. "We're hoping for some serious clarity over the next three to nine months."