It's been 37 years since Jerry Ann Watson was slain, but not a day goes by that Lucille Roscoe doesn't think about her oldest sister.
Roscoe didn't want Oklahoma City police to forget about Watson, either.
The 73-year-old Leawood, Kan., woman and her two sisters waited until their parents and two other family members had died before contacting cold case detectives in March and asking them to reopen their sister's December 1975 death.
“I said, ‘Let's see if they've done any DNA testing on her,'” Roscoe recounted. “We all three agreed to it.”
Detectives looked into the case, which had been handled by the Oklahoma County sheriff's office. They gathered some old evidence, ran some tests and found a DNA match to a convicted rapist serving six life terms.
On Tuesday, Oklahoma County prosecutors charged Thomas Levering, 62, with first-degree murder in Watson's strangulation slaying, after DNA evidence linked him to the crime.
Levering was convicted in March of attacking, kidnapping and raping an Oklahoma City woman and is serving six consecutive life sentences.
He pleaded guilty in 1979 to two other sexual assaults and served 29 years of a 60-year sentence before being paroled in 2008.
Levering told homicide detectives he met Watson at Shepherd Mall but provided no other details, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Watson's decomposing body was found Dec. 30, 1975, in a wooded area in far northwest Oklahoma County.
The 38-year-old bank clerk had been strangled with a piece of nylon hosiery, police reported.
Shortly after her disappearance was reported, officers found Watson's unlocked car parked at Penn Square Mall.
A couple told police they last saw her Dec. 8 at Crossroads Mall.
A girl discovered her purse Dec. 14 inside a trash bin in the 4800 block of Classen Boulevard
Toll on parents
Nobody took Watson's death harder than her parents, who died within a few months of each other in 2000.
“I think it affected them until the day they died,” Roscoe said Wednesday by phone. “We got through it the best we could. We did what we could for our parents. Anytime you lose a child, it's tragic, no matter how they pass away.”
Investigators working the case declined a request for an interview by The Oklahoman but said in an email they didn't have the case when Watson's sister called.
“After an investigation I determined the case had been handled by the Oklahoma County sheriff's office,” Detective. Mike Burke wrote in the affidavit. “The sheriff's office could not find their reports. Using old Oklahoma City Police reports and contacting some of the original case detectives, I was able to put a case together.”
Investigators tested evidence that included a fingerprint found on the victim's car and her DNA, and were able to match both samples to Levering, according to the affidavit.
Despite the break in the case, Roscoe said she isn't sure investigators have the right man.
“I don't believe who they think killed her killed her,” she said. “I don't think they did what they should have done in the beginning.”
The search for Watson began after she failed to show up Dec. 9, 1975, in Kansas City, where she was to meet a friend and go on a vacation to the Canary Islands.
Roscoe was going to meet her sister at the airport.
“She didn't get off the plane. She didn't call,” she said. “We tried to call her, but she never answered.”
Roscoe said her sister had met someone else and was planning to end her relationship with the man she was supposed to meet at the airport.
Roscoe said she believes the man, who lived in Iowa, killed her sister. He has since died, she said.
Roscoe said the unidentified man looked disheveled and had no suitcases with him when he arrived at the airport the night Watson failed to show up.
Normally a dapper dresser, the sister said, he looked like he'd been out in the field working.
“His overall appearance did not give the indication he was going to fly out,” she said.
Homicide detectives said in the email that law enforcement traveled to Iowa in 1976 to “speak with” the man. They said there are no other suspects in the case.
That doesn't sit well with Roscoe, who said her sister was wrongly portrayed as a “kind of a wild girl” because she was divorced and didn't have any children.
“I think when this incident did happen, they didn't do Jerry Ann justice,” she said. “I'll just be glad when it's all over with.”