OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A federal, state and local task force is investigating the possibility that the killings of a Creighton University professor and his wife may be linked to the unsolved 2008 stabbing deaths of an 11-year-old boy and his family housekeeper, Omaha police announced Monday.
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer told a news conference that authorities are "exploring very hard" the possibility that the killings of Dr. Roger Brumback and his wife, Mary, are linked to the unsolved deaths of Thomas Hunter and 57-year-old Shirlee Sherman.
Schmaderer would not elaborate on any connections, but acknowledged a tie to Creighton University. Roger Brumback was a pathology professor and colleague of Thomas' parents at the university's school of medicine. Thomas' father, Dr. William Hunter, works in the same department as Brumback did, and the boy's mother, Dr. Claire Hunter, works in the cardiology department.
"The Omaha police department is very concerned about these homicides and whether or not they may be related," Schmaderer said. "The safety of our citizens and visitors to Omaha is our top priority, and we will do everything in our power to bring justice and closure to the families and to the Omaha community."
The task force includes more than a dozen police detectives, as well as FBI and State Patrol personnel. The chief said authorities have been in touch with William Hunter, as well as the Brumback family, but declined to detail any of the discussions.
William Hunter declined to comment Monday afternoon on behalf of his family. Creighton released a statement on behalf of the Brumback family Monday afternoon thanking the community for its support and while requesting privacy.
"There are no words to properly describe our grief," the statement said. "Our family has lost a devoted mother and beloved father."
Authorities have released little information about the Brumback slayings, including how the couple died. Schmaderer called it a "heinous crime" that has prompted uneasiness among residents, including faculty members at the university who met with authorities Monday.
Messages left for staff members at Creighton's pathology department were directed to the university's public relations department, which declined to comment about details of the case Monday.
The 2008 slayings of Thomas Hunter and Shirlee Sherman at the Hunter family's 3,700-square-foot home in Dundee were featured last year on "America's Most Wanted" and a $54,000 reward offered for information. The historic neighborhood in midtown — near one of the city's main parks — is home to some of Omaha's most prominent residents, including billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
Joanne Banks, Sherman's mother, said she hasn't heard from authorities since the Brumback deaths and doesn't know enough about the latest case.
"I don't know why they would be connected to Creighton like that," said Banks, 83.
All four homicides have unnerved Omaha as much because of their locations as for their unsolved nature. The Brumbacks' two-story home in west Omaha is not in as affluent an area as Dundee, but is in a well-kept neighborhood built in the 1960s where large shady trees shelter green lawns far from the city neighborhoods that typically see one of Omaha's average 40 homicides a year.
Schmaderer asked residents to be cautious of suspicious activity, including vehicles parked out of place in neighborhoods. He said to err on the side of caution and call 911, and encouraged residents to share information and keep an eye out for each other.
Rodriguez reported from Des Moines, Iowa.
Follow Barbara Rodriguez at http://twitter.com/bcrodriguez